Return to The Grand Ho Tram Strip

Okay so we returned to The Grand in Ho Tram this month to celebrate my younger son’s second birthday. Can I just live in this resort, please? :P

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I wrote about 7 Reasons Why I Liked Ho Tram Grand on our first visit. Here’s more reasons why the whole family love The Grand:

  1. Surrounded with so much loveliness

Some would say luxury. Maybe. But for me, part of a relaxing holiday is to be surrounded by beautiful things — just a well-placed ornament, photo 20140419_133547_zps54917240.jpg

a stunning mosaic — photo IMG_0150_zpsa2590b8e.jpg

or even a clean and well-stocked bathroom. I just love the lights and chandeliers! photo IMG_0148_zpsa0088a20.jpg2. A safe and entertaining place for the kids and teens to play

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We brought our nanny with us but even our nanny deserves a break. photo IMG_1548_zps4ca061d2.jpg

Thanks to Kids Corner for taking care of our son while we relax at our room and by the pool. Sam even met a kid he spent the afternoon to play with. photo IMG_1553_zps0048a7ae.jpg

No it’s not just about computers and Wii, kids can play with real toys and books. photo IMG_1559_zpsb144a74e.jpg

There’s an outdoor area as well. photo IMG_1551_zpsb009df20.jpg

  1. A 1.2 meter pool for adults

 photo IMG_1444_zps83f922f2.jpgI don’t know about you but I am vertically challenged and I love swimming in a pool that does not scare me because it’s too deep for my height. Admittedly, I am not a strong swimmer and it would be nice for resorts to design their pool for people like me who want to enjoy a dip without needing to keep an eye on the nearest lifesaver or lifeguard. :P

If kids can have their kiddie pool, small folks like me should have one too. :D

4. A safe beach

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The Ho Tram Beach can be nasty at certain times and I like the fact that the lifeguards really stand guard at the beach placing flags around the beach to let the people know if they can swim or not. photo IMG_1515_zps0b954fc6.jpg

I didn’t get to take a photo but there’s a huge sign as you’re coming down the steps from the resort to the beach that lets you know the meaning of the flags. photo 20140418_071602_zps639a525b.jpg

Since it’s jellyfish season too, they make it a point to clean the beach every morning of jellyfish. But nope, they’re not the deadly box jellyfish, but then again, each person has different reactions to jellyfish sting. The lifeguards remind people too! photo 20140418_072056_zps0bfff7a8.jpg5. Restful sleep.
 photo IMG_1353_zps40ade0ad.jpgYou know the feeling of waking up rested? And feeling that you’ve slept for hours and you’ve only literally slept for a few hours?
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That’s how it felt like for me. Especially after a stressful few days, it was just a blessing to rest.

 photo IMG_1351_zpsf89adc90.jpgThanks Ho Tram for a memorable holiday!

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Ho Tram BBQ Restaurant

 photo hotrambbq_zps8068a3c3.pngWe spent another terrific holiday in Ho Tram Grand to celebrate my son’s second birthday as well as a treat for my mom visiting us.

Ho Tram is situated quite far from the busy district of Vung Tau so for food, we had to rely on the restaurants in The Grand.  But since we were craving for some barbecue, and the Dunes Bar opens only during the weekend, we decided to check out Ho Tram BBQ Restaurant which was just 5 minutes away from The Grand.

Buuuuut…the hubby had something else in mind and just decided to stay put and just call em up to order. Can it be done? YES!

The only trouble was the Ho Tram BBQ order taker don’t speak English well. Thank God for our nanny who ordered for us Pork BBQ Ribs, Garlic Shrimps, and Seafood Fried Rice.

They can’t deliver to our room so they just called us up and our nanny met up with them at the lobby. We only waited for 30 minutes for our food to arrive.

Was it good? Most definitely! I just wish we went on ahead and ate at their restaurant so we could have tried more of their dishes.

If you’re heading up to Ho Tram for a holiday, do check out Ho Tram BBQ Restaurant. Here’s their Facebook page. Prior to going, I chatted with them over YM and they pretty much answered all my questions.

