Vanishing Saigon

Sights, stories and secrets from Vietnam’s most dynamic city

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1, 2, 3, YO! WELCOME THE YEAR OF DRAGON 2012!

20 January, 2012 (17:18) | Uncategorized | No comments

The population in Asia may surge this year

Differing from Western countries, Vietnam celebrates the Vietnamese Lunar New Year or Tet around January and February. This year the Lunar New Year falls on 23rd January 2012 in the Gregorian calendar. Every Tet welcomes one of 12 animals, and this year is to honor the year of the Dragon. As a symbol of yang, the Dragon represents life, power and the emperor. Therefore it is believed that delivering a baby, especially a boy in this year will bring luxury and luck to the family and to the boy himself. During the year of the Dragon, more people get married at the beginning of the year to have a child in time. Wondering how the year turns out? Then come back at the end of the year and read A Review of the Year of Dragon 2012.


But in the mean time, take a moment to read an overview on traditions and customs of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.


Year-End Parties and the Bustle of Shopping

During the Tet holiday, mobile phones and emails may appear more active because people are arranging friendly appointments. Thousands of people around the country gather together for flower fairs, shopping centers display SALE and DISCOUNT signs all over the place, and most importantly… year-end parties are held to say goodbye to the old year. If you are in Ho Chi Minh City this season, you can take in the holiday spirit. You might see everyone very busy decorating and cleaning their homes to welcome the Fortune God. And finding new clothes is an indispensable step to welcome the New Year. New is always good for the New Year.

Visiting households on the first day of Lunar New Year (xong nha)

To the Vietnamese, the first person coming to one’s home in the New Year is very important to decide the fortune of that household for the coming year. Some businessmen even choose one specific person to visit their home on the first morning of the New Year. It is believed that rich and successful persons bring luck and prosperity for the whole New Year ahead.

The 5 - Fruit Platter

In Asian mythology, the world is made of five elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Five kinds of fruits representing those elements include plum, apricot, peach, apple and Buddha’s hand fruit; accordingly, these are placed on the ancestral altar to convey the host’s wishes. Later people developed and chose their favorite fruits, based on the similarity in pronunciation, to show their desires to God, for example: “coconut” (dua or vua), papaya (du du or du), mango (xoai or xai), custard-apple (“mang cau” or “cau”) and figs (sung). Together they create “cau vua du xai sung” or “pray to God to have enough money to spend generously”

Celebrating the Lunar New Year in an original Chinese fashion

Visiting any Vietnamese family, you will be treated with banh chung banh giay (glutinous rice cake), a cultural symbol of Vietnam on the first days of the New Year. And how perfect it is to be served with sweet but salty vegetable pickles! Or enjoy a traditionally warm meal with fish or meat, soup and vegetables shared on a circular serving tray.

Yu Shang originating from Chinese culture is also a cherished food in Vietnam these days. Foods of all kinds are served on a platter for everyone to share together during the Tet holiday. If you are still wondering where to go this Tet, overwhelm yourselves with festive joy and try a traditional Chinese feast at Ngan Dinh Restaurant, 18 An Duong Vuong, District 5.

Wherever it is, a gathering is the most important element for the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. Cheers and HAPPY NEW YEAR 2012!

Good Food, Good Drink, Good Times – Oktoberfest Vietnam 2011

15 September, 2011 (10:49) | Entertainment | 1 comment

It’s that time of year when the leaves begin to turn and the winds blow colder….at least for most of the northern world. Here in Vietnam, the weather is a little less rainy and the temperature’s a few degrees cooler. But that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the traditional fall festivals. We even have our own Mooncake Festival during the Harvest Moon (which fell on 12th September this year), a unique celebration of lights, mooncakes, and family gathering.

As more and more foreigners have relocated to Vietnam, so have the celebrations from around the globe. Thanks to the growing German population in Vietnam, the country has been celebrating Oktoberfest for almost 20 years.

Oktoberfest Origins

Oktoberfest is a large annual celebration from Bavaria, Germany. Started in the city of Munich, the festival has spread across the globe with celebrations occurring in many major cities in Europe, America, Australia, and even Asia. Generally held at the beginning of October, Oktoberfest is a time to celebrate German food, beer, and culture.

