Saigon in 3 Days If You’re a Culture Snob

By: Brennan Lagman

For the well-travelled culture connoisseur, Ho Chi Minh City is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. On the surface, it's rough around the edges. But beneath the heat, pollution and organised chaos is a unique place full of one-of-a-kind gems that unveil the city’s heritage.

In this quickly expanding city, knowing where to begin can be overwhelming. Especially if you are looking to dive deeper than the typical things-to-see for tourists. That’s why we put together this three-day itinerary for anyone itching to chart a course less travelled and see the best of the city’s rich history and culture.


Friday: A Museum Marathon and Some Old-Fashioned Opulence

9 am:

Start your trip with a fresh coconut at the Tao Dan park sculpture garden, where you can discover local art history as you stroll along meandering pathways lined with some of the city’s oldest trees and modernist sculptures.

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You’ll need caffeine to get you through this day, so consider heading to nearby She Café for a jolt of coffee and some female-inspired photography. The downlit, rustic vibe of the place is just the right amount of artsy.

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11 am:

Once fueled-up, jump straight into the city’s war-time history by exploring the popular Reunification Palace—the centrefold of the fall of Saigon in 1975.

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12:30 pm:

A taste of Vietnam’s famous food culture is mere steps away at Quan An Ngon 138. The Chinese pagoda-style restaurant takes you on a culinary voyage across Vietnam’s vast and flavourful food landscape by dishing up high-quality, authentic favourites from different regions of the country.

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2:00 pm:

After lunch, hail a cab to Hung Kings’ Temple, which is located across the same plaza as the Museum of Vietnamese History and the Saigon Botanical Gardens. Completed in 1929, the Hung Kings’ Temple honours fallen heroes with exquisite masonry and architecture. The 2,000 square metre National History Museum is home to plenty of artifacts of ethno-cultural significance.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: National History Museum

4:00 pm:

Head back along Lê Duẩn street, a wide tree-lined boulevard that passes through ‘consulate row’. Pass the heavily guarded American Consulate, the stunning colonial style Consulate Générale de France, and the recently opened German behemoth, Deutsches Haus. Turn left on Hai Ba Trung, and wander down Saigon’s quaint, pedestrian-only Book Street.

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5:30 pm:

A day of exploring can be tiring so after some browsing, we recommend quenching your thirst for haute culture with an aperitif at the majestic RuNam d’Or villa. From your happy hour vantage point, you can see two beautiful, if typical, stops on the Saigon tourist map—the Saigon Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral.

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7:00 pm:

Cruise over to Propaganda restaurant for contemporary Vietnamese cuisine alongside vintage Viet Cong propaganda art.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: Propaganda restaurant

9:00 pm:

After dinner, indulge in 1930s-style Saigonese luxury. Have a drink in the cigar lounge at the Hôtel Des Arts Social Club, then head one floor up to take in the breathtaking rooftop view.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: Hôtel Des Arts

Saturday: War Remnants, Feminist Fighters and Religious Relics

9 am:

Kick off day two with a carefully crafted cup of artisanal coffee from Fugashin Coffee. The baristas are coffee artists who bring you along for every step from grinding the beans to sipping.

Right across the street is the War Remnants Museum, a painful but necessary journey to gain understanding of the brutal American War.

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12:30 pm:

For lunch, rejuvenate your senses with the fusion vegetarian cuisine of Prem Bistro and Café, which offers a tranquil, Tibetan-style ambience as an escape from the heat.

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2 pm:

After you've had your fill, explore Vietnam’s history through the eyes of inspirational local women at the Southern Women’s Museum. The Museum highlights some of Vietnam’s strongest female personalities throughout history including age-old matriarchal leaders and some of the fiercest wartime heroes.

4 pm:

The next stop on our list is the high-class Salon Saigon. This gallery and performance space showcases the artistic prowess of contemporary Vietnamese Artists.

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Just down the street is one of the Ho Chi Minh City’s grandest statements dating back to Saigon’s French Colonial roots: The Archbishop’s Palace. Moved in 1946 from its original 1790 birthplace, the well-maintained mansion is still a colonial site to behold.

