Back to Ho Chi Minh (Trip 3)

We came to our final trip of our project for the year. It has been a hectic term before this trip and right after exams on Friday, we had to prepare for our flight on Saturday afternoon.

Lots of arrangements had to be pushed back to the very last minute before we all fly. Samantha, Long and Clara drew and laser cut the gifts for our Vietnamese friends on the Friday afternoon while the rest had to sit down to discuss about the schedule for our trip.


All ready ūüôā NTUC plastic bags contain Singapore food for our Viet friends!

On Saturday afternoon, we all gathered at the airport in front of the Vietjet airlines counter ūüôā All ready and excited to see each other.

Sometimes I think to myself and¬†I find it amazing that my team mates are from everywhere, different year, different pillars.. yet I can always enjoy everyone’s company to the fullest in every trip. I knew this trip will be a touching one at the end. This is especially towards my vietnamese friends.

Getting excited, we all head towards the check in counter and we met our very first obstacle: Yi Hao’s passport expiry.

The counter realised that Yi Hao passport expire in June next year and the exact date is not 6 months in advance of his return date. Yi Hao had two choices then:

1 Not to go with us and join us later  after he renewed his passport

2 Just go only…¬†and pray that he wouldnt get caught at the vietnam immigration counter and get sent back to Singapore.

Yi Hao being Yi Hao.. He naturally go ahead with choice 2. LOL

Eventually when we reached Vietnam, Yi Hao cleared the immigration! Glad that we can still keep him around with us for this is the final trip!

We immediately went to to counter to get our sim cards, as usual and then we met some of our friends who came to vietnam as well! After saying hi, we went separate ways to check in- HOTEL DE PARIS, best guest house ever ūüôā

DINNER TIME! when we were deciding what to eat for dinner, PHU MY HUNG came to our mind. Its our usual hang out place because the smoothie there is awesome ūüôā We went there for PHO and also BINGSU. (dk we in vietnam or korea haha)

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We then went back to discuss about the content of our posters.

The main agenda of our trip this time round were the exhibition and a forum. Hence, we will be spending the next few days doing up our posters to throw back our progress from the very beginning till now.

Its going to be an awesome wrap up hopefully!

All in all, today was a nice day 1. ūüôā




Crabmeat noodle, Grass Planting, and Rain

We woke up to a homely breakfast of crabmeat noodle, which was mainly prepared by Anh Anh, Kieu, and Ngoc. Crabmeat noodle is a signature dish in Vietnam and Gordon Ramsay apparently got blown away by it in his stay in the country.

The paddy field crabs were prepared with a blender and the meat was separated using a noodle strainer. Imagine the amount of effort required. I am not sure throwing the crab into the blender is the best way to prepare the meat though. Mmmm.

Our Masterchef Anh Anh
Our chefs at work ūüėČ
Almost ready
ALMOST ready!

Never mind that blending might not be the best way to prepare the crabmeat; the soup tastes absolutely flavorful.

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We reached the site at 10am. It rained yesterday night so we were curious to see the extent of damage and flood. The loss of sand was less than expected thanks to the little barrier we created (Thanks for the quick-thinking, Long!).

The sand mount yesterday
Upon entering the site.

In the morning the Vietnamese students (Kieu, Anh Anh, Dieu, Vu, Huy, Phat) were tasked with planting grass along the strip of land before the monkey bridge. Anh Anh and Dieu initiated by digging out the soil from the grass area deep into the site, which I thought was a smart thing to do.

Among the SG team, we spent a significant amount of time discussing how to make better use of the mount of sand. Which area should we elevate with sand? Where do we want the rainwater to be channeled? These are the two main questions to be answered and we were not entirely agreeable on what should be done. Some of the ideas thrown out were

  1. create a hump boundary between road and sand to prevent the road from being wet
  2. creating a larger mount on the cajeput legs such that there is a lake in the sand area
  3. Filling up the flooded areas beside the road


Atop the monkey bridge

We took a break for lunch at about 1pm in the air-conditioned café.

Following that we continued with creating a boundary using red ceramic tiles between the carpet grass and the road. Other than to enhance the aesthetic look of the carpet grass, creating the boundary allows rainwater to flow into the gap in which the boundary was held.

