5 Fantastic Hidden Getaways in Vietnam

By: City Pass Guide

Vietnam is, of course, packed with wonderful, exciting destinations for us all to get away from the city on occasion and enjoy. So many have become known throughout the world, The Mekong Delta, Halong Bay and Sapa for example. Many others are not as well known unless you live here, Hoi An, Dalat and Vung Tau spring to mind. But what of the places that remain relatively unknown to even many people living here in Ho Chi Minh City. If you are looking for some hidden getaways in Vietnam, here are a few suggestions for places that could be on your radar for 2016.

Phan Rang

Phan Rang is situated on Vietnam’s South Central Coast about 90km south of Nha Trang. It’s a new town that was called Panduranga in ancient times. This was a state capital in the old Champa Kingdom. An airfield was established here by the Japanese, utilised by the French and then became the US Air Force’s Phan Rang Air Base during the American War. The beach is excellent; early in the morning it will be packed as literally thousands of local people come to exercise. By 8am they will all have disappeared and you have the place to yourself, it’s truly magical. There is a new monastery complex close by on a hill affording amazing views. Also close at hand are two 700 year old Cham Temples. This is part of a triangle for tourism that includes Dalat to the north west and Nha Trang to the north, yet somehow remains relatively undiscovered. This is a true Vietnamese fishing village.

Vinh Hy

Just 30km up the coast from Phan Rang you will find the beautiful unspoiled bay of Vinh Hy. It has remained untouched mainly because of its proximity to the Nui Chua National Park. Fears were raised when Amanoi announced their plans to open the Amanoi Resort Vinh Hy Bay in 2013, but they have done a tremendous job. The design has had minimal adverse affect on the wonderful scenic beauty off the area, whilst bringing in much needed revenue. The scenery here is amazing, crystal clear blues seas with lush greenery rolling down rocky outcrops into the water; whilst all the time the mountains out towards Dalat provide the backdrop.

Long Hai

Long Hai was almost completely unknown until the Long Hai Beach Resort opened. It remains, though, a very peaceful spot especially during the week. It is just around the headland from Vung Tau and if the better known resort is all a bit too “bright lights” for your liking, then Long Hai should be right up your street. The beach gets busier at the weekends when many Vietnamese getting away from Ho Chi Minh City come to town. As the road from from HCMC to Ho Tram and beyond continues to be improved these places will become busier, but for now you can enjoy the white sand and unique weather, almost unhindered. The weather is unique, by the way, because this area has its own micro climate, making it dryer than the rest of the South.

Mai Chau

Mai Chau is the name of both a district and its main city in northern Vietnam. Whilst the stunning scenery of Mai Chau is starting to draw tourists, its locality ensures that it never gets overrun and spoiled. This scenic mountainous region is about 135km to the southwest of Hanoi. It is a quiet rural community where the local Black Thai and White Thai live in traditional stilt houses. The houses are dotted throughout the landscape, generally surrounded by trees. The Mountains provide the perfect backdrop and the mixture of cultivated and uncultivated land completes a very delightful scenic picture. Of course it also has the advantage of cooler air, for those who are fed up with the intense heat of Ho Chi Minh City. Mai Chau certainly firgures as one of the best hidden getaways in Vietnam.

Phuoc Hai

Phuoc Hai is also close to Vung Tau but much less well known. Just 90km away from Ho Chi Minh City, It has often been overlooked. The highlights here are beautiful beaches, great hills for walking, terrific seafood and one of the country’s more unique attractions. The Whale Cemetery is situated here. Fisherman have always held the whale as an almost mythical being and a bringer of good luck. When one dies here, either stranded on the beach or caught accidentally in a net. They bring the creature through the streets of Bung Tau and in Phuoc Hai. The animal is buried after a ceremony and months later the bones are exhumed and moved to a permanent resting place. This is a quiet little town yet has plenty to see and do.

Do you know any terrific hidden getaways in Vietnam? If so let us know. This is such a wonderful country and there is so much to explore.


Across Asia Youth Film Festival – Submit your film today!

By: City Pass Guide

For the first time, the Across Asia Youth Film Festival (AAYFF) is coming to Vietnam. After the first two editions were held in Singapore, the third festival will take place at the International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC), presenting an exciting opportunity for both student filmmakers and film fans.

Founded in 2017 in order to give young filmmakers a chance to connect with people across the continent, AAYFF has attracted partnerships with some of the world’s top media and film companies, including HBO, Disney and Lucasfilm.

The festival will bring together students from three age groups creating films across seven categories: drama, horror, animation, documentary, experimental, music video and short short.

