Hello Saigon turns 10

Today’s view

And in a blink, this blog turns 10.

Can’t believe it’s been more than a decade living here in Saigon. What started out as a 3-year stint has become so much more.

I can’t wait for this epidemic to be over so we could freely travel and explore within and around the city again.

But what a blessing it is to be in this city during this epidemic. Don’t want to be anywhere else.

Cheers to 10 and counting!

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Gentle Monster and Fake Me

Vietnam has just sort of gotten out of the second wave of the pandemic and businesses are starting to restart once again — especially the hot spot, Danang City.

It was in one of our walks that I chanced upon Gentle Monster — a popular Korean sunglasses brand that has been in the radar lately due to the popularity of Korean dramas these days (read: Crash Landing On You and Itaewon Class). My ophthalmologist has been on my case lately about me not wearing sunglasses and has led to the deterioration of my eyesight. Imagine that.

So anyhoo, enter Gentle Monster — a brand that suddenly my go-to optics shop, Sky Optics suddenly had on stock. They’re the first shop in Vietnam to carry the brand. Believe me, I’ve been checking possible sellers in Vietnam but none carried the authentic products.

Sky Optics carry popular brands and now, they carry Gentle Monster and Fake Me — both known brands from Korea. And the owner said that if there’s any design that the client liked and is not in their shop, they can order directly. Win! But I don’t think my wallet would agree.

Here are some photos from my visit.

I’ve been eyeing these sunnies for months and I’ve been hesitant to purchase online as am not sure which one will look okay on me.

If you’re interested, you can visit them at:

Sky Optics
S21-1 Sky Garden 1
Nguyễn Văn Linh, Street, Quận 7
Ho Chi Minh City

Happy shopping and I hope you guys are safe and somehow getting back into the swing of things. Let’s not stop the pandemic from enjoying things that make us feel good. Even the littlest ones count.

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Back to normal?

It’s been 32 days since we had a Covid-19 case via community transmission. As of today, we have 320 cases wherein 60 are active patients. There are 4 severe cases.

Do I believe the numbers?



Our hospitals are not overwhelmed with possible cases. I can actually go to my hospital and not be scared of possible infection. Because, there simply is none — which I fervently hope will continue to be. However, with that said, you won’t see me walking around in public without a facemask or a bottle of hand sanitizer. And no, I won’t be shaking hands with anyone anytime soon.

So what is life like in Ho Chi Minh City nowadays?

Public transportation including Grab and other similar services returned in time for the Reunification Day and Labor Day weekend (April 30 and May 1). My colleagues actually went home to their hometowns for the long holiday.

Schools were opened in stages which started 2 weeks ago. Universities and middle schools first then followed by the primary last week. This week, the pre-school kids are back.

Religious celebrations are allowed again. However, parishioners had to undergo temperature check and there was a slew of hand sanitizers upon entering. On our first Sunday mass back, the priest missed us so much and gave us a long sermon. Not that I minded, ‘coz I really missed our Church.

Cinemas, salons, and malls have re-opened. Uniqlo was actually able to open its 2nd Ho Chi Minh City store in SC Vivo City. Imagine that.

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I for one am actually physically back at work.

It does seem like everything is back to normal but business establishments including malls continue to have strict temperature checkpoints, and facemasks are required in public.

The number of cases will still be going up for sure as Vietnam continues to repatriate its citizens but so far, I think the government is doing a terrific job handling the situation. Am keeping my fingers crossed that Vietnam has seen the tail end of the pandemic in their turf.

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Putting Travel Insurance on Your Itinerary

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Photo by Andreea Popa on Unsplash

I didn’t realize that it’s been months and I haven’t posted about our New Year trip to Danang and Hoi An. Am glad we were able to visit before all covid broke loose and caused us all to be home-bound for the last few months.

Because of the pandemic, travel will never be the same again that’s for sure. If you’ve been making plans and doing the budget, getting travel insurance would now be the norm. And not just your run-of-the-mill insurance — I mean, you have to be ready when you go out there.

With Vietnam slowly getting back into the swing of things, I think it’ll open its borders again to tourists sooner than later. And if Vietnam does, no matter how we feel safe here, it’s better to be prepared by getting an insurance when you do visit.

Got insurance?

