By Danny McDonagh
The WPT Asia Swing gives poker players of all levels the opportunity to compete on the World Poker Tour stage in three consecutive Asia-Pacific poker events in the incredible cities of Tokyo, Seoul, and Ho Chi Minh. The WPT Asia Swing started in mid-September and lasts 20 days.
I have been fortunate enough to have visited all three cities, and I cannot tell you how excited I am for the trio of World Poker Tour that will be taking place. As I understand many players will be new to these regions, I’m here to provide a few tips for those looking to play all or some of the WPT Asia Swing. For this blog, I’ll tackle WPT Vietnam, the final stop in the WPT Asia Swing, taking place September 26-October 4.
Vietnam Has a Thriving Poker Community
WPT Vietnam takes place September 28-October 2 at Pro Poker Club in Ho Chi Minh. Poker is thriving in Vietnam, and the Pro Poker Club in Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) leads the way with some seriously big numbers for poker tournaments this year.
The World Poker Tour is making its first-ever trip to the venue for the WPT Vietnam series that starts September 26. The poker tournament festival lasts nine days and includes a solid variety for tournament poker. Headlining the schedule is the VND 8 billion guarantee (approx. $350,000) WPT Vietnam Main Event, with a buy-in of VND 22 million (approx. $950). I will be shocked if the field does not eclipse 500 entries. As I said, poker is thriving in Vietnam and it’s only going to grow from here.
WPT Vietnam side events start at around $100 and highlights outside of the Main Event are the VND 44 million (approx. $1,900) High Roller, the three-day VND 11 million (approx. $475) Pro Poker Club SuperStack Classic, and the WPT Vietnam Ladies Championship with a buy-in of VND 5.5 million (approx. $238).
To get a feel of the poker in Vietnam, check out the leading Asian poker portal www.somuchpoker.com, co-founded by our Vietnam licensee Denis Pham and Loic Miller. Somuchpoker will be following all the action at WPT Vietnam.
Vietnam Travel Tips: Currency
The currency used in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). The conversion rate for US dollars is that $1 equals approximately VND 23,300.
Be careful not to get currency notes mixed up, too. It’s all paper currency, comprising of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, and 500,000 notes, so it can get tricky. Familiarize yourself with the currency when you first receive it and don’t be shy to double check the notes before paying for something. The US dollar is the best foreign currency to bring to Vietnam, with rates at the virtual market rate changing at banks. Pro Poker Club has very competitive exchange rates for the US dollar.
Vietnam Travel Tips: Transportation and Traffic
Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh is blessed with a multitude of direct flights globally, including from Seoul Incheon Airport if you happen to be playing WPT Korea that takes place before WPT Vietnam.
There is no Uber, unfortunately, but download the Grab app as a cheaper option to taxis. Grab cars are not plentiful, however, so at times you will need to wait. Taxis are in abundance throughout the city, but as many drivers speak little English it’s ideal to carry the business card or Vietnamese name of where you are traveling to. As for arriving in Ho Chi Minh airport, I recommend arranging airport pick up via your hotel for the most efficient service. That should cost around $10. You can order a private car pick-up as you pass customs, but they don’t appear to have fixed prices. Avoid taking any cars from private people approaching you at the airport, as is always the case when traveling.
Note that nearly all the traffic is motorcycles, and while these motorcyclists travel at normal speeds, most don’t stop at red lights or pedestrian crossings and often ride on footpaths to beat the long traffic queues. Don’t worry, you will get used to them quite quickly. Here is how you cross a major road in Ho Chi Minh.
Vietnam Travel Tips: Sights to See
I first visited Ho Chi Minh two years ago and quickly immersed myself in the history around the Vietnamese struggle for independence over many decades. The War Remnants Museum is a must, as is Independence Palace and maybe even a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and surroundings.