7 pm:

For this evening’s meal, feast your five senses at Hoi An Sense, a restaurant that takes cultural fine dining to a new level. Central Vietnamese delights are served alongside traditional Vietnamese music and dance performances.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: Hoi An Sense

9 pm:

To cap off the night, treat yourself to a cocktail at Sky Garden Rooftop lounge, courtesy of the 5-star Rex Hotel. The hotel was the infamous location of the American military’s daily war conferences. Though the rooftop is low compared to today’s high-rise standards, you’ll have a view of the Saigon Opera House and the People’s Committee Hall. But be warned, outside of happy hour the drinks tab can be quite high.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: Rex Hotel

Sunday: Musical Overtures and a River Finale

8 am:

Don't miss the weekly free live music in front of the Opera House. The Opera House is the premier jewel of French colonial architecture in the city, boasting a repertoire of performances that's easily on par with international standards.

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9 am:

Today’s recommended breakfast and coffee is just a stone’s throw away at the Caravelle hotel. This lavish hotel is lovely to look at but more importantly it housed the Australian and New Zealand embassies during the 1960s as well as being the nerve centre for many of the major American television networks.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: Caravelle Saigon

10 am:

The last museum on this list of cultural gems is one you shouldn’t miss! Saigon’s Fine Arts Museum has three floors of extensive exhibits that take you on a journey through Vietnam’s rich art history, with rotating installations including everything from contemporary and political art to Cham, Indian and Khmer artifacts dating as far back as 600 AD.

12 pm:

For a post-museum snack and coffee, check out Cà Phê Cô Ba, a local favourite coffee house known for its vintage and comfortable interior design and affordable drinks.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: Cà Phê Cô Ba

1:45 to 6:15 pm:

It's been a full few days. What better way to see the rest of the city than a jeep and river boat tour? Les Rives offers a comprehensive tour of the town that includes food and refreshments. Sit back, relax, and enjoy different angles of the city along the cities waterways, while taking in a Saigon sunset.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: Les Rives

Prefer to have a guide? We recommend these two cultural tours: Sophie’s Art Tour ( and Hidden Saigon (


Sleep amongst vestiges from Ho Chi Minh’s oldest shipyard at the The Myst Hotel Dong Khoi (6-8 Ho Huan Nghiep St., District 1). The hotel was inspired by the idea of sharing the sophisticated spirit of Saigon with world-travellers.

Culture tour in saigonImage source: The Myst Hotel Dong Khoi



Tao Dan Park, Between Cách Mạng Tháng Tám Street and Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street.
She Cafe, 58 Pasteur, Bến Nghé, D1.
Reunification Palace, 135 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Thành, District 1 
Quan An Ngon 138, 138 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Nghé, D1  
Hung Kings’ Temple and Museum of Vietnamese History, 2 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Bến Nghé, D1 
Book Street, Nguyễn Văn Bình, Bến Nghé, D1 
RuNam d’Or, Số 3 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, D1 
Propaganda, 21 Hàn Thuyên, Bến Nghé, D1 
Hôtel des Arts Social Club, MGallery Saigon
, 76-78 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Ward 6, D3


Fugashin Coffee, 15 Võ Văn Tần, Ward 6, D3   
War Remnants Museum, 28 Võ Văn Tần, Ward 6, D3  
Prem Bistro, 204 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Ward 6, D3   
Southern Women’s Museum, 202 Võ Thị Sáu, Ward 7, D3  
Salon Saigon, 6D Ngô Thời Nhiệm, Ward 7, D3   
Archbishop’s Palace, 180 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Ward 6, D3  
Hoi An Sense, Rooftop, 12 Phan Kế Bính, Đa Kao, D1   
Rex Hotel, 141 Nguyễn Huệ, Bến Nghé, D1


Opera House, 07 Công Trường Lam Sơn, Bến Nghé, D1 
Caravelle Hotel, 19 Lam Sơn Square, Bến Nghé, D1   
Saigon Fine Art Museum, 97A Phó Đức Chính, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, D1  
Ca Phe Co Ba, Floor 1, No. 2 Đồng Khởi, Bến Nghé, D1   
Les Rives, 98 Nguyễn Huệ, Bến Nghé, D1  

Video source: MrDiamondbackDave

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Escape Hunt and Ubiquest in HCMC

By: Aleksandr Smechov

City Pass tries out two of Saigon’s most popular live detective games, Escape Hunt and Ubiquest, playing the role of a hard-nosed detective investigating a murder mystery.

