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  • Beyond sand and sea, Nha Trang has something to offer to everyone... even on a rainy day.

    Looking at Nha Trang today, it’s hard to believe that the area used to be deserted until the 20th century. The city itself was established in 1924 by decree of the Governor-General of French Indochina, and since then it grew rapidly to become the bustling resort town it is today. Given Nha Trang’s short history, it’s not surprising that there are very few historical sites there – but whatever the city lacks in the sightseeing department it makes up for with its long sandy beach, as well as many modern attractions that have been built to draw in visitors from all over the world. The reason why most visitors come to Nha Trang is its beaches and warm sea water. Nha Trang Beach is by far the most popular among visitors, since it’s just a short walk away from the downtown area of Biet Thu. While the location might be convenient for a quick dip, the beach gets crowded and somewhat dirty due to the sheer number of people who attend it. For a more enjoyable experience, find a restaurant or bar that has cordoned off a portion of the beach for private use. As long as you order some beverages and snacks, you’ll be free to use the parasols and beach chairs; as an added bonus, you’ll also avoid being approached by touts selling fruit and steamed seafood. If you’d rather get away from the crowds, check out Bai Duong Beach a short 1.5 km ride north of the downtown area. While this beach is smaller, it is cleaner, much less crowded, and you won’t find a peddler in sight. Also, this beach is better for swimming: the water is warmer and the grade of the beach gentler – but be careful, as there are no lifeguards on duty. The only inconvenience is that you’ll need to bring your own refreshments or buy them from the coffee shops across the street. Water can be purchased cheaply at the hotels adjacent to the coffee shops for VND10,000/1.5 litre bottle.

  • Getting your tan in a can?

    It won’t be news to you that Vietnam is a country where being a little darker than average is a whole lot less likely to be considered beautiful by local standards. This is a place where the poorest of manual labourers are those who by force of necessity have to stand in the sunshine throughout the whole day, every day – making a deep tan a telltale sign of poverty. Those with enough leisure hours in their lives to wonder about getting a tan in Ho Chi Minh City are precisely those least likely to want to be branded with one, their lighter complexion the result of enjoying their comparatively good fortunes in the shade. Lily-skinned expats looking to get bronzed in this tropical country, however, won’t subscribe to that line of thinking – and while a heightened awareness of the dangers of UV radiation in the West has made tanning somewhat less popular than it used to be, there’s still plenty of good folks out there who would prefer to swan around Saigon suitably goldened rather than lobsterised by the Vietnamese sunshine. A tan, after all, is a sign of spending time outdoors in the fresh air rather than being closeted up in the shadows – so for many Westerners, it’s an emblem of health rather than economics. If you are in that subset of people here looking for a tan but not about to rely on the harsh equatorial solar rays to give you one, you will experience some frustrations in the hunt for a suitable service offering the skin colour you desire. It’s far more common to see skin whitening services at any spa or beauty salon, and if you ask for something in the opposite direction you’re more likely to strike frowns of confusion than you are anything else.

  • The goliath of Southeast Asian exotic fruit.

    Vietnamese people may put on an expression of mild confusion if you start to ask questions about lemons and limes. Ask for a lemon here, and you’ll be handed something smaller and greener than you might expect – the reason being that in the Vietnamese language, the two fruits are just different species of the same thing, known collectively as chanh. All varieties of chanh are usually translated using the English term “lemon”. That being said, most Vietnamese lemons are invariably limes, and they’ve worked their way deep into the interior of the local cuisine. They’re usually used to lend their distinctive citric acidity to certain dishes, but are even more commonly seen juiced as a favourite drink to kick away the heat of summer. There’s no season as such for limes here, and you can see them all year round in this tropical country, although they’re planted in spring and fall in the North, and between dry and rainy season in the Central and the South. Another variety, red flesh limes (chanh đào) are planted in the northern areas and Dalat, and are available in October and November. Limes are one of the easiest fruits to find in Ho Chi Minh City, and you’ll see them on sale whether you’re looking for them or not. In general, it’s easiest to select limes by examining the skin. The bottom line is to choose limes with a thin, smooth rind, since these will be the juiciest. Also, press the fruit gently to make sure it’s not bruised. It shouldn’t be too hard and should allow a gentle squeeze. Normally, squeezing fruit while you shop is not recommended – but when it comes to picking the best limes, sometimes you have to bend the rules. The juiciest limes are those that give a little – these softer limes will have less pith, and therefore more juice. They're also much easier to juice and use in cooking or baking.

  • Getting illustrated doesn’t have to be forever.

    Since ancient times, the henna plant has been used to make a special paste to colour hair, fingernails, and skin for women (and sometimes men) as well as leather, silk and wool. Henna tattoos are temporary skin designs made using henna paste products that resemble real tattoos and then fade away. Sometimes called mehndi , henna has a brown colour and lasts for two to four weeks after applying the dye, depending on how good the paste is and on the skin condition of the recipient. A mehndi may take from five to ten minutes to finish for a small area such as the palms, wrists, or feet. Henna is grown in both South Asia and Africa, although it’s most commonly associated with the culture of India, where henna tattoos are popular among girls – especially dancers who use it adorn themselves in celebrations and holidays. The tattoo is regarded as bringing blessings, luck, joy, and accentuating beauty. Henna is applied on a bride to wish her luck and happiness, and it’s believed that the longer that the henna remains visible, the happier the couple will be. It’s also used on pregnant women’s bellies to bless both mother and child. Henna is known to be longer lasting if well-preserved, usually best accomplished by avoiding direct contact with soap. A mixture of lemon essence and sugar will make it brighter and harder to fade. After the henna has been applied, let it dry naturally over a few hours (or ideally, through the night) and avoid using fans during that time. It has a dark brown or green-grey colour just after being applied, and becomes red-brown when it dries. Here in Saigon, the henna fashion was first imported by a small group of body painting enthusiasts who managed to kick off a trend within a year. As it causes no harm to the skin and doesn’t hurt at all, henna has attracted many locals, regardless of gender, to try it out.

  • It can get much worse than a pink slip.

    Whether you’re a bigwig at a multinational corporation or a fresh graduate working your first gig as an English teacher, getting the pink slip is one of the least pleasant things that can happen. This is especially true in the case of Vietnam: since the work permits are issued for a specific workplace, losing your job will also mean losing your right to legally remain in the country on a temporary residence card. It is, therefore, important to familiarise yourself with the local laws governing contract termination and dismissals to make sure that your (now ex-) employer followed the appropriate procedures. If that’s not the case, you just might have some leverage to negotiate a softer landing. There are two relevant sets of regulations covering contract termination and dismissals. Regulation #102/2013/NĐ-CP outlines the procedures for foreigners working in Vietnam, while Regulation #10/2012/QH13 is the most recent version of the Vietnamese labour code that applies to everyone working in Vietnam. For a foreigner facing contract termination, there are two scenarios: bad and worse. The former is a simple contract termination, while the latter involves such terms as “work permit revocation” and “expulsion from the country”. Articles 36 and 125 of the labour code clearly outline the lawful conditions where the employer can terminate a work contract with the employee. For those allergic to large quantities of legalese, here is a condensed list of the common conditions that must be met for a labour contract to be terminated: For those who want to read the articles themselves, here are the two relevant articles from the 2013 Labour Code of Vietnam. The complete labour code in English can also be found here . Even if neither the employer nor employee terminate the work contract, it is still possible for the State to revoke the employee’s work permit. Articles 17 and 18 of regulation #102/2013/NĐ-CP list the causes that will lead to such an outcome. Here is a summary in plain English of the common reasons for having the work permit revoked:

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