Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Last Night in Mui Ne


Having breakfast at Wax in Mui Ne. Just past Sunny Resort on beach side. It's a bit more expensive than Lam Ton but nicer. The breakfast is more like $1.5 instead of $1. It also has a pool table. The place is hidden away from the main street. I heard that the Wifi was fast but it's not working at all. The manager says it's on but I'm pretty sure he has no clue. Update: It's working now and I'm getting really fast speeds!

Looks like we're not going to have morning wind today. So much for the prediction from WindGuru. Yesterday was great though. My best day ever of kite surfing. I'm now able to consistently get up and head down wind for 20 meters or so.

Last night we had drinks at Beach Break Bar on the strip. They make a pretty decent Mojito and they are 2 for 1, which means 50,000 vnd ($3). I ordered my second Mojito just as the taxis arrived to take us to dinner. I asked that they make mine to go. They put it in a little baggie with two straws and a rubber band holding the bag closed, very cute.

We then went to a local restaurant that specializes in goat. They cook the soup at the table in little pots. You get to put in your own veggies and noodles. It was pretty good. They also kept refilling the beer glasses. Since they put ice in the glasses, I poured the remnants of my Mojito into the glass; mint, lime, and all. This was actually pretty good. The beer here is very light, kind of like Corona, so a lime and some mint mixes pretty well. We probably had 40 people last night. The crowd as bigger than normal. It was kind of a going away party since a few of the folks who had been around for a week or so were heading out.

I met a Polish guy named Derek who is from Alameda. He's a finance guy and has been here for a couple of months. For some reason he started talking about 'the singularity' and Kuzweil's web site. Strangely enough, I had a copy of Charles Stross' Glasshouse with me, which is set in a post singularity future. I showed him the book. The back cover promotes Singularity Sky and another Stross title.

After dinner most folks went out to the Pogo bar. I was zonked from kite surfing, Mojito's, goat soup, and beer so I decided to head back to the hotel and get some sleep.

Mui Ne Beach

This is the view from Wax, a beach bar, where I'm having breakfast.
Man it's pretty great here!

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Office Under Way

Originally uploaded by adamb90
It seems we're making headway on the new office. The balcony doors have been ripped out. The drop ceiling is gone. The bathroom is almost bricked off from the rest of the room.

If we're lucky, this will be the week we move in.

Niveau Riche

Nouveau Riche taken to a whole new level.

When I went away to college as a young man, I remember being accused of being nouveau riche. This was startling to me since I came from a small town where there were almost no rich people at all. Sure, we were on the upper end of the scale and I did have some issues growing up and being known as the rich kid in town. Being accused of being nouveau riche was a little confusing. I had never thought about different wealth categories since I had only been exposed to one.

Now I find myself in Vietnam, where the whole nouveau riche thing is taken to another, astronomical, level. I met a Scot recently who was blaming a lot of the local problems on the fact that Vietnam today is the result of what happens when a bunch of peasants suddenly become rich. (Imagine what might happen if the entire trailer park won the lottery!) Presumably there are a large number of multi-millionaires in Vietnam. I've heard of clubs that cater to the local rich, where they can go and show off their new wealth. There are stories of local Vietnamese going to the newly opened Louis Vuitton store and buying 40 handbags or $4,000 jackets. What's most striking is the rapid rise in wealth. It's not so much the level of wealth, but the delta change in wealth over such a short time. On my first trip to Vietnam in 1995 the roads were equally crowded with bicycles and motorbikes, with the odd car here and there. Today bikes are as rare as cars were in 1995. Today motorbikes and cars are about equal in terms of the traffic volume. The overall traffic is just going from bad to worse.

What does this mean for the future of the country? It seems the future is bright, but there will continue to be growing pains. Communism might actually help keep things in balance. In India today you see slums right up against shiny new high tech buildings. The social unrest from a gross economic divide seems to be coming to a head over there. It's possible that in ten years Vietnam could find itself in a similar situation. It's also possible that the communist government here will be able to keep things in balance better than the Indian democracy has done to date. Only time will tell.