David Procter, AAYFF’s founder, shared his joy at the festival’s arrival in Vietnam. “I’m really excited that the AAYFF has moved to Vietnam, where it can take in the rich culture of one of the most rapidly developing countries in Asia”, he said. “The festival has already seen a number of winning films from students in Vietnam, but I’m looking forward to seeing more submissions from the country this year. The AAYFF also provides a wonderful opportunity for the media and film industry in Vietnam to get involved with supporting youth film”.

This is also a symbol of ISHCMC’s forward-thinking mission to connect students with the international community, while also bringing innovative programmes to Ho Chi Minh City.


Feeling Fitter in 2021: 5 Alternatives to The Gym in Saigon

By: City Pass Guide

A Confidence Boosting Workout

A Fuss Free Workout

A Flexible Workout

The festive season already feels like it was a million years ago. But if you’re anything like me, you’re probably still trying to shake off the after effects of Christmas dinner and too many glasses of fizz on New Year’s Eve. Also, if you’re like me, the thought of grabbing your trainers and heading to the nearest gym is about as appealing as reliving 2020. Luckily, Ho Chi Minh City is packed with a variety of options to help us shake off that festive food coma and start feeling fit and fresh again!

Pole Dancing at Pretty Pole

91 Nguyen Huu Canh, Binh Thanh

Immediately after Christmas may not be the most obvious time to take up pole dancing, but if you are looking for a workout with a high calorie burn and a massive confidence boost, it could be worth considering.

Alternatives to the gym in SaigonImage source: Pretty Pole

Located in District 1, Pretty Pole offers classes for both pole and aerial hoop dancing. All fitness classes accommodate a range of abilities, from absolute beginner to experienced dancers, so there is no need to feel shy about joining in. Be prepared for a full body workout as trainers Ms Anne and Ms Vy put you through your paces to ensure that you not only gain fitness and flexibility, but confidence and strength at the same time!

For full details of the classes available at Pretty Pole visit their Facebook page for more details.

Rock Climbing at Push Climbing

188/1 Nguyen Van Huong, District 2

If you’ve ever seen a pro-rock climber, you’ll know that if you do this activity properly, you’ll be waving goodbye to bingo wings and muffin tops forever. Rock climbing engages almost every major muscle group in your body, whilst increasing flexibility and being low impact, which makes it an incredible work out for participants of any level.

Alternatives to the gym in SaigonImage source: Push Climbing

If you are looking to ease your way into climbing, Push Climbing in Thao Dien offers a variety of courses and events for participants of all levels. They even offer ‘Date Night’ Friday where entrance is Buy One Get One Free between 5pm and 10pm. Early morning memberships for those of you who like to get your work-out out of the way first thing, are also available.

For full details of the options available at Push Climbing visit their website for more details.

Calisthenics at Reborn Fitness

8/3b Duong So 3, Tran Nao, District 2

Whilst Reborn is technically a gym, it’s not a ‘gym’ gym. This is a stripped back, lean-looking ‘work-out space’. Here, your trainers put you through your paces with a work-out that utilises calisthenics (resistance training with your own body weight) to get you feeling the burn in no time at all.

Alternatives to the gym in SaigonImage source: Reborn Fitness

If you’d like to see what a membership at Reborn will give you, take a quick look at the promo video for their ‘Most Challenging Fitness Camp Ever’. If you’ve ever dreamed of walking up an invisible ladder, this is where you’ll get it done! With Fitness Camps throughout the year and a variety of social events too, a membership at Reborn is not just a passport to fitness, it’s also an invitation into the ‘Reborn Family’. If you’re looking for a support network as you try to achieve your fitness goals, that is certainly an invaluable bonus.

For full details of how to join Reborn contact them via the Facebook Page

Modern Dance at GS Dance Studio

129 Le Van Duyet (Dinh Tien Hoang cu), Binh Thanh

For some people even a ‘different type of gym’ is still too much like a gym. So, if you’re looking to totally avoid dumbbells and barbells, and all the rest of it, maybe a dance studio is what you are looking for? With nothing but a sound system and a some pretty cool neon lights, GS Dance Studio is a great place to ‘bring fun back into exercise’.

Alternatives to the gym in SaigonImage source: GS Dance Studio

Offering classes to cover levels from ‘Never Dance’ to ‘Advanced’, and a range of styles from Hip Hop to Jazz Funk to K Pop, GS Dance Studio promises a fun, energetic option to get you back in shape this year.

For full details, and amazing examples of what’s on offer at GS Dance Studio, visit their Facebook page.

