"Expat Living Singapore" talks about us!

"Expat Living Singapore magazine" tried our daily Urban Tales adventure at the beginning of the summer.

They did enjoyed the experience and featured us in one article about Saigon's fun and quirky activities. 

You can read the whole article right here. 

Thanks for your support, Leanda!

urbantalescholon

The Vietnamese calendar

Do you know how the Vietnamese calendar works ?

In Western countries, we use the Gregorian solar calendar of Roman origin. However in Vietnam, as in China, the Gregorian calendar is only used for official dates. For everyday life, it is the luni-solar calendar that prevails. The day and the year are based on the race of the sun while the month is calculated according to the moon.

The period of twelve lunations (355 days) must from time to time be aligned with the solar year (365 days) by addition of an extra lunation or intercalary month (Thang nhuân), also called 13th month. This 13th month comes back every three years approximately and is added between the third and the fourth lunar month.

The dates of great celebrations thus varies according to the lunar calendar. For example, the date of the Vietnamese New Year is determined by the first day of the new moon that marks the beginning of the year.

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Inspired by the Chinese model, the Vietnamese calendar begins in 2637 BC. It is unique and does not match neither the lunar calendar nor the Gregorian (or Western) calendar: for example, the current year is 2017 if we follow the Gregorian calendar, which corresponds to the year 4654 of the Vietnamese calendar.

For the Vietnamese people, time is divided into 60-year cycles, which are themselves subdivided into two other types of cycle. The first cycle has 12 years called the "12 terrestrial branches" (represented by the 12 animals). The other cycle is smaller and has 10 years, called the "10 celestial trunks" associated with yin and yang as well as with the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

Thus, each new year corresponds to a symbolic animal to which one of the 5 elements is associated. The 12 signs (terrestrial branches) are the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Cat, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog and the Pig.

Knowing that there are only 10 trunks, when the cycles associations finish, the first trunk will again be associated to the 11th branch, the second trunk to the 12th branch, then the 3rd trunk to the first branch and so on ... After 60 years, the cycle is completed by the last trunk being associated with the last branch. Everything is ready to start another sexagesimal cycle by the first trunk Giáp, associated with the first branch Tí (Giáp Tí) ...

If you want to visit and explore Vietnam major touristic cities in a very unusual and interactive way, book our life-size treasure hunts in Hanoi (The Seal of the Emperor), in Ho Chi Minh City (the Strange case of Dr Lam) and in Hoi An (The Malediction of the Jiangshi).

The 3 towers

During your investigation of the "Malediction of the Jiangshi" you may see in the distance 3 brick towers. We invite you to make a short detour to look at them more closely.  

These towers located on the banks of the river "Song Thu" are neither ancient watchtowers nor the remains of a fortress. They are in fact old brick kilns. Few years ago, there used to be there a traditional bricks factory.   

At the time, mostly women used to work there making bricks to build the houses of the surrounding villages.  

At the time very common in the Vietnamese countryside, this type of building is becoming scarce today. It has been gradually replaced by modern factories that manufacture those bricks on an industrial scale.  

Before there were two kinds of ovens, one in tower shape, like the 3 towers you can see and other ovens that looked like long built houses.  

The clay used to make the bricks came from the surrounding fields. At the end of the summer, after the last harvest, fields were dug to recover the clay that would be used to make bricks.    

During the following winter, when floods occurred, fields were filled again with alluvium from the river, which used to fertilize the land for the next harvests. The recovered clay was transported by cart or small truck. The bricks making used to take several stages and required larges spaces.  

First of all, workers manually filled with clay a kind of funnel, using a shovel. In this way, the ground was crushed and shaped to come out on a treadmill like a long “sausage” that had the shape of a long brick. At the end of the treadmill, the long clay “sausage” was cut with a thread-made frame into equal-sized bricks. Bricks were then put on small carts to be transported into a field where they were lined up under the sun to dry.  