Random bag of Nuc Mum outside Saigontoursit

One of the things I love about this place is how industrious it is. Capitalism is thriving. Almost everyone has a business, no matter how small. The street vendors are a great example. You can see any number of Rube Goldberg food carts being pushed, pulled, and ridden all around the city. My favorite are the bicycle squid vendors. The standard seems to be a bike outfitted with a rack of hanging translucent dried squid, lit from above by a battery powered florescent light bulb. Under the squid is usually a hand cranked grinder bolted to a piece of wood and a selection of spices. After dark there is a Burning Man like surreal quality to these bicycles. Apparently you select your squid and the vendor will grind it up for you, seasoning it to your taste. The result looks a bit like light brown snuff or a pile of short strand cotton candy. My kids love this stuff, I'm still undecided.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Jars of French Wine

We ate a a very good local restaurant last weekend. Notice the fancy
way they denote the various sizes of wine servings on the menu. We
decided to go for the big jar of wine.

This is also the place where they cook the rice until it's crispy, break the dish, and toss the disc of rice across the restaurant. It was delicious!

Com Nieu Saigon, 59 Ho Xuan Huong Street, D. #3

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Conchords Get Trippy

HBO's Flight of the Conchords is one of my favorite shows these days. It's about a couple of hipster musicians from New Zealand. The above scene is from the show where the guys drop acid after being pressured by their new fans.

Retirement Advice

I'm reading Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon and ran across this quote that I found inspiring.

Under his regime the springhouse was invisibly but strictly divided into three parts. There was the reading room---the two wing-backed armchairs and pair of lamps, an electric space heater, and a wall lined with bookshelves filled with his metallurgical and music theory texts. In the central portion of the springhouse he had his laboratory---a stationary tub and a pair of workbenches, one cluttered, one spotless, upon which he carried out his mechanical and chemical activities, from toaster repair to the development of a substance that could stick to Teflon coating. On the far side of the room there was an army cot piled with blankets and a refrigerator replete with cans of Iron City Light, one of which---no more or less---he took, medicinally, every afternoon at five. It was an enviable setup; Irv had rediscovered, as surprisingly few men do, that the secret to perfect male happiness is a well equipped clubhouse.
Time to find the clubhouse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

2nd Open Coffee Success

We had a good Open Coffee meeting last Thursday, with eight folks in attendance. Ok, I guess the PM slot wins. We'll try it again next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

The photo above is the Flower Tea drink I had at the Open Coffee. I was feeling under the weather and this was supposed to help me feel better. It didn't seem to make a difference though.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dog Meat: Just not the same

There is currently an epidemic of folks getting sick from eating contaminated shrimp paste. Finally the cases are dropping off. However, the dog meat restaurants are still feeling the effects.

The shrimp paste scare is also the reason why dog-meat restaurant owner Tran Muc in Au Co Street is down in the dumps. "Usually people are piling in to eat in my restaurant but no one wants to eat dog meat without shrimp paste," he complains.
I'm not sure what's worse, eating tainted shrimp paste or eating tainted shrimp paste on your stir fried dog.

Friday, November 9, 2007

ADSL Inappropriately Asymmetric

So normally ADSL is asymmetric but in such a way that the downloads are fast and the uploads are slow. I've noticed that this doesn't seem to be the case in Vietnam. It seems very strange that upload speeds are faster than download speeds. Maybe it's because the net here is just way overloaded on the download side and so the upload side just has extra capacity. To be fair, I'm testing this using the Speakeasy servers in San Francisco. I'm sure there is a lot of weird routing and other strangeness going on between here and there.

Anyone else notice this sort of thing?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Open Coffee Saigon (6pm next week)

We had a great meeting today. Thanks to everyone who attended. We ended up with six folks, five entrepreneurs and one investor.

