Cosmos’s Excellent Vietnam Journeys

Cosmos’s Excellent Vietnam Journeys
I first went to Saigon with my spouse, Angela, back in 1995 when I was in Bangkok working for the Embassy and she was in the military in Texas. We spent two wonderful weeks and always wanted to go back. This winter we decided we would go to either Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia and left in early March, escaping the cold weather a bit.

Food in Saigon

Personal comments

Vietnam has a well deserved reputation as a foodie’s paradise. The food is good to great, mostly inexpensive although there are some expensive places.

Other Asian cuisines are widely available, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian.
Western style food is available and on the expensive side. American Fast food is available at least in the bigger towns but while bother going?

There is such a wide variety of styles of food to choose from among the traditional Vietnamese styles of food. Saigon city has so many restaurants one could spend decades eating every night at a different place and never run out of options.

There were a few foods that stood out though

Vietnamese style omelets – they do eggs right

Ban Chua is a Hanoi style of small plates sort of like the Vietnamese version of Tapas. Quite good and tasty.
Bahn Mi Sandwiches – they are everywhere. I liked them but my wife not being able to tolerate gluten did not and she thought that the sanitations standards on the street banh mi stands were not up to her standards. Still widespread and good.

Pho – of course

Lots of varieties to try. We liked the chicken Pho which is a bit hard to find in the US where they tend to mostly serve the beef Pho

Craft Beer Vietnam has recently gone through a craft beer boom. The craft beer is great. A bit expensive double the cost of the standards but still great. But just as in Korea where craft beer has taken off some places advertise craft beer but all they have is the regular crap on tap. And there are two craft beer companies that dominate the market, it is hard to find other craft beer places but they do exist.

Traditional Vietnamese rice wine – did not get a chance to try but will try it on my next trip.

Local Vietnamese wine – who knew they even made it here? Not that good but much better than years before. Probably worth a try just to say you tried it

Snake and scorpion wine – would like to have tried it by my spouse vetoed the idea

Artichoke tea – sounds weird but it tastes like hot chocolate! And is one of those great foods for lowering cholesterol etc.

Guava tea – tastes great like green tea

Coffee – a coffee lovers paradise would be nice to find a decafe option though

Tea – a tea lovers paradise as well

Tropical fruits galore – loved eating tropical fruit for breakfast especially soursop

Vegetarian food options- widespread available almost everywhere

Vegan options – not as common but widespread

Gluten free – unheard of concept but if you avoid eating fried noodles and stick with rice noodles (usually clearly labelled as such) you can eat gluten free

Trends I like to see emerge

Gluten Free options

MSG free – too much MSG used everywhere

Artisanal Rum – Vietnam like most Asian countries just don’t get rum. Bacardi is available in tourist friendly areas but other than that no one does decent rum. Yet you could make rum easily enough as they grow a lot of sugar cane. The Thais do a decent job with their Mekong whiskey which is a rum. I wished they would quit calling it Whiskey! Otherwise rum is just not common in the region.

Promotion of traditional Rice wine
Good stuff should be more widely available and promoted

Artisanal local whiskey – if you can make decent craft beer you should be able to make decent local artisanal whiskey

Here’s wiki’s take on Vietnamese food.

what’s your favorite? please comment love to hear from my readers!

Best restaurants according to Lonely Planet

In this trip I hit the following

Asiana Food Town
Five Oysters
Bing Thang Street Food Market
Le Jardine
Nha Hang Ngon

On my prior trip I hit Appocalypse Now!

And on my next trip, I must go to Jake’s BBQ because as a Jake why the hell not? Needs me a Jake’s bbq t-shirt, don’t ya think? Now if there is a Cosmos club or Resturant I will have to go there as w

Vietnam Poems

Cosmos’s Excellent Vietnam Journeys – Day to Day Journal

Summary: arrived at airport about 1 pm. Went to AIRBNB. We stayed at two different AIRBNB, both in the Pham Ngu Lou area near the backpacker street but not on the strip. Both were nice, comfortable enough. Lots of restaurants, coffee shops nearby. Not too far from tourist sites. We went everywhere by Grab, Saigon’s version of Uber. Uber pulled out of Southeast Asia and sold their operations to Grab. It took a bit to figure out the app but once we did it was great.

We went out for lunch, and walked about, walked to the Bing Thang market, largest street market in District One. Bought fruit for breakfast, had dinner at Vietnamese Japanese Resturant

Saigon is divided into 24 districts but most things that would appeal to tourists and visitors are located in Districts one, two and three. District one is the downtown district and has most of the tourist sites. District Two is across the river and is popular with diplomats and long term expats. Filled with upscale Western and Vietnamese restaurants. The government has announced a long term project to build a new city there that is modelled after Gangnam. Lots of construction already underway. District three is near downtown and has lots of nice restaurants as well. District four is across the river and is the center of the expat Asian community, lots of Koreans and Japanese living there. District Five is the old China town. Still lots of Chinese around. It is also where most of the traditional pagodas are located. And has a large traditional market. We went. It was very confusing but interesting to see.

Transportation is chaotic still. The subway is under construction, first line linking district one and two opens next year, eventually there will be seven lines and a high speed train to Hanoi. The buses are cheap and run everywhere but we did not try them. Taxis are plentiful but Grab is more convenient and cheaper. And there are motorcycle taxis everywhere – fastest and cheapest way to get around. The old pedicabs are a thing of the past – we only saw a few.

for more info see the following:
saigon district overview

Breakfast at home kefir
Lunch pho at Pho 54 near Cinemax
Dinner Korean Japanese Resturant on Pasteur street

Wednesday March 6 exploring backpacker’s street dinner at street buffet

Met old friend who lives in Vietnam. Walked about the backpacker’s district. Had decent lunch and dinner.

