The Grass is Not Always Greener...

By: Patrick Gaveau

Better Disposable Income and Working Opportunities?

Better Healthcare?

Better Government?

Why do so Many Expats Love Life in HCMC?

A few weeks back, terrifying news broke out about the 39 Vietnamese who died while suffocating in the back of a truck, in an attempt to seek a better life in the UK. This was a horrifying event and a poor awakening to the reality of many rural Vietnamese. This triggered my interest to find the answer as to “Why so many Vietnamese are still seeking to immigrate abroad?”

Research carried out together with experienced Vietnamese and foreign friends, from here and abroad, identified seven central motivational factors that drives those who believe that a better life is awaiting them elsewhere... 

- Better income, work opportunities, and working conditions 

- Improved education and health care systems

- Safety and security

- Preserved natural environments

- A better government

…all leading to a Better Future. 

I wrote this article humbly, knowing my own limitations, and whilst keeping aware that some issues may be rather sensitive to many. As a foreign resident and lover of Vietnam for the past 13 years, I seek to raise awareness from a migrant foreigner’s perspective and help locals open up to a fresh view on migration challenges and opportunities.

Some will ask “Who is he to discuss what he cannot understand, especially when he is not Vietnamese?” I am just a born migrant who spent his life around the globe as you can see in the table below... 

10 Countries of Residence

Years/Months Lived in Each Country

25 Cities

Vietnam

13 years

HCMC

Cote D’Ivoire

12 years

Abidjan

USA

8 years

Orlando, West Palm Beach, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Phoenix, Seattle

France

6 years

Cannes, Marignane, Aix en Provence, Montpellier, Royan, Bourg en Bresse, Perpignan

Australia

2 years

Melbourne, Sydney, Deniliquin, Sunshine Coast

Polynesia

2 years

Tahiti

Canary islands

2 years

Lanzarote

Canada

10 months

Montreal

Holland

10 months

Wageningen

Spain

10 months

Barcelona

All in all, this amounts to 47 years of living abroad! I have lived on five continents in both the northern and southern hemisphere. And I have resided alongside Asians, Africans, Americans, Maoris and Europeans, some Bhuddist, others Christians or Muslims. I saw the rich and the poor, and experienced a variety of societies and systems with people of all colours and interests. Hopefully, this article enlightens some of those seeking asylum on the up-coming challenges that they will probably face if they effectively find a way out of Vietnam.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: theculturetrip.com

Throughout this article, I will be questioning several motivational factors to see if these are true or false, subjective or objective, or if these factors are even justified. The aim is to identify what gaps lie between each of these assumptions and the reality of how it may be, to see if life truly is better for Vietnamese who move abroad. 

Better Future - SUBJECTIVE 

There is a saying that goes ”the grass is much greener in our neighbour's garden” and this is SO not true. The colour of the grass is only dependent on the capacity to see that it is already green and the will to nurture your garden. The problem is that most people often prefer to look outward, as they dislike what they are and represent. People hope that over there, wherever else this may be, it is better. 

As a foreigner with ample experience in Vietnam, I can honestly say that the future is much more promising here in Vietnam, both economically and socially speaking. The economic growth in Vietnam allows us to feel confident that so much remains to be done here while markets are most often saturated and limited in other western countries. 

Many people are kept apart from their families for years whilst trying to become citizens in other countries. They work hard towards migrating the whole family, who will also eventually aim to gain citizenship. Those who are lucky get to reconnect to their families but this is still not a guarantee of a better life. Most end up living mediocre lives which is not exactly the definition of a “Better Future” is it?

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: italoamericano.org

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to say that all overseas Vietnamese stories don't get a happy ending. This is exactly what a lot of people strive to achieve and it is also where “the big American dream” mindset came from. As always, there is a brighter side to venturing out. 

After the Vietnam war, many Vietnamese moved to the US, making them the largest foreign born population in the country. In fact, almost 80 percent of Vietnamese immigrants within USA were naturalized citizens in 2017. It was recorded that there were over 1.3 million Vietnamese currently residing in the US, making up 3 percent of the nation’s 44.5 million immigrants.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: migrationpolicy.org

44 years ago, many of those who left Vietnam did indeed end up finding more opportunities in foreign countries. Many had successful lives and acquired wealth along the way. Most Vietnamese-born Americans had refugee parents who fled the country as boat people, encountering pirates while sailing through the dangerous South China sea. They set sail to refugee camps in Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, or the Philippines and they would find themselves stuck in those camps for months, even years before immigrating to the US to find greener pastures. But the challenges did not end there. Immigrants then had to face the sudden change of environment, culture, language, and unfortunately, racism.