Mainly the discussion was around interesting startups and how to start a company here in Vietnam. We debated the benefit of options make when hiring Vietnamese workers. We discussed office space styles and universally lamented the lack of bandwidth here in Vietnam. Hey, that gives me an idea for a startup. :-)

Almost everyone hated the time, except me and Pho. We'll try 6pm next week so the late night hackers can wake up at a reasonable hour.

I've created an Upcoming event for this. If you want to add yourself to the guest list, you can find it here. You don't need to sign up but it would be nice to know if we're going to have a big crowd so I can get there early and stake out some space.


Highlands Cafe, Saigon Centre
6pm November 15th, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

CNet Digs Vietnam

Here's a great Vietnam article from our friends at CNet. It covers a lot of stories I've heard about Vietnam since arriving back in August. Our favorite Saigon Blogger, Kevin Miller, is quoted several times. Congrats Kevin!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Open Coffee Saigon

When I was visiting the Bay Area last month my friend Jeff Clavier suggested that I try starting an Open Coffee meeting here in Saigon. So now is the time.

Open Coffee is simply an open meeting for internet people. According to the main site, it's a Place for people who love startups to hangout and meet. As an internet entrepreneur, I'm interested in meeting other internet entrepreneurs or folks who are just interested in startups.


Highlands Cafe, Saigon Centre
10am November 8th, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rainy Week in Dalat

We just got back from five days in Dalat. We stayed at the Evason Ana Mandara Villas & Spa. The Ana Mandara Villas are great. The rooms are in renovated, circa 1920, French villas. Each villa has a butler who takes care of you while you're there. This is a nice touch. Our villa had four large suites, three of which we rented. There is a common area with kitchen, dining room, and sitting room. The suites have very comfortable beds, fireplaces, satellite TV, DVD players, and large bathrooms with big tubs. One reason to go to Dalat is to get away from the noise and pollution of the city. These villas are a great place to relax. Since it's on the outskirts of Dalat, it's very quiet. The rooms have blackout shades so you can sleep as late as you like.

The restaurant, Villa 9, is amazing. Breakfast is included with your stay and it's not to be missed. This is the best coffee and croissants I've had in Vietnam. They kick it off with a plate of fresh fruit. Dalat is known for its fruit and the staff at Villa 9 take advantage of this bounty in creating this fruit plate. Besides the pastries and coffee, you have a wide selection including Vietnamese Phỏ as well as western style breakfast fare. Don't forget to try the restaurant for dinner either. The Aussie beef filet mignon is very good.

On Saturday we tried out the Six Senses Spa and were very pleased. The Vietnamese massage was great. It's a deep tissue massage but they finish it off with medicine cups on your back. These are the glass jars that they heat and then place on your back. It immediately sticks to your skin because of the suction from the cooling air inside the jar. The masseuse then slides the cup around your back, massaging as she goes. They seem to know just how hot to make the cups so they don't burn your skin but are pleasantly warm.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spa Lunch: La Maison de L'Apothiquaire

Ok, I'm not sure why this blog is always about food. It's probably because I like to eat and Saigon has a lot of great food.

If you want to be healthy, the spa lunch at L'Apothiquare is great. It's a fixed menu with soup, a main course, and a fruit course to finish it off. We usually add some fresh fruit juice from their drink menu as well. The menu is different every day, but always good. The chef really knows how to make great healthy food. The seating is outdoors under umbrellas. They have spritzer fans going to combat the warm weather. Unlike many Vietnamese restaurants, they know how to pace the courses. An innovation of L'Apothiquaire is a wireless remote control. When they bring the first course, they also drop off a mini remote. It looks like a small garage door opener. When you've finished the course or need to speak to the server, just push the button. A silent alarm goes off somewhere inside the villa and the server will appear. This is allows you to pace the meal as you like. Very nice!

