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  • One local’s fifteen minutes of fame just keeps on going

    International acclaim can be an unusual beast – as with the case of the renowned Lunch Lady at 23, Hoang Sa, Da Kao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. For many travellers visiting Saigon, besides seeing the famous sights, the Lunch Lady remains a firm fixture on their itinerary – while at the same time, her stall is more or less entirely unremarkable amongst locals. Her Vietnamese visitors are usually only restricted to those passers-by from the immediate vicinity, and those who only know of her through the introduction of their foreign friends. Nguyen Thi Thanh Since her fortuitous appearance on the cooking/travel show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations several years ago, Madame Nguyen Thi Thanh 's stall has become crowded by foreigners on the hunt for her highly-recommended street cuisine. Rented scooters driven by curious foreign faces pull up every few minutes, delighted to have followed the celebrity treasure hunt all the way to Ho Chi Minh City. Despite the devoted attention of the guidebook/youtube fanboys, street food in Saigon is, of course, nothing unusual – and it should be pointed out that there are thousands of lunch ladies in this city. Only Madam Thanh, however, is well-known abroad for her soups. Even though her stall is small and located along a meandering alley, people still seek her out her out to enjoy what they zealously believe to be some of the most delicious street food in Vietnam. There’s no illusion about the venue, however. The Lunch Lady’s stall is not a luxurious restaurant, nor is it even a small one. It’s just a straightforward street food counter, behind another restaurant and below an apartment building, serving a variety of Vietnamese soups. This is perhaps Madame Thanh’s only genuine claim to uniqueness – while most stalls offer a single

  • Pack the slowest punch in Ho Chi Minh City.

    Given the impact of China’s influence over much of Vietnam’s history, it’s no surprise that a quintessentially Chinese martial art such as Tai Chi has taken firm root on Vietnamese soil. Perhaps best described as the cultivation of internal regulatory discipline through controlled breathing and movement, there is a very healthy and long-standing tradition of Tai Chi Chuan practice ( Thái Cực Quyền in Vietnamese ) in this country. It was in April 1957 that Gu Liuxin, a Chinese Tai Chi Master, arrived in Hanoi to instruct Ho Chi Minh in the technique. Of course, this was hardly the first appearance of the discipline in Vietnam. The main vehicle by with the form entered this country was as a cultural import brought in by generations of Chinese settlers, many of whom established themselves in what is now the Cholon region of Ho Chi Minh City Arguably the gentlest martial art During the process of cultural integration as Chinese immigrants became increasingly entrenched in local society, Tai Chi established itself as a feature of local life in the Chinese areas, which in turn attracted ethnic Vietnamese practitioners. Nowadays, there are multiple Tai Chi clubs throughout the city run by both Chinese and Vietnamese descendants, and without much distinction between the two. Moreover, elderly people can often be seen practicing Tai Chi together at parks or in their homes each morning as an exercise to improve their health. It can be said that the place of Tai Chi in Vietnamese culture has become quite important, especially amongst the elderly. As with other martial arts, when travelling to another area or country, there will always be variations from the original forms after development and practice by locals. Despite the alterations, many core Tai Chi techniques in Vietnam – including postures, styles, and targets

  • Local kung-fu traditions are strongly attached to the Vietnamese outdoors.

    Vietnam has a rich and diversified martial arts history, divided into two main styles – the traditional and the modern. Across centuries of practice and development, many branches of Vietnamese martial arts were born here – strongly influenced by Chinese culture, they tend to bear some resemblance to Chinese martial arts, although they have still evolved their own characteristics, based on the local culture and environment. Said a foreigner who once joined a Vietnamese dojo, “When you walk into a new martial arts school in Asia, there’s always the thing about showing respect. They’re sizing you up, so you don’t want to look weak. But you don’t want to look challenging either. If they think you’ve only come to fight, they may not want to train you, or they may hurt you. Or if they think you’re showing disrespect, they won’t deal with you at all.” Vovinam has gained a worldwide following Vietnamese traditional martial arts comprise those varieties with the longest history in this country. They were originally created for the purposes of self-defence and to resist invaders. Characteristically defensive in nature, traditional Vietnamese martial arts focus on overcoming one’s barbaric tendencies as well as self-preservation in difficult conditions. They are flexible disciplines ideally practiced outdoors in the presence of nature. Practitioners wear black uniforms, and there are five main groups: Bac Ha (Northern); Binh Dinh (Central); Nam Ky (Southern); Chinese-origin groups; and Oversea Vietnamese (mostly created in France, Europe, USA, and Canada). Nowadays, the most popular type of traditional martial art practiced in HCMC is covered by the generic Vietnamese term Võ Cổ Truyền , which simply means “traditional martial arts”. This is a combination and mixture of all groups’ styles, focusing on preserving national traditions. Vietnamese dojos, especially the ones for traditional martial arts, usually practice outside,

  • Swim with the fishes… in a good way.

    People all over the world have watched in awe as Jacque Cousteau explored the ocean depths and shared his crew’s stunning footage with the world. Many have dreamt of one day following in his footsteps, but not everyone is prepared to don a scuba tank and go through the costly process of certification. Fortunately, snorkelling offers a peek into the lives of underwater denizens without the time and money commitments of scuba diving. In Vietnam, it is also a very affordable pastime that the whole family can enjoy. The crystal clear waters await There are four main spots for snorkelling in Vietnam: Con Dao Island, Phu Quoc Island, Nha Trang, and the nearby Whale Island. The first two are considered to be the top diving spots in the country, with a variety of coral and a multitude of ocean dwellers populating the shore waters. Also, both Islands are only an hours’ flight from Tan Son Nhat Airport, making them an easily-accessible getaway for expats tired of the city. Nha Trang and Whale Island have a few interesting diving spots, but years of dynamite fishing and bottom trawling have destroyed much of the biodiversity of that region. Efforts are being made to repair the damage, but it will most likely take decades for them to make a visible difference. Have a look at our corresponding articles in the Destinations section for a more in-depth analysis of each diving location, as well as some useful travelling advice. Whichever destination you happen to choose, it’s best to go on a snorkelling tour with a reputable company rather than trying to find the spots on your own. Unlike famous diving spots such as Hawaii, it’s very uncommon to find a coral reef just off the main beaches here in Vietnam, so going snorkelling usually

  • Get on the other side of the iron.

    There are few things that bring as much long-term satisfaction as getting inked by a talented tattoo artist, but those with a penchant for art and design may want to see what it’s like from the other side of the needle. For tattoo lovers who nurture a dream of one day being able to wield the iron themselves, HCMC has professional tattoo artists courses available at incredibly low rates compared to the West. Tattooing in HCMC, being an underground art, has not received much public coverage in Vietnam. The information and knowledge are here, but both are concentrated in a small community of body artists. In fact, it wasn’t until 2011 that the media even mentioned that professional training courses are available in the city. The first publication to break the silence was Tien Phong in a series dedicated to tattooing. Unlike the reports from years past, it represented a fairly unbiased view of the art, a remarkable feat given the widespread bias against tattooing. Since then, information on professional courses has been gradually becoming easier to come across. It takes a steady hand and years of experience In general, tattoo artist training courses are offered by two types of business entities: tattoo studios and beauty career centres. Even a cursory search for tattooing courses ( khóa học xăm hình ) shows that the latter are far more prevalent and outnumber tattoo studios nine to one. There are a variety of reasons for this status quo , with the main one being marketing: beauty career centres offer professional training in many fields related to beauty (make up, hair styling, etc.) and have a dedicated marketing department, which helps them get a lot more publicity and exposure. Also, these centres are registered as educational institutions and thus have far more flexibility

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