Today, many of them still strive to return home, as their hearts are still rooted in Vietnam. This is mainly due to the fact that these Vietnamese had to migrate because it was their only choice at the time. It was a time when finding jobs abroad was a lot easier and the requirements were not as challenging as they are today.

Better Disposable Income and Working Opportunities - FALSE

Yes, income is often higher abroad, at least in most developed countries, but we must re-evaluate by accounting for the cost of living in common migration destinations. Did you know that California, Texas, London, Toronto, Tokyo, Seoul, Melbourne, and Sydney rank at the top of the list of the most expensive places to reside in the world? They also rank very well in the list of favoured destinations for Vietnamese to be expatriates.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: assets.bwbx.io

Let's not forget the additional expenses incurred while living abroad. Everything is expensive, especially for daily commodities, so calculate how much discretionary income you may be left with after your everyday expenses such as groceries, rent, utilities, transport, etc. Many Vietnamese immigrants have reported facing financial challenges for a variety of reasons. 

It is common for Vietnamese immigrants to experience difficulty in landing a position/role of the same calibre and status of which they could work at within Vietnam, especially when applying for managerial positions. He/she will often not succeed in their job application due to language barriers, cultural and ethnic differences, or simply because their Vietnamese degree or work experience is not valued as sufficient or considered invalid. 

How much better can any one be with VND 30,000,000 (1200 Euros) per month in Berlin or Paris for example? With that budget (minimum income) you could probably rent a small studio (25 square meters) over 2 hours away from the city center. You would have to commute long distances to work via bus, train or metro and be subject to the daily stress and strain of rush hour. Your budget may allow you to eat out in a restaurant with a loved one or friends only once or twice a month, if you are lucky. As for rice, bread, vegetables, fruits, internet, utilities, plus local and national taxes, VAT and PIT, it would be a hell of a lot more expensive abroad.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: thehunterdoncountynews.com

Unfortunately, residents in America and Europe need to own their own car, as commuting would prove to be more costly and winters are just too cold to ride around town on your bike. You would need to factor in gas and maintenance to support such a large ticket necessity. On the other hand, you may enjoy more affordable schools and you may even have free healthcare in some places in Europe, but if you reside in America, healthcare is an expensive benefit. Without medical insurance, which is a cost in itself, healthcare may be something you simply cannot afford.

Last but not the least, as an expatriate and a breadwinner, your family back in Vietnam will often expect you to send some dividends of your hard earned cash. To do so, you would really need to learn to restrain yourself and count your pennies - is that the “better life” that most expect in the first place?

Better Education Opportunities - NOT ALWAYS JUSTIFIED

In reality, primary schools are not really about what your children may learn, academically speaking. It is more about social development, playing together, and having constructive social interactions with friends and teachers, and an avenue for childcare. To this extent, many would sense that Vietnamese teachers are more suitable simply because they are some of the most kind, playful, joyful, carrying, diligent, and patient people you will meet. Vietnamese women tend to value family and children above all else and their maternal instincts are clearly evident in the way they care for and develop relationships with their students. 

At a secondary level, most western technical or educational systems provide decent opportunities, but if you were based in San Antonio - Texas, you'll be surprised to find that 50% of the adult population is at the lowest two literacy levels, lacking the skills required to graduate from high school. There are other important differences at the secondary level worth mentioning too. This includes the value of "disciplinary systems” and “respect” for teachers; a concept extremely different in the west compared to Asian countries.

Generally, western teenagers are more "wild" and more "experimental" than those in Vietnam. Many, especially those who live among minorities, are exposed to social peer pressure, galavanting with friends, often partying whilst underage drinking and smoking pot - something considered the norm. After four years abroad, most Vietnamese parents report that their well behaved child has become so ”westernised” that they cannot expect them to care for them when they get old anymore - a virtue not present in the western world.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: redcrestcareers.com

At a tertiary level, educational systems in western countries are still often better than in Vietnam. But the question is can you afford it? And if you can, is it worth paying so much for the privilege? If parents spend up to VND 2.2 Billion (100,000 USD) for their child to earn a foreign bachelor degree in Australia, for example, can this be paid back with the average VND 11,000,000 per month salary when the child finishes his/her education?