Oktoberfest Vietnam

Vietnam is home to the largest and longest Oktoberfest celebration in South-East Asia, Oktoberfest Vietnam. Founded by the German Business Association in the early 1990s, the event has grown year after year. Now in its 19th year, Oktoberfest is organized by the Windsor Plaza Hotel and the German Business Association. In 2010, Oktoberfest Vietnam lasted for 7 spectacular days at the Windsor Plaza Hotel. During this week long celebration, 14,000 guests consumed 21,000 liters of beer and over 7 tons of German food. The event has become such a large attraction that it has even received attention on Wikipedia.

Music, Fun and Games

Guests to Oktoberfest Vietnam are treated to live German music, games, and Lucky Draw prizes. Stamp your feet, knock-back your glasses, and enjoy the music because this year Oktoberfest is bringing back Trenkwalder, an authentic Bavarian folk band. Trenkwalder’s will mark their fourth year at Oktoberfest Vietnam, and promise to put on quite the show.

All-You-Can-Eat & Drink

With all the traditional dancing, some might gain quite an appetite. Well, that isn’t a bad thing. At Oktoberfest you can eat as much food as you want. And when you can’t stuff anymore in your mouth, you can wash it down with all-you-can-drink German beer.

Get Your Tickets Today!

This year, you can stop by and witness all the excitement at the Windsor Plaza Hotel on 7th-8th October and continuing 11th-15th. Tickets are priced at just 600,000vnd net(11, 12, 13 October) and 850,000vnd net (7,8,14,15 October). For more information on tickets, you can visit the Oktoberfest Vietnam website at: www.oktoberfestvietnam.com. See you all very soon at Oktoberfest Vietnam 2011!

Related Links:

www.oktoberfestvietnam.com

www.windsorplazahotel.com

http://www.gba-vietnam.org

http://www.trenkwalder.de/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oktoberfest_celebrations#Vietnam

Cultural and historical immersion in Saigon: Visit Cholon

29 August, 2011 (10:07) | Historical Sites | No comments

Binh Tay Market

Whenever going on a tour in a foreign country, most of the time the local Chinatown is listed in the itinerary. Chinatowns can be found in almost every major city in the world, but each has its own unique identity. One of the most interesting and distinctive of which is Cholon—the Chinese district in Ho Chi Minh City.

Known to be the busiest part of Saigon, Cholon (or spelled Cho Lon in Vietnamese) literally means “big market”. It lives up to its name as it is indeed a vast Chinese mercantile center where you can find all sorts of products from daily necessities to the most exotic and unusual finds. But unlike any other Chinatown, Cholon and its people own the unique characteristic of a Chinatown that played a vital role in shaping the country’s history, tourism and economy. For this, it occupies not only a large geographical portion of Ho Chi Minh City, but also a big part of discussion in books and travel about Saigon’s cultural and historical development.

Located in District 5—only minutes away from the business district, planning a cultural and historical excursion in Cholon is not too difficult. A lot of travel and tours offer trip packages that include everything you need to see, discover and experience in this ancient Chinese locality.

Food and shopping

The absolute must-see in Cholon is the Binh Tay Market where you can find the widest and most impressive range of products. Haggle over the price of pistachios, live chickens, bags, watches and everything else that you can get for a good bargain.

After shopping, you can head off to the food court or to the famous food strip where you can enjoy a cheap but quality breakfast or lunch, which you can pick from the variety of dishes that locals typically enjoy. Try the vegetarian banh mi, prawn toasts, broken ice with tofu and fish sauce, chao (porridge), bun, pho, fish balls, roasted meat—anything that ignites your appetite. For refreshments, you can never go wrong with the all-time favorite iced coffee and fruit shakes.

Cholon’s Pagodas

The Chinese Pagodas located in or near Cholon are extraordinary, and can be visited through a leisurely half-day walk. Most pagodas are within walking distance from each other, while two others - the Giac Lam and Giac Vien pagodas, are a little further west. Some of the most interesting pagodas in Cholon include: Thien Hau Pagoda, Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda, Tam Son Hoi Quan Pagoda, Quan Am Pagoda and Phuoc An Hoi Quan Pagoda.