Breakfast fruit
Lunch had Vietnamese steak
Dinner in Ngu Lao Backpackers Street grilled morning glory, seafood noodles
Drinks coffee beer

Seeing Ghosts

Inspired by a true story – I was looking at an old American who could have been a Vietnam vet back for a trip. He was sitting in a bar drinking a beer. He looked at me and smiled a wistful WTF where the Fuck am I bemused look. I looked up and a few seconds later the old man had disappeared and I felt that I had been seeing a ghost and that there were ghosts all over the city. Very eerie feeling that stayed with me all day and inspired the two following poems

Ghosts in Saigon

I walk around the streets
Of old Saigon
Seeing sensing the undead

The ghosts of the war
That haunted life
So many years ago

So many people died
For a war
That never should have been fought
For reasons that are still not clear

A great tragedy unfolded
In a land half away
Around the world

The ghosts smile at me
And then they disappear

Leaving me in the present
Life goes on

Old Ghosts

Old ghosts wandering the streets of old Saigon
Lost spirits of the dead
Died during the endless wars
Ghostly apparitions around every corner
Here was Kilroy and his gang of soldiers

Over there were the Viet Cong waiting to kill them
Saigon is filled with memories like that
Terrible times were had here in Old Saigon
Silently the ghosts parade the city streets

Thursday March 7 Mekong Delta

Long but good day. Went on a Mekong River tour. The tour guide was knowledgeable and spoke decent English. Most of the passengers were Aussies, there were a few Japanese, and Koreans and Europeans, we were the only Americans. In general, you don’t find that many Americans, most of the white tourists are Aussies, Canadians or European.
We stopped off at a bamboo and coconut products store. That was marginally interesting. Then we took several boat rides before we ended up having lunch. Lunch was decent. We had some time to walk about a traditional working orchid. Saw alligators, porcupines, fish. Also saw snake wine for sale. Did not partake though.

Mekong Dreams

Traveling along the Mekong
Back in time

Seeing the river
The people
Imagining life on the river
Imagining the war
The past in the Mekong delta

And the present tourist boom
Yet life goes on
With its own laid back rhythm

As we traversed the river
We were transported back
To an earlier time

Following the ancient rhythms
Of the Mekong Delta


On the way back we stopped at a famous Buddhist temple. Vietnamese Buddhist temples are different from Korean temples. Different style of Buddhism. The temples are everywhere, not just in the mountains like in Korea. Most Vietnamese are probably nominally Buddhist, but there are many Catholics especially in the South, and many adherents to Cao Dai, the local religion, see below. The officially promoted atheism of the communist era is fading away.

Buddha In Vietnam

In Saigon I saw the buddha
Buddha images are everywhere
Temples are scattered about
Here and there and everywhere

Buddha lives on
In the hearts and minds
Of the Vietnamese soul

The communists tried
To get rid of Buddhism
And other religious traditions

But they failed
And Buddhism has come back
Still speaks to the Vietnamese people

A different style
A different vibe
Than Korean Buddhism

But still Buddhist thought
Prevails in the tropical lands
Of the South

Breakfast Banhmi and coffee on the street
Lunch rice, seafood lunch on Mekong
Dinner stir fry morning glory, seafood noodles in Pham Ngu Lao Backpackers Street

Friday March 8

Breakfast fruit
Lunch Resturant at Le Jardin salmon, salad
Dinner with VCQ Cholan Chinese Resturant
Whiskey wine too much

Met with old friends from my foreign service days. Had lunch at a French Resturant in the French Cultural center. Food was decent. Wine was plentiful but a bit too much. Walked about went to the market headed home took a nap. Went out to Cho Long district five near Saigon University.

Met Vietnamese friends of our friends. Had a great time, winning and dinning at a Chinese Resturant. A bit too much though.

Saturday March 9 Lunch in District 2 with VC2

Met our Vietnamese friends at his house in District Two. He runs an home interior business and is a very lively man. Delightful company. Had a great lunch.

For dinner had a simple dinner near our house and went to bed early.

Sunday March 10 lunch at Sheraton, Dinner at hotel Equatorial

On Sunday met our Vietnamese friends and some Belgium doctors for lunch at the Sheraton hotel. Their bunch is a great value. And in the evening went to dinner at Hotel Equatorial and ate a lot more. Gained too much weight with all the wine, whiskey and food.

Vietnamese like to eat and drink and entertain. Like Koreans in that regard. But everything is much cheaper.

Monday March 11 walking tour of downtown with friend

Met my friend, Jeff, for lunch. We ate at the Five Oysters which was decent. Had Vietnamese Omelet. Then we walked all over district one seeing the sites.