The drawback to this spa is that I can never remember how to spell it so I always have trouble finding the address. On our last visit I took a picture of this vintage Mercedes sitting near the front door as a reminder of how to spell the name. Of course, now it's in my iPhone address book so I'll never have to wonder again.

Note L'Apothiquaire has two locations. The one I describe is in District 3, housed in a lovely villa. The other I have not visited and is in a storefront in District 1. I recommend the D3 version. It's a peaceful break from the hectic frenzy of downtown.

La Maison de L'Apothiquaire
64A Truong Dinh, D3
+84-8-932 5181

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Scoozi? Best Pizza in Saigon?

Recently we had lunch at Scoozi (aka Cafe L'Opera, aka illy) at 6 Thai Van Lung in District 1. Boy was the pizza good. They have free wifi and an air conditioned room upstairs too. Unfortunately (for me) the inside was pretty smoky, so if you're a smoker, this could be a great hang out for you. They do have well shaded outdoor seating which is nice too.

This street has a lot of great restaurants. Also check out Skewers for Mediterranean and Veggies for organic groceries.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Friday, October 5, 2007

Banh Xèo 46A

Our last lunch before heading to the US was at Banh Xèo 46A. It's called 46A because it's at 46A Dinh Cong Tran Street. This is a very small street that heads east from Ha Ba Trung just north of the pink church in District 1.

I found out about it from noodlepie's blog. He claims that it's the best banh xèo in Sài Gòn. I would have to agree. The funny thing about it, is that there is a seemingly nicer place across the street that is called Banh Xèo 49A. (You can see it in the background of noodlepie's picture here.) The poor folks at 49A have a nice big clean dining room which is almost totally empty. While across at 46A they have a row of tables under a tin roof and it's packed. When we drove up, the lady at 49A started waving us in. This immediately told us that it was not the right place. I looked around and saw our true destination under the cheap awning. Give it a try sometime. Maybe we'll try 49A at some point to see if it really is inferior or if it just gets a bad rap.

Don Diego's of Indian Wells

Ah, back the the US for some nice Mexican Food. The hotel concierge recommended Don Diego's and it was a great suggestion. Since we were dining at 4pm due to jet lag, we fit right in with the retired folks heading out for the early bird specials. (There are a lot of retired folks here it seems.) They had a special on margaritas, only $3. All appetizers were half off as well. It's sort of a standing joke that when you get old you start loosing your sense of taste. At dinner I noticed an older couple sitting near us. When the chips came, the older lady took a bite of one and immediately went for the salt shaker, adding a generous amount of salt to her chips. I can't imagine salting tortilla chips, which are already very salty. I suppose I shouldn't talk, you can see my salt rimmed margarita in the foreground here. Yum!

The Palm Springs area is great. The weather this time of year is perfect. We're in the middle of a desert and the sun is very hot midday, but it's a dry heat. The surrounding mountains make for a wonderful backdrop. I can see why so many people retire here. In a lot of ways it's like Las Vegas without the cheese. They even have streets named after old time entertainers here, like Bob Hope. It seems this is where Hollywood comes to retire.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

NY Times on Ho Chi Minh City

I just found out that the New York Times has a really great section on Ho Chi Minh City. It's a mix of interesting articles and practical travel information.

I've been living here for six weeks and I often ask the locals about this building or that piece of history. I'm often given conflicting information. For instance, I was told that the Ho Chi Minh City Museum was a retirement home! There also seemed to be some confusion about what happened to the former president of South Vietnam. I was told that he had escaped to England. According to the Times, Ngo Dinh Diem was executed in 1962. Maybe they were thinking of a different former president.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Organic Grocery Store in Sài Gòn

We found a great little organic grocery called Veggy's. It's at 15 Thai Van Lung in District 1. They don't take credit cards so bring your cash. My favorite part is the walk in refrigerator in the back. The clerks wear winter coats when working there. It's a great place to cool down after riding your motor bike to the store. They have bike parking right in front.

