Amsterdam view from Amsterdam Tower

Amsterdam view from Amsterdam Tower
The view from Amsterdam Tower

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Weekend Yoga Retreat at Cu Chi

My introduction to self-healing such as Jin Shin Jyutsu, yoga, meditation etc... started when I had back pain in 2005-2006.

The pain was gone and came back again.  I went to see doctors, took some medicine including pain killers and had physiotherapy treatments. Then I met with my friend who is a self-healing practitioner. I attended his self-healing classes.  After some private consultations, the great news was, he found out the root cause of my pain.  It was the anger I had in me toward someone.  Yes, he could tell exactly what it was.

Sunrise at Baturiti Center, Bali


The back pain reduced and came back again if I started to get tense.  Finally I decided to attend the same meditation course as the one he attended.  In 2006, I started to attend the regular Bali Usada meditation course in Jakarta.  It is eight week program and we have to attend weekly session at 8am every Sunday for two hours.  It is 30 minute meditation, and we listen to some theories about our body, mind, health and meditation.  

On and off, I practiced yoga and attended sessions on self-healing programs such as Jin Shin Jyutsu, Tapas Acupressure Technique (or TAT), etc.

View at Pacung (Saranam Eco), Bali

In August 2006, I went to Bali to attend a more serious and complete program.  It is Bali Usada Tapa Brata “7 day 6 night meditation course” in which “6 day 5 night” is noble silent; no talking, no phone, no reading, no writing.  Questions related to courses can be addressed to the instructors only. 

The back pain disappeared.  As long as I recall, it came back once or twice for a few hours or a day, when I was so tense and did not practice meditation.  Positively, the pain is the sign of imbalanced life.  It is a reminder.  May all beings be happy.  Semoga semua hidup berbahagia.

View at Pacung (Saranam Eco), Bali

Meditation creates addiction.  If we do not practice it for some time, our body and mind would tell.  I attended the same program in August 2009, and the last one was before I moved to Vietnam in June 2011.


When moving to Vietnam, one of the goals was to spend more time in yoga.  It is the law of attraction.  I go to some yoga classes in Ho Chi Minh City.  Wherever, the basic yoga is the same.  At the beginning of my stay, I was smiling when I heard the instructor’s instruction when doing some yoga poses.  Just for a small reason.  In Indonesia, for example, when we do the warrior pose, the instruction is always focusing on the right leg first.  However, in Vietnam, the instruction starts by correctly positioning the left leg.  Small thing, it is perhaps a mind habit, but it distracted my attention.  However I better smiled and get focus again -:)

I was introduced to a good yoga teacher of Sivananda yoga. I practice regularly with her.  We like to chit chat and once in a while we go to vegetarian restaurants.  She recommended me to join the Yoga Retreat Weekend Program in Cu Chi. 

I was worried that most participants in this retreat would be in advanced level.  However, I stick my mind to go.  I wish to practice yoga more.  It is a shame that I have not done it more consistently.  What the worst thing could happen to me in yoga retreat?  Other than realizing that my body is too stiff?

Yoga Retreat

The 3 day yoga retreat was held in a resort place in Cu Chi.  It is 45 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. It is about 1:30 to 2 hour driving from Ho Chi Minh City.

Around 6:15 am on Friday, we gathered at the yoga center in Tan Dinh Street, District 1.  I met with other participants; a lady who used to live in Australia but now live in Ho Chi Minh City, a lady coming from Hanoi, an American lady working in Indonesia, me an Indonesian getting lost in Vietnam, and the rest are mostly living in Ho Chi Minh City. 

The Wellness Center (Ba Thoung), Cu Chi

On our way to Cu Chi, my mind was wondering around to my first trip to Cu Chi.  I visited the Cu Chi tunnel two years ago.  FYI, the tunnels were created during the Vietnam War and were the location of several military campaigns.  It was the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tet Offensive in 1968. 