Thien Hau Pagoda

Accommodations

Windsor Plaza Hotel

One reason to start early in Cholon is that its streets get too hot by noontime, so by then you could head back to your lodging to refresh and relax. There are lots of hotels in the vicinity but the most suggested and probably the best one to complement your cultural and historical Cholon trip is the 5-Star luxury Windsor Plaza Hotel. Just like Cholon, the Windsor Plaza Hotel has made its own mark in Vietnam history – being the first and only local and privately-owned hotel that was awarded a 5-star rating. Also a cultural gateway that provides convenient access to shopping, dining and entertainment, the Windsor Plaza Hotel offers a unique hotel experience for simply being a “truly Vietnam” hotel because of its homegrown identity.

The hotel has three restaurants: Café Central An Dong, TOTT Bar & Restaurant and Ngan Dinh, which is a Chinese Restaurant that could just complete your Chinatown experience. Windsor Plaza Hotel also has a luxury spa/massage that offers just the perfect pampering and relaxation you need after an exhausting day exploring the vibrant streets of Cholon.

The Changing Taste of Vietnam

23 August, 2011 (15:25) | Food and Drink | No comments

Whether you’re travelling through Vietnam on a short trip or staying for an extended period of time, one thing you will never forget is the unique food culture that inhabits the city and rural streets of Vietnam. Just the same as the changing roads, buildings, and lives, the food culture in Vietnam has taken on many changes with the introduction of foreign influences while maintaining its strong self-identity.

Vietnam Food Sensations

Vietnam CuisineAs a traveler venturing through the sights and sounds of Vietnam, your five senses will help to explore the delightfully vibrant sensation of Vietnamese cuisine. For your first meal in Vietnam, you may be surprised by the sight of beautifully arranged sauces bursting with color that are meticulously displayed before you. As a dish arrives, it’ll be hard to miss the smell of herbs and spices subtly used to bring out the exquisite flavors of fresh spring rolls. When you reach for your first spring roll, you can feel the texture of the rice paper gripped in your fingers; and you can hear the crunch of the fresh vegetables as you take your first bite and experience the taste of Vietnamese food culture.

From North to South

For those travelling from the North to the South, you will be sure to notice the change in flavors throughout Vietnam. Vietnamese cooking styles vary quite drastically from city to city due to the differences in climates, growing conditions and cultural influences from neighboring countries.

In the north, Vietnamese food uses fresh vegetables, quickly cooked sliced meats, and variations of rice noodles. A great example of a typical northern dish is Vietnamese Pho, which takes its name from the rice noodle (Ph) used when cooking the delicious soup. Although, it is commonly believed that the Pho dish was influenced by the French and Chinese, the popular dish is now worldly-known as a Vietnamese dish.

In the south, the Vietnamese climate is more tropical, and as a result foods with a spicy kick are more prevalent. Chilies often supplement most dishes and sauces; it is not uncommon to find sliced chilies floating atop some fish sauce (nước mm) or a mango salad. For much of this region, the dishes have been influenced by Khmer, Thai, and even Indian dishes. Many restaurants now serve Thai style hot pot and Indian curries, although most have been altered to match the tastes of the Vietnamese people. For example, a Vietnamese curry will generally be sweeter than an Indian curry; this is due to additional coconut milk added during the cooking process.

Food Globalization

banh mi

Vietnamese food has been influenced by a variety of neighboring nations. Common throughout Vietnam are typical Chinese dishes, including: Chow Mein (mì xào), dumplings (há co), and wontons (hoành thánh). However, in the past two centuries, the French have had the largest influence on Vietnamese cuisine. The French introduced fresh baked bread, potatoes, and wine making to Vietnam during their colonization of the country. One of the most popular food items in Vietnam is bánh mì which is a combination of cold cut meats, fresh vegetables, butter, and soy sauce all placed inside a warm French baguette. This delicious sandwich is a popular street food to grab on the way to or from work; it also makes for a great late night snack.

Today, with the constant flow of foreign tourists, companies, and expats to Vietnam, Vietnamese cuisine is once again experiencing great transformation. In the larger cities, like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, European, American and Asian restaurants are opening their doors to the diverse population.

The most noticeable restaurants opening in the large cities are of course the fast food establishments. American, Filipino, and Korean fast food restaurants currently lead the fast food race in Vietnam with KFC, Jollibee, and Lotteria respectively. Of course, Vietnam has their own fast food chains, with Pho 24 being the most popular and found in most cities throughout Vietnam.