We saw the Post Office, the main Cathedral, City hall, FinTech tower, Dong Khoi street and Pasteur street and finally had dinner at the Bing Than market street food stall before going home.</a

Breakfast fruit
Lunch at Five Oysters
Dinner at Bing than Market street food stalls pad Thai, papaya salad
Drink beer

Coffee Lady

Every morning
I have gone out for Vietnamese coffee
At a sidewalk café
Down the ally from our AIRBNB

The owner is a pleasant middle age woman
Who for some reason likes us
She smiles at us
Greets us in Vietnamese
She does not understand English
Or Korean

And I wonder why
Why was there this connection
Between us

It dawned on me
Perhaps in a prior life
She knew an American or two
And I remind her of someone

Or perhaps she is found
Of Korean K drama
And Angela reminds her
Of her favorite K Drama star

Or perhaps it is both
Or another reason entirely

But I moved today
And will miss her

Might go back for a final cup
Of coffee

To say good bye
To my Vietnamese coffee lady

Tuesday March 12 moved, laundry

We spent the day moving to another AIRBNB, doing laundry and taking it easy. Lunch and dinner in the backpacker’s street. Tried Bun Cha which is a Hanoi version of Tapas. Pretty good. Discovered the Asiana Food Court. Great place to eat. We came back there several times. Lots of choices of food. Great prices, and delicious. Bought fruit for our remaining breakfasts.

Mastering the Saigon Shuffle

Motorbike riders waiting at intersection. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

When I first visited Saigon
Learning the Saigon Shuffle
Was difficult

And now 24 years later
It all seems to be coming back

There is an art to crossing the street
Dodging the motor cyclists, the taxis, the private cars
The bikes and other pedestrians and the buses

The art consists of letting the big guys go first
Then walk between the motorcycles and cyclists
Trusting that they will get out of your way
And they being masters of the Saigon shuffle
Always find a way

In my two visits I was struck
By how it all flows together

Without a central authority
And with almost no planning
Lights or cops

Somehow it just is
And somehow it works
And it is still a mystery to me

24 years after first
Encountering the Saigon shuffle

Breakfast: fruit, coffee
Lunch: omelet, morning glory stir fry Pham Ngu Lao Backpackers Street
Dinner: ban Chua Hanoi style Vietnamese Tapas small plate dishes
Drinks: Alcohol beer
Drinks: tea coffee

Walked about Asiana Market food court

asiana food court saigon

Wednesday March 13

Vietnam has great art. Last time we were here we bought four pieces from an iconic Vietnamese artist who has moved on. He painted on oyster shells and his work is quite unique. We wanted to find out more about the artist but were unable to find out much about him. We went to the HCH Fine Arts museum. That is worth a trip. Great art.

From Wikipedia

Ho Chi Minh City Museum of Fine Arts is the major art museum of HCM City, Vietnam, and second in the country only to the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts in Hanoi.

The museum covers three three-floor buildings which house a collection featuring Vietnamese art works in sculpture, oil, silk painting and lacquer painting, as well as traditional styles including woodcut paintings in the Hang Trang, Đông Hồ, and Kim Hoàng styles, as well as Vietnamese ceramics and a collection of ancient Buddhist art.[1] The first floor also includes a commercial gallery of art works. Archaeological exhibits such as some of the country’s best Champa and Óc Eo relics are displayed on the third floor.[2]
The main building was constructed by a French architect Rivera between 1929 and 1934 as a villa for the Hua family. The museum moved there in 1987.[3]

Saigon center

Walked to the Saigon Center, one of the premier shopping plazas in District 1. Not bad but overrated I think.

From Wikipedia:

Phase 1 of the complex was completed in 1996.[1] The phase consisted of a 25-storey building, which set a new record for the highest building in Vietnam then at 106 metres (348 ft).[2]
In December 2011, construction on phase two started, which comprises a 5-story retail podium and a new 43-story building. The new addition prompted a temporary closure of the existing tower from 2015 to 2016.[3]
On July 30, 2016, Takashimaya opened their first department store in Vietnam at the retail podium of Saigon Centre.[1] Tower 2 completed in 2017 reaching the height of 193.7 m (635 ft). It becomes the fourth tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City and the tenth tallest building in Vietnam overall.

Saigon Centre provides over 46,000 m2 (500,000 sq ft) of office space across 10 floors in Tower 1 and 18 floors in Tower 2.[4][5] Sedona Hotels operates all 284 residential units at the complex.[6]

Dinner at the market place

We had dinner at the Asiana food market. Great location, great food selections. Well worth a visit.

Old Lady in the Alley

There is an old Vietnamese lady
In the neighborhood
Obviously senile

But everyone knows her
And watches over her

To make sure
She stays out of traffic
And out of trouble

She talks to everyone
But no one seems to understand
What she is babbling on about

They smile at her
And she smiles back

Reminds me of the phrase
From the hitchiker’s guide to the galaxy
Mostly harmless

And she for some reason
She likes us
And like my Vietnamese Coffee lady

I wonder why
Why was there this connection
Between us

It dawned on me
Perhaps in a prior life
She knew an American or two
And I remind her of someone

Or perhaps she is found
Of Korean K drama
And Angela reminds her
Of her favorite K Drama star

Or perhaps it is both
Or another reason entirely

But in any event
I look forward
To seeing her smiling face
Every time I walk
Down my ally way

Cosmos’s Excellent Vietnam Journeys part two week two journeys

Finally figured out how to use Grab the SE Asian version of Uber. Grab bought Uber’s business back in 2016 and is the region’s largest ride share service. They do a lot of other things and are very aggressive. Based in Singapore. Started out as a MBA project idea in Harvard by a Malaysian student. He returned to the region, started in Malaysia moved to Singapore when the business took off. They were rumors at the time that Grab stole Uber’s technology, in any event it is very similar concept except that they targeted taxi drivers rather than individual drivers and most of their drivers work for them full time. They also do the motorcycle taxis, food delivery, mobile payment services.

