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Life at The Word: Meet the Journalists

October 21, 2009

A lot of people ask what its like working as a journalist in Vietnam. How do we cope with the language barrier or the rules of government?

Sarah Johnson, writer at The Word and editor of tourist guide Citipass talks about her experiences.


What Needs To Be Done: Saigon’s Live Music Scene | Virgin Radio Thailand’s Rob Graham

October 20, 2009


Rob Graham, creator and co-founder of Xone FM, Vietnam’s first youth FM music channel, takes time out from his new post at Virgin Radio Thailand to talk about the Vietnam scene.

Q: Rob, thanks for talking to us. How is the live music scene in Vietnam and has it improved from a year ago?

A: Yes I’d say it definitely has, but it has a long way to go. The beginning of last year we were lucky enough to have My Chemical Romance come through Saigon, which was sponsored by Tiger Beer who paid for the production. At the gig there were around 15,000 to 20,000 people packed in at the army football stadium. For a band that was relatively unknown it certainly proved there was a lot of pent up demand for live music in Vietnam.

Q: Is there an interest from promoters to bring bands here?

A: There are a lot of promoters in the region who have now got their eye on Vietnam. I get a lot of inquiries from these people about their bands who are on their way to Australia for the summer festivals, asking me about the possibility of stopping off in Vietnam to do a concert.

Q: What events are leading the scene in Vietnam and is there room for more?

A: Loretofest and the MAG Music Festival in Hanoi are gaining a lot of popularity so I think there’s heaps of potential for live music events here. I think there’s going to be enough music coming through to fill those bigger venues.

Q: What are the primary obstacles in establishing a strong and sustainable live music scene?

A: It depends on the size of the event and where it’s coming from. The main questions I’m asked by overseas promoters are three fold – but all financial. The first question is about ticket sales and trying to set a price that is affordable to the Vietnamese but also makes it worthwhile to fly in a plane load of cargo, a stage and a lighting rig and everything else. The second thing is the venues. Now there are more but in the past they didn’t have things like uninterrupted power supplies, some also have hospitals nearby which is handy from an insurance point of view. The third is infrastructure, which is improving in both Hanoi and Saigon, but in the past this wasn’t the case.

Q: So are there any good live music venues and what makes a good venue in Vietnam?

A: Generally from an infrastructure point of view a good live music venue depends on the size. You need air-conditioning, an uninterrupted power supply, it must be safe and it must have proper fire exits. If it doesn’t have these things its difficult to get the event insured. Acoustics are always important, there are some venues in Vietnam that are not the best acoustically. In terms of venues there are some really cool little small venues like Acoustic and Yoko’s.

Q: How do you make the local audience interested in international live music?

A: Locals are already interested. The Vietnamese audience is actually quite savvy for a market that has not been exposed to much international music over the years. The kids are on the Internet and know what’s going on. 15% of’s traffic comes from Vietnam. I just attended an event in Perth and had about five promoters asking about Vietnamese audiences interested in putting their artists on stage for 50% less of what they’d normally charge in other countries if only  to see what happens. So for these young kids of Vietnam there’s a bright future for them because good live music is certainly on the way.

Q: What about local music?

A: There are some amazing Vietnamese artists that should be on stage more but again that becomes an issue because they don’t have management because that’s an industry that hasn’t got off the ground there yet.

Q: What must be done down the road to ensure a vibrant live music scene?

A: I think when we scratch the surface you will find a very vibrant scene in Hanoi and Saigon and its very diverse. A lot of kids at school learn music from a very young age, and music is something that is inherent in their culture. Granted it may not be appreciated by all of us from the west but I think Vietnam is actually a very creative nation but for one reason or another that creativity has yet to fulfill its potential.

Rob Graham is currently working on breaking new acts inside South East Asia as well as continuing to promote the best in new music across the airwaves. Enjoy the fruits of his labours over at Xone FM.

What Needs To Be Done: Saigon’s Live Music Scene | Sheridan’s Michael A.Forsyth

October 19, 2009


Most expats have passed through the doors of Sheridan’s Irish Bar during their tenure in Ho Chi Minh City. And as one of the cities most prominent live music venues it continues to attract. But what does owner Michael A. Forsyth think about the live music scene in Vietnam and does it have anything to offer for those contemplating a visit?