I still remember the ‘aura’ of the tunnels area.  The vibe is different than the aura of the yoga Wellness Center.  It is like 360° opposite side, as an extreme example.  Personally, I think it is a good idea to hold the yoga and meditation practices in Cu Chi in order to balance the aura and to clean up the vibes.  Well, I am not an expert on this.  My comment is something like coming in to right ear and out from left ear.  Jadi komentar saya mending masuk telinga kanan keluar telinga kiri kali yaaaa….

The Wellness Center (Ba Thuong) is often used for yoga retreat.  It is a big area of 7 ha of a quiet and green landscape.  There are different types of accommodation.  Some looks like a mini bungalow of four rooms with separate doors.  Some looks like dormitory.   

There are two halls which are used for yoga practice and lectures.  There is a spa with steam and sauna, one medium size of building for group reception, lotus ponds, and big green garden which is often used for pre-wedding photo sessions.   

Everything looks peaceful.  I was told that there are some retirees live in this resort.  They rent the bungalows for months and live a peaceful life.

Can you see the big hall across the bridge?

The Program

Swami Sitaramananda, who has been serving for more than 25 years worldwide in the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Ashrams & Centers, gave lectures and led the meditation sessions.

The program was held in Vietnamese language with English translators who are also yoga instructors.  It made sense to have it in the local language as there were more Vietnamese than the foreigners.  

When we started the afternoon session with introducing our self, it was interesting.  People came from different background, age and skills.  There were working people, yoga lovers, a teenager, housewives, and husbands.  Many of them are beginners in yoga, and some others are intermediate practitioners.  They came with different motivations; a teenager who was sent by his father, husbands were forced to accompany their wives – LOL

My personal goal was to have a peaceful and healthy yoga weekend.  In three days, we were eating healthy vegetarian cuisine and practicing yoga twice a day.  Not to mention the ‘inner’ relaxation while doing the chanting and meditation.

Yoga schedule starts early in the morning.  Wake up call is at 5 am, we then started the morning meditation at 5.30am and followed by chanting and lectures.

The plant seems like twisting his body? Just like yoga pose.

The complete daily schedule is below:
5 am:  Wake up call
5:30 am:  Satsang: meditation, chanting and short lecture
8-10 am:  Yoga Class
10 am:  Brunch
11 am:  Karma yoga (helping in the ashram)
1-2 pm:  Workshop
4-6 pm:  Yoga Class
6 pm:  Dinner
8-10 pm:  Satsang: meditation, chanting and short lecture

As reading materials, it is recommended to read “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” by Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm.  It is a helpful introduction to beginners.  I read the book during free time in the afternoon.  I found it helpful and it helped me to understand the lectures better.

Happy butterfly flies around the green garden at the Wellness Center

The Lectures, Workshops, Theories

During the lectures, we were taught about what Yoga is, the five points in Yoga (Yogic life), life, freedom and happiness, health, the three bodies and three gunas, ‘mind, its mysteries and control’, thought power and positive thinking’.

Some of the lectures are probably something that we already known.  However most of the times we think they are so simple, either we do not realize it or even we just ignore it.

Beautiful Lotus at the Pond at the Wellness Center

During the lectures, we were taught about i.e. positive thinking technique.  We can try to concentrate by meditation, to know the present, and to change the negative thought to positive.  Isn’t it peaceful if most people have positive thinking; love, forgiveness, joy, happiness, patient, encouraging, laughter, good, empathy, care, compassion, discipline, understanding, etc …

During one of the Q&A sessions, I asked a question to Swami Sita about the energy that we spend in writing, especially if we write something emotionally.   This question represents me as blogger, LOL.  She replied; at first, for example, if we write a diary, it is messy… but it gets clearer.  When it gets clearer, that means we got answers to our questions.  Of course it takes energy.  It is different with meditation.  In meditation, we download good energy without giving it out.  However, it is better to write or having conversation with ourselves than talking with people.  Because having conversation with people, it will add discussion and add more things to ourselves.  It is better to solve problem within ourselves before talking to other people.

