by Joan Tupponce
Taylor Vaughan never gets behind the wheel of a car when he travels to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam. He chooses not to maneuver among the thousands of motor scooters that fill the crowded streets.
“Driving is something you don’t want to try to do,” says Vaughan, the president and CEO of Galax-based Vaughan Furniture. “The traffic patterns are unlike anything in the United States. The hotels will help you hire someone that will get you around the city safely.”
Vaughan travels to Ho Chi Minh City frequently to visit Vaughan Furniture’s Asian operations office headed by Michael Burcham, a Galax native.
Vaughan Furniture now contracts with overseas manufacturers for all of its products. The company began importing dining rooms from Taiwan in the 1980s. “Taiwan is not as competitive now,” Vaughan says. “Most of our product comes from Vietnam. We also have manufacturing partners in Indonesia and Malaysia.” In addition, the company sources furniture from Brazil, Thailand and Chile.
Vaughan hopes to increase the company’s international sales in areas such as the Middle East through its participation in the Virginia Economic Development Partnership VALET program. Vaughan Furniture currently sells to Canada and Puerto Rico. “We have done some business in Saudi Arabia,” Vaughan says. “We think there is potential for growth there.”
He recently took part in the Malaysian International Furniture Fair. “We had visitors from Egypt, Spain, Malaysia, Canada and South Africa,” he says. “It was a who’s who of international countries.”
When it comes to foreign locales, Vaughan enjoys traveling to Ho Chi Minh City because of the city’s appeal to Western visitors. Located on the Saigon River, the city has a tropical climate and a population that represents many cultures. Its expansive boulevards feature buildings that reflect French colonial designs.
The city’s museums include the Museum of Vietnamese History and the War Remnants Museum, which looks back at the Vietnam War through the eyes of the Vietnamese.
Other popular sites in the city are the Botanical Gardens; the Binh Soup Shop, which served as Viet Cong headquarters during the war; and the beautiful Giac Vien Pagoda, founded in the late 1700s.
Vaughan sometimes strolls through the Ben Thanh Market. “It has just about anything you can think of with a famous person’s name on it,” he says. “Of course they are knockoffs, but if you can barter well you can buy a Rolex for $50 or less. Just know it’s not the real McCoy.”
The city’s economy
The economy in Ho Chi Minh City is varied, including tourism, finance, seafood processing and construction. Many companies are foreign-based such as Luxoft, an IT provider based in Moscow. The Russian company outsources back-office operations to Ho Chi Minh City. There are also a growing number of local companies such as Glass Egg Digital Media and Alive Interactive Media, which sell to Microsoft. Other major employers include Textbook Printing Joint Stock Co., which offers printing services; Saigon Maritime Joint Stock Co. Ltd., which provides maritime shipping services; and BUSS Co. Ltd., which makes underwear for Jockey. The city also houses Quang Trung, a popular location for software and dot-com companies.
Where to eat
When Taylor Vaughan visits Ho Chi Minh City, he enjoys eating at Al Fresco’s Café & Grill, which serves Western cuisine such as ribs, burgers and steaks. Other favorite haunts are Pomodoro, an Italian restaurant with pizza, pasta and seafood, and Pacharan, a casual Spanish restaurant that serves, among other items, paella. For Vietnamese delicacies, a local favorite is Nam Kha, which serves dishes such as pineapple and shrimp soup and steamed Vietnamese banana cake. A popular restaurant for food from Thailand and Hong Kong is Coca Suki Restaurant.
Where to stay
Taylor Vaughan has found that the Legend Hotel Saigon has all the amenities he looks for when traveling. The upscale hotel, which caters to Western travelers, offers five restaurants, a gym and a business center. The Renaissance Riverside Hotel on the Saigon River is another luxury property. The hotel has five restaurants, a lounge and a health club. The Sheraton Hotel Saigon & Towers is located in the business and entertainment district and provides convention facilities and a spa.