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  • Gonna clean you up, make you shine.

    Vietnam’s precious stones market is diverse with gems of all colours, shapes, and qualities available. Today, within the local market, Vietnamese people are still extremely friendly with diamonds ( kim cương ), while there are many other fabulous jewels around just waiting to get to know you better. Precious stones available on the market include rubies ( hồng ngọc ), star rubies ( ruby sao ), sapphires ( xa phia ), quartz ( thạch anh ), pearls ( ngọc trai ), citrine ( đá citrine ), amethysts ( thạch anh tím ), emeralds ( ngọc lục bảo ), opals ( đá opal ), peridote ( khoáng chất periđot ), nephrite ( cẩm thạch ), aquamarine ( lục ngọc ), and topaz ( hoàng ngọc ). Semi-precious stones include onyx ( mã não ), spinel ( ngọc hồng bảo ), tourmaline ( đá nhiệt điện ), coral ( san hô ), and amber ( hổ phách ). The Vietnamese are consumers of both local and imported precious stones. One figure now ten years out of date showed that the total amount of imported precious stones at the time was $300 million per year, and according to recent figures from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, within the first nine months of 2014, turnover on precious stones import increased 26.76% compared to that of 2013. This shows that the demand for precious stones – especially diamonds – continues to increase in this country. As the preferred precious stone in Vietnam, diamonds are thought to bestow a certain elegance on their owner – besides which, diamonds can also be kept as an asset that rarely depreciate in value. Wearing precious stones is not always about the bling factor – it’s also believed to be a form of treatment. It’s a general belief (and this is not by any means restricted to Vietnam) that each stone can help prevent and cure various diseases and disorders, making a positive impact on people’s lives.

  • Vietnam’s next big cash crop?

    To many Westerners, macadamia nuts are synonymous with Hawaii. While these delightful nuts are not exactly common in the West, finding a pack to satisfy that white chocolate macadamia nut cookie craving in HCMC is not an impossible task. Macadamia nuts are actually native to Australia and were not introduced to Hawaii until fairly late in the 19th century. It was there that international fame found them, and as the global demand continued to rise, the cultivars grown on the tropical islands were brought back to Oz. While abroad, they managed to become more resilient against the diseases that plagued Australian macadamia farms. Production volumes rose dramatically, propelling the country’s commercial production to surpass that of Hawaii. What might be more surprising to expats is that macadamia nuts are also grown right here in Vietnam. In 2005, thanks to a cooperation initiative with Australia, a pilot project was started in the province of Dak Lak to start the country’s first macadamia farms. Since it takes five years for the trees to start bearing nuts, the project is still in its early stages. Still, the farms in Dak Lak province now provide modest quantities of nuts to the local market, as well as exporting some of their harvests abroad. Despite being grown locally, macadamia nuts are not easy to track down. Local supply and distribution is shaky, with Vina Macca being one of the only reliable sources for Vietnamese macadamias. Imported nuts are easier to come by, but expect to pay anywhere from VND600,000-800,000 for a kilo. If you happen to find them in the local wet markets (try Binh Tay Market or the An Dong Market under Caesar Palace, both in Cholon) they should be significantly cheaper. Aside from the foreign grocery stores on 56 and 58 Ham Nghi street, you may also try one of the following distributors:

  • Even the hard-working Vietnamese get to take a break.

    There’s a healthy respect for time off in Vietnam, and while the general annual public holiday entitlement is nine days, in reality there can be several more officially-sanctioned days off in any given year. The powers that be take the issue quite seriously: if they perceive that a regular annual holiday happens to fall on a weekend, they’re careful to assign a day in lieu so that no-one misses out. Employers in Vietnam are also famously generous with holidays: while the Labour Code of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam regulates a minimum number of days off work for employees, depending on business conditions employers will often extend holidays for their staff, especially during the Tet (Lunar New Year) period. Official government bulletins often explicitly encourage employers to give staff more time off during Tet. According to law, workers are still entitled to be paid salary during these holidays. They do not need to work overtime or any extra days to make up for the time off, and this is cited in legal documents. Traffic is rarely a problem during public holidays (most local Vietnamese prefer to spend them at home) except in one major respect. The mass exodus of temporary residents in Ho Chi Minh City returning to their rural hometowns during the Tet season clogs intercity highways and makes travel tickets both expensive and really hard to book. Within the city, though, streets are virtually empty during the Tet holidays, and foreigners staying alone here are more likely to suffer from boredom than anything else. The vast majority of businesses will be closed for the whole week or even longer, including supermarkets and restaurants – and while a certain number of quality venues will stay open to chase the expat dollar, you’d be well advised to stock up on canned staples in advance. It’s not quite the Zombie Apocalypse, but you’re in danger of going hungry if you’re not prepared.