Peaceful Pond at the Wellness Center, Cu Chi

I also like her answer to my other question.  For an example, if we are in a meeting room where people are debating, arguing and angry, I could feel the tenses among each other and it gives me the headache.  What is the best way to handle this situation?  Simple answer: when our energy is high, whatever energy in our surrounding that might take away our good energy, it will not impact us.  When we are low, of course the negative energy outside will absorb our energy away…

Wellness Center, Cu Chi

Thank you

After three days of peaceful yoga weekend, my worry about my body being too stiff was gone.  I was healthy both physically and mentally.  Some of my yoga poses are improved. 

I got to know more friends who also like yoga.

Thanks to the vegetarian meals – I came back slim with flat tummy, LOL.  Thanks for introducing the bean sauce to me. It is called thuong hot (my apology for the wrong spelling/tones, but another person told me it is called nước đậu because it is from đậu phụ (tofu).  It is taste similar to ‘tauco by the way.  Tauco is a paste made from preserved fermented soybeans in Chinese Indonesian cuisine.

Wholeheartedly, I want to say thank you for this refreshing retreat.  I came back fresh and inspired to face the day to day busy city like Saigon…

Peace, peace, peace…

Links that might be useful for references (listed based on alphabetical order)

Bali Usada Meditation:

Sivananda Yoga Vietnam:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pagoda (City Tour - Saigon, Day 2)

Day 2 of the visit of my two Indonesian girlfriends was spent by visiting Pagoda. 

It was a good weather i.e. neither sunny nor cloudy.  It was good for outdoor activities.

Charging our battery before the sightseeing

We had brunch at Tibs Vietnamese restaurant in Hai Ba Trung Street.  Again, we went to a restaurant which is located a little bit secluded.  The restaurant sign was hung at the front gate.  We then walked towards the restaurant, this small street is part of the restaurant and it is not a public street.  Restaurant occupies an ethnic Chinese look like building, Wi-Fi facility, nice ambiance, good food.

Tib Vietnamese Restaurant

Pagoda, Myth, Good Luck

After having our battery fully charged, we proceed to the first destination.  Another Mr. Vinasun taxi driver drove us to this Pagoda.  He speaks English well.  I should say that he is the best English speaking taxi driver I ever met in Saigon.  He kept on talking and talking.  He used to work in Japan for three years before returning to Saigon.  He said that however his English is less fluent as his Japanese.  Interesting…
Being innocent about Pagoda, I thought it is a good idea to visit this one with my girlfriends as I understand that Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is the biggest one in Saigon.  So the three musketeers or Charlie’s Angels were on their way to the Pagoda.  They have never visited to any Pagoda either, so we had all of the excitement.

The excitement was backed-up by a new fact that this taxi driver knows how to deal with tourists.  He has a list of places as tourist destinations in Saigon!  He offered to wait and take us to another destination.  He kept on talking and showed us the list of Pagodas in the city.

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

He explained that there are Giac Lam pagoda is the oldest Pagoda in Saigon, and Thien Hau Pagoda brings good luck.  I overlooked his list, I saw the pagoda picture and I told myself it is a beautiful old pagoda which reminds me of ancient sights in Hoi An old town.

Having three girls in the taxi, of course the phrase "bringing good luck" attracted our attention, especially to my single girlfriend, LOL.

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

Talking about good luck; once a wise man says; good luck, bad luck, no one knows.  That day was a good day (not sunny either cloudy).  I have not mentioned that I lost my blackberry that morning, which I only noticed when we arrived at the restaurant.  I couldn’t tell if it was missing in the taxi from hotel to restaurant or it was left behind at the hotel’s lobby.  However, the hotel said there was no phone whatsoever left behind.  Anyway, I managed to contact my loved one through the concierge of my apartment.  He managed to block my phone number.  My girlfriends and I had good food in a unique place.  We met with an English speaking taxi driver.  Who knows what luck comes to our horizon.
Can you see the inside part of the Pagoda?