Work in progress

It then started to rain heavily at 3.30pm and we had to move to the drink store for shelter.

We decided to try pisang goreng and it was so crispy and delicious that we asked the shop owners for more.


By around¬†4.45pm, the rain has stopped. And that’s when the two benches from sponsors came.


In collaboration with VLU, SUTD, and BKU

And this is what the site looked like after the rain.

Wet road
A mini-lake
Finishing touches to the carpet grass and boundary!

Following that we ended the day at 6.30pm and left the site.

Cloudy Morning, Lovely Evening

8 Sep, Tuesday

Disaster Strikes

It was a cloudy day. In the morning, when we arrived back to the site, we found track marks on the gravel. A huge truck arrived earlier in the morning to deliver or collect construction items from the storage land behind the site. ¬†Another¬†huge truck arrived soon after that also ruined the road. That’s one of the issues of the site: trucks would need to cross the space regularly, huge trucks come over once every month or two, smaller trucks¬†once come every week. This poses a possible safety hazard for children playing in the community playground.¬†We’ve also noticed that the trucks go too far to the right side of the road in order to avoid the bamboo structure.

Huge truck arriving
Fresh tracks left by the truck
Truck was so heavy, it left more than an inch deep of indent on the gravel

Residents to the Rescue!

To my amazement, a resident arrived at the park,¬†carrying a hoe, and began fixing up the road ūüôā It’s really great that residents are beginning to take hold of the park and treat¬†it as their own! I guess this was something we had been hoping for when our seniors and our team piloted the project. Its heart-warming to finally get the earnest involvement of the community, it brings us one step closer in evaluating the effectiveness of our kind of approach to community design.

Resident helping to fix back the damaged road

A resident with a bicycle was passing by the site and noticed the bamboo structure at the site. He walked closer to see what is was about. Kieu explained our project to him and they started chatting about the park. As he inspected the structure, he suggested that we could use more sturdy wood and maybe more supports at the bottom to make it stronger.

Kieu explaining our project to resident
Resident inspecting bamboo structure
Kieu recording resident’s comments and answers to survey questions

Long asked the lady, who owns a store opposite the site, if she had a measuring tape we could borrow. Without hesitation, she led us across the main road to collect the item from a shack next to the site (apparently she also owns that space too).

Crossing the main road to get the measuring tape
Long borrowing the measuring tape

The Work Continues

In the late afternoon, Xuehen and Long were measuring the area of the bamboo structure for buying the nets.

View from on top the structure
Long and Xuehen measuring the sides of the structure
Measuring the middle beam length
Xuehen drawing out top view of the structure

The mural team continued painting the next wall segments of the mural. I joined the rope-tying team. The gardening team managed to roll out some of the carpet grass onto the soil.

Rope-tying and mural teams
Rolled out patch of carpet grass

Near evening time, a few residents came over to try out and play on the bridge. Looks like the bridge is gaining more and more attention, that’s nice!

Residents trying out the bridge
Improvised method of prevent sand pile from eroding when it rains


Three ‘Little Pigs’ (that are actually wild boars) came to visit too

Group photo~

Overall, it was a pretty memorable day. Although we faced disaster in the morning, the afternoon saved the day and the evening was full of surprises.

5th September, Saturday 

So fast, one week has passed! We were all more lazy than usual, getting up just right for the meeting time we set- 930am and no one said about getting breakfast by the street. We walked out of the apartment compound and luckily a bus came! We reached the site on time ūüėČ We all had our mega rice biscuit (we bought last night) for breakfast and luckily Kien bought us smoothies from Skygarden to fill our stomach!

Today was a typical construction day. We arrived, gathered everyone for a briefing on what to do and then chose ICs for respective aspects of the construction.

Morning briefing


During the debrief, black Phat also showed us a poster he designed- to be pasted at the entrance of the site.


Poster Phat designed

After the debrief, it was already around 1015am. Shanelle went discussed finance with Prof KengHua at the drinks stall near by.

After that we continued shifting tiles from the corner to the entrance, created sand mounts for trees and also drilled in the bamboos for walkway of the bridge.

Ice cream mobile shop also drove by our site and our Vietnamese friends quickly spread the message and asked for orders. It was a really hot day, so everyone couldn’t resist. Well, it’s ice cream after all!!