Spinning at Body Shape

49G Quoc Huong, District 2

I think we can all agree that Saigon is not the best place to cycle. And if cycling is all you want to do, paying for a full gym membership for one bit of equipment is hardly going to encourage you to sign up. Thankfully, the smart folks at Body Shape offer both spinning classes and spin bikes for individual use, AND temporary memberships and walk-in rates.

Alternatives to the gym in SaigonImage source: Body Shape

High intensity, low impact and heart pumping, spinning is an effective way of burning calories, improving cardiovascular health and toning your lower body. Classes also offer a fun, sociable work-out, that will help you to push yourself to achieve your fitness goals. That, or at least there will be someone there to pick you up off the floor when your legs give way, as mine did last time I tried to complete a spin class!

For full details of flexible memberships and the variety of fitness classes at Body Shape visit their website.

Hopefully, this little round-up of alternatives to trudging along on a treadmill has inspired you to get out and about in this wonderful city of ours! Here’s to a happier, healthier 2021.

Image source: GS Dance Studio


A Life Well Lived: at Home and Abroad

By: Patrick Gaveau

Motivation to travel is often conducted by either push factors such as the reasons that drive us away from home and pull factors, which pull us towards a place.

These well known motives include escape from a perceived dreary environment, exploration and evaluation of self, relaxation, prestige, regression, enhancement of kin relationships and facilitation of social interaction; and two cultural motives: novelty and education.

Travelling often offers freedom from work and obligations. It is an escape from our traditional lives and social roles. With travel we have the liberty to spend our time as we see fit. In this case, tourism reflects an escape from something, rather than a quest for something. The primary travel motive then, is leaving the home scene behind temporarily without being concerned about where to go – but preferably to a nicer environment than what you experience during your daily grind.

A traveller’s needs and intentions can also stem from an inner feeling of wanting to search for something new, further fuelled by peripheral pull factors that promise just that. These kinds of travellers have a relatively clear idea of what they want and expect – they are not travelling away from home. Their basic needs spring from the feeling of absence stumbled upon in their own environment. This scarcity is subjective. If they cannot satisfy this deficiency, they must then look elsewhere.

Specific desires one may want to fulfill are another primary travel motivator. It may be about tangible matters, such as a specific interest like a birdwatching trip, a cultural interest or sports events.

Another example is medical tourism. The importance lies in the travelling and not in being a tourist. Participants do not alienate themselves from social status, and the idea of being in between two cultures does not play a part. Tourists know what they want.

“Some people may travel to stay in constant motion or run from their problems.”

The positive effects of travel are well-documented, including its ability to broaden our perspective, strengthen our relationships, help us appreciate home and increase the number of experiences we encounter. Because of this, some people are tempted to idealise, over-commercialise or overstate the benefits of changing geographies.

“While standing next to a 1,000-year-old building or hiking the great outdoors is cool and all, doing so probably won’t result in personal enlightenment.”

Some actually think that emptiness you feel inside can be filled with travel. You may distract yourself with it, which can be good for your health. But measuring your life by the number of trips taken will often leave you feeling unsatisfied. Kilometres travelled will never mask your personal insecurities. Lasting happiness is a work in progress that’s usually better rooted at home.

I’ve met globe trekkers who seemingly squandered much of their time overseas and learned very little from the cultures they were exposed to. And I’ve met sophisticated, tolerant and sympathetic people who’ve rarely (if ever) left home. In other words, ignorance can still be well-travelled. While I’m a big advocate for using travel as a mental and physiological enabler, the work of overcoming ignorance still falls on us.

I’m humbled by, grateful for and in awe of the many places I’ve visited and intend to visit. But this gift can never compensate for negligence at home. As awesome as it is, traveling does not grant a free pass from taking care of our financial, personal or familial duties.


Top 10 Most Fun Things to Learn in HCMC

By: Kristian Goodchild

There are so many opportunities to learn something new in good ol’ Vietnam. Here are some of the top activities offered in HCMC that will let you have fun while gaining new skills.

Learn How to Play in a Rock Band

643 Dien Bien Phu, D3 | maximusmusicschool@gmail.com | +84 91 952 2593; +84 93 818 8309

Learning a musical instrument always seems to be one of those things that everyone wants to do but rarely have the initiative to stick with. One problem is that at the early stages it’s a solitary experience: practising on your own is nothing like the fun of playing with a full band. It’s no wonder people get disillusioned.

learn to play in rock band

So, why not get your band together first and learn as you go? Maximus offers group deals for exactly that reason. With a full band setup and expert tuition, you can get together, learn together and rock together.