The Vinh Nghiem Pagoda (Chùa Vĩnh Nghiêm)

We arrived at the first Pagoda which is located in District 3.  Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is indeed a nice big Pagoda in an area of 6,000 m².  This is the first pagoda in Vietnam to be built in Vietnamese traditional architecture style but with concrete.  The highest structure in this pagoda is the 7-story, 40m-high tower.   Official website of the Pagoda:

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

Entering the Pagoda yard, we had to climb up the stairs in order to see the main door of the Pagoda.  There is a big bell on the right side.  It was a quiet afternoon with only a few visitors.  After a while, there were more tourists coming.  As if our visit attracted those visitors.

As the weather was friendly, it was fun taking pics at the courtyard of the Pagoda.

Thien Hau Pagoda

Thien Hau (Thiên Hâu) Pagoda

Second destination was the Thien Hau Pagoda, as per the suggestion of the taxi driver.  He waited for us while we were taking pics at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda.

When were in a taxi, when he was kept on talking about Thien Hau Pagoda, one thing that I noticed is its location in District 6, meanwhile we were at District 3.  I was guessing about the distance and the traffice, but in reality, it seemed like longer.  We couldn't tell if he drove straight to the destination, or took us round and round.  He definitely had us to wait for him to pick up his lunch, maybe three minutes.  He stopped his taxi next to Saigon Trade Tax Center, stepped out to get his lunch box and coffee.  He was so proud telling us that the food was prepared by his wife.  I thought it was so sweet.   He opened his coffee while driving, and it was smell good...

Beautiful ornaments on top of the Pagoda entrance door

Finally we arrived at Thien Hau Pagoda.  It is actually not far from Hung Vuong Plaza.  While we were in the taxi, we were not sure if this guy would reach to the right place.  Anyway, after spending around 50 minutes sitting in the taxi and our mind was wondering around about Pagoda good luck myth, we confirmed that it was worth the travel. 

Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu (The Pagoda of the Lady Thien Hau) is a Chinese style temple located in a busy Nguyen Trai Street in the Cho Lon (Chinatown) District.  It is more beautiful than we expected.  Thanks to Mr. taxi driver who brought us to this place.  As reference:,_Ho_Chi_Minh_City

From the outside, the Pagoda does not seem big. The front part is not wide but it is long to the rear. Once we stepped into its courtyard, we started to see the beautiful inside part of the Pagoda.  We could see the smoke from the burning ancient burning.  Again, not long after we arrived, we could see more visitors coming to pray or just to visit the Pagoda.   We walked passing a group of Indonesians, we could tell from the strong Indonesian Javanese accent.

There are two boards on the left and right sides, pieces of pink papers were stuck to those boards, I was guessing that there are ‘wishing’ or ‘prayers’ from the visitors.  There was a lady who was surrounded by people.  I was guessing she is a paranormal answering people’s queries.  Unfortunately my Vietnamese has not reached the survival level so I could not understand what they were talking about. 

At the Thien Hau Pagoda. It's only my T-Shirt says Amsterdam.

As if it was not enough to take pics in the lovely Pagoda...  

We closed the “jalan-jalan” (sightseeing) by shopping for “oleh-oleh” (gift) and we meant to buy some snacks from the local supermarket at Parksons in Hung Vuong Plaza.  Vietnamese coffee is a must for oleh-oleh, snacks i.e. sweet peanut candy, etc.

What about the good luck myth?  If I did a flashback of what happened that day, good luck of bad luck, who would know?
  • I lost my blackberry.
  • I got a new sim card within only a few hours and I could still use my old blackberry. 
  • We had a good lunch.
  • We were lucky to meet a good English speaking taxi driver.
  • We took good pics at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda and we found another lovely Pagoda unexpectedly. 
  • One of my girlfriends got a phone call from a special person. 
  • When we got together before leaving to dinner place, coincidentally my friends met with Bobby Chinn and they even took pics together.   
  • We were excited and had fun dinner at The Deck, by the Saigon River. Even though it was a bit rainy and we could not sit outside, we still enjoyed the togetherness, ambiance, food and drink... A good way to end the day...
Fresh seafood, tasty risotto, good fish & yummy dessert

It was beyond expectation, and I appreciated every little thing happened that day.  Thank you for the day.