You’ve been planning your dream trip to Vietnam for what seems like forever. You’ve diligently put aside a chunk of every paycheck. You’ve devoured a dozen guide books. You’ve been cooking Vietnamese all year! You’ve imagined a perfect journey, complete with trying all those great attractions and things to do. What could go wrong, right?

The travel insurance industry was invented more than 150 years ago to answer that very question. Today, travel insurance companies protect travelers against a wide range of mishaps that could easily derail their vacations and business trips. With the rise in global travel, the travel insurance market is expected to balloon to $35 billion by 2025.

Does travel insurance make sense for you? That depends on whether you’re a gambler. But if you’re someone who likes to play it safe, travel insurance can offer important benefits—not to mention peace of mind. Travel insurance premiums represent a small percentage of the cost of your trip and could save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the event you need to make a claim.

Just as you would when purchasing auto insurance, take the time to get several quotes when selecting a travel insurance company. Each company offers its own individual types and combinations of coverage, so take the time to understand the different benefits available to you.

Cancellation coverage, as its name suggests, kicks in when you need to cancel your trip for such reasons as sudden illness, family emergencies, and natural disasters (either where you live or in your destination.) It reimburses you for non-refundable expenses, including airfare, which often represents a significant portion of the cost of your trip.

Let’s say you’ve already arrived at your destination and a phone call from home alerts you to an emergency. If you’re carrying trip interruption insurance, you’ll be reimbursed for the expenses of traveling home and resuming your trip once you are able.

The most comprehensive protection you can buy is Cancel For Any Reason coverage. CFAR policies are sold as add-ons to standard cancellation coverage. If a week before your trip, your boss casually informs you that you have to show up for a make-or-break presentation during the time you had planned to travel, you can make the presentation and still recoup a portion of your non-refundable travel expenses. Generally, CFAR policies do not reimburse you for all of your expenses; 50% to 75% is more common. The more you can collect under the policy, the higher your premium will be. CFAR makes sense for travelers whose schedules are very unpredictable or those who need the ultimate in flexibility.

Some of the most common misadventures travelers face are falling ill or getting hurt while abroad.  That’s why medical insurance is the most essential travel coverage to carry. Chances are, your current health insurance policy only offers limited coverage outside the US—and some policies exclude it altogether. Medicare is one such policy, so for seniors, medical insurance is an absolute necessity. Although in Vietnam some health services are free to tourists at government-run facilities, that isn’t the case when you see a private doctor. Travel medical insurance will reimburse you for evaluation, treatment, and transportation by ambulance no matter where you choose to go for health care. Incidentally, accidental death and dismemberment coverage—we know, nobody likes to think about the worst when planning a trip!—is also included in most travel medical policies.

Like your at-home health insurance policy, your auto insurance policy may not cover you while traveling abroad. If you are renting a car while traveling, protect yourself by adding auto insurance to your coverage schedule. Also consider looking into your travel credit card perks, because some companies do insure rental cars.

Most seasoned travelers have come up against the challenge of lost, stolen, damaged or delayed luggage. It’s not such a big deal when you’re traveling stateside to visit family, but it can really put a damper on an international trip, when you’d rather be doing anything but shopping for replacement toiletries (in another language, no less!) Baggage coverage can compensate you for the headaches associated with baggage mishaps, but be sure to understand the limits of any policy you purchase. You may want to increase your coverage limits to be sure you’ll be adequately reimbursed for electronics and other high-ticket items.

Here’s a tip for cost-conscious travelers—and that includes pretty much everyone, doesn’t it?  If you’re traveling with friends or family, consider a group plan. Under group coverage, travelers share the cost of a single policy, which typically reduces the amount any one traveler has to pay for protection.



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Thank you to all Vietnam frontliners!

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For the fourth consecutive day, Vietnam has no new Covid-19 case.  Fingers crossed that we’ve seen the end of Covid-19 in Vietnam. Vietnam has done a wonderful job in keeping the spread of the virus at a minimum. Amazing job!

Covid-19 Updated Information for Foreigners in Vietnam has been a tremendous help in providing information to us foreigners on the efforts of the country as well. Such a great team! BIG THANKS!

I think all of us have someone who has been affected by Covid-19. My sister, a doctor in the Philippines is a frontliner and is too experiencing this infection. I couldn’t help but tear up when she told us about it. There is nothing I can do for her but include her in my prayers. She is relatively fine with mild symptoms but until she doesn’t get that negative result, I will be in pins and needles (pun intended).