Master the Art of Storytelling

Join the group at facebook.com/groups/StorytellingSaigon

You tell stories every day, whether you’re recounting the day’s events to your friends or explaining a situation to a stranger. To take this one step further, a storytelling class can help you hone your skills and learn the fundamentals of structure, narrative and character development. Storytelling Saigon gives you and your friends the opportunity to develop your raconteur skills in a safe, easy environment, tailored to nurture your inner narrator and bring out the best you have to say.

Tell a Joke

Stay up to date at facebook.com/comedysaigon and comedysaigon.com

Stand up comedy is a strange business. You never know what an audience is going to like until you try it, and the people who are funniest in social situations aren’t necessarily going to succeed on stage. But it’s something that anyone with an inclination towards telling jokes should try, and it’s something that almost everyone has considered at one point or another. So, think you’re funny? Now you can find out with the help of Comedy Saigon. Founder Ben Betterby organises free workshops and shows across the city every week.

tell a joke

Get your foot on the bottom rung and try out your inner genius. Regular competitions, workshops and prizes will keep you motivated, and expert tutors will guide you through the process with skill and compassion. You’ll be working the circuit in no time.

Cook as a Team

74/7 Hai Ba Trung, D1 | contact@saigoncookingclass.com | +84 28 3825 8485

Another definitely social activity that for some reason people learn on their own is cooking. So central to daily life, so fundamentally social at every step of the process, cooking brings us together. So why not learn it together? Gather your friends, make a booking and learn to make delicious traditional Vietnamese food with some of the best chefs in Saigon at Saigon Cooking Class.

Align Your Chakras

justbeyogashala.com | missbee@justbeyogashala.com | +84 122 870 9396

Yoga has been one of the fastest-growing physical activities of the last decade, and for good reason. It’s fantastic for your body, it’s low impact (so anyone can do it), and it teaches you about your body, mind and soul. A good instructor is key to your success, though, and there is none better than Yoga with Bee.

yoga with bee

A fitness guru and writer, Bee has been teaching yoga for the last two years. As a certified personal trainer, Bee uses yoga as one modality to keep both the body and mind balanced and flexible. Group sessions must be booked privately, so get in touch and make it happen; your body will thank you.

Learn About Latte Art

270a Ly Thuong Kiet, D10 | cs@baristaschool.vn | +84 90 290 6246

Let’s face it: artisanal coffee isn’t going away anytime soon. The difference between a cup of Nescafé and a properly brewed flat white made with well-sourced, roasted and ground beans is huge. And what’s more, the skill and craft that goes into a perfectly poured cappuccino is truly a work of art. At the Barista School, you and your friends can learn the secrets behind a well-crafted macchiato. Contact the school to discuss group packages – you’ll never taste coffee the same way again.

Get into Character

saigonplayers@gmail.com  | +84 90 795 4093

There may be no better way to learn about oneself than to learn how to act like someone else. Saigon Players, the city’s premier community theater, is always looking for new members, and consistently put on high-quality productions. Join the group and you’ll receive peer-based coaching, instruction and feedback, helping you to realise your dreams of becoming Vietnam’s next Al Pacino or Meryl Streep. You’ll also get the chance to perform live, meet new people and explore the rich world of the thespian.

Arrange Some Natural Beauty

55/6 Le Thi Hong Gam, D1 | facebook.com/padma.de.fleur | +84 90 300 9873

Anyone who’s walked around Vietnam long enough will have noticed the dazzling array of beautiful flora throughout the country. Even if you haven't seen the wild lotus, lilies or trees around the countryside, the markets of HCMC are often full of the colours and smells of one of the richest ranges of flowers in the world. So, what better place to learn flower arranging? Get your friends together and arrange a class at Padma de Fleur to learn a skill that will provide you with a lifetime of beauty.

arrange flower

Learn to Paint, Get Tipsy

21 Nguyen Trung Ngan, D1 | contact@tipsyart.vn | +84 289 853 3254

The creation and appreciation of art awakens something profound in the soul, leaving you intoxicated by life’s majesty and wonder – much like how you probably feel after a bottle of wine. So, what better way to celebrate two of life’s wonders than by getting sloshed and attempting to paint something? If that sounds like something you’d like (and it certainly should be), Tipsy Art is the group for you. Reasonably priced and – obviously – for adults only, Tipsy Art provides all the booze, paint and canvas you need to untap your inner Vincent Van Gogh, minus the absinthe.