Q: Michael thanks for talking to us. Sheridan’s has been running for over 9 years, and has been promoting and showing live music for almost as long. What do you think of the current live music scene here in Vietnam and has it improved?

A: The scene has definitely improved and there’s more bars doing the live music thing now. The acts have improved, they rehearse more and they’re moving onto other venues around town.

Q: A lot of people criticize the scene stating its lack of variety. What obstacles does the scene face here?

A: There are three principle groups involved in the music scene here. The Viets, Filipino singers and the foreigners. Basically the foreigners are doing it for fun and relaxation, the Viets, and to a certain extent the Filipino’s, are doing it for a living and to make the revenue they need to stay here.  We need to bridge these gaps and make everyone work together to better complement the scene. In regards to Sheridan’s we’ve never had a problem with attracting bands because they know its one of the key scenes here.

Q: Aside from Sheridan’s where else in the city provides good live music?

A: Vasco’s, The Cage, Alibi, they are all good venues showing good quality music on a regular basis. There isn’t really a place for big bands however and for that we need a bigger venue. Acoustic Bar and Yoko’s are primarily for the Vietnamese and they are all quite small venues in terms of catering to crowds. There’s lots of pubs and sports bars but as of yet there’s no purpose built music bar.

Q: What makes a good live music venue and specifically one that would work well here?

A: A good live music venue? First you have to have bands that regularly appear because then they will gather followers. These people will then come on a specific night to see that specific band, so the regularity of their performance is important. Promotion is key also, if an act can’t make it you have to let people know about it via social networking, word of mouth or whatever.

Q: Are Vietnamese music fans enough to drive international acts here?

A: We’ll see. Just recently the Australian band Air Supply came so it is happening. The problem is though that the average Viet outside the city has their own concerns and bringing musicians in to the city also takes a lot of organization, sponsorship and money. Another limiting factor is time. Because venues have to close at 12pm, there’s no lock-in or gigs that can go on until two in the morning.

Q: How do we charge to see live music? Must venues re-think their strategies?

A: Pricing? It’s something that drives me crazy when you have people coming in and just enjoying the music without really supporting the venue. We have to have people spend money to support the bands. If they come here and have one drink it isn’t worth my while as they take up space. What we’re thinking of doing is incorporating an entrance charge and a couple of drinks so it works a bit better for us.

Q: Finally, how can the live music scene improve in Vietnam?

I think assistance from the Tourism Department would help. Promoting different cultures and its music is of assistance to Vietnam. People from other cultures will come and not always want to listen to traditional music and will instead want a broader option of music to see and listen to. If we can get the powers that be to recognize that fact then it will benefit the scene. They are starting to do it now for festivals and have started to promote big bands and foreign bands coming to the city a little more. But if they can encourage it further it will be better for people and better for tourism, and it will also lead to a better scene.

For more information on Sheridan’s and it’s live music nights visit or check out its Facebook group.

The Ride of Their Lives

October 15, 2009

This November a group of 13 individuals will embark on the journey of a lifetime: cycling from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. The catch? They have only a month to do it.

Along the way the group will also be raising money for a number of Vietnam-based charities including Ung Buou Cancer Hospital and the Green Bamboo Shelter.

Participants James Ortmann and Nathaniel “Chet” Leidl take time out from their hectic training schedules to talk about their adventure.

Best of the Vietnam Blogosphere

October 14, 2009

In a new biweekly feature for Dispatches 2.0 I will be rounding up all the best that the web has to offer from Vietnam’s blogging community and news sites.

This time we take a look at all content created between Oct.1 and Oct. 14.

The Asian Way

Blogger Thomas Wanhoff makes an interesting point about the rationale behind Asian V Western thinking, particularly when it comes to selfishness.

“Nobody cares for higher purposes. The money that comes in today counts/ If the system fails, so what, there will be another system”.

Read the post in full here.

Coming Full Circle

Travel blogger Sherry Ott makes her final dispatch from Vietnam looking back on her observations and analyzing what exactly has changed.