So to all the frontliners, here in Vietnam and everywhere else around the world, our heartfelt thanks and gratitude for all that you do. Thank you so much for your service. Though I know the fight ain’t over, your relentless efforts will never be forgotten. Xin cam on!

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[Covid-19] What is Vietnam doing differently compared to the Philippines?

A friend from the Philippines sent me this update on Covid-19 Cases in the ASEAN region. And at this time, Vietnam has a total of 268 cases with 198 recovered. She was asking what is Vietnam doing differently compared to the Philippines.

The Philippines (population of around 107 million), as of writing this entry, has 22 times more cases than Vietnam at 5,878, 487 recovered, and 387 deaths. Vietnam has a population of 95 million.

Both countries are quite densely populated and considering that Vietnam shares a border with China, Vietnam is more at risk of contracting the virus than the Philippines. Geographically, the Philippines had a better chance of actually dodging the bullet if it closed down its airports early on.

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So what is Vietnam doing differently compared to the Philippines?

  • From the first two cases of Covid-19 back in January 23, the Vietnamese government was on red alert. Not once did we feel that the government was not on the top of things. I was actually surprised that Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was very decisive and took the very few cases of 16 very seriously. With the PM’s decisiveness, the Ministry of Health was given the go ahead to plan and execute accordingly.
  • When the first two cases happened, it was during the Lunar New Year and since then, starting January 23, the Ministry of Education decided to suspend classes. Yes. THAT EARLY.
  • Vietnam produces its own testing kits.
  • Relentless and no joke contact tracing and quarantining of persons under investigation or monitoring. They do it on a large scale if needed.
  • No flights coming in since March 25.
  • Social distancing since April 1. Not totally locked down. People can still move within the city but cannot cross cities or provinces. We’re on our 3rd week.
  • Automatic quarantine to a facility from people coming from abroad prior to the social distancing directive.
  • No public transportation since April 1.
  • Work from home is encouraged but not mandatory. People can still go to work. But since there is no public transportation, people are forced to work from home unless they have their own mode of transportation
  • 9 USD fine for not wearing face masks in public.
  • Hefty fine of around 320 USD (7.5kVND) if caught congregating outside beyond 2 persons.

Generally, I think face masks helped. Because Vietnam is a motorbiking nation, face masks are part of our daily lives. I actually couldn’t believe I’d have this many different kind of face masks in my stash:

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To be fair though, the Philippines has had no real experience of an epidemic of this scale in the past. When the SARS outbreak in 2003 happened, the Philippines only had 14 cases and 2 fatalities. The Covid-19 pandemic proves to be a very painful lesson to us all.

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Rants and ramblings on Covid-19

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As of writing this entry, Vietnam has 251 Covid-19 cases with 126 recovered.

The kids have been off school since Tet Holidays. So that’s 79 days. And we’ve been working from home for 3 weeks already.

Vietnam has been on alert since the first case and I honestly don’t know when we can all finally get on with our lives. I mean we are but, I miss the sun and walking outside without fear and not being a germophobe.

Currently, there are two hot spots in Vietnam where there are high concentration of cases. One is a in Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi wherein employees of Truong Sinh Company have been found to have infected patients and visitors of the hospital. They’re up to 45 cases. In Ho Chi Minh City, I can’t help but express my disgust to the Buddha Bar. They insisted on celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 14 (yep amidst the raging epidemic!) where an infected British Vietnamese Airlines pilot attended and I have now lost track of how many cases stemmed from that one.

Since the start of April, taxis and ride-sharing have been banned and will continue to be so till the 15th of April and so, I can’t really go to work (we’re till allowed to!). We can only go out for necessities (read: groceries, hospitals, pharmacy) and when we do, we can only go with another person. Gatherings over 2 people are not allowed. I am unclear on whether we can go take a walk or bike for some exercise but I hear they’re fining people in Hanoi for going out unnecessarily.

My sister in the Philippines is a frontliner and works for one of Manila’s public hospitals. She’s a PUM (Person under monitoring) because she has had close contact with a Covid positive patient. She’s in high spirits but bored at her home while quarantined. Since she’s asymptomatic, she’ll be reporting to work again tomorrow. I pray for her and for all the frontliners risking their lives to help the many people who are infected.