Sure, foreign education gives you an edge. Your communication skills will come into play as a convenience and your education will develop a better understanding of multiracial concepts and work ethics, but is this enough to justify the distance and monetary value that you'll be sacrificing when these days, all or most things can be learned online and for free? The next important question is, would the current educational system be suited for the future job market? This remains to be seen. But when you consider the current and up-coming technologies, this becomes highly questionable.

Better Healthcare - RARELY JUSTIFIED

If you compare Vietnam’s healthcare system with those in France, South Korea, and America then yes, it is so much better abroad. The issue in the USA, however is always whether or not you can afford it. Being treated well within the American healthcare system usually comes hand-in-hand with the burden of a costly private insurance plan so it’s not exactly “so much better” there once you have considered the cost of good health care treatments. While we all understand its value when needed, fortunately, only a few of us will ever need such advanced modern treatments and facilities for a complex operation. 

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: thealdennetwork.com

It’s not always so easy to get quality modern healthcare for advanced surgeries in Vietnam but Vietnamese healthcare has made lots of progress in the last ten years and it continues to improve. In fact, there are already some operations such as the endoscopic surgery technique of Doctor Tran Ngoc Luong, being practiced in Vietnam that foreigners from all over the world seek to learn and study from. Doctor Luong is the first surgeon in the world to do thyroid endoscopic surgery with the patient not having to be reminded by a long scar on their neck because this technique is done by cutting between the neck and armpit without having to use robots. Other areas where foreign doctors travel to learn from Vietnamese doctors include endoscopic procedures in obstetrics and cardiology.

Better Safety and Security - FALSE

Unfortunately, racism still exists within many communities across the globe. How would you feel if you heard that your 12 year old daughter is being bullied because she was stereotyped as a “bad Chinese” every single day - even when she is not Chinese? From listening to so many first hand accounts of experiences abroad, you and your children may always be reminded that you are something else, a minority. To them, you and your children are simply “different” and “yellow”.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: newyorker.com

How safe would you feel living in a place where shootouts in schools or public places, depression, and suicide rates are well above those of Vietnam? How would you feel living in France where more cars are being burned to the ground every year than in any other country and where weekly riots down the main streets of the city centres are the norm? 

Children are always exercising their misguided liberal ”western” freedom, and their parents are too busy working double shifts just to get by. Truth is, petty crimes are common in most of the world but the actual risk of being robbed or getting mugged are much greater abroad than here in good old safe Vietnam.

Better Environment - TRUE

Respect for the environment is often better in well off countries. If you ever see westerners eating in our restaurants or hanging around on our beaches, you may notice how most of them pack away their dishes and pick up their trash. And water in most first world countries is usually well maintained and drinkable straight from the tap! Oh what a luxury.

Fresh air is more common as most of their populations consider their carbon footprint to be lower and more environmentally friendly. Carbon emissions from factories are regulated and modern public transport networks keeps traffic - and subsequent air pollution - to a minimum. Not to mention the access and availability of eco-friendly automobiles. In mainland China, major cities such as Shanghai have banned regular motorbikes and enforce the sole use of electric powered scooters. This is greatly improved the air quality in a short number of years.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: hikers.shop

The garbage collection and processes are also more sustainable, efficient, and some even find ways to turn these into renewable energy. Natural parks and forests are also well protected, and all of that results in better overall air quality. Australia and Japan, for example, spend millions on enforcing strict recycling laws, and through the education system, children are taught from a young age the strict importance of recycling waste, saving water, and sustainability.

Many complain about the traffic in Vietnam. The endless sea of mopeds, fumes, and honking horns. The truth is that traffic is just as bad if not worse in larger foreign cities. You can get jammed during peak hours in Los Angeles, stuck in a standstill for hours at a time - something we rarely get in HCMC. Traffic is often equally as painful in Hong Kong and the CBD area of Sydney. This is a reality that people who have never been in other parts of the world do not realize.