Every 4 to 5 hours, they were manually turned over so all their sides could dry. Drying used to last in total about 2 days but duration was variable depending on the weather. In case of rain, bricks were covered with tarpaulin.  Bricks were then cooked into ovens for a dozen hours and were finally sold around 400 dong per piece or approximately 1.5 centimes of euros for those of better quality.  

The disadvantage of this system was that the cooking temperature was not controlled at all, for that reason, there was a lot of breakage. The broken bricks were resold to make backfill.  

Today there are no such kilns operating around Hoi An, but if you go to the pottery village in Cam Ha (3km west of Hoi An), you can still see some small kilns following the same operating system where they cook pottery.   

If you are interested in discovering Hoi An in a very unusual way, join our daily investigation adventure!

ONCE UPON A TIME

Once upon a time was Thay Ngon...

With a past dating back over 200 years, the history of Cho Lon is not so familiar to every one.

Cho Lon first emerged as Thay Ngon and progressively met Saigon in the 30's.

Read the whole article of Word Vietnam right here to get more details. 

Source: Word Vietnam 

Treasure Hunt in Chinatown

If you want to visit and explore Cho Lon in a very unusual and interactive way, book our life-sized treasure hunt and come investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!

TAM SON HOI QUAN PAGODA

Little known to the public and less elaborate in terms of architecture, this pagoda is nevertheless a charming one. It was built by the Fujian Congregation of Saigon in 1839, and still retains some of the rich ornamentations of that time.

This small and quiet pagoda is dedicated to Me Sanh or Mother Sanh which is the fertility goddess. So most of the visitors to this temple are couples or women in hopes of conceiving a baby. You can see them making offerings, to the altar at the back of the temple.

Among the striking deities and figures of this temple we can also find Thien Hau, the Goddess of Seafarers which is revered within the main shrine and the general Quan Cong with his long black beard and his sacred red horse, favorable towards travellers.

There is as well an altar dedicated to the tigers, supposedly bringing you some power of the animal if you come and worship him.

If you want to visit this pagoda in the heart of Saigon’s Chinatown and discover the area in a very unusual and interactive way, book our life-sized treasure hunt and come investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!

THE JAPANESE BRIDGE

The Japanese bridge is the symbol of Hoi An. It is to Hoi An what the Statue of Liberty is to New York or what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. We can see its illustration on the 20,000 VND note. 

We are not really sure about the exact age of the bridge. It is said to have been built in the late 16th, early 17th century in order to connect the Japanese district to the Chinese district of Hoi An. At the time these two districts were separated by a river, the Thu Bon River which passed at the foot of the bridge.

Currently it’s connecting Tran Phu Street (the Chinese area) to Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street where the Japanese quarter used to be located at the time. The Vietnamese call this bridge “Cau Nhat Ban” (Japanese Bridge) or “Lai Vien Kieu” ( Friendship Bridge) or Chua Cau (Pagoda Bridge) .

The Japanese bridge’s construction lasted 2 years. This humpback bridge is 18 meters long. It’s been restored four times since its construction; last time was in 1986.

Many legends explain the presence of animals at the entrance and at the end of the bridge. The most popular one and certainly the most likely relates that the bridge’s construction started on the year of the Monkey and ended on the year of the Dog. This means that the bridge’s building started in 1596 or 1608 and ended in 1598 or 1610.

Other legends exist about these statues: many Japanese emperors were born in the year of the dog or of the monkey and these animals would be part of a particular cult for Japanese.

In the middle of the bridge we find a pagoda which was built in 1653 by the Chinese who had migrated to Hoi An [1] . This pagoda is dedicated to the deity Bắc Đế Trấn Vũ [2] which is an important deity in Taoism. It protects the people from the aquatic monsters.

As you may know it, Hoi An sits on low ground surrounded by waterways and mountain ranges, and suffers from tidal influence as the main river meets the sea and every year, the old town goes through big flooding. By the way, a legend says that these floods are caused by the presence of a gigantic monster whose head would be in India, tail in Japan and body in Vietnam (located in Hoi An). This is the famous Namazu. Each of his movements causes natural disasters in these 3 countries, such as earthquakes and floods, etc.