Soon after, it was already lunch and we were all deciding where to go for lunch. The SUTD students including Kien and decided to go over to the restaurant we went over for dinner the night before.

And we took bus number 20!


Blending into the vietnamese culture


Outside the cafe, looking more humble than night time


We chose a different seat this time


Inside the cafe

Yi Hao and Xue Hen went out to buy food for us. Below are some pictures of the food they bought!

After lunch we took a bus back to the site to continue construction. We tied knots to the bamboos, attached the small bamboo railings and also clear the thrash nearby.

Kien also asked some children to come by our site to test. He asked them for their opinions, such as if the height of railings was just right or if the bamboo were difficult to walk on. They all enjoyed it. I guess this is where participatory factor comes into our design. Inputs from users were considered before drilling in bamboos.

It was a usual construction day and im glad we progressed ! ūüôā

More construction, Rain, Traditional Games

Day 6! 

And so we begin our day with our favorite breakfast at the stall along the way from the apartment to the site. Sitting on small chairs and tables outside a house, we would get Banh Mi or noodles. The middle aged stall lady would laddle flat white noodles with bean sprouts and pork slices with a special sweet sauce that makes it really, really tasty. 

Waiting for our breakfast

Upon arriving at the site, we were greeted with puddles of water, signs of rainy weather last night. It was interesting to see the site slightly flooded for the first time, and we got to see how elevations and depressions in the landscape led to formation of water puddles at different parts of the site. 

Puddles of water
A moist, sandy ground

During the meeting at the start of everyday, we split into a few grounds and got down to working on the different tasks for the day. Some of us helped to dig holes to plant trees, others drilled and secured the bamboos in place, or helped clean up the site near the entrance and at the corners. It was very hard work under the beating sun! 
Looking at how to arrange the overlapping and interlocking bamboos

Around noon, the 2 trees arrived on site one after the other, delivered on a motorbike! 

The taller of the 2 trees we ordered

Around 2.30pm in the afternoon, the weather turned into a downpour and we all had to relocated ourselves and belongings to the drink stall next door. We all huddled on low chairs, lounging chairs, and old sofas under a leaky, makeshift canvas roof. It was interesting to see how the stall owner had fashioned a frame using bamboo secured together using wires. 

Everyone taking shelter, but some continue to work on

The downpour brought quite an amount of water on the site, and large puddles of water began forming up.   

Puddles everywhere on gravel roads, sandy ground, and in between

Earlier on, by the suggestion of Keng Hua, we began to dig up some sand to create mounts around the base of the cajuput, while as a result creating depressions everywhere in between the mounts. This gave rise to the idea of a river between islands, created when the area was flooded with rainwater. 

Our planted tree sitting in a puddle of water

During the rain, the golden weather afforded us a rare opportunity and environment to take a shut eye from all the hard work. 

Shanelle and Samantha

After the rain stopped, we got back straight to work.    
Testing out the stability of the wood supports

In the evening, at the end of the day, we headed off for dinner at a nearby place from the site. Most of us took the local bus, a No. 20 green bus that travels back and forth between Ben Thanh and Nha Be, down the road that passes by the site as well as our apartment. We alighted near the start of the Phu Xuan bridge. As for me, I got to sit a motorbike ūüôā 

The cafe was different from the others we’ve been to, it served drinks but not food. The servers would either help you order noodles from the next door restaurant, or you could buy takeouts from around the street and bring it back to the cafe to eat alongside drinks ordered from the cafe. 

We headed out to explore the streets and get food. There was such a huge variety of street food stalls along the road, and we had to take some time to consider what we wanted to try out. 

We came across a stall selling chicken fried rice, and decided to get it for all of us. Keng Hua, Xuehen and Yihao joined us there, and we bought a few more snacks and desserts from the stall next door. On the way back, we got a bowl of crabmeat noodles for Kien. The food was soooo good, we asked for second rounds of the crab noodles. Yum yum yum. 

A familiar sight
Durian seller by the roadside
  While having dinner, we had our reflection session where we talked about the events in the day and our thoughts and takeaways from the day. 

Our table filled with food and drinks
That concludes our day!  

