Botox at the Orient

After a somewhat grueling pace of three countries in the past month, I needed a day out. At home on Maui the children would be attending Waldorf for 6 blissful hours each day, but abroad it has been full on, non-stop, 24/7.  I am exhausted! How do I get away from it all? A full day of pampering.  After a delightful chocolate breakfast with the girls and Bernie at Maison Marou, I walked them to the park and went my separate way.

I headed toward the Benh Thanh market, walked two blocks, then entered the market to cut through to the other side where there is a Natur’l Beauty Lounge.  I made a hair appointment for the following morning at 9:30am. Next, I went up one level to the 7th floor where I found a delightful little lifestyle store and bought 5 amazing tea cups, a creamer, a rice bowl, a serving bowl and a tray.  These amaï ceramics are artfully made  you can see the full product line  Then I went next door and changed money at the bubble tea shop and also ordered a green tea matcha with black pearls.  I proceeded to cross the street to the market side to get a taxi. I was stopped by a bicycle tuk tuk driver asking me where I was from and trying to engage  me in conversation.  He continued with his pitch while I patiently awaited the end, showing me a book of handwritten guest reviews.  When I asked how much it would cost he replied pay me whatever you like.  Knowing this would not end well, I insisted on a price upfront. The man said 250vnd over $10US.  I walked away, quickly hopped into a taxi.  There are two reputable companies in Vietnam VINASUN and Mai Linh, however you need to make sure that the numbers on the cars are accurate as there are impostors posing as licensed operators and  I was on the way to my next destination.

Orient Skincare and Laser Center for Botox.  I arrived 10 mins later and paid the driver 40vnd including a generous tip and walked into the lovely little Medi-spa I had researched online this morning.  I consulted with the receptionist who spoke perfect English and made an appointment for 5:30pm, this fit into my plan perfectly as I was headed to my next bit of pampering at the Temple Spa.  I had been handed a flyer the previous day  and that was when I started developing my day away plan.  The receptionist called a taxi, it arrived immediately and I was escorted by a man holding an Umbrella (to protect my skin from the sun) over my head 10 feet into the taxi.

Temple Leaf Spa. Upon arrival I was greeted with a menu card, I wanted the 3 hour package, unfortunately without an appointment, I was only able to get 1½ hour package and a ½ hour facial and a 1 hour full body massage.  I filled out a little sheet highlighting all of the areas of the body and circling  strong, medium or soft for the level of pressure.  I circled strong all the way down the body.  I was taken upstairs where there were small partitions separated only by curtains and instructed to put on shorts, take off my bra and cover up with a towel and hang all of my belongings in a basket bag on a hook.  The space was basically just a massage table and enough room for the therapist to move around the left side of the the table.  I could hear a man next to me snoring lightly.  I have had massages in Asia before so I was not bothered by the closeness to my neighbor. As soon as my facial began, the previous stressful month melted away.  The products Temple Leaf Spa uses are delightful very light fragrances and all organic. The massage as ordered was fiercely strong.  The strength of this women astounded me.  It may have only been 1.5 hours but it felt like a day. My services ended at 3pm as I sat sipping my lemongrass tea, I was offered a free ceramic oil diffuser for reviewing this spa on Trip Advisor.  Since I had plenty of time to kill until my Botox appointment, I downloaded the app, left a glowing review and received my free gift.  Downloading the Trip Advisor app proved useful later.

At this point, have eaten nothing since my latte/chocolate breakfast, I went to the restaurant next door, Gaucho (an Argentinian Meatery).  I ordered a goat cheese on toast appetizer and an arugula salad with parmesan and thin slices of filet.  This seemed like a reasonable amount of food.  I attempted to order asparagus and was told by the server that I had ordered enough food. Soon after I placed my order a small loaf of freshly baked bread arrived with a ramekin of butter, pepper salad and a whole clove of oven roasted garlic.  This I mistook for my goat cheese toast.  I ate half of the bread and all of the garlic. The server offered me more garlic and I thought why not?  I will not be bothered by a single mosquito for the rest of my travels.  Then the salad arrived, I did my best but left one of the three pieces of filet.  A few minutes later the goat cheese bread arrived (the first course apparently was the free bread!). I explained to my server my confusion and ate one slice of the bread and a few cloves from the second garlic bulb. I asked my server to wrap it up for take-away. This was not  my first nor last experience of ordering too much food and explaining it awkwardly later.  I continued to sit and read the book Devin had left me.  I was actually missing everyone by now, I can’t remember the last time I ate alone at a restaurant with a book.