  • Spirits are high in Vietnam.

    In a country where sales figures on beer are the highest in the region, it’s hard to imagine people in Vietnam having the time to drink anything else. It hasn’t always been about beer here, however, but more rượu – a generic term for alcohol that generally covers grain spirits and wines. The word rượu predates the existence of beer in Vietnam, which is perhaps why it doesn’t usually refer to beer at all – and which in turn is why some Vietnamese people will tell you that beer isn’t alcohol. They’re not necessarily trying to get you drunk – it’s a translation issue. It can be safely assumed that the consumption of rượu stretches far back into antiquity – there’s no specific documentation citing exactly when people in Vietnam started to drink it, but it’s generally believed that once Vietnamese people figured out how to plant and harvest rice, it wasn’t long before they worked out how to use it to make alcohol. With all that bending and digging to be done, it was extremely necessary to have a stiff drink afterwards. Just how many kinds of traditional wines there are in this country has never been determined by experts and scientists in Vietnam. This is probably because every time a survey is made, none of the scientists remember it the following day. Some Vietnamese wines never pass beyond the village gates and are only ever produced and consumed locally. The historical turning point for Vietnamese alcohol occurred when French colonists began to establish breweries here. This was accompanied by a prohibition on home-brewed alcohol, which was essentially every single bottle of alcohol that existed in Vietnam outside of their own factories. The results were predictable: their corn-based version of the traditional wines didn’t exactly win favour with the locals, and so the prohibition failed, with most villages continuing to produce their own spirits and hiding them when the authorities showed up. This gave rise to some colourful new names for the wines – otherwise known as rượu trắng (‘white’ or transparent wine), rượu chưng (‘distilled wine’) and rượu gạo (rice wine), the spirits also started to be referred to as rượu đế (for being hidden from the taxman in bushy đế trees), rượu ngang (‘shortcut’ wine, for finding ways around the law) and rượu cuốc lủi (‘wine that runs away like a bird’). A more literary term was rượu quốc lủi – since the spirit was considered a national ( quốc ) asset that had to be hidden ( lủi ) when made and sold.

  • The garment that shaped traditional culture.

    These days, the áo dài is considered to be the pinnacle expression of feminine sensuality in Vietnamese garments for accentuating the curves of the female body. However, as explained in our article on the topic, the de facto national costume of Vietnam is by no means rooted in ancient tradition. In the centuries preceding the modern áo dài , another traditional dress used to be the symbol of the feminine. Known simply as yếm , this garment played an important role in Vietnamese society and influenced its culture and arts. The yếm is a traditional bodice, the origins of which are lost in the depths of time long before any written records were made. However, it was not until the Ly Dynasty of the 12th century that the yếm was officially codified. The garment’s structure is simple: it’s just a small, square piece of fabric measuring about 40 cm on each side. The top and bottom segments of the bodice feature pairs of strings meant to be tied around the neck and waist, leaving the whole back exposed. Although the design has seen some minor changes throughout the centuries, the inherent simplicity of the garment resulted in the design staying relatively unchanged compared to the original. Overall, there are three main types of this dress, distinguished by their different collars: round ( cổ xây ), split ( cổ xẻ, cổ V ), and swallow-winged ( cổ nhạn ). The yếm was designed to show off the small waists of Vietnamese women, long considered to be the most beautiful part of the female body in traditional Vietnamese culture. In ancient times, a small waist was referred to as lưng ong (bee waist) and women with this physical attribute were considered to be ideal wives. A famous folk poem exalts:

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