Have an affair with my city

I encourage you to have an affair with Saigon. I promise I won't be jealous. You walk into a narrow alley at 14 Ton That Dam, climb up a decrepit staircase, with the rain water dripping, and an odd cat playing hide n seek with you. Explore the little shops and cafes, say hello to the holdout residents. 

My home in Saigon, the Japantown

Your are born of flour and octopus bits. Born as a shapeless dollop, the woman keep prodding you, turning you and shaping you. You are so happy to have such a lovely mom. But just when your heart swells and you turn brown, the mom packs you in a box and off you go.

The takoyaki maker is one of the many Japanese businesses in my neighborhood. My neighborhood is probably one of the last remaining Japantown anywhere. I love such places where two or more worlds collide and function in a zen like balance. This is where I eat more Japanese food, speak more Japanese,and make more Japanese friends compared to Tokyo. 

The Japantown is easy to find, the entrance is at 15B Le Thanh Ton. I will not recommend any places, rather I will encourage you to explore the alleys. 


Teru Teru Bozu for sunny days

Meet the Teru Teru Bozu or Shine Shine Monk. He is a home made amulet that you hang outside wishing for a rain free day - a custom popular with farmers in old days Japan. These days kids hang this to have a rain free picnic days. When I was a kid, I wished that it rains and floods on picnic days - that way we would have an even bigger adventure.

Jakarta's Chinatown

I love to wander Jakarta's Chinatown. Always colorful rusting buildings, nice treats, and odd lion dancers who still think it is the new year time. 

不要问我从那里来
我的故乡在远方
为什么流浪
流浪远方流浪.

Tra Chanh and Umeshu

I think it was Vikram Seth who wrote in what is probably one of the finest travelogues about China, words that flow something to the effect of "I think I travel just to collect material for future nostalgia". In my case, I travel probably to find things that make me miss other lands. Like I found this preserved lemon drink along Le Thanh Ton street in Saigon. Here in VN this is called Tra Chanh (lemon tea). This is a month old preserve of lemon in salty base, a small quantity is poured onto the cup with generous scoops of sugar , one preserved lemon or two - if you are nice and smile a lot, and then diluted with tea or water and topped with ice. Now I am missing Umeshu - the preserved plum wine that we at home in Japan (the last photo).

What website to use for Vietnamese online visa and some tips

Vietnam has probably the best food in the world, and a simple online visa system. The catch is that you need one of the online agencies to process the visa for you. It is tedious to figure out a  reliable agency.  I will recommend the following two agencies that I have tried.

1. http://vietnamvisapro.com - this is my current agency of choice. They are quick. I usually get my three months multiple entry visas from them but they will also do single entry visas. 

2. https://www.myvietnamvisa.com - I use to buy the visa from them from 2007 to 2011. 

Note that you can only use this online visa when you arrive by air (any of the three airport - Hanoi, Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City, DaNang). If you are coming in by land, contact a travel agent in Thailand, Cambodia or Lao for the visa. 

The procedure

1. You fill in the online form and make the payment via their online payment link. 

2. Look out for their email that acknowledges your submission and payment. This should arrive within an hour. Check your spam folder. If you don't see the email, just email them back. 

3. The agency will send you an email in a day or two with the invitation letter. Usually the first page is a text acknowledging that the persons listed in the following pages have been granted the arrival visa. The following pages have a list of names, including your name. Print all the pages, even the pages that do not have your name.  Most agencies will also include a link to the arrival form. You can print and fill this beforehand to save time. This form is also available at their Visa on Arrival counters. 

This is how the immigration area looks like at Saigon's (Ho Chi Minh City) Than Son Nhat Airport. Walk over to the visa stamping counters. They are marked as A in the illustration above. Submit the passport, invitation letter, filled arrival form, photo and the visa fee. They take about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the volume. You can rest at the waiting area (B). They will then call out your name and return the passport and a receipt for your visa fee payment. Walk over to the immigration counters (C) in the figure. Theofficer here with make an entry stamp on your passport.  You can then go down the escalators (D) to pick up your bags and walk out after a customs inspection. 

The procedure is similar at other airports where this facility is available. 

Just after the immigration counters there is a currency exchange counter. I have found their rates to be better than the counters elsewhere in the airport. They will also sell you a SIM card. Though  it is easy to find WI FI in Vietnam, I would recommend getting a data SIM card - they are inexpensive.