The Bureau Podcast

Meet The Team

Matt Cowan Producer, Host

Guest Co-Host

Melanie Casul Editor, Host

About The Podcast

Vietnam and Southeast Asia are evolving in so many ways from food & beverage, travel and lifestyle. Join Matt and Mel and their guest hosts as they share industry insights, discover bars and restaurants and chat to people in the know. If you're a foodie, traveller or just curious about what's happening in Vietnam and the region, The Bureau Podcast is for you! 

With the biggest public health crisis we’ve confronted this century playing out, it’s forced us indoors for the foreseeable future. Governments are demanding that we stay home and leave only for essential purposes like grocery shopping or medical checkups. Schools have been closed for most of the year in Vietnam, students aren’t likely to return until at least June and workers in non-essential industries have either been stood down or are required to work from home until further notice. As this existential threat to our health and livelihoods is mostly seen as coming from beyond the four walls of our homes, what about the impact it’s having within them? To find out, we spoke to health and fitness professional Phil Kelly, the founder and master trainer of Body Expert Systems based in Ho Chi Minh City.

When you think of Italy, you think of great food and wine and great cities like Milan and Venice. In 2018, over 60 million tourists visited Italy, making it the 5th most visited country in the world behind France, Spain, the US and China. Meanwhile, Venice is Italy’s most popular city for tourists with close to 28 million foreign visitors checking out its romantic canals and architecture in 2017. However, sadly, Italy has become the epicentre of the COVID-19 spread, with the highest number of recorded deaths from the virus (at the time of recording this episode). That number is now edging towards 17,000, according to the World Health Organisation as of April 8. To find out more about life on the ground in Venice, we speak to world-renowned Venetian tattoo artist, Crez, who operates from his Adrenalink studio in Marghera, not far from his city’s tourist mecca. Crez is one of just 100 tattoo artists globally who earned the right to be included in Anna Felicity Friedman’s World Atlas of Tattoo published in 2015; it’s an honour that recognises inductees as the most significant practitioners in the history of tattooing. He also has a strong connection to Vietnam.

In this episode of The Bureau Podcast, we’re celebrating the first 10 Bureau Bites episodes, our new shortened “pod-bite” series in which we interview a whole bunch of interesting people with a connection to Vietnam. In this first part of two, we revisit the first five stories which delve into the impact COVID-19 is having on travel and hospitality in Vietnam. And for a little added extra fun, we mix it up with a playlist of songs befitting of the stories and the pandemic experience we’re going through right now. So crack the top off your favourite beer or mix up your favourite tipple and kickback for 30 minutes as Matt and Mel recap with a mix of fact, fiction and fun. 

Vietnam can be quite a perilous place to live. Traffic accidents remain the biggest single cause of fatalities in the country. While the number of fatalities has been steadily falling each year from around 14,000 deaths in 2010 to around 7,600 in 2019, there were still 48 reported traffic accidents that claimed 21 lives per day last year on our roads. Meanwhile, drownings remain the leading cause of death for children in Vietnam. A conservative estimate suggests that on average, 16 people drown every day in Vietnam, a rate that is believed to be ten times that of developed countries. And then there are all the other dangers at workplaces and around the home that pose a risk to everyday life. Fortunately, however, there are a few organisations in Vietnam that are working with government departments to turn things around. One of those is Survival Skills Vietnam, a social enterprise that strives to raise awareness of hazards in our environment and who conducts first aid and evacuation training for businesses and the general public. To find out more about Survival Skills Vietnam, we spoke to co-founder Trang Nguyen, who’s based in Ho Chi Minh City.

Singapore has been widely praised internationally for its efforts in containing COVID-19. As of March 25, the country with a population of almost 6 million people has somehow managed to keep its fatality count to two, compared to 19,000 deaths worldwide. But concern is afoot as the number of COVID-19 cases in the small island state has doubled over a 48-hour timespan. And with an estimated 200,000 citizens yet to return home from overseas, Singapore’s enviable status as one of the planet’s best prepared places to tackle the virus’ spread, is under threat. Meanwhile, the livelihoods of just about everyone in every industry have been hard hit, no less so for people working in the entertainment and creative industries in Singapore. Most have lost contracts and the prospect of securing new ones in the foreseeable future is unlikely, leaving them wondering what’s next. In order to find out more about how Singaporeans are coping with COVID-19, we speak to Singaporean actor, host, environmental activist and Netflix’ Singapore Social star, Paul Foster.