As the hour of my appointment approached, I crossed the street, got into the other of the two reliable taxi companies and proceeded to Orient Spa. Okay, here is the skinny on Botox.  I have been getting it since I was 31.  Taking the requisite breaks during pregnancies and breastfeeding.  I am not sure why we make such a huge deal about it.  I love it, a lot of my friends know, but some just think I look young.  I do look young and I work at it with a combination of yoga, healthy diet, clean living and plenty of sleep and a bit of help from the botulinum toxin.

When I get botox in the States, I get 23 units exactly. The price varies between $12-14 USD per unit.  I know the number of units that is used in my face to produce the desired effect, (I want to look rested).  I tell nurse Sherry (my Maui connection) that I am a yoga teacher and I still want to have some lines in my forehead and I want people to question whether I do anything to gain my youthful appearance, not be certain.  I have had botox done by various medical professionals including a leading plastic Surgeon in Minneapolis.  I would like to describe how it goes… You enter the waiting room, from there into the treatment room which temperature-wise is always 10 degrees too cold. The room usually has a sterile look and feel with a medical table/bed.  You are then shown a  lovely drawing of a face much like a makeup artist might show you when she is recommending products at the Chanel counter.  You are shown your face in a highly magnified mirror (this is startling!) and you are asked what you would like to change or what you dislike about your looks. This is a terrible question.  If you are being treated by a male, it has been my experience, that he than takes a sharpie and dots your forehead all over where is is going to place the injections.  You are asked if you have had any alcohol the previous day, taken Ibuprofen or if you are on Omega 3’s as this can thin your blood causing additional bruising.  Once the amount of Botox is determined  the surgeon/nurse whoever is treating you returns to the room with many small insulin-sized syringes and cleans your skin with an alcohol swab and starts injecting the various sharpie marked dots, each injection a new needle. Asking you repeatedly to frown and relax, smile and relax.  Sherry never uses a sharpie. I find that women are far better at  the botox injection procedure than men.  It seems that many times as the botox is going in there will be some that shoots back out of my skin (of course I find this more agonizing than the needle prick because I know that is about $5+ that just shot out of my face (ie., wasted product).  I cringe every time this happens.  The actual injection feels like a slight burn as the toxin enters the body and later like a heaviness. I am reassured that each day for the next 3-4 months, I will wake up looking younger. I detailed what American Botox is like to draw a comparison with my Asian experience which I describe below.

I return to Orient Spa just before 5pm. I am early but so is my doctor.  I am given for the second time today a small juice glass with a bright purple cold drink. I am told that this is made from the butterfly flower that is actually blue but when they add citrus it becomes this gorgeous shade of purple. It is delicious. Next the receptionist offers to hold my packages for me, then takes me back to meet with the Doctor.  She proceeds to translate for me our earlier discussion during my consultation.  The Doctor agrees that I should do the crows feet area to achieve my desired result.  The result I am after as I said earlier is a rested look.  I have always had a somewhat droopy upper brow.  Botox not only makes me look younger but corrects something that I never had even in my youth, a raised brow.  In the States they insist that I need injections in a V-shaped pattern along the middle of my forehead to get this lift.  In Vietnam, I was told that the crows feet area and an single injection to the edge outer eyebrow would lift my brow.  I was skeptical.  Would  treating this area alone do the trick?  I approached this as I have approached all experiences on this trip with faith that perhaps there is a better way. I was quoted  3500VND ($150) about half of what I spend in the States.

I was taken upstairs to an elegant room with 12′ high ceilings and French design, there was a embossed deep purple wall paper on the left wall and a dim light sconce. The rest of the room was white. I was told to lie down on the table where I was warmly wrapped in a blanket.  No fluorescent lit cold rooms here!  There was a jazzy  kind of music playing, very pleasant and not the least bit annoying.  The assistant delicately began a mini facial.  This was my second facial today.  She applied a numbing cream which I recognized as lidocaine.  I have never been numbed before for Botox in the States. After this she proceeded to massage my shoulders and scalp, I could not believe this royal treatment. I am all wrapped up, almost asleep and numb; when the table gently converts to an upright chair position.  The doctor then enters the room marks my crows feet (the little lines that form on the outside corner of the eye when you smile) with a white pencil and proceeds with the injections. I am not sure as to the amount of Botox I received as there appeared to be two needles used one for each side of my face totaling 8 injections.  I did glimpse the needle out of my peripheral vision and noticed it was quite full in contrast to the minuscule number of units that cost so dearly at home. This whole process was very spa like and in stark contrast to how it usually goes in the US.  After the treatment was finished I was taken to a veranda that overlooks a pool and tropical garden to sip tea as I was presented with my bill.  Everything was lovely,  it has been 8 days since my treatment and the results are not fully present until 14 days. Since I consider myself experienced with Botox, I can see that the result is good and sufficient. I highly recommend Orient Skincare and Laser Center in Ho Chi Minh.