 

 

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10 Tourist Tips in Saigon

Friends have been visiting Saigon a whole lot recently and I have been getting questions on why this, why that. So, I decided to address it here in this blog post.
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Here’s 10 tourist tips when visiting Saigon.

  1. The currency is Vietnamese Dong (VND). 1USD is roughly 21,000 VND. Do not fold. Some vendors do not accept folded money and also money which has a tear. The color of the 20,000 VND is similar to the 500,000 VND so be careful when handing your money.

Scam alert: This happened in a taxi. A passenger would hand their 500,000 VND for payment only to be told that they handed 20,000 VND. The 500,000 and 20,000 bills have the similar blue color. Better to pay in small bills.

2. Do not ride non-metered taxi. I don’t think I can stress this enough. What taxis do I recommend? Read more about it here. If you’re going to ride the xe om or the motorbike taxi, you should pay at least half the cost if you’d ride a taxi.

3. Aside from walking, riding a cyclo is a terrific way to go around the city but the drivers can be really opportunistic. Before riding, make sure you are clear on how much the ride costs. Better yet, let them write it down for you. 5 USD or roughly 100,000VND for 30 minutes sounds reasonable. If you can pay before you ride, that would be best. If you just want a photo with the cyclo, ask the driver first if they require payment or not. Cyclos are not as popular as before in Saigon and drivers may be tempted to rip you off. So be very careful.

  1. Bus No. 35 is a bus that stops at major tourist spots in Ho Chi Minh City from 5:30 AM to 8:12 PM. The ticket cost is 4,000 VND or $0.19. You can take this from the Ben Thanh Bus Station.

 photo 20140416_100409_zps1161edb3.jpg5. Don’t be surprised if the taxi driver or grocery cashier helps himself to your wallet when you’re about to pay. These people think you are not versed in the VND currency so what may seem to be an out-of-line act is actually them trying to help you.

6. When coming from the airport on a taxi, you would have to pay an additional 10,000 VND. This covers the airport entry free — kind of a toll fee. (Thanks Windflower!) You may also be asked to pay for this when going to the airport as non-airport taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers from the airport. Again, it’s 10,000 VND not 100,000 VND.

7. Sidewalks are for pedestrians but apparently for motorbikes too.

8. The police wearing dark green uniform are tourist police and are there to help tourists out especially in crossing the busy city streets.

9. Don’t be shy to haggle for the price especially in the market. Watch out for areas that state Fixed Price.

10. Mineral water is safe in Vietnam. Popular brands are Aquafina by Pepsi, La Vie by Nestle, Dasani by Coca Cola, and Sapuwa.

Adding more tips! ;)

Lisa’s Tip: I think any visitor coming here should take advantage of the fact the SIM cards and data is so cheap that it’s worth investing even for a short or long visit. I can’t remember but I got 2 SIM cards for $10 or less. And added mobifone data for another US$5 which is 1.5G and that lasts for 30 days.

As for me, I pay 75,000 VND ($3.6VND) for my 3G under Mobifone that lasts for one month. Really good deal! :)

Let me know if you have any other good tip to share!

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Hung Kings Day

Hung Kings Day was smack in the middle of the week and you can’t really go and schedule a proper holiday. So what did you guys do on this holiday?  The boys in our bike group went to Monkey Island. Left at 5 am and returned at 6 pm. Thank God I didn’t join that one. :P photo 20140409_060006_zpsf0325a46.jpg

Instead, we decided on a short and relaxing (not after conquering 4 bridges) bike ride along Nguyen Huu Tho St. We still left at 5:30 am to escape the heat — yeah I know waking up at a godforsaken hour on a holiday, eh?

The route was just 23 kilometers. And we had our usual breakfast stop at Mimi.

 photo Screenshot_2014-04-10-06-12-08_zps388dd320.pngWe still witnessed the last few minutes of the sunrise.

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Saigon was just stirring when we reached the end of Nguyen Huu Tho St. at 6 am.

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Except for this guy on the boat, still happily snoring.

