THE FLYING HOPPERS visit VIETNAM to participate in the 8th Vietnam Hockey Festival during November 7th and 8th 2015

Published: Tuesday, 01 December 2015 Written by Walter 'WASABI' Marthaler

Herewith a list of the Seven Samurai (or The Magnificent Seven ?) who assembled in Ho Chi Minh City (better known as SAIGON) to celebrate the first 20 years of hockey touring, and in fact proceeded to establish some staggering new records:


Flying Hoppers’ CEO: Stefan Leuenberger

Captain: Toni Haberthuer

Sporting Chief: Sacha Overhoff

Gifts and Logistics: Guido Steiner

Food and Beverage Manager: Fedor Plambeck

Photographer: Carlos Andermatt

Travel Report: Walter Marthaler

Accompanied by two ladies (“Flying Shoppers”), i.e. Corinne Steiner and Shoko Saito


As ever, this is a report written purely based upon my personal experience of this 36th Flying Hoppers Tour, which was mainly held to CELEBRATE the 20th ANNIVERSARY since our unique Hockey Travel Side was founded. Thus the special shirts which Stefan got ready for this tour had the following text printed on them:

20 years touring the hockey world

And in the true pioneering spirit of this group of hockey friends, a completely new destination was selected to be added to the already expansive list of countries visited thus far, i.e. (as Robin Williams used to shout): Good morning, VIETNAM !!


I was a late arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, which from now on in this report I shall refer to as Saigon – less typing to do and also probably better known under the old name. A taxi ride from the airport weaving through all those thousands of motorbikes was getting me to the chosen Hotel Majestic ( An absolutely excellent choice by Fedor! I am a total fan of historic and beautifully kept hotels and the Majestic certainly fits this bill: It is celebrating this year its 90th anniversary – a mere 70 years older than The Flying Hoppers…


I arrived at the Majestic Hotel on Friday around noon and then was relaxing and waiting in the room for my “roomie-mate” Sacha to show up. He eventually appeared and in his by now fully acquired “Aussie spirit” style immediately wanted to show me his beer garden restaurant discovery, where he and Toni had fully tested the premises by downing a quite substantial number of beers the night before….(that “Bier Garden Restaurant” has no website and was only established in 2010 – but it was very conveniently located within walking distance from the Majestic). In our case, we drank moderately but chatted intensively before heading back to the Majestic. Fedor had carefully prepared for this Friday night’s social activities, starting off with a bus transport to a pier on the Saigon river where we boarded a small boat for an “Apero-Champagne Cruise” and were just about to depart with speed when someone realised that Sacha had made a last minute toilet stop and was missing on the boat... We guided the boat back to the pier to pick Sacha up – “No drinker to be left behind!” is certainly some kind of motto for The Flying Hoppers.

This pleasing apero drinking river cruise was then followed by a beautiful dining experience at “The Deck” (, which was described to us earlier on as being “Scenic, by the river, SUPER”. And SUPER it was indeed.

Thus our hockey group’s intensive preparations (food and drink) for the Saigon Sixes tournament had started in style. Back at the Majestic, most of us went to the roof bar where a live band from the Philippines was performing and we enjoyed some “good night drinks”. For some of us that was not the end of the night, and they went exploring further in the surrounding areas…..with success, as the following evening will show.




We had to leave the Majestic Hotel really early as the “Tournament Briefing” was scheduled for early on and the hockey grounds were a fairly long distance from central Saigon. Logistics (including transportation, of course) chief Guido had very nicely arranged for a comfortable bus, and the bus driver eventually found the Saigon Hockey Centre (about 35 kilometers away from downtown Saigon) after a couple of “misses”. Check: for reference.