Make Some Dishware

66 Nguyen Ngoc Phuong, Binh Thanh District | info@gomxoay.com | +84 93 342 1987

Pottery, the fascinating, ancient craft that has been central to human development for millennia, is a fascinating and humbling art. Working clay on a wheel or by hand is an enriching experience. It also allows you to recreate that scene from Ghost… it’s not mandatory, but it’s an option. Gom Xoay offers fantastic group lesson packages that can teach you and your friends how to create your own masterpieces and, of course, take them home.

 


Soul Man: Mark Bell Fine-Tunes Saigon Music Classes

By: Frank B. Edwards

Six days a week, Canadian educator Mark Bell rides a scooter to District 3’s Soul Music & Performing Arts Academy (SMPAA), determined to change the course of music lessons in HCMC.

His strategy is simple: teach children to play music by winning their hearts instead of rapping their knuckles.

Midway through his first year as principal of the revolutionary music school, the 56-year-old church organist, choral leader and passionate teacher is excited about his mission to shape a new generation of Vietnamese musicians by teaching them in a softer and friendlier fashion.

The Soul music building

He calls his courtyard campus at 214-216 Pasteur an oasis for children where they can study music and dance in a way that will inspire them throughout their lives. There are no teacher tantrums here, and the only raised voices heard are those lifted in song.

While we’re teaching music and the arts, we’re also developing a generation with a different outlook and way of being,” he says. “Yes, we’re informal but (also) formative. It’s about celebrating where you are and where you can be.

Now in its fifth year, the Soul Academy is the brainchild of 33-year-old Thanh Bui, an Australian-born Vietnamese pop star who moved his musical career to HCMC in 2010. A natural teacher with no formal training, Thanh recruited Mark to strengthen the teaching credentials of his academy.

They met by chance at District 7’s Canadian International School, where Mark was the elementary principal. Having arrived early to speak at a rhinoceros conservation rally, Thanh was invited to wait in Mark’s office. It didn’t take long for Thanh to discover his host’s passion for music education. Meanwhile, Mark learned of his young visitor’s pop-star status when the students went ballistic as Thanh entered the school auditorium.

Happy boy dancing SOUL Music ho chi minh

Months later, Mark agreed to run an educational training course for the musicians Thanh had recruited as SMPAA teachers, and later signed on as full-time principal of the academy.

Today, SMPAA has about 600 students from age four to adult, studying voice, instrumental music and dance in the evenings and weekends. While much of the curriculum is contemporary, classical training is also offered. Students wanting a taste of public performance can audition for a number of enrichment programs, including a popular dance troupe known as The Young Lyricist, whose members serve as inspirational ambassadors of the arts for young Vietnamese.

 

The HCMC campus now consists of three elegant heritage houses crammed with studios, classrooms and performance spaces, and there are two more buildings in the planning stage. Mark’s office is located between two drum studios whose walls do not quite shut out the sound of nine-year-old drum-kit phenomenon Trong Nhan.

Mark understands the rewards of musical success as well as the sacrifices parents make for their families. The youngest of six children whose father worked three jobs, Mark was allowed to take piano lessons after a neighbour realised he was teaching himself music by replicating her young daughter’s weekly lessons.

Happy girl at Soul Music and performing Arts Academy

During a summer job cutting grass at a famous Catholic institution near his village home, he met a Jesuit brother who taught him to play the church’s classic pipe organ. A few years later, at age 16, he became the organist at Canada’s famous National Martyrs’ Shrine in Huronia – and its director of music, a position he held through high school and university. At 24, Mark was made executive coordinator of music for Pope John Paul II’s visit to bless the shrine. Part of his job was to amass a 700-voice choir for the visit that attracted a congregation of 70,000.

 

Later, Mark filled his spare time as a church organist and directing community and church choirs in Toronto, and studied to become a teacher before becoming a principal. Today his passion is teaching children to sing and SMPAA is giving him the chance to work directly with young singers again.

He and Thanh are influencing a new style of popular music by moving students away from the popular Korean sound that has saturated the country.

We’re training people who want to be professional musical performers in this country,” Mark says. “And maybe do it in a different way... we are definitely rooted in Vietnam and Vietnamese culture.

Taking a visitor on a tour of the Soul Academy, Mark points out the encouraging slogans and quotes that adorn the walls. He pauses at a neon sign that spells out “Soul Live Project”.

That’s what it’s about,” he muses. “It’s all about soul.


  Thank you for Signing Up
Please correct the marked field(s) below.

IS THERE A STORY OR TIP

YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH US?

GET IN TOUCH