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Saw this fisherman readying his nets. photo IMG_1335_zps04b33034.jpg

It felt like a lazy, lazy morning really. photo IMG_1334_zps4edb0a34.jpg

We finished early at 7 am and saw lots of people feigning exercise on a holiday morning. photo IMG_1319_zpsbade0b91.jpgHow did you spend your holiday?

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Vietopia

A couple of weeks ago during the kids’ spring break, we explored Kizciti. Kizciti has been open since 2011. It is located in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Then we heard about Vietopia. photo IMG_1049_zpsaa66c7db.jpgVietopia opened late last year and according to Thanh Nien news, is the largest edutainment center at 30,000 sqm. And speaking of Thanh Nien, they’ve also sponsored a spot in Vietopia. :)

 photo IMG_1085_zpsc932f9dd.jpgAccording to the same news, Vietopia had to get sponsors to keep the ticket price affordable. Ticket price for kids between 4 to 15 years old is 190kVND (~9USD) on weekdays (Tuesday to Thursday) and 280kVND (~13USD) on weekends (Friday – Sunday). They’re closed on Mondays. Adult ticket price is 45kVND (~2USD). photo IMG_1052_zps5e3c5480.jpgThe entrance is designed like that of an airport where you’d get your boarding pass in exchange of the Vietopia bracelet. But nope, those X-ray machines don’t work. :P

 photo IMG_1057_zpse963669f.jpgKids will get their cheque of 20 Vido which they’d need to have exchanged at the bank.

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Just a side story of our “entrance” experience in Vietopia. I was disappointed on how we were treated. We were one of the first people in the morning and got in line entrance no. 01 above. Before us were our friends with 1 adult, 1 baby, and 1 child. When it was our turn, we were 2 adults, 1 baby, and 1 child. So you can imagine that they only have 5 tickets on their table. They got confused and didn’t give my nanny her Vietopia bracelet. They kept insisting that she didn’t pay! My nanny is Vietnamese so I knew she could handle the situation but the attendants at Vietopia just couldn’t think of COUNTING their tickets. They got frazzled easily and we were just the second batch of people coming in. After my nanny got sorted out, they again forgot that they already took the tickets of our friends behind us. What the? So came another round of argument. <insert roll eyes here> photo IMG_1062_zpsca9a14ba.jpg

It was not a good start of our day. But hey, it was the kids’ day so we hurried inside and got their cheque exchanged for Vido. photo IMG_1200_zps4cbd5f7f.jpgEach kid would get 20 Vido. Like Kizciti, you pay for entertainment or school and get paid if you do work.

 photo IMG_1136_zps40d3537e.jpgThe central square is huge. Our toddlers had a fun time running around this area. And although it’s the weekend, there weren’t a lot of people. I guess this place hasn’t caught on yet. We were actually the only foreigners in this place. photo IMG_1064_zpse7c4062c.jpg

The waiting time per job or entertainment was more due to the fact of the rules that there’s a stop time in between sessions. photo IMG_1087_zps20b724bf.jpg

And each can only accommodate 10 people. In an hour, a kid can participate in 2 activities — which felt kinda slow compared to Kizciti. photo IMG_1050_zps86274c08.jpg

But I have to admit that I like the attention the kids get. Each activity was explained well and the kids really get to participate. With less than a year in operations, the facility is new and the kids had a fun time exploring. The plane came in with flight simulator.

 photo IMG_1095_zps3993c071.jpgThe Fire Station is always popular.

 photo IMG_1094_zpsa1ded474.jpgI think I was more excited than the kids. I wish adults can play too!

 photo IMG_1092_zpsdf6bf2dc.jpgMinus the smoke which Kizciti had, the burning hotel looked cool. :P

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Pepsi and Mirinda have their own factories here.

 photo IMG_1096_zpse70dbfca.jpgThe kids were taught how to clean the bottle, dry, inspect, fill the bottle with caffeine and water, seal, and label.

 photo IMG_1115_zps32972007.jpgMy son who has yet to taste his first soda was ecstatic to make his first Pepsi.

 photo IMG_1122_zpsca193187.jpgThe kids had to work so they tried electrical work which earned them 10 Vido.

 photo IMG_1128_zps59bb60b3.jpgComplete with hard hats, tool boxes, and warning devices, the kids went to work.

 photo IMG_1145_zpsb5872808.jpgFor working at the emergency of the hospital, you get 15 Vido.