To protect the city of Hoi An from flooding, the  Japanese trading community built this pagoda for Bắc Đế Trấn Vũ in the exact location where the body of Namazu passed in Hoi An: under the Japanese bridge!

The statue made out of jackfruit wood represents this divinity, Bắc Đế Trấn Vũ. In the past, the Chinese community used to organize rituals on July 20th of the lunar calendar in order to honor this god and to ask for his protection. Currently, Hoi An residents come to the Japanese bridge to burn incense on the 1st and 15th day of each lunar month and also for the lunar new year (TET) to show their respect and dedication.

[1] These Chinese migrants had fled China after the takeover of the Ming dynasty which replaced the Qing.

[2] It is also called « Huyen Vu Thanh Quan », « Chan Vu ThanhQuan », « Bac Cuc Huu » or « Thanh Chan Nhan ».

If you want to explore the Japanese bridge and explore the heart of the old city of Hoi An, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the Malediction of the Jiangshi!

THE ZI WEI METHOD

Nguyễn Thiện Thuận is a 24 years old dynamic young man who is working in the logistics department of a state media company. When he has free time, he has a very original hobby: he likes to predict the future!

The method he uses is apparently one of the most accurate amongst the many existing technics.

It’s called “Zi Wei Dou Shu”, “tử vi” in Vietnamese or “Purple Star Astrology” because it refers to the “Purple Star” or “Emperor Star”, the most prominent star in the sky. It originally comes from China at the time of the Tang dynasty and remains nowadays one of the most respected methods of fortune telling used all over the world by Asian people.

The Zi Wei Dou Shu is a system which calculates what will happen to a person at a specific time. This method is somehow related to astrology as it requires specific birth information to be able to make a birth chart and to draw some orientations, interpretations and recommendations. It charts the movement of the planets, stars and constellations and reveals how their movement impacts people’s life depending on the specific time the persons are born. More than 100 stars are taken into account.

The calculations are then worked out to a chart putting the stars on 12 columns known as the 12 palaces, which are in fact 12 important sectors, or aspects of our life: self, karma (emotions), parents, property, career, friends, travel, health, money, children, spouse, siblings.

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It’s been 4 years since Thuận started to learn about Zi Wei Dou Shu method all by himself, mainly using ebooks, during his time at university.

First he started to do it as a tool for himself to better manage his relation ship with his girlfriend at the time. He wanted to be able to avoid their quarrels, to adapt his attitude towards her, basically he used Zi Wei Dou Shu calculations because he desperately wanted to keep her. That was his main motivation and he had to admit that Zi Wei Dou Shu was accurate and that he could not do anything to escape his own predictions. At the end they broke up.

So he started to use it as a tool to help and to know better his close friends. Whatever problem or question they had about their career, or health, or exams or their love story, they would come to him to hear what he had to say. Depending on his predictions they could adjust their life, trying to focus on the good things and not getting frustrated about the things they could not control or prevent.

What Thuận calculates according to the birth information is not always true and he needs to get confirmation by asking precise questions about the past to the person he’s talking to. Sometimes he uses as well some other methods such as the “6 coins” method, when it comes to closed- ended questions. It consists in throwing 3 coins in a cup, 6 times in a row and getting 6 combinations, then calculating a result. He’s learning more methods a well but his favorite remains the Zi Wei Dou Shu.

A Zi Wei Dou Shu session would have a different duration depending on the issue. Thuận usually needs 1 to 2 days to confirm the information the Zi Wei chart is showing and he usually talks to his friends on skype or messenger. 

Thuận would predict the future only to his close friends, his girlfriends and his colleagues, never to his family. People usually ask him questions about their love life, but as well about their finances and their career. When he foresees something negative in his friends’ future, he would rather give them some advice than saying it bluntly.

Of course he does not get any money from this, he’s doing it from the heart and because he loves helping people. Asking money for it would ruin his happiness and his conception of life, said Thuận. 