Three Musketeers i.e. Charlie's Angels

City Tour - Saigon (District 1 Only), Day 1

I came up with this draft of itinerary prior to the visit of my two girlfriends.  Two plus one becomes three, it could be the three musketeers or Charlie’s Angels, whatever name we can call this trio, it is sure that they would have fun exploring the city.

"Draft of Itinerary" for the City Tour in Saigon (District 1 Only)

Karena pesan sponsor dari teman-teman adalah pengen jalan-jalan di kota, foto-foto, lihat-lihat souvenir, ngopi-ngopi, wisata kuliner, jadilah jadwal dadakan ini dibuat.  They have indicated their interests of what they wanted to do in Saigon such as walking around the city, taking pics, windows shopping for the souvenir, enjoying coffee and having local culinary experience, then this ‘draft of itinerary’ was made.  I still call it ‘draft’ as it is adjustable depending on the travel mood and everyone curiosity on how many places to be conquered in a day.

Please notice that all of the tourist attractions visited below are all in District 1.  They are in the city center.  Most places are within walking distance.

Day 1

Meeting point was their hotel’s lobby which was near Ben Thanh Market.  I introduced my friends to Mr. Vinasun who became our driver for that day!  I brought all the notes of where we planned to go, especially its Vietnamese names, to make it easy for Vinasun taxi driver to take us.

Pho 24

We started the day with at Phở 24.  Why Phở?  Phở is very identical with Vietnam. It is Vietnamese noodle soup, usually served with beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà).   The soup includes noodles made from rice and is often served with Vietnamese basil, mint leaves, lime, bean sprouts and if you like sour and spicy you can add lemon and chili to the soup. Yummy….  Enak….  By the way, talking about chili; cabe rawit ijo (green small chili) like the ones in Indonesia does not exist here. However, cabe rawit merah (red small chili) exists and it is hotter than Indonesian’s ones.

Pho Ga = Chicken Pho

Local coffee is no doubt so good. First introduction to Vietnam through F&B like Phở and coffee especially the Vietnamese iced coffee with milk (cà phê sữa đá) is perfect.

We went to the Phở restaurant in Nguyen Du Street which is near to the Cathedral – Notre Dame.   It is strategic location because after our stomach was full, we could walk to the Notre Dame, looked inside the Cathedral which was open in the morning, it was beautiful.

Front part (left). Back part (right)

Second destination is the Central Post Office.  Why Post Office?   That’s the common reaction that I got from people.  Pic will tell everything, so take a look at these beautiful pics…

Front part (left). Inside part (right). Yes, that's me and my girlfriend!

Inside the Post Office, there are two souvenir shops (fixed price shop) that offer many types of local handicrafts, lacquers, some girlish jewelry, T-shirts, etc.  After comparing the souvenirs in these shops and the stuff at the Ben Thanh market, we agreed that the souvenirs here are better quality and have better designs.  In terms of price, quality and design pay the price. For the same stuff at the Ben Thanh market, the stuff here is slightly higher.  It was too early to shop, so we did the window shopping only.

Inside parts of the Post Office

Walking and walking, that was our activity on that day.  Passing the garden on the way to the Reunification Palace is relaxing.  Taking pics from this garden area is fun.  There is a spot where we could have the street names on top of our heads, Notre Dame on the right side and Diamond Plaza on the left side.  It is a perfect view of old and modern buildings.

The two restaurants in front of the park. Both have fresh outdoor chairs.