As of March 25, the Vietnamese Government reported that there has been a total of 141 COVID-19 cases since the outbreak, with 17 of those having fully recovered already, which leaves 124 cases, with 93 of those being Vietnamese and the rest foreign. It’s a very impressive result so far, indeed, although those numbers have risen since this recording. According to the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister, “the virus is somewhere near everyone, thus anyone may contract it and transmit it to others if we do not seriously abide by official instructions.” One of the best-known directives the world over is for people to social distance and stay home, easier said than done if you don’t have anything fulfilling to do. One person in Saigon who’s been keeping himself occupied with a side project for quite a while now, is Doru Tudose. By night he’s a DJ, but by day, he’s building his own electric car.

The Australian Government has increased measures in its bid to stem the rise of COVID-19 infection rates across its states and territories. The measures hope to slow the virus down and will be sustained for at least that long to protect Australian lives and jobs and to allow Australia to keep functioning, said Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, on March 22. They include operating bans on pubs, gyms and indoor sporting venues, cinemas and nightclubs, restaurants and cafes, and places of worship, and include the avoidance of non-essential travel. While the Australian Government has acknowledged that these new restrictions will change the way Australians live, with business owners and their employees being severely affected, what of Australians and Australian businesses in Vietnam? Where do they find themselves in all of this? In order to find out more, we spoke to Simon Fraser, the executive director of AusCham, who is based in Ho Chi Minh City.

Walter Mason is an Australian author who has been visiting Vietnam since 1994 and since then has kept coming back. He has travelled the country with a Vietnamese-Australian monk, stayed in remote monasteries, and spent six months back in 1999 studying Vietnamese language at the Ho Chi Minh City Social Sciences University. Walter has a lifelong interest in Eastern spirituality (he’s a practising Buddhist) and Vietnamese food. In 2010, he published his first book, an entertaining travel memoir called Destination Saigon, which he says is “a love letter to Vietnam.” In 2013, he followed up the book with Destination Cambodia, about his adventures in the Kingdom and the reasons why the country has drawn him back again and again since his youth. We were able to speak briefly with Walter over the phone while he was visiting Saigon last week before he had to rush back home to Sydney to be with his family.

The outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide has dominated the news for weeks now with stories of illness, death, economic hardship and isolation. This means there hasn’t been many positive, uplifting, feel-good stories at the top of local and international news feeds. However, recent stories like the reappearance of dolphins in Venice and the visibility of fish in its canals began to catch our attention. There were also reports of a group of elephants that had apparently sauntered into a village in Yunnan, China, got drunk off corn wine and then passed out in a tea garden. It appeared that animals were bouncing back, in the meantime raising our spirits during a time of despair. But were these stories really true? We speak to Megan Ly from PR Newswire based in Ho Chi Minh City.

In a previous episode, we reported that bars and nightclubs in all of Saigon’s 24 districts were to be closed from Sunday, March 15th from 6pm. However, a high-profile case has emerged since, where a British man unknowingly carrying COVID-19 visited a District 2 bar on multiple occasions after the supposed lockdown. It’s created anxiety within the tight-knit community and has raised questions about a seemingly grey area between the definition of what’s a bar and what’s not. We ask hospitality industry insider Richie Fawcett from The Studio Saigon his thoughts on the situation and its possible impact on the hospitality industry in Saigon for the foreseeable future.

The Vietnamese Government has moved swiftly in its efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and travellers entering the country or who have travelled or transited through COVID-19 hotspots will go into quarantine (as of recording date). Some businesses have been directly affected and forced to close after unknowingly serving patrons carrying the virus, so we talk to Stanley Boots, founder of 7 Bridges Brewing Co. in Danang, who, along with his staff of 45, has been under house quarantine for almost two weeks after it was discovered two patrons carrying COVID-19 had visited his Danang taproom.

The Vietnamese Government has announced temporary changes to the entry & exit of foreigners due to Coronavirus, as a result, visas on arrival for all foreign nationals have been suspended, leaving Vietnam’s tourism industry decimated with estimated losses potentially starting at US$7 billion for the first quarter of 2020. We speak  to Linh Le, principal founder of Luxperia, an inbound travel company tailoring boutique travel experiences throughout Asia, and ask him what short-term and long-term ramifications the industry can expect. 

City officials have decided it’s time to close bars and nightclubs in Saigon indefinitely in a bid to contain COVID-19. Restaurants remain open, however, so we speak to Harper's Bazaar Vietnam editor-at-large Chris Thompson about the immediate and long-term impact the decision will have on the hospitality industry. Chris also gives us (what has turned out to be prophetic) his predictions for how the industry will react and evolve.