It is interesting to see that many young Vietnamese regardless of their level of education, religion or ideology, believe in fate and destiny. They would not consider making a major decision, whether it involved wedding, opening a business or building a house without considering the lunar calendar and consulting a fortuneteller, especially before TET. They would always seek to know their future through a variety of divinatory means

Cholon is a good place to observe some occult practices in pagodas like Tam Son, so if you are interested, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr. Lam!

DO YOU PLAY ASIAN CHESS?

The chess game (Cờ tướng) is widely played in Vietnam. It is not only played in the private lounges of leading figures, but very often in the streets, right on the sidewalks. It’s a very popular pastime for many car or cyclo drivers and hawkers during their free time.

Cờ tướng (literally meaning “game of the General”) comes from the Chinese Chess “Xiangqi” (“The Elephant game”) which is one of the most widely played board games in the world.

According to History, games from the chess family such as the Cờ tướng originated in India and then spread to the rest of the world. It appeared in China within the first century BC with the establishment of the Han dynasty.

It requires two players, each in possession of 16 round pieces with their name engraved in ideograms. This strategy board game is played on a board nine lines wide and ten lines long, with the pieces being played on the intersections lines, rather than on the squares of the board.

A Western player seeing for the first time the Vietnamese chess is generally surprised because he does not see the usual figures of Western chess: knights, castles, bishop, etc and he sometimes mistakes it for draughts. Besides, the board has a white band in the middle and the squares are all the same color (white), which is also surprising for Western players.

The Cờ tướng has significantly different pieces and movements. For example, there is no Queen but there are Cannons. The other pieces are the Generals (or Governors), the Advisors (or Guards), the Elephants (or Ministers), the Horses, the Chariots and the Soldiers. The pieces are usually made of wood, plastic or ivory or even round pieces of cardboard.

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The starting positions of the pieces are arranged as shown on the board.

Each player alternates, moving one piece in each turn. All pieces capture by using their normal moves and landing on a point occupied by an enemy piece. Victory is achieved when one player puts the other’s general in checkmate, checkmate being when the other player’s general is under attack and has no means of escape.

Cờ tướng has always been part of Vietnamese folk games but has been reviving since the 1990’s. It is said that board games such as Cờ tướng appeared in Vietnam only after the 11th century AD. However, no precise records can be found. At the beginning of the 20th century, it developed in Saigon, especially in Cholon, as well as in the 30s and 40’s in Hanoi with some tournaments. Then with the wars, it was put aside and made its come back a decade after national reunification.

It is said that Uncle Ho himself was known to be a big fan of Cờ tướng which he even dedicated one of his poems too.

In Hanoi, players usually gather around Hoan Kiem Lake and at Ngo Tram and Doi Cung streets. In Saigon, players can be found in alleyways like Su Van Hanh (Q1), in some clubs for the elderly and in many streets in Cholon. Cờ tướng attracts people of all ages, even women and nowadays, young people even like to play it online on some platforms or apps.

If you want to see people playing at it in the heart of Cholon, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr. Lam!

THE SHOP "111"

Within the Tống Duy Tân alley, in the heart of thousands of colourful threads and buttons, you may come across shop “111”. 

This small shop specialises in selling all kind of sewing threads and accessories for sewing machines. This small shop is ran by two charming ladies, Ms Xuan and her mother. They have been running this shop for 20 years and work nearly every day, except maybe during TET, when they close for 2 or 3 days.

They first buy all their products in Binh Tay market and then resell them to their clients. They have an average of 40 to 50 clients per day coming to their shop and are quite happy with their business. Their shop is on the ground floor of their house with their kitchen in the back. 

If you want to visit the alley of Tống Duy Tân and its vibrant atmosphere in the heart of Chinatown, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr. Lam!





HÀ CHƯƠNG HỘI QUÁN PAGODA

Ha Chuong Hoi Quan pagoda is one of the most colorful pagodas you can visit in Cholon. It was built by a Chinese community from the southeastern region of Fujian. 

The Ha Chuong assembly hall is dedicated to several deities among which the most popular one is Thien Hau, also known as Mazu or Ma-Tsu, goddess of Seafarers. She is sometimes simply called “the lady of the sea”.  According to long-lost traditions, before or after a long journey, people come to this pagoda to pay tribute to Thien Hau as did many boat people in the 1980s when they left the country.