Walking on this side, we could see two restaurants on the left side.  One is specializing in the creperie and the other one is a French bistro.  Both have nice outdoor concept facing the garden.  As Indonesian in Vietnam, I like this concept very much.  It is my favorite place for weekend brunch.  In Indonesia, outdoor concept facing big garden is not easy to find.

Reunification Palace

By the time we arrived at the Reunification Palace, it was unfortunately during the lunch break. So we could only take pics from outside, which was still not bad.  Best spot to take pic is to wait until the wind blows the flag on top of the palace…. Then you get a nice background.
Can you see the flag on top of my head?

We proceed to the Zoo and Botanical Garden by taxi.  Target is to visit the Ho Chi Minh City Museum History and the Temple of King Hung Vuong* Please refer to separate posting “Museum s– Part 1 (Saigon)” in this blog.  We took pics from the front part of the Museum and Temple.  We could not get in as it was lunch break.

Ho Chi Minh City Museum History (left). Temple of King Hung Vuong (right).

So it was a good excuse to have our lunch break as well.  Decision was to have local food, in a different ambiance, not a boring place i.e. in a building and preferably unique.  In Indonesia, it is uncommon to find a restaurant in an alley.  Venue is very critical when it comes to restaurant location, having a restaurant in a hidden place like an alley, the image might be questionable. 

So, we took a taxi to Hai Ba Trung Street.  There is an area where after the front gate called The Refinery we can see some restaurants.  As a first-timer passing Hai Ba Trung, we would not notice that inside this gate there is a rather big alley or a pass heading a complex of good restaurants.  But once we find this place, me, I go back here more than a few times.  PS:  location is next to the Park Hyatt Hotel.

There are 2-3 western restaurants, one Japanese restaurant, one Vietnamese restaurant and one Lebanese restaurant to be opened soon.  Most restaurants have both indoor and outdoor areas.  The unique thing about the place, it used to the opium refinery during the French colonialism.  Isn’t it cool?  #Sesuatu….

Grill chicken (left). Vegetable (some kind of flower) sauteed. Crackers.

So, the three musketeers enjoyed their lunch at Hoa Tuc Vietnamese restaurant.  They sat outside under the tent and plants, strengthened their legs, had cold fresh drinks, ate local dishes, touched up their make ups and discussed where to go next…

The nearest tourist attraction place nearby is the Opera House in Dong Khoi Street, and that’s we’re heading.  It was a shiny day and we were there around 2pm!  The sun did not discourage girls from posing like the Next American Top Model, LOL.

Opera House

Dong Khoi is a must visit street for visitors.  It is quite enjoyable walking around this street for window shopping.  I felt like walking in Orchard Road a la Saigon #smile.  There are many souvenir shops along the street.  We stopped at a girlish shop selling so many handicraft, cute pouch, beauty case, etc.

Dong Khoi Street and the shops

Shopping Part 1 was completed.  We then continued to the next place….

It was so fun visiting the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum with girls…  We took a taxi from Hai Ba Trung Street to Museum which is located near the Ben Thanh Market.  It is a lovely old building with beautiful paintings and of course it is a perfect place to take gorgeous pics.  * Please refer to separate posting “Museum s– Part 1 (Saigon)” in this blog.

Beautiful building of the Fine Art Museum

We did a trial to cross the street at the opposite of the museum toward Le Cong Kieu.  Just to check what they have there.  It is a small street, a joint Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street and Pho Duc Chinh Street.  There are antique shops along this street offering an abundant choice of antique from colonial and pre-colonial times.  It is quite interesting street.  In my home town Jakarta, there is a similar concept whereby there are many antique shops all along Jalan Surabaya-Menteng.

Ben Thanh Market

The closing agenda for Day 1 was to visit Ben Thanh Market as Shopping Part 2.  We just crossed the busy street et voila!  A good way to end the day by shopping at Ben Thanh!  * Please refer to separate posting “Ben Thanh Market” in this blog.

Day 2 – to be continued in a separate posting i.e. “Pagoda” and its good luck myth.