Better Government - RELATIVE

Many local Vietnamese assume that France is a democracy and has a better government rule, but when you look at it from an economical perspective, we can’t really say that the French government is any better than Vietnam’s. “Better” is always subjective but for what it's worth, here in Vietnam, the people have hope even though a lot still remains to be done. Local Vietnamese love entrepreneurship and are always seeking opportunities and their survival and success is only possible due to the stability that the Vietnamese government has delivered for the past 20+ years. 

If you want better roads, schools and health care, think of how much this equates to the government’s capacity to raise taxes. Better infrastructures often means greater taxes. As an expatriate, you’ll get even more heavily taxed because you are in a foreign country. In highly developed social societies such as Sweden or Denmark up to 70% of your total income would be taxed! And do you realize that VAT which is 7-10% in Vietnam is at least double in all of the EU? Would you really enjoy feeling like you are ”working for the government” because they get a huge chunk of your hard earned salary? 

Opening your own business anywhere outside of Vietnam usually means that you can expect extortionate rental and utility fees, not to mention the high cost of multiple licenses required to start up and continue running your own business. Although strict with its rules and regulations, Vietnam is a nation that welcomes and encourages business startups, with rental and management fees, as well as licensing and labour costs much lower than those enforced within other countries.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: indonesiaexpat.biz

In many developed countries outside of Vietnam, corruption is commonplace. Corruption in Western societies is usually disguised under a variety of names such as political campaign donations or lobbying activities. Most Western countries also have their own off-shore haven where people can avoid paying taxes, and corruption payments or bribes are constantly exchanging hands under the radar.

Now, discussions regarding governments are complicated and hugely subjective. So let's just say that each of us may have different perspectives, and you are all entitled to them. I will leave it at that.

The “Illusion of Life” in a virtual world

Have you ever heard of living double lives? No, this is nothing shady but many of us live a false projection of our lives on social media when compared to what is reality. Our social media ”face” is often different from how life truly is. This is neither healthy or makes life any easier. It becomes a standard of living now, an illusion of a greater and grander life. Something we unnecessarily stress ourselves to achieve.

New immigrants are naturally proud of having achieved “freedom”. They post often on Facebook and flaunt their new lives to their friends, families, and followers. Their digital connections look up to them, envy them. Families insist that you share often about all the “great news” and what it’s like to live in such a modern place but they also assume that you’re earning so much and live an amazing, happy, and fulfilling life.

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: studybreaks.com

This is the bright side of the coin, the other side shows that material gains do not shed light on what is truly within you. You’re living in a foreign nation and you’ve learned to live with your loneliness and sadness too often, it has become the norm. You are now integrated into this new society where people are most often sad themselves, you are behaving just as them. You think you have become one of them, a better version of what you could ever have been back in Vietnam. And then you wake up one day not recognizing who you see in the mirror. You must be thankful for all you have, send only the good news, and money when you can, and you're ”all good” now. But is this the reality?

You talk about good food and post beautiful photos but the fact is that your palate and love of home food has you craving and yearning for a slice of home. Your favourite ingredients and dishes are not readily available and you may have to adapt to local food and this may not always be as healthy as what you want or need. And we're just talking about food here. What about how hard it really is to make ends meet and how lonely it gets in new and strange environments?

Millions of Vietnamese share the same dream, strive for the same holy grail - to live in Canada, France, USA, Australia, Japan, anywhere else outside of Vietnam. If all migrants began sharing how challenging it really is to move to a new country, a place where you have no friends, no understanding of the language, traditions or culture, many might reconsider the challenge of emigrating and leaving the comfort of their home and loved ones.

Okay, so I acknowledge the problems here in Vietnam, like the traffic, corruption, and the seemingly “poor” environment but it does have a lot of charms. Western countries have slums and seemingly “poor” places too. Maybe they are just not as exposed as what you see here but once you get there, you will see that not everything in the movies or on social media is true. 

The grass may look greener on the other side but in reality, there’s more to what you see on the surface. Just like your own backyard, it has roots and weeds too. These are the things that you have to consider before heading out to a different country to seek greener pastures.

Why do so Many Expats Love Life in HCMC?