So had a better day. We went to Binh Tay market in Cho Long District 5. A bit off the tourism path but we saw some foreign visitors. It is a sprawling complex reminding both of us of Korea back in the day. We bought our coffee and tea. When we go back we are making more Kombucha and we will add moringa to our fake coffee and my plan is to have a real cup of coffee per day and fake coffee the rest of the day. I think I can handle that.


cho long district

Good walk. We hit four of the five temples recommended and saw the edge of the electronics market and we saw some other interesting places in the neighborhood.

The temples were

A Day in Cholon: Touring the Smoky Pagodas of Saigon’s Chinatown

Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda

best temples in saigon

Thien Hua Pagoda

Thien Hau Temple (Ho Chi Minh City)
Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda is situated at Cholon, Ho Chi Minh City. It was built in the 19th century by the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation making it one of the oldest temples in Saigon. It is dedicated to Guan Yu, a holy general who was greatly respected for his morality and loyalty and lived in the late Eastern Han Dynasty and greatly respected for his morality and loyalty.

This pagoda is also known as Quan Cong and also named The Whale Temple and Quan De temple. The exterior of Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda is closely that of a Chinese temple. The frontage door of the temple is painted with door gods. Hoi Quan Pagoda is just like that of a Chinese temple. The pagoda is mainly well known for its enormous collection of figurines, carvings and hanging lanterns but it is especially notable for its gilded woodwork, a carved wooden boat hangs over the doorway and there is a larger-than-life illustration of Quan Cong’s horse and groom to the left. The horse statue is considered holy to the devotees. People ring the bell around its neck and then crawl under it to go to the other side. They suppose that by doing this they are blessed from the horse. And you can see a big wooden statue of Quan Cong himself at the altar. Nghia An Hoi Quan is also outstanding with ceramic statues on roof tiles or carved with flowers, unicorn statues, parallel sentences, and many invaluable paintings. Such these displays are delicately carved, showing myth stories of China in Saigon to teach next generations. Moreover, Nghia An Hoi Quan is pastoral with images of daily life and colors of life for many generations of rural farmers. This pagoda celebrates with offerings to the spirits and dances staged out front on the 14th day of the first lunar month. This temple is worth the visit.

Had a great massage in a Vietnamese massage parlor recommended by Korean tourists on Naver. Near Saigon center.

Future VCQ

Saigon is filled with interesting characters
Filled with fascinating back stories
One could write hundreds of stories
About the people one encounters

In a nail shop
That caters to mostly Korean visitors
We met a boy of 8 years old
Who was a natural born hustler

He had wonderful English
Wonderful French
And even some Korean
And he wanted to show us around

He spoke English
Without an accent
In an upper class British style
As if he were born to the manor

How and why he learned
English so well
Would be an interesting story

His Mother was also
An interesting character
Been running the store
For five years

Amused it had become the Korean
To Go place
In Saigon
Just one of those mysterious things

They had another shop nearby
A smoothie place
And he offered to guide us there
But were in a hurry

As we left
I thought to myself
Here is a future VCQ
The fascinating character

That had wined and dined us
Late into the night
Beguiling us with his tales
From his time in the VC

Wonder what this future VCQ
Will tell his future friends
About his past life
Living in a beauty saloon?

Had spring rolls and papaya salad from a vegan Resturant. The spring rolls were great, the papaya salad not so great

Breakfast fruit
Lunch chicken, rice, bread, eggs – one of the better meals
In coffee shop chain called energy coffee or something like that only 7 US Dollars
Dinner – spring rolls, and papaya salad at a vegan Resturant
Wine in room

Friday March 15 District 2 Tour

We went to district 2 across the river in search of a place for Angela to get her hair done and for me to get a massage. We went there after a haircut in a place advertised as an old fashioned barber shop. Had a good haircut but a lousy shave. Still need to find a good barber = next trip.

We found the perm place. We also discovered that District 2 is filled with rich Saigonese, expats and diplomats. It is a quiet suburban district but is soon going to be transformed as the city of Saigon has ambitions to turn District 2 and District 9 into something equivalent of Gangnam. The rest of Saigon especially districts 1, 3, 4, 5, 10 and 11 are too build up. They are building a new international airport and they building a new subway system. When the whole thing materializes by 2025 or so, Saigon will be a very different city.

I hope that they don’t destroy Saigon in order to save it as they have in Seoul. Gangnam in a way has lost its sense of being Korean as it could be any large city in Asia. Seoul now has two different faces – the northern part which still retains a lot of the old charm of Korea and the Southern part which is newer but perhaps lacking in having a real Korean flavor.

And I hope that they can and will incorporate lots of solar power, water harvesting and other echo friendly solutions which are sadly lacking in Gangnam and in Korean cities in general .
We met with a real estate agent who talked to us at length about investment options in Saigon highly recommending buying something in District 2 but not waiting too long. He said that within a few years it will be a very different place.

We had a decent lunch in District 2, went back to Binh Thang market and the food market/court where had dim sum for dinner.