What makes this pagoda so special are its four carved stone pillars wrapped in painted dragons. Quite interesting to observe carefully, those pillars were crafted in China and brought to Vietnam by boat. 

Apart from that, the wall paintings and the ceramic embossed scenes on the roof are remarkable.

During the French colonial period this temple was considered as one of the most beautiful in the whole city. One can admire magnificent examples of false doors (to prevent evil spirits from entering) and sanctuaries linked by circular openings representing the sun and the moon

The best time of the year to visit it is definitely on the Lantern Festival which falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month (this year it was on the 22nd of Feb). On that special date, the pagoda becomes full of life with many visitors and worshippers.

If you want to visit this pagoda in the heart of Saigon’s Chinatown, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!

BINH TAY MARKET (CHỢ BÌNH TÂY)

Are you familiar with the history of the Binh Tay market in Cholon? Well you are about to be, and you'll see that it is not that known and actually quite special.

This market, the biggest in the city, was founded during the French occupation between 1928 and 1930. It was right between those walls that all the trade exchanges between Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta provinces as well as Cambodia, Laos and Thailand took place. 

But here comes the peculiar story of its lesser known origin.

Truth is, the market came to be what it is now thanks to a very poor Chinese man, Mr Quách Đàm, a true self-made man who raised from rags to riches. As a boy, he started off by recycling glasses which he found scattered around the area in Cholon. After some time, he had saved enough to start trading goods and finally, he became a rice merchant, trading mainly from the Mekong Delta. His company “Thong Hiệp” had its headquarters on Hải Thượng Lan Ong street, now specialized in traditional Chinese medical herbs.  Quite quickly, he came to control much of the rice trade in the Binh Tay market and owned much of the land surrounding it. He was called the “King of rice”. It is said that he offered his financial support to the local authorities to build the new market and the surroundings buildings & houses at his own expenses. Years later, he decided to offer the market to the Chinese community as a reward. The market was finally inaugurated in 1930.

Designed by a French architect, Binh Tay still features a gorgeous mix between Chinese and French style with its lotus-flower shaped roofs, its belfry and its clocks. 

Until recently, the memorial of Mr Quách Đàm, surrounded by four bronze lions stood in the outdoor yard in the middle of the market. The statue was later moved and placed in the yard of the Fine Arts museum.

As for the market itself, the first thing worth noting is that it's simply huge: with two floors, 12 entrances and over 2,000 stalls, it spreads on 4 blocks and it is the biggest market in town! Inside those massive walls, one may find nearly everything : food, spices, clothes and any kind of items. It is open every single day from 3AM until 9PM.

Looking for the perfect moment to capture the essence of the place? Then dawn should suit you well. It is the best time of day to really catch a true glimpse of the hectic atmosphere of trading in Saigon. However, if you come there to shop for some nice piece of handicraft or a hand bag, you will be disappointed as Binh Tay is a wholesale market. Traders from all around the country bulk-buy goods and redistribute them in various kind of stores or small markets.

If you want to visit Binh Tay market in the heart of Saigon’s Chinatown, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!

 

 

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TOFU

The origin of Tofu (“đậu phụ” in Vietnamese) dates back to 2000 years-ago in China. It first appeared in Vietnam around the 10th century before spreading through Southeast Asia.

Its worldwide spread presumably matches with the spread of Buddhism as Tofu was an important source of protein in the vegetarian diet of the monks. 

Tofu making is quite simple:  by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds, Tofu makers obtain a thick paste. The process of coagulation of the protein and oil suspended in the boiled soy milk is done thanks to coagulants (salts & acids). Depending on which coagulant is used, the texture of the tofu will differ. That is why Tofu can be consumed soft, firm or super-firm. The firmer it is, the more calories and protein it contains. 

As you may know, tofu is a low-calorie food and contains generous amounts of protein & iron as well as calcium & magnesium, so it’s usually an important part of vegetarian diets as it replaces meat. Thanks to its light taste,  it's easy to combine with different sauces and there are various ways to prepare and cook it: marinated, fried, grilled, seared, boiled or baked.