Life as an expat here is something many enjoy. We are pleased and fortunate to experience a vibrant city like no other. The rush, the colours, the noise, the palpable energy, the food! This is Saigon, the Pearl of the Orient. It has always been known to be a great place to be. There is nothing like it elsewhere, at least economically speaking. An exotic eldorado.

A city where its people have beautiful souls, are gentle, fiercely respectful, and always loyal. A place where when you smile, they smile back. A place where we can dress the way we want without feeling the weight of looks or judgement. This is a place of emotional freedom where we all live well without racism or religious conflict. A place where we can always find support when need be. A country where hope of a better future is rooted in its genes, its history. A young population that is eager, talented, and hard working. 

HCMC is a land of opportunities and it is the place to be. Many expats from around the world come to live in HCMC because life is great, and cheap! Let's not forget to mention the food here rocks and the tropical fruits are amazing! People are generally friendly and respectful. Life is good and we can lead a good life with a lot less. Besides, the sun shines all year long, isn’t that lovely?

Vietnamese Assume Life is Better AbroadImage source: ctfassets.net

When it comes to safety, I am definitely safe in Saigon, as long as I am careful when passing through some places after 11 pm. The rest of the time, you’ll be fine. Rarely have I heard, in my 13 years here, that someone I know got his bike stolen, or lost his car or got a broken window. There is theft like everywhere else on this planet, but here, no one bears arms except for the police.

Having gone through all of these factors, as an immigrant who has lived in almost all corners of the globe for so many years, I, along with thousands of other expats are left to wonder, ”Why are so many Vietnamese keen to immigrate to the countries we escaped ourselves?”

Banner Image source: vak1969.com


Facebook redesigns business pages with new look

By: Emilio Piriz

Facebook redesigns business pages with new look

After redesigning its news feed personal accounts last week, Facebook announced that it will roll out a new look and feel for business pages. This affects the Online Reputation Management (ORM) service that we at City Pass provide to premium clients in the Travel and Hospitality sector in Vietnam; therefore we should take these changes into consideration to get the best out of the new features.

The remake means good news to all users of this platform. Even Facebook calls this new appearance a more ‘streamlined’ look. The new design includes two columns similar to the old version, but the right column is now the Page’s timeline while the left includes information about the brand or business (e.g., map, business hours, phone number and website URL). Previously, both left and right columns used to display posts as users would scroll down the page.


Facebook New
Two distinct columns in new design

This major rearrangement makes Facebook Business Pages look a lot more like a personal profile. In a post on the official Facebook for Business blog, the company explained, “We’ll begin rolling out a streamlined look for Pages on desktop that will make it easier for people to find the information they want and help Page admins find the tools they use most.”

The redesigned layout comes with several changes for City Pass's Social Media management services – part of our ORM package – as Page admins. Stats such as page likes, the number of ad campaigns, post reach impressions, and notifications will appear in a tool bar in the right column. Therefore, administrators now have this information readily available in one place without having to navigate through numerous menus.

The new appearance actually makes the desktop version look more like the mobile version. This offers a more unified experience for your visitors no matter what device they’re using to follow your feed. Additionally, the ‘face makeover’ comes less than a week after Facebook updated the look for news feeds. This is a fairly minor change that includes larger photos and new icons and fonts.

How do you like Facebook’s latest redesigns? Do you think they will achieve their primary goal in improving the user’s experience?



Posts run on both left and right side in old design

Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research

By: Emilio Piriz

By Emilio Piriz

The rapid move to mobile research and bookings means travelers require easier ways to access content. In 2014, approximately 40% of leisure travelers and 35% of business travelers will use mobile search engines to find hotels, and this number will only grow, with 72% of travelers worldwide saying that the ability to book via mobile device is useful.

Gone are the days when travel guides were the go-to resource that adventurers would carry in their backpacks before embarking on any trip. Printed maps have given way to their digital version through the use of a smartphone or tablet to search for shops, restaurants and tours once travelers reach their destination. Therefore, main travel brands need to adapt to this change in behavior if they aspire to capture the business of vacationing spenders and don’t ‘miss’ their flight.

Placeable, a company that loves location data and uses it to help brands power their local market, has recently conducted a survey where they surveyed 1,000 consumers to find out about how they research and find businesses before and during their travels.