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The kids get to try to do CPR. photo IMG_1310_zps82810e50.jpgThe kids did some Car Designing too.

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The attention to details is awesome! photo IMG_1206_zps492a28e8.jpgThe kids filled up the cars.

 photo IMG_1220_zpsb2ce72af.jpgThe train station is for bigger kids and they are taught how operate the train via a simulator.  photo IMG_1232_zps3470f632.jpgThere’s a driving school too and race track. You have to go through the driving school first before you get to race. photo IMG_1190_zpsed314d29.jpg

For leisure, there’s wall climbing —

 photo IMG_1301_zpsb7c417a8.jpgThe kids were looking forward to do some golfing and 3D Cinema like in Kizciti but I think the other attractions here pretty much makes up for those.

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There’s a Science Space Institution and the Archaeological Research Institute — photo IMG_1276_zpsa5d1313c.jpgThe kids learned about recycling in the Environment Research Institute —

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They were prepped too — photo IMG_1251_zps3aee0cf8.jpgThey did some baking at the Choco Pie Factory.

 photo IMG_1290_zps4f9aee63.jpgAnd also tried grinding coffee at the Coffee Factory —

 photo IMG_1236_zps62a443e8.jpgI also saw an English Center. The teachers were native English speakers. :D

 photo IMG_1316_zpse71720ab.jpgMy little one had to stay at the play area upstairs for kids 3 years old and below.

 photo IMG_1142_zps08f95fb2.jpgThere’s a working microwave oven so we just heated Rafael’s food (from home) here for his lunch.

 photo IMG_1143_zps218e9ba9.jpgMy nanny said, you can actually ask milk here. But we’re not so fond of formula companies. But hey, thanks for sponsoring this area.

What were in Kizciti that weren’t here? There was an actual kiddie football field in Kizciti, golf, and farming (complete with rice paddy, rice mill, and pond where you can feed the fish). But there are lots that you can’t find in Kizciti in Vietopia. The air conditioning is a plus now that we’re into the hot summer months.

The food here is good too and not at all expensive, same in Kizciti. Actually, in Ho Chi Minh City, the food is always affordable in amusement parks — even in Suoi Tien.

The kids had a blast at Vietopia and we’d gladly come back but we hope we could catch those vouchers as the cost was quite steep — especially if you have more than 1 kid.

Vietopia
02-04 Đường số 9 Khu Đô Thị Mới
Him Lam, P. Tân Hưng, Q.7, TP.HCM
(08) 6264 1777

 

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Getting a Vietnamese Birth Certificate for Japanese, Brits, and Aussies

 photo birthcert_zps26ec1113.jpgLast year, I have had the opportunity to get to know the birth certificate process in Vietnam. And what an accomplishment that as!

Sharing with you Henry Maher’s account on how he was able to process their child’s birth certificate wherein he also shares the different processes of other nationalities. And there have been some updates on the processes in the People’s Committee in District 1! They’ve got ticketing now! Hope this post helps someone. Thanks Henry!

———

 

Hello my name is Henry Maher. My wife and I had our child in Hanh Phuc International Hospital last 2/1/2014. We live in Mui Ne and are  both avid windsurfers. We came back down to Saigon to get a birth certificate for our child as we both agreed that being in Saigon put us closer to our Embassy (to get documents stamped) and better communication with government offices (I was put in charge of getting the birth certificate and my Vietnamese is shocking).  We spent three weeks in Saigon to get our birth certificate.  The process of getting the certificate is not difficult but there is a lot of waiting.

This article is just an extension of Lyra’s post and specific information regarding certain country procedures. Please if you find any details to be incorrect with this document please send me amendments.