District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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For other uses, see District 2.
District 2

Quận 2

Thủ Thiêm or Quận Thủ Thiêm
Urban district

Position in HCMC’s core

District 2
Location in Vietnam
Coordinates: 10°46′51″N 106°45′25″ECoordinates: 10°46′51″N 106°45′25″E

Country Vietnam

Centrally governed city
Ho Chi Minh City

Seat 249 Luong Dinh Cua
Wards 11 wards
• Total 50 km2 (20 sq mi)
• Total 168,680
• Density 3,400/km2 (8,700/sq mi)
• Main ethnic groups predominantly Kinh

Time zone
UTC+07 (ICT)

Map showing the location of District 2 within metropolitan Ho Chi Minh City
District 2, in which the new urban area of Thu Thiem is located, is an urban district of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. As of 2010, the district had a population of 140,621, a total area of 50 km².[1]

Thu Thiem Tunnel

In the past, District 2 was one of the poorest parts of Ho Chi Minh City due to the separation by the Saigon River from the city center. However, it is now the one of the prioritized area for investment by the government of Ho Chi Minh City. The completion of Thu Thiem Bridge in 2008 and Thu Thiem Tunnel in 2011 were expected to support the development of the Thủ Thiêm New Urban Area. Thu Thiem Tunnel joins District 2 with District 1 (Central Sài Gòn), the central area of Ho Chi Minh City. The other connection of District 2 to the central city area is the Thu Thiem Bridge, which connects District 2 and Bình Thạnh District. The transportation to District 2 will be much easier when the metro, whose route passes through District 2, comes into use. This will be the first metro in Vietnam, and it will help Ho Chi Minh City to catch up with other developed cities in the world.

The Vietnamese government is seeking to build a completely new district for wealthy citizens as well as a new economic center. Thanh Nien and Tuổi Trẻ, two newspapers in Vietnam, describe that the new District 2 will be as modern as Singapore and Hong Kong.[citation needed]
Less prosperous agricultural workers of District 2 have been forced to move in slum clearance measures. Thatched houses will be replaced by multi-story house and villas. A few single-family homes will be constructed for those with large[clarification needed] incomes. A large number of citizens would go on living in high-grade apartment blocks. Each block contains swimming pools, tennis courts, shopping malls, and other necessary services. There will be kindergartens, elementary schools, and high schools, but there will be no university, as all the universities are being moved to Thu Duc district to form the University Village, which is another plan of the city government. Beside the residential area will be the economic and trade zone with modern skyscrapers.

District 2, particularly Thảo Điền ward, has a large portion of Ho Chi Minh City’s expatriate community, and as such has a large number of restaurants, bars and shops selling European foods, particularly the high street Xuan Thuy. Traffic has become a major problem in District 2 due to its proximity to several international schools and many residents who travel by private vehicle.[citation needed]

District 2 is home to many international schools, partly because of the high number of foreign residents, and also because of its proximity to District 1. Below is a list of schools that are in this area:
• International School Ho Chi Minh City,[2] 28 Vo Truong Toan Street, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
• British International School Vietnam has the An Phu Primary and An Phu Secondary campuses[3]
• Australian International School, Vietnam,[4] 264 Mai Chi Tho Road, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
• EUROPEAN International School Ho Chi Minh City
• Deutsche Schule HCMC – The International German School (IGS)[5]
• EtonHouse International Pre-School Franchise – An Phu,[6] Somerset Vista, 628c Hanoi Highway, An Phu ward, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We will go back to district 2 for the perm on Monday and lunch and perhaps finish our touring before heading back.

Breakfast fruit
Lunch spring rolls, oyster soup
Dinner – Dim sum, pho, fried morning glory

Drinks: coffee, guava leaf tea, lemon passionfruit juice, wine in room


Seductive, sexy, strange
Alluring city
In the south of Vietnam

Goddess of the southern lands
Over all she rules
Nothing but the Queen of the land

Dreaming dreams of past greatness
Recalling the glory days of the past

Equally dreaming of the coming of the future
As she resumes her place

Maybe becoming the greatest city of them all
Saigon long may she reign

Saturday March 16 National history museum, Zoo, Botanical Gardens, Lunch with friends

Combined with the botanical garden, spreads out quite some distance. A bit confusing and the signs are all in Vietnamese except for the name of the animals. But none the least a pleasant enough walk. The zoo is in need of a major face lift and major renovation, it looks and feels like a zoo from the 1950’s. The animals are well cared for but look bored and sad as they do in most zoo’s.

Some of the birds are running around outside the enclosures which I found a bit unusual.

Not much options in terms of food which also surprised me.

The van took you on a set course but did not stop and let you get on and off which I found annoying.

All in all not quite ready for prime time. But worth a visit.

Botanical Garden

Combined with the zoo, might be better as a separate park – serious lack of signage or explanations throughout.

The best botanical display was the orchid house but I wished it had some English signage. The dessert plants display would be better off if it were in a sealed off building to prevent rain and humidity.

Same comment – not quite ready for prime time

Following is the Wikipedia entry

Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Main gate to Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens, established in 1865, is Vietnam’s largest zoo and botanical garden. Located on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street in District 1, T.P. in Ho Chi Minh City, it is home to over a hundred species of mammals, reptiles and birds, as well as many rare orchids and ornamental plants.[1] Also within the grounds is the Museum of Vietnamese History, housing some 25,000 artifacts of history, culture and ethnography of South Vietnam. The grounds also include a temple to the Hung Kings (formerly a monument to Indochinese soldiers who died for France during World War I). Other parts of the zoo are divided into animal and plant conservation areas, an orchid garden, and an amusement park.