The following are the research’s key findings:

  • Discovery: Search engines are undoubtedly the number one tool for travelers – more than four in five consumers use them for research when planning a vacation.
  • Proximity: A nearby location wins over well-established brands for many types of purchases on vacation
  • Mobile: Travelers do much of their online research once they reach their destinations.
  • Loyalty: Consumers aren’t loyal to a particular brand if they find a better offer or have trouble finding a certain location.
  • Trust: Difficulty finding a store or restaurant location when travelling negatively affects consumers’ impression of a brand even once they return home.

Check this infographic for additional figures that support the above findings:
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research

 

Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research
 
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research
 
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research
 
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research
 
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research

You can download the full report here.

Now over to you: Do you think these behavioral patterns are present among visitors in Vietnam? How profoundly will mobile usage reshape the Travel industry and travelers’ experiences?


Keeping your digital camera clean

By: Vinh Dao

Destinations to clean your digital camera

If you are traveling throughout Vietnam, you’ve probably brought your camera along. If you didn’t, I would be shocked as this country is picture perfect for shutterbugs. Other than the obvious problem of dropping your camera, there is another less obvious problem that can arise with camera gear.

Lens fungus is the bane of camera lenses and occurs quite often in Southeast Asia due to the high humidity and oppressive heat. Lens fungus is caused by moisture trapped inside or on the surface of the lens and looks like a small spider web on the surface. Caught early enough, it can be cheap to fix and won’t affect the image quality of the lens. If you leave it for a few weeks, you might have a serious problem on your hands.

The best way to avoid lens fungus is to keep your camera and lenses cleaned and in airtight containers with bags of silica gel, which helps absorb moisture. Also, another preventative measure is to place your camera in a sealed ziplock bag when going to and from areas with vastly different temperatures. This prevents condensation from building up.

If you’ve happened to drop your camera or it just stops working, there are a plethora of shops around the Dong Khoi area that offer camera repair but aren’t authorised camera repair shops. Canon and Nikon owners are in luck as there are authorised repair centres in Hanoi and HCMC. These shops are the recommended fix but will be pricier than other repair shops.

However, if you have an older out of warranty camera and just want to extend the life of it until you get back home, we have located a couple of places in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City that have English-speaking technicians.

But when you go to these non-certified camera shops, just remember the adage: Caveat Emptor!

 Canon Hanoi

No.130A, Giang Vo, Ba Dinh District
Phone: 04 3771 1966

Canon HCMC

No. 10A, Tran Hung Dao, District 1
Phone: 08 3838 9383

 Non-certified repair shop in HCMC - Huy Camera

No. 29 Huynh Thuc Khang, District 1
Phone: 09 0927 2818

 Nikon Hanoi - Viet Hong Building

2nd Floor 58 Tran Nhan Tong, Hai Ba Trung District
Phone: 04 3909 3843

 Nikon HCMC - Vietnam Business Center

No. 57 – 59 Ho Tung Mau, District 1
Phone: 08 3422 4883

 Non-certified repair shop in HCMC - Pham The

No. 11 Le Cong Kieu, District 1
Phone: 08 829 5888

 Non-certified repair shop in HCMC - Cuong Thinh

No. 145 Cao Thang, District 10

 Non-certified repair shop in Hanoi - Vu Nhat

No. 20 Thang Thi, Hoan Kiem District
Phone: 04 826 5161

 Non-certified repair shop in Hanoi - Nguyen Long

No. 17 Ba Trieu, Hoan Kiem District
Phone: 09 1260 6066

Advantages of train travel in Vietnam

By: Vinh Dao

The trains in Vietnam are relatively cheap, comfortable and scenic. Train travel is Vietnam is underutilised by visitors to the country and is a great mode of transportation for those looking to see a bit more of the country while relaxing in leisurely surroundings. As you plan your journey around the country, read on to find out other advantages of using trains when you travel.

1. Easy and Relaxing

If you haven’t really come to grips with the manic road traffic in Vietnam, taking a train to your destination can save you heaps of stress. No beeping, near misses and traffic jams to worry about here!

2. Practical

You don’t have to worry about getting to the train station hours early to jump on. You can also bring on your own food onboard unlike having the dreaded airline food as your only option in a plane.

3. Environmentally Friendly

Vietnam has some of the highest rates of personal transportation in the world at 92 percent. So if you are looking to cut down on your environmental impact, take a train.