If you want to experience parts of Ho Chi Minh City in one day, here is my recommendation. It’s very walkable, although you can take a taxi or a Grab car if you are not so inclined to exercise. Assuming you are staying at the recommended Sila Urban Living hotel, take a morning stroll to the War Remnants Museum (pictured) first.
The museum was a total eye-opener for me, as it portrays the Vietnam War from Vietnam’s perspective. I found it fascinating to read about the history of it all and also check out various planes, tanks, and more on the grounds. You could easily spend three hours there, as there’s that much to take in.
The next stop I recommend is the close-by Independence Palace. First, take a stroll around the perimeter to get an appreciation for the property and then make sure you visit all the floors of the main palace, including the bunker area below and the rooftop.
From there, walk a few hundred meters to take in Notre Dame Square (pictured) where you can see the beautiful church and the historic Post Office Building (pictured below).
By now it will be well into the afternoon, so walk or taxi to Saigon Tower in the heart of District 1. The World of Heineken has recently opened and is part of Saigon Skytower. Going late afternoon, you will experience both the day and night lights of Ho Chi Minh. Don’t take the standard VND 200,000 (approx. $9) Skytower visit.
Instead, look to the left for the World of Heineken door (pictured) and pay VND 250,000 (approx. $11) to experience both the Skytower plus a great Heineken museum tour. Here you will be given some great history about the beer, a VR experience, some fun games, pour your own ice-cold beer, and then enjoy two more beers and nibbles as you watch the sun go down and night lights come alive. Before you leave, make sure to collect your own personalized Heineken bottle of beer. It’s a tremendous value, especially if you’re like me and enjoy a beer, or two.
Now you are on the home stretch, so take a walk up the wide walking promenade of Nguyen Hue Pedestrian Street towards City Hall. You’ll probably want to take a short diversion to see the Opera House on the right and then take a picture under the large General Ho Chi Minh Statue (pictured) in front of City Hall.
Enjoy dinner at one of a huge variety of restaurants in the area or head back to Pro Poker Club for some evening poker action. Whatever you fancy, it’s hard to go wrong!
Vietnam Travel Tips: Food
Memories of the best-ever banh mi and pho soups ever tasted stay strong with me from my first visit. When I recently returned last month for a WPT-focused visit, all of the delightful smells and flavors quickly returned and I was not disappointed. The quality and prices of both Vietnamese and international cuisine will delight you, I promise.
For a special dinner close to Sila Urban Living, make sure you pre-book Chopsticks Saigon (pictured), set in a beautiful property just 250 meters away. Two courses, three beers, and a cocktail came to a very reasonable $55 for two people.
Alternatively, you can get a great pho or banh mi at many street cafes for just $2 or $3 dollars.
Pro Poker Club Location and Accommodation
Pro Poker Club has a great setup for poker, with space spread out across two floors that can easily fit up to 40 poker tables.
Pro Poker Club (pictured) is located at 147 Trương Định, P9, Q3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, which is just about a 3km walk from the heart of Ho Chi Minh. The venue has ample food and beverage options in close proximity, plus its own kitchen.
If convenience to the venue is a must and you are not too fussy on accommodation, around $50 will set you up at New Pacific Hotel just a two-minute walk away. I will be staying there with a couple of my fellow staff members for the event, but do note this hotel is old school and the only persons allowed into rooms are those people with their passport noted against the room. Rooms are a little dated but sizeable and clean.
For an excellent mid-range accommodation, you should look at Sila Urban Living. It’s located just over 1km from Pro Poker Club and quite close to the War Remnants Museum. This is where WPT event staff and talent will be staying. You can choose from a studio, one-, or two-bedroom apartments starting from $80 per night and there is a great pool and large gymnasium on site, plus a variety of bars and restaurants within 100 meters.
For those that want a little luxury, the highest rated are the Intercontinental, located on the right side of District 1, and the Park Hyatt, located in the heart of District 1. You’ll be about 4km by taxi from the Pro Poker Club.
For options and competitive prices on where to stay, go to Poker Tour Bookings.