Outside of theatre and video games, you don’t see much role play or interactive activities in Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily, we uncovered two detective games that drop you in the middle of a murder mystery, letting you live out those Sherlock Holmes fantasies (minus tobacco pipe and risk of death). Escape Hunt and Ubiquest are difficult (to an extent), immersive and rewarding – read on to find out exactly why they are some of the most fun you will have in Saigon.

Escape Hunt

Located somewhat furtively above The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is the quietly decorated lobby area of Ho Chi Minh City’s Escape Hunt office. Four rooms sit at various angles, blocked off by tall curtains. These are the escape rooms, and you will know nothing about them until you walk in, have the door shut and locked on you, and be given one hour to solve the mystery and find the key to unlock the door.

Escape Hunt HCMC

Escape Hunt is the brainchild of an English Psychologist who, after experiencing health issues and moving to Thailand, developed the idea of a detective game that has 2-5 players pitted against an intricate mystery.

Escape Hunt now has 25 locations, with a slew of others set to open in North America. The Ho Chi Minh City Escape Hunt branch was opened in September and has been popular with teens, universities, companies, tourists and expats.

Escape Hunt Saigon

Three of our staff stopped in for a 60-minute sleuth session. We were ushered into a low-lit room, explained the rules and left to solve the mystery and find the key to the door within an hour timeframe.

We heard the door sadistically lock and some moody music creep up. The game master was available for hints, but each time we asked for help from her we got minutes shaved from our remaining time.

Escape Hunt in Ho Chi Minh City

The puzzles are tricky, teamwork-oriented, and require some outside-the-box approaches. Few if any have solved the mystery and escaped the room without at least a few hints from the game master. Finding the next clue or coming upon an item you were searching for feels highly rewarding, and you get sucked into the role quickly. Time flies as you use a whiteboard to jot down notes and figures, collect pieces of evidence and nervously glance at the large LED clock ticking away.

It’s thrilling, addictive and relies on individual strengths working in unison rather than outsmarting the other person. As a team-building exercise or a rainy-day diversion, Escape Hunt is ace.

To check out available mysteries and booking options, check out the Escape Hunt booking page.


Ubiquest Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City’s second live detective game takes players outside the claustrophobic confines of a room and throws them in the streets of Saigon.

This doubles as a self-directed walking tour, but you may want to do the tour part after the live game – you’ll be too busy role playing a hard-nosed detective, questioning actors in various roles, finding mafia-tied ancient artifacts or any of the other challenges Ubiquest presents.

For our experience, we chose the Urban Tales game, a murder mystery set in Cho Lon, Ho Chi Minh City’s China town. We were picked up by a cute yellow 1967 Citroen 2CV, a happy-go-lucky young driver creaking away at the ancient dashboard. We arrived at a dilapidated living space, escorted up to the top floor and into one of the rooms, a few curious residents peeking at us through open doorways.

We were briefed, told to search the evidence room and given our gear (map, notebook, water, etc.), including cell phones for further instructions from the head detective.

Urban Tales takes three to four hours to complete. Be sure to go when the wind blows and the sun’s behind the clouds – you can easily get exhausted walking around in the unbearable heat on a cloudless day. Sun block and a decently wide hat are all but mandatory. You’ll be provided water but it’s a good idea to bring a bottle of your own too.

Ubiquest detective game

For entirety of the game, we set out into the streets of Cho Lon with our map and collection of evidence, going from actor to actor, uncovering details of the murder. The characters drop you clues and hints when you press them for information, sometimes refusing you if you don’t put enough pressure or reasoning into your argument. The acting is hilariously campy, and the game would benefit from some natural English speakers with an acting background, but the campiness is tolerable in the grand scheme, and allows you to play out your own amateur detective fantasies without judgment.