4. Freedom

Unlike air travel, you can actually get out of your seat whenever you want. It’s a great opportunity to meet some Vietnamese people and get to know a bit more about their country. Take a walk around, grab a cafe sua da at the canteen carriage, or catch up on that reading you’ve been putting off.

5. Centrally Located Stops

Most major tourist destinations have a train station with several daily arrival and departure times. Also most train stations are located only a few minutes travel to major tourist destinations in towns.

6. Fascinating Views

Vietnam has over 3,260 kilometres of stunningly beautiful coastline, most of it can be viewed from the comfort of a train carriage. If you wish to experience the beauty of Vietnam, take a train trip up the coast. Make sure to pay attention during the Hue to Danang leg of the trip. Possibly one of the most scenic views in the country.

Overall, train travel in Vietnam is a good choice for those who are looking for an affordable and comfortable trip around the country. Whether you wish to move from one city to another or just to tour the country, train travel will provide you with the perfect transportation.

For more information about trains in Vietnam, click here to check out this excellent website.

If you are a big fan of train travel and are in the UK, take a look at this website for some information about their excellent railway service.


Four Female Chefs You Should Know About in Vietnam

By: Lucie Sherwood

Most of us have an image of professional kitchens as being something of a male-dominated boy's club, despite women traditionally doing most of the cooking in private homes for centuries. Whilst women still account for a relatively low portion of professional chefs globally, there are more women enrolling for training and a number of female chefs rank among the best in the world, earning major accolades and awards.

As Vietnam’s foodie landscape grows and evolves, more international and Vietnamese restaurants are opening and drawing in big talents, both local and foreign. Among these rising stars are several talented female chefs who are shaking up Vietnam’s culinary scene with their unique take on Vietnamese and international cuisines, often drawing influence from their diverse geographical backgrounds.

Here are four of the best female chefs in Vietnam right now, and where to eat their food.

Tam Le - Saigonita Concept Rebstaurant in Saigon

Tam Le’s Saigonita is a concept restaurant that reinterprets Mexican cuisine through the lens of Vietnamese ingredients and dishes. The creator and chef hosts her intimate pop-up dinners on select evenings every month. Already, Saigonita is storming the foodie scene in Saigon, with Tam’s dinners booked-out two months in advance.

Tam has had an unconventional route to Saigonita. She was raised in Texas before leaving to work in branding in New York, where she recalls beginning to make her own tortillas after discovering that she could only buy them imported and mass-produced in New York, unlike the fresh tortillas available in grocery stores across Texas. As an Texas-born Vietnamese, she grew up eating both Mexican and Vietnamese cuisines and says, “to combine them was only natural to me”.

Female ChefsImage source: Tam Le

After moving to Vietnam, Tam started to make the Saigonita vision a reality, creating her exciting Vietnamese-Mexican food with encouragement from her friends. As the concept was being developed, Tam Le spent her evenings and weekends experimenting to bring her new dishes to life. Now that her dinners have gained momentum, she is dedicating herself to Saigonita full-time.

The Saigonita menu changes depending on what’s in season and the chef’s mood. Tam describes her Huế-vos Rancheros as a current crowd favourite; a tostada with a fried home-made tortilla base, a layer of refried black beans, beef braised in the style of bún bò Huế, a fried quail egg, finely chopped shallots and herbs, and finished off with a squeeze of calamansi.

Tam doesn’t consider her gender to be challenge in Vietnam’s culinary world. She explains, “I see so many opportunities in Vietnam”, although she acknowledges that the industry is very male-dominated. As her unique concept becomes increasingly popular, she describes her goal as, “to figure out how to allow everyone who wants to try Saigonita to be able to experience it”.

Nikki Tran - Cau Ba Quan and Cau Ba Noodles Restaurants in Saigon

Famous for her appearance on the Netflix hit series Ugly Delicious, Nikki Tran is dishing up her brand of ‘Viejun’ (Vietnamese-Cajun) food in her two modern Vietnamese seafood restaurants; Cau Ba Quan and Cau Ba Noodles in Ho Chi Minh City.

A Saigon native who has spent time in Houston, Texas - where the Viet-Cajun trend began - Nikki describes her cooking as a collaboration between Vietnamese culture and other cultures, but is adamant that her food isn’t branded as ‘fusion’.