Lots of Vietnamese recipes include tofu. If you wish to try a very popular local dish including tofu, go for the fried tofu with tomato sauce or “đậu phụ sốt cà chua”. Nowadays in Vietnam, tofu is not really seen as a meat replacement anymore, but rather as an irreplaceable component of several dishes. Truth is many dishes actually combine meat/seafood and tofu.

Its flavor is quite subtle and it is the main reason why lots of Western people find it boringly bland and squishy. In fact, one has to admit : it seems tricky to cook even though it is actually quite simple. Basically, Tofu absorbs marinades and gets crispy in a pan!

Here are a few advices for cooking Tofu just right:

1.   Make it taste wonderful: use your imagination & your creativity for the marinades or the ingredients you cook it with; you can use soy sauce, lime, ginger, dill, honey, cumin, thyme, garlic, fish sauce, chili, lemon grass….(but not all at the same time of course…!)

2.   If you want to make it crispy, use a bit of corn flour on your pieces of tofu.  

3.   Last but not least: the way you cut the pieces is important. Depending on the way you want to prepare it, you can either dice it or cut it into rectangular thinner slices so it cooks faster. 

If you want to buy some tofu from the wet markets in the heart of Saigon’s Chinatown, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!



VESAK CELEBRATION

Last Saturday, May 21st, was a very special day in the Buddhist calendar. Known as Vesak (from Vesākha in Sanskrit language) or "Buddha Day", this date is a major Buddhist festival celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha (Gautama Buddha) on a full-moon day.

This holy day is traditionally observed by Buddhists in all Southeast Asian countries, as well as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, India and other places all over the world.

This year’s Vesak will celebrate the 2560th birthday of Buddha and ongoing celebrations will run for one week in the city, starting from last 14th of May and running until last Saturday.

For this special occasion, the regular practicing Buddhists flock together in the pagodas and temples to make offerings, pray and sing hymns. They wander the surrounding streets to see the decorations (giant flowers such as lotuses…) and participate in the festival & celebrations.

Above all, this Vesak day invokes peace, happiness and respect for all. On that special date, all Buddhists supposedly make special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the sick and the handicapped.

If you want to feel all that energy and really soak up such a busy and devout atmosphere, you definitely want to visit the pagodas of Cholon on that day. Be ready for the crowd and clouds of burning incense! It is an intense but truly memorable experience!

If you miss this Vesak day but still want to visit the pagodas of Cholon in an unusual way, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr. Lam!

SOÁI KÌNH LÂM FABRIC MARKET

Ho Chi Minh city is a hustling bustling city with lots of modern buildings popping out everywhere...but the city also has ancient markets that truly characterize Vietnamese culture and its people.

Wandering in Cholon can lead you to one of these old markets. Soái Kình Lâm fabric market is one of them, and it is a must-do. Popular for its large choice of fabrics, the market has got nearly 500 stalls. It is an endless selection of suit materials, colorful cotton for shirts, silk and material for curtains, denim, corduroy etc. The market thrives with colors and one can see merchants endlessy rolling and unrolling bolts of fabric on the street.

Stopping at “Dân Ngoan”store, you could meet the owner M. Dân, 60 years old.

The fabrics he sells come from different countries, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand but mostly from China (70%).

On an average day he’s got around 20 to 30 clients coming to his shop, and he sells around 200 meters of fabric every day.

As most shop owners in the market, M. Dân works everyday except for TET. 

If you want to visit this fabric market and buy material in the heart of Cholon, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr. Lam!

THE FORTUNE CAT

You've seen it all your life, in Chinese restaurants, Vietnamese spas and basically any Asian related shops. But are you familiar with the true story behind the famous paw-waving golden cat ? 

This cat figurine is actually a very popular lucky charm throughout all asian culture. Maneki-neko is its true name (in Japanese: 招き猫) literally meaning "beckoning cat") as it originally comes from Japan. Its history dates back to the 17th century and it has since become one of the most popular features of Chinese business traditions.