Morning Walk, Mural, Miscomm and Massage

1 Sep, Tuesday

Walking to the Site

Prof. Keng Hua leading the pack; First time walking to the site from Kieu’s place

Waking up from our first night at Kieu’s place, we set off for the team leaders meeting and to get some breakfast along the way. It was about a 25 min walk; it was great exploring Phu Xuan and noticing things I’ve never noticed before around the area.

We settled for a stall selling pho as our breakfast place, Prof. Keng Hua, Xuehen and I stayed to eat Pho Bo while Shanelle and Weilin ate Ban Minh.

Meeting at Anh Hao 

Anh Hao Cafe

Our meeting was held at the Anh Hao, a drinks stall that was just a few meters across the street from the site.

Showing the poster in the meeting

The publicity/ community team presented their completed poster that we were going to place at the entrance of the community park.

Trieu showing renderings from his laptop

Trieu showed us some of the renderings and the CAD model of the structure. We also had updates from each team leader and assigned the daily tasks for each team.

Mural and Invitation Letter Design

Kim using pencil to draw out the design for the mural

After the meeting, some teams headed for the site to start on their tasks. The mural team, led by Kim, started on the mural design and painting.


Long wrote the invitation letters for the residents while Hai and other Vietnamese students checked if the letter sounded all right.

Engineer’s Help

Civil engineer looking at rendering of the design
Ms. Ha explaining about the structure

Ms Ha invited a civil engineer friend of hers to help us vet and analyse the structure, to see if the structure was stable enough for use. She was shown the rendering of the structure as Ms Ha and Trieu explained the details of the design.

LVH School Crowd

Wave of LVH students going back home after school

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We managed to witness the excitement of the Le Vanh Huu (LVH) school crowd as the students return home from their morning classes.

Talk with LVH Vice Principal

Mr. Thanh and Kien talking with Vice Principal of LVH

Later in the afternoon, Mr Thanh and Kien went to meet and talk with the LVH vice principal regarding the community park and the plans for¬†it. The principal has been very supportive of the project since last year and he still gladly¬†shares our vision for Phu Xuan. He’s willing to let us work on another site near the school in the future.

Lunch Time

Pork chop with rice and sauce

For lunch, we taobao-ed food from a nearby food stall (just about 4 stalls away from Anh Hao) and ate broken rice with delicious pork chop pieces.

Sand Transferred to Site

Clearing rubbish at ‘stage’ side of the site

The second batch of sand we ordered was delivered in the late afternoon. We started clearing any rubbish first before leveling the sand at the stage area.


Meanwhile, the printed invitation letters arrived and the invitation group spread out to invite residents to join us for special programs and to come to see the community park.

However, when we were almost finished with the leveling and holding in the sand with cajuput trunks, we discovered that there was a miscommunication about what we have supposed to do with the sand. Apparently, the sand was meant to be placed on the side with the bamboo structure.

Group Debriefing and Photo

Group photo with the mural

Nevertheless, the day’s effort was much appreciated and I think the mural team did a wonderful job¬†painting the first part of the mural.¬†

Group Dinner with Live Music


We went to a restaurant for dinner together, where it had some live music performance.

Massage and Korean Chicken

Since the next day would be Vietnam’s National Day, we decided to take a little break and have some R & R time.

Xuehen and Yihao had a 2 hr body massage while Shanelle, Weilin and I had Korean fried chicken at Phu My Hung District (District 7) near Sky Gardens. A really nice guy at the korean restaurant saw a picture of Yihao that Weilin was showing us and decided to give us free 7-Up’s each (mostly due to Shanelle natural charm haha).

That concluded another eventful day in Ho Chi Minh city ūüôā

Bamboo Village, Design Workshop, Cockroaches

Day 1!

We woke up early to get a quick breakfast and start off the day. 


The Sky Garden neighbourhood that we had our homestay at
Reminiscent of a HDB housing estate
Getting some great coffee

After getting breakfast, we hopped on a cab to VLU, where we would meet up with the rest of the team.   
Our cab ride to VLU

We hired a bus to bring us, and some of the new Vietnamese members of the project, to visit a bamboo village one half hours’ away from VLU. Before we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnamese team met up with the owner of the village and managed to get a sponsorship for some bamboo. These bamboo would be used to construct part of the design on the site in Phu Xuan. 