On March 23, 1864, Admiral Pierre-Paul de La Grandière, commander of French forces in Cochinchina, commissioned the building of a zoo in Saigon. Malacologist Louis Germain was named the director of the project on March 28, 1865.[2] Construction started on 12 hectares (30 acres) northeast of Thi Nghe Channel, and the zoo occupied 20 hectares (49 acres) by the end of 1865. On February 17th, 1869 the zoo opened to the public, and today the Saigon Zoo is one of the oldest continuously operating zoos in the world.

The Saigon Zoo has undergone many changes over the years. In 1927, a bridge across Thi Nghe Channel was built to connect sections of the zoo. In 1985, a stone jetty was built, and electrical wiring was added to improve the zoo.

In 1989 the facilities received many improvements to make the environment more suitable for its resident population. In 1990, the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden was recognized as a member of the South East Asian Zoos Association. In 1993, the zoo director proposed a long-term plan to improve the quality of management, housing, and care of the animals. That plan came to a close in 2003. The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens is now the largest zoo and botanical garden in Vietnam.

The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden contains 590 animals of 125 species and 1,830 trees and plants of 260 species, some of which are over 100 years old. This includes 20 species of orchid, 32 species of cactus and 34 species of bonsai. The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden is divided into an animal conservation area, a plant conservation area, an orchid garden and an amusement park.

The botanical garden contains many species of rare and valuable plants, some of which are not native to Vietnam. There are species of cacti, ferns and plants that have been imported from Africa and America. The zoo has many kinds of mammals, reptiles, and birds such as: monkeys, giraffes, white Bengal tigers, Clouded Leopards, African lions, gibbons, turtles and snakes. Besides native animal species, there are also many exotic species, some of which are seen in Vietnam for the first time, such as: Hippopotamus amphibius, Choeropsis liberiensis, Panthera onca, Struthio camelus, Phoenicopterus ruber. There are lakes with contain different types of lotuses and a myriad of fish species.

The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden contains two noteworthy buildings: a temple to the Hung Kings, originally built as a monument to Indochinese soldiers who died for France during World War I; and the Museum of Vietnamese History. The museum is split into two sections: a 15 room-area displaying items from the beginning of Vietnam to 1930, and a 6 room-area displaying artifacts from the culture and history of South Vietnam. Outside of the museum there is a large yard that displays the weapons of France, used during Vietnam’s French colonial era. The museum also contains approximately 25,000 documents of history, culture and ethnography. The zoo employs approximately 1,000 workers, and estimates that it attracts over two million visitors each year.
Conservation and education[edit]

The main purpose of the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden is to educate the public and protect endangered animals and plants. One of many programs the zoo participates in to protect endangered species is one to breed animals in captivity, the goal being to replenish their populations. The Saigon Zoo is currently the only zoo in the world that has successfully bred crested argus pheasants in captivity.

In addition to conservation, in 1999 the zoo’s conservation education department created a plan to educate the public about how to protect animals and plants. Each year, 3,200 students visit the zoo and listen to an hour-long lecture and watch a 30-minute film about animal and plant conservation. It is also a place for people from all over the world to study the fauna and flora of Southeast Asia.

The zoo is at 2B Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, District 1, T.P. in Ho Chi Minh City. It has two gates: a main gate on Nguyen Binh Khiem Street at the corner of Le Duan Street and another on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street.

My Additional info:
Hours 9 to 5 daily
Cost 50,000 dong – 2.5 US.
They give you a fare card that you insert into the entry machine.

National History Museum

Worth a visit. Well done. Some obligatory pro-communist propaganda here and there but not overwhelming in your face as in the War Museum and Independence palace.

Museum of Vietnamese History

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bảo tàng Lịch sử Việt Nam

Location 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Type History museum


The Museum of Vietnamese History is located at 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Formerly known as the Musée Blanchard de la Brosse, built by Auguste Delaval in 1926, and The National Museum of Viet Nam in Sai Gon, it received its current name in 1979. It is a museum showcasing Vietnam’s history with exhibits from all periods.[1] It should not be confused with the National Museum of Vietnamese History in Hanoi. The topics covered by the exhibits include the following:

• Prehistoric period (500,000 years ago to 2879 BC).
• Metal Age (2879–179 BC), including artifacts related to the Dong Son culture of northern Vietnam and the Sa Huỳnh cultureof central Vietnam.
• Chinese Domination and Struggle for National Independence in the Red River Valley (179 BC – 938 AD)
• Óc Eo culture of the Mekong Delta region
• Stone and bronze sculptures and other artifacts of Champa
• Stone sculptures of Cambodia (9th–12th centuries)
• Ngô, Dinh, Anterior Lê, Ly dynasties (939–1225)
• Tran and Ho dynasties (1226–1407)
• Dynasties from the Lê to the Nguyên (1428–1788)
• Tây Sơn dynasty (1771–1802)
• Nguyễn dynasty (1802–1945)[2]
The museum served as the pit stop for the second leg of The Amazing Race Asia 3.

Further reading[edit]
• Lenzi, Iola (2004). Museums of Southeast Asia. Singapore: Archipelago Press. ISBN 978-981-4068-96-3.
External links[edit]

Water Puppet Show:

The national museum has a decent water puppet show. It is only 20 minutes long and gives you a taste of the real thing. There are other places in town to see real performances. I think I want to see the real thing next time. But well done nonetheless. Reminded me vaguely of Korean mask dances or kabuki theater. Very highly stylized with deep historical meaning that is hard for a casual observer to pick up on.

An additional fee of 30,000 dong about 1.25 US well worth seeing.