For those looking for more authentic cuisines, you don’t have to look far to find good European food. German food is by far one of the most popular cuisines in Ho Chi Minh City. The city even hosts its own Beerfest and Oktoberfest to celebrate German food, beer, and culture, like Oktoberfest Vietnam. The number of German restaurants in District 1 continues to grow every year, but if you are looking for a truly authentic experience, be sure to visit Gartenstadt. Gartenstadt is Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest German restaurant, and has won praise from locals, expats, and tourists for its authentic German food, beer, and atmosphere. Their convenient location on scenic Dong Khoi Street in District 1 makes it a popular place among expats for business lunches or after work drinks.

Kissho Japanese Restaurant

In recent years, Japanese restaurants have begun to flourish in the city center of Ho Chi Minh City. As the wealth in the city begins to rise, the population has now started to enjoy unique delicacies like teppanyaki and sushi. If you are looking for a unique Japanese dining experience, I recommend trying Kissho Restaurant on Nguyen Hue Street in District 1. Kissho recently opened this year, and features entertaining teppanyaki cooking shows and great sushi. They also have great business lunch sets that are affordable and filling.

As the world continues to grow and share, we can expect to see new and exciting creations in fashion, transportation, and communication; but for me, I am most excited to see the changes that occur with food. If you have time to visit Vietnam, I encourage you to try as much of the local food as you can, but don’t forget to check out how foreign influences are changing the taste of Vietnam.

If you would like to learn more about food in Vietnam, please visit the following websites:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_cuisine

http://www.kissho.wmcvietnam.com/

http://www.oktoberfestvietnam.com/

The Vietnamese Wedding – A Blend of Tradition and Modernity

4 July, 2011 (15:58) | Entertainment | 1 comment

In Vietnam, a wedding is one of the most important ceremonies in a person’s life. Just as Vietnam continues to change every day, Vietnamese wedding customs have continued to change dynamically from the engagement process to the wedding day, and even ceremonies celebrating the fantastic day.

Betrothal CeremonyBetrothal Ceremony

In traditional Vietnam, children were not included in the decision making process of finding a spouse. It was customary for parents to find a suitable partner, and then arrange to meet with the potential spouse’s parents. This process was just as important as the engagement and wedding itself, the event was called the betrothal ceremony.

The betrothal ceremony was generally held at the bride’s parents’ house with both parental parties present. The groom’s parents would arrive bearing gifts of areca nuts, betel leaves, and sometimes jewelry or money as a dowry. Both parties would determine if the proposed marriage would be beneficial to the family names and standing.

During the ceremony, it was not uncommon for a fortune teller to be consulted during the entire process. The fortune teller would predict the compatibility of the children, and he would also indicate the precise date and time the marriage should occur. Both the parents’ and fortune teller’s opinions were highly regarded, and if anyone disapproved of the arrangement, the wedding would be called off.

In modern times, the betrothal ceremony has become less important in marriage arrangement. As many children find love on their own, parents no longer arrange marriages. However, the parents’ opinions are still very important, and if a parent disapproves of a future husband or wife, a child will generally break off any relationship. Also, a fortune teller is often consulted to determine compatibility and the date of the wedding.

Engagement Period

EngagementAfter the betrothal ceremony, there would be a six-month waiting period before the wedding. During the waiting period, both parties would make preparations for the wedding day ceremonies. Even during the long engagement period, the future husband and wife would still not meet each other, often they would not meet until the day of the wedding ceremony.

Today of course, the engagement process has changed drastically. Both families spend much time and money on preparations for the wedding day. Also, due to the influx of different religions and ethnic groups, various ceremonies need to be performed, and extended family members may need to travel long distances for the wedding and any associated ceremonies. The engagement period may be extended to several years if the groom or bride is working or studying overseas.

The Wedding Day

On the day of the wedding, a party is gathered at the groom’s house in the morning. This party consists of the groom’s closest family members and friends. In traditional times, female members of the party would wear a red ao dai (traditional dress of Vietnam), and male members would wear a blue male ao dai. In modern times, women still wear ao dais, but males generally wear dark suits.

From the groom’s house, a procession is held to the bride’s house. Leading the procession is a distinguished relative of the groom, followed by happily married couples carrying gifts of areca nuts, betel leaves, fruits, roasted ducks and pigs, all wrapped with red paper. At the end of the procession is the groom with his family members. The procession generally walks to the bride’s house, but in modern times the procession may take cyclos or cars if the distance is too far to walk.