Ubiquest Cho Lon

We were pitted against two other teams, and although we were the first to find out the murderer, another team found the sacred artifact before us. Afterwards we all took cyclos to a Chinese restaurant for free lunch.

Urban Tales is an eclectic way to discover Cho Lon – or any other part of Saigon – just be sure to go when the sun isn’t blazing.

For more games, check out the official Ubiquest page.

Best Things to Do with Kids in Saigon

By: Barbara

Many of Ho Chi Minh City's things to do are suitable for families with kids of all ages. If you are living in Vietnam as an expat or just visiting, we list the 10 best things to do with your children in Saigon.

Don’t forget to comment below to let us know what are your recommendations!

City Parks and their Playgrounds

The city's parks are places where childish exuberance, which can be hard to contain in a hotel room, can be unleashed. Van Thanh Park in Binh Thanh District has paths and a field for little people who just need to run, as well as a small playground and a swimming pool. While the kids are busy being energetic, adults can relax in a bamboo hut over a small pond or work up a sweat on the tennis courts.

Saigon Parks

Listening to Songbirds

Tao Dan Park in downtown District 1 also has room to move, making it a popular spot for city dwellers to take their morning and evening exercise. And it's not just people who visit the park. Songbirds are taken to the park's little cafe (fronting Cach Mang Thang Tam Street) every morning, their cages hung from purpose-built frames to encourage them to sing. It's a fascinating experience to visit the bird cafe, especially watching the bird owners take their beloved pets home by motorbike.

Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre

The park, which has large playground and an indoor play centre, is a short walk from the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The 55-minute water puppet shows, all in Vietnamese, need to be booked a few days ahead.

You could continue the bird theme with a visit to Pet Me Coffee in Phu Nhuan District. This small drinks-only cafe has a resident mini-owl and several parakeets, which can be petted, as well as some larger more exotic birds who hang out at the front of the coffee shop.

Photo Source: Golden Dragon Theatre

Family-Fun in Suoi Tien Amusement Park

One of the city's wackiest attractions in town is the Buddhist-themed Suoi Tien Amusement Park. Allocate a full day here, especially if you plan to visit the vast water park section. The amusement park can be quite baffling if you're not well versed in Buddhist stories because there is limited signage in English. Still, a stroll through the strange displays, which include a wish tree and The Royal Herbal Wine Palace, can be very entertaining. There is also an aquarium, 4D cinema, a dolphin show and the Snow Castle, the perfect place to escape Ho Chi Minh City's heat ... by plunging into a sub-zero world of ice and snow.

Photo Source: Suoi Tien - Andrea Hale

Pretending to Be Adults in Kizciti

Younger kids will enjoy learning about the world of work at Kizciti in District 4. The staff here usually has enough English to explain how each activity centre works. Each child receives a small amount of kizo, the Kizciti currency, on entry and they must decide how to manage it. Some activities cost kizo, and some earn it. A small open-air cafe serves basic food and coffee to sustain the "kiz" and their parents through a long day of "work", which can entail learning to be a pilot, a paediatrician, a delivery person or a firefighter.

Photo Source: Kizciti

Indoor Kid’s Play Centres and Playgrounds

Ho Chi Minh City has several indoor play centres and amusement arcades. In the city centre, Vincom Center has a play area and a game zone in its basement. In District 2, there's a play area in the garden of Snap Cafe and in District 7 there's an air-conditioned indoor playground inside Bee Bee Premium Kid's Cafe (4th floor, 96-98 Cao Trieu Phat, Phu My Hung).

Older kids can while away a few hours at Paintball Saigon, X-Rock Climbing, in the pool at Lan An Sports Club or at the bowling alley on the fourth floor of Diamond Plaza.