“Some things were the same – old men with beautiful Vietnamese young girls, chaotic traffic going every which way, people begging you to come into their bars, kids playing out in the street with toilet paper on a stick and toy guns”.

Read the post in full here.

The Edited Version

Things are hotting up for author Walter over at Spirit Journey whose been busy documenting the writing and publishing of his great Vietnamese novel.

“The editors had lots of nice things to say about the book in a cover letter, but that was obviously meant to soften the blow before I turned to the actual manuscript, which was a storm of pencil marks, queries and suggested improvements”.

Read the post in full here.

In Which I Predictably Crash a Bike

Our Man in Hanoi had the blog community hanging on his every word while documenting his almighty battle between motorbike and pavement.

“How did it happen?  Well I sailed down the ramp from my building, checked right and left, then started  kangarooing a bit due to the jumpy first gear.

Then: Panic. Breaks. Control lost. Pavement. Fall.  Lying under a tree. Arm hurting.  Lots of people pointing”.

Read the post in full here.

Inspired by Talent

Blogger Chris Harvey comes over all inspired by Vietnamese songstress Phuong Vy who he saw perform live at Ho Chi Minh City bar La Habana.

“I was riveted utterly by Phuong Vy’s performance.  Not only did her voice vibrate with clarity and richness, but it was alive with trembling emotion.  Her pitch was perfect”.

Read the post in full here.

In Recovery

Blue Dragon founder Michael Brokowski brings us hope after the devastation caused by the flash floods in Hoi An by documenting the recovery process.

“The flash flood in Hoi An, sparked by the typhoon, has receded, so the kids and staff are in the process of cleaning up and working out what they’ve lost”.

Read the post and see the photo’s here.

Vietnam Metro Line Update reminds us of the progress being made to reduce traffic in the city.

“The Vietnamese government has approved plans to build an underground metro line in Ho Chi Minh City at a cost of $1.247 billion, the Ministry of Transportation said Friday”.

Read the story in full here.

A Royal Visit

Prince Andrew paid a visit from the UK to check up on British investors working inside of Vietnam.

“His visit “aims to raise the UK’s profile as a major trading and investment partner for Vietnam, highlight further investment opportunities for British companies in Vietnam, and encourage Vietnam to regard the UK as a main business gateway into Europe”.

Read the story in full here.

So that’s all this time but look out next time for another great roundup.

If you think I’m missing something integral or have missed something interesting you may have posted, please feel free to drop me a line.

48 Hours in Hoi An

October 14, 2009

Recently wrote a travel article about the lovely Hoi An published in The Word.


Making the most of your time in Hoi An is no easy feat. Here’s the best way to spend a lucky 48 hours in this town.

As a UNESCO-listed world heritage site, Hoi An is never short of visitors. Thousands of tourists come each year to take advantage of its great food, serene beaches and famous tailors, and it’s not hard to see why.

But while the hordes sometimes make it difficult to relax and take in the old town’s unique charm and atmosphere, the coming months, and the present tourist lull, means there isn’t a better time to go. October and November also provide cooler climes in which to get to grips with all Hoi An has to offer.


Read the article in full here

Vietnam Party Central?

October 12, 2009

Talk to any musical executive in Vietnam and you’ll quickly come to realize there isn’t such a thing. Why? Because the scene is just too small for anyone to make a career solely out of playing, promoting or performing music.

The recently opened Sankara hopes to change all that. Crash landing on the shores of Vietnam’s very own party coast, Mui Ne, Sankara hopes to match the international-style clubbing fare of Ibiza itself. Roping in UK DJ Nic Ford, former resident at  Manchester club Dry Bar and signed to label Third Ear Recordings, into a position of residency, the club is primed for take-off.

“Consistency is key” says Nic, when asked about how Sankara will transform the nature of Vietnam’s music scene. “Having a club like this, dedicated to good music and bringing in international musicians, DJs and selectors from abroad, will surely put us on par with the likes of Thailand and even further”.

To hear more about what Nic has to say about Vietnam’s music scene, Sankara and his own DJing exploits check out the interview below.