Veggy's, 15 Thai Van Lung, District 1

It turns out the NY Times has a bit to say about Veggy's as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Leave on a Jet Plane

0400 Wake up, take shower, shave. Finish packing.
0430 Get taxi to SGN
0445 Arrive SGN
0500 Made it through security and to first class lounge.

When I arrived this morning the new international terminal at SGN looked all shiny and clean. I stood in the first class line for United, which is pretty much the first counter inside the terminal. There were about 8 or so people in that line.

A United agent came up and asked me if I was in First Class. I said I was. They do this all the time in the states. They want to keep the riffraff out of the wrong lines. It turns out here they do it because the riffraff get in the line. He told me he would start another line for me. And took me to the next counter, which was empty. As he did this, a guy who was already in the line complained to him that he was also in first class. I'm guessing he wasn't asked since
he was Asian. It's typical in Vietnam to get special treatment if you're white. I'm not sure how long that will last. Probably not long. As the country gets more affluent and there are more Vietnamese who are also affluent they won't stand for the discrimination. It's a pretty good bet that you're well off if you're white and in Vietnam, at least relatively speaking.

The lounge was very nice, as you can see from the pictures. It's right next to the gate so you can hang out there until the last minute.

I splurged and upgraded using my frequent flyer miles. The first class cabin is nice. Each person gets a pod with storage cabinets and a chair that will go completely flat so you can really sleep.

The first leg of the trip is SGN to Hong Kong. It's morning so you get a nice breakfast. I chose the fruit plate over the Chinese congee. That's papaya and dragon fruit. The fruit was excellent.

The flight to Hong Kong was short and sweet. Next stop, the United lounge at the HK airport.

Maybe I was a little whacked out from lack of sleep, but I made this video of the restroom...

Schoolbus for One

This is how we get to school in Vietnam!

My Vietnamese language teacher calls my helmet a rice cooker (nồi nấu cơm). Most folks don't wear helmets in Vietnam. The thinking is that they cause accidents because they reduce your field of vision and impair your hearing. Given that most signaling is done with a horn and the top speed is 20 mph, there may be some truth to that.

BTW, the brand of bike is a SYM. I've never heard of them before but they seem to be pretty popular in Vietnam.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Texas BBQ in Saigon

I was missing American food last week and so we had lunch at Texas BBQ, a restaurant in District 3. I had a burrito, which was good but strange. You can't tell from the picture but it seemed like a spring roll with cheese and chicken inside.

One strange thing about this place is that they served the food almost instantly. Loan had a BBQ sandwich, which came out in about 60 seconds. My spring roll burrito was right behind. It had cold cheese inside. After I ate a few bites, the heat from the grilled chicken started to melt the cheese and it tasted much better.

I also found my first dark beer here in Vietnam. Not bad, but I still miss my Fat Tire beer.

I like this last picture for the juxtaposition of the iced coffee and the beer. It also has an interesting digital photo artifact at the bottom. Perhaps my RAZR was adversely effected by the heat and humidity. That would make two of us.

Texas BBQ - 206 Pasteur St, District 3, T: (08) 823 1459.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Must Eat Brains

I'm not sure whose brains these are, but they sure look yummy. We ran across these for sale at the Chợ Lớn market here in Saigon.

If brains aren't your thing, then maybe you would like some worms:

Of course you will want something to drink with your snack, so pick up some limes...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Saigon Saigon Bar

We took a tennis friend of ours to the Saigon Saigon Bar at the top of the Caravelle Hotel. It was National Day here in Vietnam, their version of Independence Day. On our way through the Caravelle hotel I couldn't resist taking a picture next to the Vietnamese flag on ice surrounded by shellfish. The bar is nice but very expensive by Vietnamese standards. The drinks are about $7 each. You know a place is expensive when they quote all the prices in dollars. I'm not sure where we're supposed to get dollars anyway. All of the ATM machines spit out Vietnamese Dong. The Saigon Saigon drink is very nice though, even at $7.