IMG_0652I won’t go into the details of my not so pleasant hair experience the next day at Natur’l Beauty Lounge. Suffice it to say that I was overcharged and dissatisfied with my services. You can read my negative review of this place on TripAdvisor.  I miss you Sarah Evans! The stylist did everything you said not to let them do, tons of insane texturizing, but once he started it was like a scene from Edward Scissorhands.  It’s only hair it will grow back! Its not that bad truly, I’m mostly upset about paying more for my hair than the Botox. Outrageous! While my food at Gaucho was excellent, I should caution everyone to refrain from eating two entire cloves of garlic I finished the 2nd clove after I got home.  I suffered later with intense cramping and… you can imagine the rest, I won’t detail it here. Not Egypt, not bad water in Asia but too much of a good thing got me.





Greetings from Vietnam! A year ago, it never even crossed my mind that I would utter those words in my lifetime, much less a year later. Our flight from Hong Kong was pleasant and uneventful but the long queue for the visa application at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City was a bit of a pain. Even though we had applied on-line and brought the ‘official paperwork’ and the tiny little (2″x 3″) photos that were requested for everyone in our family; the process still took about an hour and a half to complete including payment in new US dollars only for the fees ($25 per person for the normal single entry visa). While we were waiting for our turn at the counter, I heard a bit of grumbling from some of the more experienced fellow travelers (on the same plane) that many Asian countries have switched to on-line visa applications including pre-payment of fees or have dropped visa requirements entirely (Malaysia). We patiently completed the visa application process, checked in with Passport Control, retrieved our baggage (already having been unloaded from the conveyors), exchanged some dollars for the local currency ($1 US dollar is about 23,000 Vietnamese Dong). Then we found our driver (actually, two vehicles) and were on our way into the city. The driver that Devin, Scarlet and I were riding with got lost and stopped to ask for directions several times. The roads were clogged (it might have been rush hour!). I tried to communicate with the driver but he ignored me. I reasoned that he knew as much English as I knew Vietnamese (none) and I did not hold it against him. We did make it to the apartment finally, albeit 30 minutes or so after Tiffany, Eleanore and Grace had been dropped off. Thankfully, Devin recalled what the exterior of the building looked like and also spotted the girls at the same time from about half a block away. We motioned to our driver and he silently pulled over and dropped us off.

So here we are in the thick of the chaos that is called Ho Chi Minh City (aka, Saigon). Officially, the population is 13 million strong. Our Airbnb apartment is smack in the middle of it all in District 1. Maybe it’s just me, but a numbering system for urban areas (instead of names) has always bothered me. Tiffany explained to me that Paris also uses a numbering system. Since this was formerly a French colony, the numbers may be a hold-over from a bygone era.  I don’t know exactly how ‘big’ our district is geographically or even how many ‘districts’ there are currently. I have never been in a country where it seems that the number of motor scooters outnumbers the population but I swear that is what it feels like here! There are few pedestrians here (except for unwary tourists)! Based on my observations and first hand experience, pedestrians have no ‘right of way’ here, not even on the sidewalks, which are merely another drive lane or a place to ‘park’ hundreds of motor scooters on any given block, after block, after block. We have been honked at by motor scooter riders while walking on the sidewalks as they attempted to pass us (on the sidewalk) or to get to a parking spot on the sidewalk. There is constant honking from the incessant traffic from about 6:30 am until well past midnight. I am sure that the countryside is a bit more tranquil but we won’t get a chance to find out on this trip to Vietnam.IMG_0551