It’s believed to bring good luck & prosperity to the owners of the shops and businesses, and that is why it is always displayed next to the cash register.

We bet that you probably don’t know that there’s actually a meaning behind which paw the cat is holding up! If it’s the left paw is raise, it is supposed to attract customers. If the right paw is raised, this invites good fortune and money. 

Colours can be different as well, with different meanings. Most common colours are white, black or gold. White is for general good luck, black is for good physical health & to chase away evil spirits and gold is for financial prosperity.

The cats are usually adorned with a bib, a collar, and a bell. In the old times, wealthy Japanese people would dress their pet cats this way using the bell so they could keep track of their cat displacements.

The cats are holding in their paws items symbolizing fortune, wealth, abundance and wisdom: usually an ancient Japanese coin, or a magic money mallet but it can be also be a fish carp, a marble or a gem.

If you want to bring good luck to your business, why not buy one yourself and give it a try? 

If you want to dive into the heart of Saigon’s Chinatown, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!



FOR THE PLEASURE OF THE EYES

Entering some of the smallest residential lanes of Cholon sure feels like leaving behind the chaotic Saigon and being absorbed in a different environment, a soothing parallel universe. 

True magic for the eyes and a one of a kind heaven for photographers!

Take a look at some of the most enjoyable sights of this other Saigon. 

If you wish to wander and explore these charming lanes, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!



THE "HỦ TIẾU" SHOP AT THE END OF THE ALLEY

At the end of a tiny residential alley one can find the restaurant of Mrs Binh and her husband.

The place starts to serve food everyday at 4am as regular customers usually come for a very early breakfast. After the non-stop morning service, Mrs Binh and her husband usually rest until 3pm and then go out to practice some gymnastic together in the street. In the evening, they start preparing the meals for the following day.

They serve "hủ tiếu" which is a popular noodle soup in the south of Vietnam that also has Chinese and Cambodian origins.

If you want to discover this authentic place, book our self-guided tour and investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!

QUAN ÂM PAGODA (ÔN LĂNG)

One of the greatest little jewels that Cholon carefully hides in between small streets and food stalls. 

Founded in the early 19th century, this gorgeous pagoda is named after the Goddess of Mercy, whose full name is Quán Thế Âm Bồ Tát. Quan Âm is her shortened name. As her divine mission is to provide help and assistance to anyone who is in trouble, she is a quite popular and worshipped goddess all around Asian Buddhist countries.

Located on a tiny street, this pagoda is one of the oldest surviving temples in the city and still regularly welcomes Buddhist believers. It’s much smaller than the other temples you may find around town, and it has an almost cozy atmosphere. It is also one of the most colorful temples you could hope for ! If you’re fond of photography, you will want to spend hours there capturing the amazing shades and colors of the mural decorations. 

Fantastic lacquer representations of guardian spirits can be found at the entrance and superb ceramic scenes decorate the roof, depicting figures from traditional Chinese tales. 

You definitely want to visit this pagoda on special days of the lunar calendar such as the 1st and the 15th when lots of worshippers go to pagodas. Activity and heavy incense smoke spirals create a memorable experience.

If you want to discover and visit this pagoda in the heart of Saigon’s Chinatown, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr Lam!

TỐNG DUY TÂN ALLEYWAY

Somewhere along Tran Hung Dao Street is an interesting narrow alleyway called Tống Duy Tân. If you have the opportunity,  you should definitely visit it. 

Diving in this small & busy lane will really make you feel like entering an Ali Baba’s cave.

The alley is jam-packed with stalls selling just about anything from buttons to toggle switches, street food, tools and haberdashery items…Crossing it is a chaotic and funny experience that you will not regret! 

You will have to make your way between the passers-by and the motorbikes, dodging the crazy traffic and looking for the items you want to purchase.... And of course it's an extraordinary spot to take plenty of colorful pictures!

If you want to visit the alley of Tống Duy Tân and its vibrant atmosphere in the heart of Chinatown, book our self-guided tour and come investigate the strange case of Dr. Lam!