Photo Source: Snap Café

Visit a Witch-Themed Café

Younger kids can be entertained for hours at the witch-themed Ba Cay Choi (Three Broomstick) cafe on the third floor of The Vista Walk in District 2. Activities at the cafe, which can be entered via the stairs or a giant slide, include candle-making, baking, hat-making and painting. Make sure you order something with a suitably disgusting name from the food and drink menu, such as bug mud or ghost pumpkin spaghetti.

There are more cool cafés for you to bring your children to: A long rainy Saigon afternoon can be spent playing board games and snacking on poutine at Monopolatte Au Play Cafe, while a long scary evening can be spent eating ribs. (There's a pool in the outdoor section).

Photo Source: Witch Coffee

Playing Detective in Escape Hunt

Escape Hunt is a game played indoors with a group of two to eight people. You are locked inside a room with a mystery murder to solve. It is one of the best thing to do in Saigon for families with teenagers. You must work together to find clues that will help you find out who is the killer and how to escape.

Learning Arts in Vinspace

In the expat area of District 2, there is a range of activities for older kids. Some of the more interesting include taking a workshop or joining a summer camp at Vinspace art studio.

Photo Source: Vinspace

Saigon Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace is a prime example of a must-visit family-friendly attraction that has a special appeal for kids. The roomy but slightly run-down public areas could be the backdrop for a princess fantasy, while the basement war rooms will appeal to hero-types. Making the palace even more appealing is its location, a short walk from the Haagen-Dazs ice cream cafe.

Families traveling to Vietnam with kids should not worry about things to do in Saigon. We only listed our top 10 attractions but there are many more great ideas that will make your stay memorable. You may also want to read our article What to Do in 24-hour in Saigon.

Arabian Night in HCMC

By: Quang Mai

Funds raised from the event will be donated to Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in District 10 to renovate and buy equipment for a Multi-Sensory Room that supports 305 students here to develope their academic learning. Multi-Sensory Learning happens when more than one sense is used to acquire and retain information – so applicable for children with multi-disabilities.


Saturday, 15th September 2012


From 7pm till late


InterContinental Asiana Saigon
Corner of Hai Ba Trung & Le Duan St., Dist. 1, HCMC

Ticket cost:

VND3,165,000 per ticket
VND31,650,000 per table of 10

Tel: (84-8) 3832 9912

Please click here to visit Arabian Night micro website

XO Tours: Much imitated but never replicated!

By: Barbara Dorothy Clarke

We all know that it is near on impossible to copyright an idea and protect intellectual property in Vietnam.

But what does that mean for your day to day business when you have an original idea and an excellent product?

Luckily although people can steal your ideas – in minute detail – and almost totally replicate your offering - it’s the little things that make a brand – and ensure that brand still stands head high above any pale imitations.

Spend 5 minutes with Tung who is the founder of XO Tours and his passion and enthusiasm for what he does is palpable. It is a simple idea – tourists want to see the real Saigon but not on the back of a grubby motorbike and behind an even grubbier driver. Step up XO Tours with female drivers with class, style and excellent English who are also able to provide a female perspective on life in Vietnam.

XO Tours was the first company in Vietnam to offer affordable motorbike tours with attractive female tour guides dressed in traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai. All the XO guides are handpicked and fluent in English but it is Tung’s focus on service that really sets XO Tours apart.

Tung invests heavily in every detail of his brand and his employees imbue the same high brand values. All his employees are trained to the highest standards – whether it is presentation, language skills, driving skills or personability . All employees are full time and their bikes are upgraded at Tung’s expense to ensure maximum comfort and safety for clients.

This is a business where the customer experience is king – people are buying memories and that is what he aims to deliver. Staff retention is key and bonuses and profit sharing make for motivated and loyal employees who are focused on growing the company by providing the best experience they can.

Customers come from all over the world and a high percentage of business comes from word of mouth – simply the best publicity you can get – being number 1 on Trip Advisor for 2 years can’t be bad either.

Bristling with new ideas, Tung started with basic tours – he was the first to do night tours – then first to do foodie tours. Now others are jumping on the bandwagon - some good -some not so good….

In spite of this, XO Tours is expanding and bookings are full – anything between 18-24 guests go out on any one night.

So competitors can steal his ideas, follow the same routes , and visit the same areas, cosy up to the same suppliers…..