One Thursday a couple of weeks ago, I was so depressed after hearing not one, but several news on close contacts who died or are sick. It was so damn depressing. And I’m sure, you have your own story to tell.

While I am amazed by how Vietnam is handling this unusual situation, I am still worried and await the day that we can all be free from this pandemic. Will we ever be?

I know these are just rants and ramblings. And so, I am happy to see some bit of good news in Vietnam:

Disadvantaged people get free rice from an automatic vending machine in HCM City

Big-hearted Saigonese show mettle amid Covid-19

Discharged Czech patient praises Vietnam’s ‘professional and humane’ pandemic fight

British Covid-19 patient lauds Vietnam hospital for ‘friendly’ treatment

Vietnam to compensate Covid-19 job loss with monthly allowance

HCMC to let Covid-19 doctors rest in hotels

Have I told you that the Ministry of Health is doing an excellent job updating everyone?  Their Covid-19 page has become the first page I check every morning. I do receive SMS daily too.

In Facebook, props to Covid-19 Updated Information for Foreigners in Vietnam for timely and accurate updates.

Honestly, despite the fear, I feel safe in Vietnam and thank the government for their relentless efforts.

I hope you guys are safe too!

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Love in the time of coronavirus

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It’s 3 days before Valentine’s day and it may just be one of the quietest Valentine’s in this part of the world. I don’t think people are raring to go out amidst the corona virus scare.

Vietnam has a total of 15 infected individuals but the good news is that 7 have already recovered.

With traveling so much easier these days, I realized how vulnerable we all are. In fact, the husband actually returned from China just as the corona virus news broke up.  We were unfazed until we learned how bad the outbreak was. If Australia was busy with the raging fires, China was appeasing the virus outrage.

Here in Vietnam, although the number of incidents is low compared to other South East Asian countries like Japan and Singapore, it is still worrisome. Last week, Vietnam Airlines started flights again to Hongkong, Macau, and Taiwan. Kinda worried that those that couldn’t get out of China and its specialized administrative regions are using Vietnam as their connecting country to their destination. Truly hope (fingers-crossed) that the Vietnam authorities continue to remain vigilant and transparent.

Admittedly, we’ve stocked up on face masks and hand sanitizers. For someone who is immunocompromised like me, this virus is truly a nightmare. It wasn’t easy though. Pharmacies ran out of stocks as soon as deliveries hit their stores. I actually saw a couple wearing latex gloves while walking around our neighborhood! I don’t know what to make out of things really. Isn’t everyone just panicking?

I truly, truly hope that this nightmare ends.

But for now, stay home if you’re sick or wear a mask when going out, wash your hands, and keep yourself updated on the news.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I guess.

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2020: Year of the Rat

Today is the last working day of the Lunar New Year and it was difficult to get out of bed and go to work. Honestly, the office felt empty with most of my colleagues off to their hometowns for the new year celebration.

With a week long break, where are you guys off to?

If you’re staying in the city, might be a good idea to visit the Flower Street along Nguyen Hue. It’s interesting how the city government transformed the street into a garden featuring the Year of the Rat.  I’ve always been envious of the local women dressed in their ao dai having their photos taken along the Flower Street.

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The mousy rowing team is my favorite among all the installations.

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A mini orchidarium has been a staple in this yearly event.

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I really like the Rubik’s cube-inspired installation but am not sure how it connects with the Year of the Rat. It looks fun though!

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Here’s the Squeaky Ville.

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This area below looked a bit barren but am pretty sure this looks terrific during the night all lit up.

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Hope you all have an awesome Lunar New Year celebration! Chúc mừng năm mới!

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5 Unique Souvenirs and Goodies to Bring Home from Hanoi

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Finding a memento to remember your Hanoi holiday by shouldn’t be hard in a city that is known for its quality souvenirs. From delicious edibles to delicate ceramics, there’s a perfect souvenir to add to your collection or give as a gift to a loved one.

Traveloka’s Hanoi travel combos are a convenient way to get into the Little Paris of the East, allowing you to save money on both flights and accommodations. However, before finalizing your travel plans, make sure you know exactly what to bring home! Here are some of our recommendations.