In my observation, as ubiquitous as coffee shops and cafés are in Europe, that is the case with repair shops for motor scooters and tire shops here. Except for some major roads, there are no stop signs or yield signs at intersections. I don’t even know how to describe the phenomenon. The traffic including motor scooters, buses, taxis and trucks, pedal-powered carriages transporting tourists and (occasionally brave bicyclists) flows each way into any given intersection and somehow miraculously meshes and sorts itself out with a cacophony of horns. This is repeated over and over again. The discordant nature of it all defies western logic and certainly urban traffic planning. I can honestly say that I could not drive one block in this city without having a nervous breakdown.  Even the mundane action of crossing a normal city street requires a bit of bravado since crosswalks (if there are any) are routinely ignored by all the motorists.  One must step into traffic (literally) and begin the dance anticipating a small gap between the motor scooters that are coming towards you (usually from each direction at the same time), then advancing, then pausing momentarily again waiting for the next gap, of course all the while being honked at for having the audacity to cross a city street on foot (and not two wheels). If anyone recalls the popular video arcade game of “Frogger” (way back in the early 1980’s). This game would be an apt description of a pedestrian crossing a street in Ho Chi Minh City. These streets would be fertile testing ground for the ‘driverless’ AI vehicles that are in the process of being foisted upon us by the ‘powers that be’. Good luck with that!

We read on a travel website that a ‘must see’ for any visit to Ho Chi Minh City is the Ben Thanh market and so we went. It was located about 6 blocks from our apartment, so we walked. The infamous enclosed market itself covers a city block but the streets on all sides of the market are also teeming with vendors and sidewalk shops. There are literally hundreds of vendors squeezed into tiny spaces and very narrow aisles. There seemed to be a lot of repitition of merchandise from one vendor to the next. Some of the stalls have signs posted stating that the ‘prices are fixed’ and prices cannot be negotiated. Grace spied an overpriced plastic toy kitchen set. I knew that it was overpriced since plastic childrens’ toys mass produced for pennies in China generally are overpriced. I figured the fair cost should have been about $2. The sticker price was 244,000 VND (slightly more than $10). The proprietor would not budge on the price claiming that the ‘company’ sets the fixed prices. We walked away. No sale. The next day we came back to the area since Tiffany and the girls wanted manicures & pedicures. We went back to the Ben Thanh market and surprised Grace with the toy that she wanted from the day before along with something that Eleanore had spotted as well. No sense in haggling this time. Tiffany just paid the sticker price for the plastic toys but caught an error that the shopkeeper had made by almost overcharging her for the already overpriced items. Judging from the duplicitous merchandise selection in this market, I suspect that this is market is likely a corporate enterprise set up to look like a hodge-podge collection of hard-working mom and pop proprietors and shop keepers. Honestly, we were underwhelmed by the Ben Thanh market and had higher expectations. I guess we just aren’t ‘typical’ tourists.

Ho Chi Minh City does boast some spectacular historic architecture including the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral (completed sometime between 1860 & 1880 by French colonialists) and the 800 seat, Saigon City Opera House (built in 1897 by a French architect). We observed both of these buildings from the street during one of our self-guided walking & shopping trips thru District 1.

We also enjoyed some excellent, modestly priced restaurants in our ‘district’ featuring authentic Vietnamese home cooking and ‘street’ food. We also frequented the local Starbucks which is very popular with locals and tourists. (Sometimes, you just need to go someplace that reminds you of home to ground yourself.)  

As a child growing up in the 60’s, I still have a very strong recollection of the Vietnam War which seemed to be in the news headlines almost every day. I had to go back to Wikipedia to get the dates right. The United States involvement in the war officially ended in January 1973 (45 years ago this month!). I was 20 years old. My draft number was 239. The last draft number called was 215. I was lucky. Some of my friends and cousins were drafted. Some enlisted. By the grace of God most of them made it back alive and in one piece. I admit that I had some trepidation about visiting Vietnam but I am not exactly sure why. We had done our homework and read that there are pickpockets working the crowded market areas and thieves waiting to snatch purses and cell phones from naive tourists even walking on the sidewalks. The local residents that we encountered at the restaurants and shops and around our Airbnb neighborhood were really very nice to us and we had no problems in this regard.


Searching the internet, I learned that tourism was only a trickle starting in the late 1980’s and has since become a huge component of modern Vietnam’s economy with many millions of visitors every year. Well, the Stroh Ohana made their contribution this year.

Fini. On to Kuala Lumpur!