Imitate they may – replicate never!

Do you know of any businesses with similar experiences?

Saigon Artbook Did It Again!

By: Phuong Tran

Saigon Artbook Did It Again!

Saigon Artbook is a quarterly publication that catalogs the work of three artists who live in the Saigon area, in the hope of promoting innovative and undiscovered artists. With each catalog, Saigon Artwork hosts a party where people can come to meet the artists and enjoy their work. For more information, visit Saigon Artbook Webpage.

The third Saigon Artbook, held on 24 and 25 April at 2 Le Cong Kieu Street, District 1 in Saigon, attracted a huge number of spectators and fans to the illustrations of Kristopher Kotcher (Frenemy), Khoa Le and Laurent Judge. Strong interest during the first two Artbooks had prompted the organizers to hold the third Artbook over two days. Given the success, they may have to extend future events even further.
The exhibition was only open to people who had registered online for a limited number of free tickets, but such was the interest that all tickets had been claimed within the first half-hour! This proved the effectiveness of Saigon Artbook’s viral marketing.
With each ticket, a person was given two coupons: one for a bottle of Peroni beer and one for the beautifully designed book featuring artworks of the three artists – the main reason most people come to the quarterly exhibition.

Saigon Artbook third versionTwo coupons were used to exchange for one Peroni and one artbook copy

The building that Saigon Artbook chose was a run-down, old-style house on Le Cong Kieu Street in District 1. They had spent several days painting and decorating it, and I was surprised at how they virtually turned it into a new house.

Saigon Artbook third versionFrenemy Artwork on the rooftop

On the first floor, right after a typically French, narrow stairway, was a big room with a yellowish wall offset by windows painted red. This provided a good background for the artworks.

Most people could lurk around this exhibition area, have a chat, exchange their coupons for a beer and the book, and of course talk to the artists.
Each artist had their own ways to express their skills and artistic sense. Kristopher (or Frenemy) occasionally chose a random wall to draw on. Khoa Le created an awesome body-painting on a female model. Meanwhile, Laurent was busy signing fans’ books – well, he not only signed but drew: every single one of his signatures was an artwork in itself.

Saigon Artbook third versionLaurent's signature (I think this one is specially for me!)
Saigon Artbook third version


Frenemy was busy with his iconic cartoon creatures

The second floor was the rooftop where people could enjoy the DJ’s performance and watch Khoa Le’s body-painting model (many guys took photos with her as well). This was a great place for people to relax in the fresh air while sipping Peroni beer and having a good chat with new friends.
I went to the last two Saigon Artbook parties but this one was the biggest and it just keeps growing. I really look forward to introducing my foreign friends to this must-see event in Saigon.

City Pass Guide caught up with the three illustrators:

From left: Frenemy, Khoa Le and Laurent

City Pass Guide: Could you define your style in one sentence?

Frenemy: Cartoonist, colorful with a mixture of graffiti.
Khoa Le: Pop-surrealism meets illustration.
Laurent: Many, many styles mixed together but mainly impressionism and surrealism, I think. 

CPG: What is your source of inspiration?

Frenemy: From the cartoons and comic books that I watched and read when I was a kid. I have read a couple of manga titles before but never get into it much because I don’t like the style.
Khoa Le: From many things, music, film, cartoons, books, novels, magazines, etc. I particularly listen to Radiohead and Muse.
Laurent: I basically read, watch and observe whatever exists around us.
CPG: What is your favourite artwork out of all the ones displayed here today? And why?

Frenemy: Each of my artworks communicates a different message and has its own beauty and characteristics. It would be unfair if I favour this over that.
Khoa Le: It would be my “Deep Sleep”. It completes my satisfaction.
Laurent: It is “Lightning Bolt” because it comprises many styles: impressionism, surrealism, cubism, etc. I also have all the times and a huge variety of objects combined altogether. Its details are so rich that one can easily get lost while looking at the piece.Saigon Artbook third versionDeep Sleep by Khoa Le

Saigon Artbook third versionLigtning Bolt by Laurent Judge


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