Ô Mai

Bring the taste of Hanoi back with you by stocking up on these delicious bite-sized snacks. Ô Mai are a popular local delicacy made with dried fruit. They can be sugared or salted, but also come in hot and sour flavors. What’s available changes depending on the season; it could be peaches or apricots in April or plums in June. Ô  mai made with cranberries are a hot commodity around the Tet season. Lemon, mandarin orange, tamarind, and jackfruit ô mai, on the other hand, are available year-round. They are often enjoyed with tea, which smooths and balances out the treat’s intense taste.

Certain kinds of ô mai are believed to possess medicinal properties and are often used as home remedies for common ailments. Apricot ô mai is taken to suppress coughs and soothe sore throats, like a lozenge. Citrus ô mai can be taken with honey and ginger to aid with symptoms associated with the common cold. For the widest seasonal selection, head to Hàng Đường Street in Hanoi, where you can find piles of these treats being sold out of numerous storefronts. They are easy to store and will keep for a long time, making them the perfect souvenir to bring home to your friends and family.

Vietnamese silk

Silk in Vietnam is still loomed by hand, guaranteeing a higher-quality product than those sold in other Southeast Asian countries. Silk scarves, handkerchiefs, and bed linens are available off the shelf in many souvenir shops and are an easy suitcase-filling choice. Head to Silk Street or Hang Gai Street in the Old Quarter for a wide selection of items to choose from. A good number of shops in the area also specialize in Vietnamese hand embroidery if you’d like your purchases to have a distinct personal touch. Certain tailors in Hanoi can also outfit you or the man in your life with a bespoke silk suit, given a lead time of at least 15 hours.

Keep an eye out for establishments where you can save by buying the fabric wholesale. Silk is usually sold by the meter, and you can then bring it to a dressmaker or tailor who can turn it into a custom shirt or áo dài for you. The Vietnamese national garment is also an attractive souvenir that any young lady would love to receive as a gift.

Coffee & tea
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Hanoi is Vietnam’s coffee capital, and it would be a shame to miss out on taking home bags of their famous robusta coffee and the implements that can enable you to replicate the memorable cups you’ve had during your holiday. You can buy expertly roasted and ground robusta or arabica beans from many cafés in the Old Quarter. It would do well to remember where you had your favorite cups and simply head back to those outlets, or go to reputable purveyors of fine coffees such as Oriberry, Highlands, or Huong Mai Café, the oldest roasting coffee shop in Hanoi. Don’t forget to purchase a phin or Vietnamese coffee drip filter for that perfect cà phê đá!Teas are also a popular souvenir item. In particular, lotus tea is a well-known Hanoian specialty. The lotus is Vietnam’s national flower, and its stamen is used to imbue high-quality green tea with an enticing lotus fragrance. You can buy it in bags or packed into beautiful gift boxes for your loved ones also at Oriberry or Huong Mai Café, or at specialty souvenir shops like Vui Studio near Hanoi’s Train Street.


Glossy lacquerware is one of Hanoi’s most well-known handicrafts, and artisans in the city have elevated its manufacturing into a fine art. Popular lacquerware items to take back home to adorn your home or to purchase as gifts include bowls, vases, decorative plates, frames, jewelry boxes, elaborate wall hangings and more.

Be sure to purchase lacquerware only from reputable vendors for the best quality. Poorly made mass-produced lacquer items can be found all over the city and can be bought for temptingly low prices. To make sure you don’t get a bead deal, head to Marena Hanoi, Tanmy Design, or Hanoia where high-end products are sold. Other handicrafts you may wish to look into include dó paper products and ceramics.

Vintage memorabilia

Reproductions of war-time posters used for propaganda purposes are a curiously popular take-home item in Hanoi, and you can find them being sold all over the city. Check out The Hanoi Gallery for framed reproductions painted onto rice paper, or Old Propaganda Posters and Thang Long Gallery for original posters dating all the way back to the French colonial era and the Vietnam War.

Vintage curios are common, too. The weekend-only Antique Market in the Ba Dinh District can yield old coins, trinkets, and other items that allegedly survived the war such as bullets, compasses, water canteens, and weaponry. Best steer clear of the land mines and grenades, but you may be able to pick up a vintage watch or spent lighter here that can be a good conversation piece back home.

When buying souvenirs, use your common sense and steer clear of items that are gimmicky and impractical. Conical hats are hawked all over Hanoi as a souvenir item, but do you really see yourself wearing them? Practice discernment and make things easy on yourself by stuffing your suitcase with items that are both meaningful and easy to pack instead.

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