Upon arrival at the bride’s house, the leading relative enters and presents the procession to the bride’s parents. At this point, the leading married couple enters with two small cups of wine; if the bride’s parents drink from the cups then the groom and his family may enter the house and the ceremony can proceed. During traditional times, fireworks would be launched at this time, but due to current laws and regulations this practice is now illegal in Vietnam. The Wedding Day

During the ceremony, a distinguished relative of the bride acts as the Master of Ceremony. Once the groom and his family have entered the house, the Master of Ceremony will instruct the bride’s parents to retrieve the bride. They will present their daughter dressed in a red ao dai and wearing a traditional Vietnamese headdress. The bride and groom will then proceed to the ancestral altar.

At the ancestral altar, the bride and groom ask for a blessing on their marriage from the bride’s ancestors. The couple turns and thanks the bride’s parents for raising the bride, and then turn to thank the groom’s parents. It is at this point the new couple is decorated with jewelry from the parents as a gift of prosperity. Some couples exchange rings at this point as well.

For some modern weddings, newly wed couples and their guests may move to a church to exchange vows and rings if the bride or groom is Christian. The bride may even change from her traditional red ao dai into a modern white wedding dress for the church ceremony.

After the wedding ceremonies, the newly weds and guests travel to the groom’s house. At the groom’s house the newly weds pray at the ancestral altar to ask the groom’s ancestors for their blessings. After the prayers, the couple leads the bride’s parents to the couple’s bedroom. Here the parents will inspect the living quarters and determine if it is suitable for their daughter. This was done in traditional times because the bride was expected to live with the groom’s family for the rest of her life. Even today, the bride maybe expected to live with the groom’s family for up to a year or more, but some couples may already have a house or apartment.

Once the bridal party has inspected the living quarters, there is a party held for family and friends. This party is very large and may consist of hundreds of guests. In traditional times, the party was held at the groom’s house. Today, most parties are held at a restaurant, hotel or banquet hall.

After-Wedding Dinner and Ceremony

The after-wedding party is a time for the new couple to celebrate their new life together with friends and family. Guests will generally bring gifts for the new couple; also, guests are expected to bring money to bless the new couple with prosperity. Due to the size and grandeur of the ceremony, the money is generally used to pay for the event. In modern times, the average amount presented is $100 to $200 per guest.

The ceremony will feature a large feast for guests sometimes consisting of up to 10 dishes. During the ceremony, the new couple and their parents will visit each table and thank the guests personally for coming to celebrate the occasion. In modern times, the bride may change her dress three times during the wedding. The bride is expected to arrive in her traditional red ao dai, and for many modern brides they desire to present themselves in a beautiful white wedding gown for their guests. As the night moves on, the bride may change to a white evening gown for dancing and celebrations.

The wedding night continues late into the night with dancing and drinking amongst friends. After the ceremonies, many modern couples will take a honeymoon in Vietnam or abroad. A popular honeymoon location for Saigon weddings is Da Lat, a beautiful mountain city in central Vietnam. The city is known for its beautiful landscape and has been given the unofficial title of “The Little Paris of Vietnam”.

Just as Vietnam is going through dynamic economic changes, there is a sense of cultural change as well. Many customs of Vietnamese weddings are still retained in modern times, but some have changed or are disappearing as Vietnam continues to make its marvelous transformation as a developing nation. Even on a week long visit to Saigon, tourists can see the blending of tradition and modernity on the streets of Saigon. If you are lucky, you may see a blushing bride in her beautiful white wedding gown with her husband outside Notre Dame Cathedral taking wedding photographs.

For information on modern weddings in Vietnam, take an afternoon or evening to visit the upcoming “Royal Wedding Fair 2011”. For more information on the “Royal Wedding Fair 2011”, please visit their website at:

http://weddingfair.windsorplazahotel.com

If you would like more information on traditional weddings in Vietnam, please take a moment to visit these websites:

http://www.haivenu-vietnam.com/vietnam-culture-wedding-today.htm

http://www.vietnambudgettour.com/webplus/viewer.asp?pgid=26&aid=869

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_Vietnamese_wedding

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