Nikki never trained as a professional chef, nor did she have any aspirations to cook, but she was thrown into the kitchen when the chef didn’t show up on the opening night. Now she loves to create new dishes and her aspiration is to bring modern Vietnamese food to the mainstream, showing the cuisine from a different angle.

Female ChefsImage source: Nikki Tran

Nikki acknowledges the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry, describing how gaining authority in the kitchen can be difficult for women working in a traditionally patriarchal society such as Vietnam. She added that even in the US, it isn’t easy to command respect from the other chefs in a professional kitchen. She also expressed her belief that the conventional female roles within a family in Vietnam can limit their ability to work long hours.

Nevertheless, Nikki feels that there are a lot of opportunities out there for aspiring female chefs to be noticed, stating, “the creativity brought by women is highly anticipated and appreciated”. She advises women to be tough in the kitchen and to have confidence that female chefs can do whatever male chefs can do, whether its scaling a fish or butchering a whole cow.

Nguyễn Thị Hồng Huệ - Stoker Restaurant in Saigon

Stoker has been making waves in Saigon’s culinary scene for some time now, and its Junior Sous Chef, Nguyễn Thị Hồng Huệ, is one of the restaurant’s rising stars. Stoker’s speciality is cooking meats using various techniques involving fire, perhaps making the presence of a strong female chef even more unusual.

Female ChefsImage source: Hue Nguyen

After studying finance, Hue embarked on her chef’s training and gained experience in a number of professional kitchens before joining Stoker in May 2017. She worked in the cold kitchen and In pastry before being promoted to Junior Sous Chef.

Working with Stoker’s Executive Chef, George Bloomfield, Hue has created new signature dishes for the popular steakhouse, including Smoked Milk Panna Cotta and Woodfired Basque Cheesecake.

Hue explains that she finds Ho Chi Minh City “one of the best places to explore local and international food”, with its eclectic range of restaurants and diverse food scene. Hue highlighted that this environment creates lots of opportunities for female chefs to develop their careers. She says that, “women in general are well-known for being careful, resourceful and tidy; which are good values for a chef”.

Her advice to aspiring female chefs is to “follow your passion”, acknowledging that things can be difficult at the beginning but these challenges can be overcome. Hue's goal is to eventually gain experience and learn about Northern Vietnamese cuisine by spending time working in Hanoi.

Summer Le - Nen Restaurant in Danang

Now an unofficial global ambassador for Central Vietnamese cuisine, Chef Summer Le has been expressing her passion for the food of her home-region at her acclaimed restaurant, Nen, since August 2017. The ethos of Nen - a spice specific to Central Vietnam - is to push the boundaries of Vietnamese cuisine whilst retaining its core values.

Female ChefsImage source: Summer Le

Before opening her Danang restaurant, she was a food blogger and has been featured on several cooking shows including the Asia Food Channel’s 'Home-cooked Vietnam'. Despite Nen being a reasonably young restaurant, it has received wide attention, being visited by the Prime Minister of New Zealand and three Michelin star Chef Dominique Crenn from the US.

Summer Le explains her food philosophy as, “utilising local ingredients and making them the star of the dishes” in order to create her modern Vietnamese dishes. She aims to keep the taste profiles essentially Vietnamese, while using some foreign techniques and presentation. She describes her food as, “a reflection of myself” creative, intellectual, with great attention to detail”. She explains that she especially loves to experiment with elevating often overlooked ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine, such as duck, certain fruits and fermented sauces.

Nen’s New Vietnamese multi-course tasting menu is a collection of Summer Le’s signature dishes, including a pan-seared duck breast with mango gel and Viet satay chili paste with cashew nuts and dried mango.

Summer Le feels Vietnam is open-minded when it comes to women in the workplace in comparison with some of its neighbouring countries. She points out that the industry is heavily male-dominated, but cites the physical requirements of the job as one of the reasons for this. At Nen, she hires both male and female chefs on her team, explaining that, “they have their own strengths”. She details, “attention to detail, deftness and discipline” as qualities she often finds in her female chefs and which are particularly relevant in a fine-dining restaurant. Her advice to aspiring female chefs is to, “find your unique strength as a chef and pursue it”.

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