The wiki leaks article below provides a lot more detail:

water puppet show

Pham Ngu Lao – the backpackers party street

We were staying in an AIRBNB a few blocks away from Pham Ngu Lao, the famous backpacker street. So, we went there a lot, booked our two out of town tours there, changed money etc. It is a real happening scene Saturday night when they block off the street and it becomes an open air non-stop party. In some ways like the French Quarter in New Orleans, in some ways like Khaosang Road in Bangkok, in some ways like Itaewon in Seoul but done in Saigon style. We noticed a few “girly bars” here and there but nothing like in Bangkok, and we herd there are other areas for that sort of thing but that is not our scene. And some people were smoking the evil weed – we smelled it here and there. And we noticed that the scene continues on the surrounding streets as well, just not as intense.

So, if you want a loud boisterous party with lots of people from all over the world including Vietnamese this is your place, if you want a more civilized quiet night life zone there are lots of other choices to be had.

Here’s the google listing on Saigon’s Night Life

vietnam night light guide

Breakfast: fruit in room boiled eggs
Lunch at Nha Hang Ngon 160 Pasteur Street, Saigon

There are two restaurants with the same name near each other. This is the original and better of the two. There was a dispute between partners and they split up and operate two restaurants with the same name. Apparently not an uncommon phenomenon, one of the massage places we went to on the Korean recommended listing changed its name because another place has the same name and people were confused between the two according to the owner.
Had decent grilled pork chop Saigon style, nice spring rolls, and sausages and wine. Late lunch so that was sort of dinner too!!!

Dinner corn
Drinks red Wine

Down and Out in Saigon

Southeast Asia, and Mexico
has always attracted
A certain type of westerner
The down and out
On a down word spiral

Relatively cheap to live
Lots of part time gigs
Teaching English
Or other things

Booze, drugs, sex
Readily available
And cheap

Places to stay
Dirt cheap
And no one needs
To sleep out doors

Easy to disappear
Into the foreigners backpackers ghettos
And escape
From whatever you are running from

The locals are somewhat tolerant
The police usually look the other way
And there are lots of people
In your shoes

I was surprised to find
That Saigon has become
The latest place
For the down and outer crowd
To gather together

In Bangkok one sees them a lot
In Cambodia as well
In the Philippines
In Nepal

And south of the border
In Mexico as well

In India not so much
In Japan and Korea
Just too damn expensive
And too cold to be outdoors

Back in the day
I used to work
The citizen services gig
And saw lots of the down and outer set

The old song comes to mind
No one remembers you
When you are down and out

And in the States
Being down and out
Means living on the mean streets

As it is very difficult
To live with almost no money

And the various side hustles
Don’t give you much money
Unless you are dealing drugs

And teaching ESL
Is not an option

Food is expensive
Transportation is expensive
Booze and drugs expensive
Rent is prohibitive
Commercial sex is expensive

And no one loves you
If you are down and out
No one knows your name
You are just another homeless bum

Invisible to all
As you try to make do

Much better to be down and out
In Southeast Asia
Than on the mean streets
Of the USA

Sunday March 17 Chu Chi Tunnels

Lacquer Ware Factory

As part of the tour we stopped off at a lacquer ware factory that employs artists injured by agent orange exposure. Funded by the Gates foundation. Had an interesting lecture on lacquer ware. Some nice pieces but did not exactly fit our needs. So we passed on buying them.

Lacquer painting

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lacquer painting is a form of painting with lacquer which was practised in China and Japan for decoration on lacquerware, and found its way to Europe both via Persia and by direct contact with Asia. The genre was revived and developed as a distinct genre of fine art painting by Vietnamese artists in the 1930s; the genre is known in Vietnamese as “sơn mài.”[1]

Making a lacquer painting may take several months depending on the technique used and the number of layers of lacquer. In Vietnam’s sơn mài lacquer painting first a black board is prepared. Then outlines in chalk are picked out in white with eggshell and clear varnish, then polished. Then the first layer of coloured lacquer is applied, usually followed by silver leaf and another layer of clear lacquer. Then several more layers of different coloured lacquers are painted by brush, with clear lacquer layers between them. In Vietnam an artist may apply up to ten layers or more of coloured and clear lacquer. In Ming China processes included up to a hundred layers. Each layer requires drying and polishing. When all layers are applied the artist polishes different parts of the painting until the preferred colours show. Fine sandpaper and a mix of charcoal powder and human hair is used to carefully reach the correct layer of each specific colour.[2] Consequently, “lacquer painting” is in part a misnomer, since the bringing out of the colours is not done in the preparatory painting but in the burnishing of the lacquer layers to reveal the desired image beneath.[3]

Lacquer had been used since the Shang dynasty (1384-1111 BCE) for decoration and preservation of wooden objects. By the Han dynasty decoration had become more intricate.[4] Lacquer painting is sometimes used for decoration of wooden objects such as the traditional “Chinese candy box”.


Công Quốc Hà “Hanoi girl” 1997
Lacquer painting, known as sơn mài, from resin of the sơn tree, Rhus succedanea, was developed in Vietnam as a freestanding form, separate from decoration of wooden objects. A revival and a combination with French techniques occurred in the 1930s which was closely associated with the French teachers and Vietnamese students of the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine in Hanoi from 1925 to 1945 such as Joseph Inguimberty and Nguyễn Gia Trí.[5][6] Among the prominent newer generation of Vietnamese lacquer painters is Cong Quoc Ha, who received numerous awards and his works are regularly exhibited worldwide.