If you are  from Japan and reading this English document and only require citizenship for Japan then you are in luck.  To process ask a friend or family member to go the  your local provincial council in Japan and get the documents to register the baby. You will need to fill them out and then ask someone  to go to the council with the live report from the hospital and the documents. They will give you an amended  Koseki-tohon (family registry) with your newborn’s name in it. This will take 2 to 3 weeks. But if you are going for Dual Citizenship, do the other countries citizenship process first and do the Japanese amendment to the  koseki-tohon using the birth certificate from the Vietnamese government not the live report (the live report will be kept by the Sở Tư pháp).

You do not have to wait until the birth of your child to start this process. Really the sooner the better as once the baby comes you will not have much time for anything except the essentials.

Let’s begin. For starters before running around getting things stamped. Go and see your local Sở Tư pháp nice and early in the morning. The place gets busy as the day moves on. Show  them the following list of documents needed, let them clarify what you need. Here is the list

ITEM No. English Vietnamese
1 Form from Sở Tư pháp Tờ khai đăng ký khai sinh
2 Live report from hospital Giấy chứng sinh của cơ sở y tế
3 Parents passports and certificated copies hộ chiếu và hộ chiếu Sao y
4 Marriage certificate- to get consularly legalized

- to get certified translation into Vietnamese & certified true copy

Giấy chứng nhận kết hôn của- hợp pháp hóa lãnh sự

- dịch công chứng & sao y

 

5 Permanent resident card or temporary residence application confirmation letter Thẻ thường trú hoặc đơn xin xác nhận tạm trú thư
6 Affidavit of nationality from Foreign embassy Giấy thỏa thuận của cha mẹ về việc chọn quốc tịch cho con
7 Affidavit of nationality from peoples committee cam kết nhận con, thỏa thuận quốc tịch, Dân tộc, hộ của trẻ

Below is extra information on some of the items

When you need certified copies you will need to go to the People’s Committee (every district has one and each is a little bit different in the way the work). In District 1, Ho Chi Minh City the process is:

Near Counter 4 is a ticketing machine. Get a ticket for certified copy (soa y)
Go to photocopier at end of room. Get copies needed + 1 (they keep one)
Wait for your number to be called. Then, give them the documents. Wait. Pay. Get documents.

Marriage certificates from:

  • Japan: You need the Koseki-tohon (family registry) which is less then 3 months old.  Take to the embassy and ask them for an English version marriage certificate. The Vietnamese will not accept the Koseki-tohon. Take this marriage certificate to department of Foreign Affairs for authentication. SEE PROCESS DOFA below.
  • Australia: Contact Births, deaths and marriages in your state of marriage for your certificates make sure you tell them your scenario as you should need the certificate  legalised.
  • Great Britain: You need to get your marriage certificate legalised before the British consulate who will give you their stamp.  Go to this website: https://www.gov.uk/get-document-legalised

For Australia and Great Britain, once you have your marriage certificates (legalised) take them to your respective embassies for a stamp. This stamp is to verify that the documents are legit.  The stamped document then has to be taken to the department of Foreign Affairs for authentication SEE PROCESS DOFA below.

Permanent resident card or temporary residence. We had temporary residence in a hotel and are on tourist passports. We asked our hotel manager to get a letter signed and stamped by the local police station.  The letter should say “đơn xin xác nhận tạm trú” (application for temporary residence confirmed).

Affidavit of nationality from Foreign embassy.  I have been told that the US embassy has a stock standard form for this but the British and Australians do not.  Below is a template to use which worked for us. Remember to keep 1/3 of the page left blank for the embassies stamps. Both you and your wife will have to go to the embassy to get the signatures witnessed. The document then has to be taken to the department of Foreign Affairs for authentication SEE PROCESS DOFA below.

PROCESS DOFA Department of Foreign Affairs for authentication. (There job is to authenticate the stamp of another countries consulate/embassy stamp the document can not be used in Vietnam otherwise)
Two methods:
1. Go to guard house get a ticket …….. pick it up and get it translated
2. Go into the big building of the Foreign Affairs go down the left corridor and two or three offices down is a translation service. They will get the authentication stamp for (60,000) and then translate. They also have a translation express service for a higher price. But the plus side is you go back once and you pick up a stamped and translate copy. Saving taxi fare and time.