In this "sporty" episode on location at much-loved Saigon pub Coolabah, we celebrate International Women's Day with special guest Naomi Skinner ( who has spent the past 6 months running 2,000km from Hanoi to Saigon to raise money for charity. On her rest day, she pops in and tells us over a few sneaky "rehydrating" beers about her odyssey and how she reckons roadside dogs in southern Vietnam are way more chilled than their northern counterparts who, she says, "chase to kill".  On the panel, Matt and Mel are joined by the effervescent Jackie Lam who's filling in for Mike this episode. Jackie is a wine connoisseur and with her husband has grown a successful wine distribution business called RADA Vietnam ( supplying premium Australian wines to consumers Vietnam-wide. We also find out that she loves nothing better than (with a glass of vino in hand, of course) watching her AFL Sydney Swans boys run around the field in their tighty tight shorts and flexing their rippling muscles . We also get on The Bureau Hotline and cold-call concierges from three 5-star hotels in Saigon and ask them to recommend a bar and a restaurant to take our lovely lady for International Women's Day.

In the 2020 return of The Bureau Podcast, Matt, Mike & Mel get straight into Bureau Bites, a segment in which they tell each other what they've got up to related to F&B in Saigon since the previous episode. Mel revisits some old favourite dining haunts from over a decade ago, Mike let's us know about a new burger joint in town, and Matt introduces his #MealsOnWheels side project on Instagram that has him visiting the best street food joints he can find on his motorbike. During The Bureau Hotline segment, the 3M's give carnivore-turned-vegan Hien Tran a call. Hien is passionate about sustainable food production, animal welfare, farming, cooking and eating. He has his own blog called Green Schug ( and is also a mentor for Challenge22 (, a project that supports people transitioning towards becoming vegan. Then in the final segment Get Excited, the trio reveal one thing each that's got them excited about trying.

In this "Royal-themed" episode with Matt, Mike & Mel, The Bureau Briefs returns in which Mel gives a big tick of approval to an iconic Saigon teahouse & bakery that has reopened its doors, but then stunningly cries "foul" over a much-hyped (and highly-rated) flame grilled chicken restaurant new to town. Meanwhile, Mike pays out on Matt for taking him on their own wild goose chase in search of a new Japanese-themed venue out the back blocks of Thu Duc. We give the Queen of Sambal, Imelda Van der Wulp of Imelda's Kitchen, a call and she talks us through an eye-watering taste test of her beautifully fragrant and spicy new batch of authentic Indonesian sambal made right here in Saigon, after which we roll out the first category of our Best of The Bureau 2019 cocktail bars. Finally, as usual, we give a shout out to some interesting social media accounts that we like from Vietnam and the region, followed by our final observations on what's happening in hospitality in Saigon. 

In another fun-packed episode with Matt, Mike & Mel, The Bureau Briefs is back bigger than ever in which we chat about some of the many events we wriggled our way into AND didn’t quite make it to over the past two weeks, we get the lowdown on the Harper's Bazaar Vietnam Star Awards night of nights, we get all fuzzy and excited about some new arrivals on the Saigon foodie scene, and we announce the prizes for next month's Movember.

This episode The Bureau Briefs is back with some of the events we wriggled our way into over the past fortnight, we drool over some of Saigon’s best set lunches for business meetings as recommended by 5-star hotel concierges about the city, then we get all fuzzy and excited about some new arrivals on the scene, and finally, we give a shout out to some of our favourite influencers.

In this episode of The Bureau Podcast we’re at long-running, neighbourhood favourite Ruby Soho, a Saigon bar dedicated to pop-culture and the love of music, we introduce The Bureau Briefs, a new segment in which we review our past week or so in hospitality, we reveal what's got us excited in F&B since our last episode, and we chat to our headliner, French animator and Ruby Soho owner, Fred Serra, about his radio station project that creates playlists to dine for. Mike also gets humiliated by Mel in our pub quiz!

This week on The Bureau Podcast we’re at The Studio Saigon and we chat about what’s got us excited in F&B in Saigon since our last episode, the "bartist" Richie Fawcett steps in for Mike who's gone MIA in Danang, and we chat with architect Dr Hoanh Tran about Saigon's rapidly changing skyline and its gentrification, while Richie talks about his Cloud 9 Project.

In this episode on location at Fresh Catch Vietnam, we chat about what's got us excited in F&B in Saigon since our last episode, we sink our teeth into Beyond Burgers, then catch up with serial Saigon restaurateur Albin Deforges to talk about seafood sustainability, we "sip test" two beers about to be released on the market, and we ask, what ever happened to the Strawpocalypse?

In our very first episode we chat about what's got us excited in F&B in Saigon the past week or so, we wonder whether we actually care if food is "authentic" or not, the meaning of W.T.F.A.T.B.A.O.F.N. is revealed, and we wonder what ever happened to celebrity chef Bobby Chinn?

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