Cao Dai Temple

The Cao Dai temple is a must see in my opinion. The Cao Dai religion is a new religion founded in the 1920’s that combines elements of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Catholicism. They even have a pope and bishops. It is common in the South, but not that common elsewhere in Vietnam. The temple is extraordinary.

for more details see the following WIki article:

cao daism

Cao Dai

The Cao Dai faith
Tried to combine

All the religions of earth
Into a new religion
For a new era

Founded in Vietnam
It has spread across the Vietnamese diaspora
Across the globe
But it is a very Vietnamese thing

It seems you can’t escape the past
Religion is like that
It roots you in to a time and place

And you will obey its teachings
Until the day you die
That is the power
And tragedy of religion

Chu Chi Tunnel

The highlight of the trip was of course the famous Chu Chi tunnels about 50 miles from Saigon. They played a key role in the defeat of the US military and the Vietnamese are justly proud of their engineering prowess in building these tunnels.

for more info see the following Wi-Ki

ch chi tunnels

Ghosts of Chu Chi

Crawling down the tunnels
Of Chu Chi
I could almost imagine
The Viet Kong guerillas

Hiding deep under the tunnels
As the land above is turned
Into a temporary dessert
With the vegetation burned off
By napalm and agent orange

The Viet Kong creep out at night
Stealing onto the bases
Stealing weapons, food, supplies
And occasionally killing soldiers

In their sleep
The US soldiers
Stay on base at night

Terrified of the mosquitos
And of the Viet Kong

the ghosts
Surround me
Telling me their stories
And at last I fled

Through the emergency escape tunnel
Declaring victory
Profoundly shaken up
By the ghosts of the Chu Chi tunnels

Monday March 18 return to Korea
Went to District two for a hair cut for Angela, and lunch. Afterwards had a massage and then drank a craft beer before heading home. Had a great two weeks in Saigon. We will be back!


Over all reflections Saigon 2019 vrs Saigon 1995

Thinking back about how things have changed since our last trip, it struck me that Saigon reminds us both of Seoul in the late 80’s as it emerged to become the world class city it is now. Same energy, same determination, same visionary desire to become a world class city.

Things that have changed

Fewer Scams, Safer, lots more foreign tourists

Back in 1995 Saigon was a dangerous place to visit. Lots of scams, lots of pick pockets, lots of beggars and it was chaotic and confusing. Now the beggars are gone, fewer pickpockets, fewer overt scams, much friendly, lots more foreign visitors, lots more English spoken. Much more pleasant a place to visit.
Motorcyclists wearing Helmets

Back in 1995 few motorcyclists wore helmets and traffic fatalities were widespread. Now almost every where is wearing a helmet and we did not see any traffic accidents. Bus are more widespread, as our taxis and grab (Vietnam’s uber) is everywhere. Lots easier to get around.

Lots more to Do

There is definitely a lot more to do. Lots of places to eat, and drink. More museums, more temples, more everything. And everything is still super cheap.

Backpackers ghetto

Was just beginning when we last visited. Now it is a large and colorful part of the city. Much more diverse tourist crowd – lots of Aussies, Europeans, Asians, but still few Americans.

Fewer Vietnam war vets – they dying off

The Vietnam war veterans are beginning to die off. Because well the war ended a long time ago. But you still saw a lot of American veterans wandering the streets coming back to visit the country they first saw as military conscripts so many years ago.

More English

Definitely a lot more English than before. And google translate makes it so much easier to communicate!
Asian Tourists outnumber Western Tourists, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans Everywhere

Back in 1995 there were few Asian tourists in Vietnam. Now they are everywhere. Koreans, Japanese and Chinese tourists are all over the place. The Vietnamese have embraced Korean culture, K Drama is very popular, as is K Pop and K food.

Much more developed tourism infrastructure

The tourist industry has grown up. So many options to chose from and the tours we went on were professionally run, informative and inexpensive. We have so many places we want to travel next time we come.
AIRBNB did not exist 25 years ago. Now AIRBNB places are everywhere as our guest houses. Travel costs are low accommodations are good. Restaurants are great. Food is fantastic.

Things that remained the same –

Fascinating city, Great food, Still pretty cheap, friendly people, Traffic still chaotic

What we did last time

Saigon with a driver and guide

We hired a driver and a guide for a private tour last time. We saw a lot of the city but never really got the hang of the place and we were rushed here and there and ate in five star restaurants when we wanted to see the city as locals would. All in all we were a bit disappointed and spent too much money. This trip was much more enjoyable.

Buying Art –

we bought some nice art work last time – lacquer ware paintings. We met the artist through his nephew who was staying at the same guest house that we were staying at.

Touring Traditional Market

We did a tour of traditional markets, probably Ben Thang market.

Buying gold

We bought some gold which we still have

Re-unification Palace

We saw the re-unification palace which was impressive

War Memorial

And we saw the War Memorial which was a bit too in your face for our liking.


We spent a week in Hanoi. We stayed at the at the government guest house. We were among the first independent American tourists in Vietnam as we arrived a week after the Embassy opened. We had lunch and dinner with the Consul who was a friend from the Embassy in Bangkok. We enjoyed touring old quarter the old quarter had lunch and dinner there. West Lake district was nice as well.

Conclusion – Don’t know why it took 25 years to return but we will definitely be back many times. And you should go if you have not been

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