Affidavit of nationality from peoples committee (cam kết nhận con, thỏa thuận quốc tịch, Dân tộc, hộ của trẻ) For this you need:
* copies of passports
* Affidavit from embassy (ITEM 6) , stamped and translated
* live report from hospital
* And maybe proof of temporary residency (sorry I just can’t find my notes on this one)
You ask for it at the last counter next to the copy machine. You will not need to bring your wife to submit it. But you need to bring her on pickup.

Picking up your birth certificate from So Tu phap:
1. You take your receipt to counter 7
2. They make you sign for the certificate and then get two copies of it
3. The copy machine is next to the guard house
4. Have to wait a little bit and then they give you some more papers
I took the birth certificate straight down to a translation company called Hanoi Translation Co. Ltd, 95 Pasteur St., Ben Nghe Ward, Dist. 1, . a few block from Notre Dame Cathedral. Don’t be fooled by the mess they are competent. With that you can take it to your embassy for application for citizenship. And because the birth certificate is a standard form I got the translation back the next morning.

Affidavit of nationality template (make sure that when you print you only use 2/3 of the page. As your government need 1/3 stamping room):
I, <husband’s name>
Passport Number: <husband’s passport no>
Date of birth (dd/mm/yy): <husbands dob>
I am the husband of <wife’s name>. I am the father of <babies name> born <date born> in <hospital name>. I agree with my wife <wife’s name> (shown below) that our child will be given the nationality <child’s nationality>.

I, <wife’s name>
Passport Number: <wife’s passport no>
Date of birth (dd/mm/yy): <wife’s dob>
I am the wife of <husband’s name>,  I am the mother of <babies name> born <date born> in <hospital name>. I agree with my husband <husband’s name>  (shown above) that our child will be given the nationality <child’s nationality>.
Signed

<Husband’s name>
Date:
Signed

<Wife’s name>
Date:

 

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Is Vietnam poised too become Asia’s next casino haven?

The Ho Tram Grand seems like an anomaly right now, but that perception may change soon 
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In a country that forbids its citizens to step inside casinos, it’s easy to see the Ho Tram Grand as an anomaly. The integrated resort-casino opened last year and features 35 mass-market gaming tables, six VIP tables and 614 electronic gambling machines as well as a 541-room hotel, 10 bars and restaurants, three swimming pools, a spa, convention space, and numerous luxury retail shops.

In my recent visit to Ho Tram Grand, I found out that there are accommodation packages for members — meaning Casino members, where they can stay for the night for free just as long as they spend a minimum amount in the Casino.

Be that as it may, there’s been talk about the Ho Tram Grand sparking a “casino rush” similar to the “seaport rush” and “airport rush” of the past. VietnamNet Bridge recently reported that other provinces are now itching to follow Ho Tram’s lead and putting up their own casinos.

“If a province develops a casino, other provinces will decide that they also need to develop casinos to develop the local economies,” said Minister of Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh. “It is because local authorities cannot think of any other way to make money.” Vinh also noted that at first there was only one casino development proposal on the table. Now there are 10.

The Ho Tram Grand certainly has had an effect on Ho Tram’s economy, but perhaps the online poker boom has also had a hand in the perceived “casino rush”. Consider Di and Hac Dang, a pair of Vietnamese-American brothers who managed to hit it big through online poker tournaments.

The Dang brothers started out with a $50 deposit on online gaming giant Partypoker. This was pretty close to the company’s infancy, and years before they joined the social media train and got on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. As such, the landscape for an online poker beginner was vastly different from how it is now, where you can get a wealth of information with a single click.

“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Di explained in an interview with Voice of America. “We have a strong math background, we’re very competitive, and we like strategy. We just chose to play poker in our free time.” Despite the relative lack of learning materials, having each other to bounce ideas off of became one of the Dang brothers’ best resources. In 2012, their total combined winnings since they started playing seriously in 2004 was estimated to be at $15 million.

While the odds of becoming the next Dang brothers is pretty much one in a million, it won’t stop people from dreaming. They may get a chance to pursue the dream soon, too, Reuters as  reported last month that Vietnamese officials are considering loosening gambling laws to attract high rollers.

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