Taking a group selfie on the bus to the bamboo village
Arriving at the bamboo village, we first walked through a dense bamboo forest area. 


Bamboo forest area at the entrance of the village

On the way, we saw a few examples of bamboo structures, and took notice of how they were constructed along the joints and ends. This might be useful when designing and constructing structures on the site. 
Two bamboos are attached together at an angle using a nail
Alternatively, bamboos were attached together using rope lashings
The road through the bamboo forest area brought us to a 2-storey high house, made of bamboo over a steel structural frame. What was really interesting was that instead of being constructed purely out of bamboo, the bamboo would be installed around and atop the steel frame to give rise to the flooring, the roof, the pillars, and the facade. This made the house easily dismantled in case the land had to be returned to the government. 

We climbed a ladder up to the second floor and it was super scary!! We could even look through to the first floor from the gaps of the bamboo flooring. Half the time, Shanelle was standing along the steel frame structure instead.. 

The house was also open on two sides, and gave rise to an airy feeling and that you were in close relation to the nature outdoors. 

A central double-height atrium space with skylights
Flooring made of bamboo closely laid on a steel frame
At the bamboo house, we were introduced to the background of the bamboo village, it’s management and the ongoing research and partnerships with a French organization. We got to see a variety of different items constructed out of bamboo, samples of bamboo floor tiles, and construction techniques in making the bamboo house structure. 

Around the house, a variety of bamboo products were hung
A children’s bicycle made out of bamboo
There were also bamboo items for sale too and Shanelle got a bamboo flute! Yhe rest got balancing bamboo dragonflies as souvenirs.

Shanelle’s bamboo flute

An intern explaining the background of the house and the village to us
  After the short visit, we were led on a tour of the bamboo forest further inside the compound, looking at different species of bamboos and their differences. We also learnt about about the treatment of the bamboo using traditional method.
Walking through denser segments of the bamboo forest
Passing under some low lying bamboos

As we continued walking deeper into the bamboo forest, we found a Monkey bridge made up of bamboo above a muddy mini pond.  We took turns to walk through it, and again(!) it was freaking scary. Railings weren’t that stable and there were tree branches obstructing our walkway too. Nonetheless, everyone managed to conquer it!! (HOO AH)

Monkey bridge in Bamboo Village
After leaving the bamboo village, we headed 

for lunch at a nearby restaurant. Roast duck and duck blood porridge is served! 

At the lunch table
Duck blood porridge

The road back to VLU

Reaching VLU, we spent a short while looking at an exhibition of student works. The high level of detail and effort on their models were simply amazing to look at. The best thing is that every model is hand made and every project only takes three Minerva (not to forget that planning and designing takes time too!) By the way, Van Lang University is well known for making handmade models! 

A model
A model of a bridge

After which, we headed to an adjacent classroom for the design workshop. 

Heading into an empty classroom for the design workshop

After a brief introduction by Kien on the background of the project, we were split into 3 groups to evaluate strengths and weakness of aspects involving the project. The three groups were for design, the construction process&material choice, and the community. 

Deep in discussion
Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the Phu Xuan community
Presenting group findings to the entire team
Gathering comments from the team on findings
Synthesizing ideas for the design of the pavillion
A sketch of ideas that can improve the design
A sketch by Kim on a possible design element

After the design workshop, we headed for dinner before going to our homestay location for the trip, somewhere in a residential area near the site. The hostel was mainly for students who study near-by to rent. We rented 3 rooms from a landlord, each room was double height with an attached toilet, and a ladder that leads to the second level loft platform. While walking through the corridor, we saw many cockroaches, some spiders and bettles crawling around. The girls were all very afraid of insects.

When the girls first arrived at their room, they were greeted with 3 cockroaches at the door………. In the end, after discussing, we decided to all squeeze into one room.

We swept and mopped the floors, put up mosquito coils, but were ultimately defeated by the endless stream of cockroaches running out of the drainage hole in the toilet. 

Xuehen in the corner at the entrance of the toilet killing cockroaches

In the end, we returned back to the aunt’s house of our researcher and slept there for the night. It was a long day, from bamboo village to workshop to killing cockroaches in our hostel. 

After a long day, tired but happy