We were very heartily welcomed by quite a few young Vietnamese hockey players and then spent the rest of the day there to play the different group games on this first day, with mixed success as the following shows:


1st game: Dubai Hump 2 against Flying Hoppers 0 : 0

2nd game: Faris (Malaysia) against Flying Hoppers 0 : 3

3rd game: Flying Hoppers against Tornados Vietnam 2 : 0

4th game: Flying Hoppers against Panthers Vietnam 7 : 0

5th game: Paramedic Singapore against Flying Hoppers 1 : 2


Hence, on this day, a first entry for the “record book” was established by that 7 : 0 win against the Panthers, which according to Organising Chairman of the tournament, James Chew, was/is the biggest win ever made thus far in a Saigon Sixes tournament.


Once we had played all our games, our bus driver, well briefed by Guido, was picking us up and taking us back to the Majestic and to our preparations for the evening activities.


My “roomie-mate” Sacha was in a hurry to get to the official tournament’s party venue, namely the nightspot BEIRUT GARDEN ( ), whereas the rest of us wanted to have a relaxing Vietnamese dinner first. The two “Flying Shoppers ladies” had already decided to go out on their own this evening.

Thanks to Stefan’s earlier visit to Saigon a few years back, he was aware of a very nice restaurant called “Temple Club” ( and that is where we walked to. An excellent dinner was had whilst chatting happily and enjoying quality time together, which on every tour is such an important ingredient in my personal opinion! We had all decided not to go to the BEIRUT GARDEN in fancy dress thereafter, even though we toyed with the idea that our “Flying Hoppers in Blazers and Ties” outfit might win such a competition because of the completely out of place quality of such formal attire in a trendy nightspot. However, the temperature still being high and the humidity also substantial seemed a valid enough reason to give such an idea a miss…


After dinner we made a low-key appearance at the BEIRUT GARDEN, rejoining Sacha, and we certainly saw some extravagant outfits there. Soon thereafter the majority of all those hockey players started to move on to other venues; most seemed to be heading to “Apocalypse Now”, but our group had decided to visit a venue which had been carefully checked out the night before by some, with Fedor and Carlos having made appropriate contact with the lady manager of this exciting rooftop bar, a kind of “Mama-San” of the AIR 360 SKY BAR ( This sky bar comprises 3 floors. The first level has got a sky pool. The second level, where we drank, is the main area with the bar, DJ, lounges and the entrance to a section for private parties. And the topmost area in the shape of a globe is strictly for VVIP’s only. Obviously, that VVIP area is off-limits but Fedor and Carlos had managed to be guided by the “Mama-San” through the WHOLE skybar complex!

I am certain that some photos of this lady with some of The Flying Hoppers will make it into the “photo gallery” of this trip, and I leave it to the viewers to judge if the lady is seen as very attractive or not – opinions seemed to differ. Also, some of us may have wondered if her “outstanding appearance” may perhaps have been clinically enhanced?


Regardless, if you ever make it to SAIGON and want to have some relaxing drinks with awesome views over Saigon by night, there is most likely no better place to do so than at this AIR 360 Sky Bar venue, which brought back some fond memories of that “Blue Bar” in Bangkok to some of us….


Most of us called it a night after a few drinks at the Sky Bar, but some more dedicated drinkers proceeded to the Apocalypse Now ( thereafter.


A rather funny story about those drinks at the Sky Bar came to light the next morning at breakfast; our two Flying Shoppers ladies had evidently also been at the Sky Bar, but the whole complex is so vast that we missed seeing each other. Funny also that our group of guys entered free-of-charge (with shouts of “Seven Samurai coming through”!), whereas Corinne and Shoko had to pay entrance fees!




Having been placed first in our group on the previous day of hockey, our quarter-final match today was to start fairly late in the morning, which enabled us to sleep in a bit and enjoy the nice breakfast buffet at the Majestic.


Guido’s assigned bus with driver was ready again, and now the driver already knew the way of course.


That first game match in the knock-out stage proved to be a very tough match against Dubai Hump 1 ! After regular playing time (10 minutes), the score line was 2 : 2 and the match went into the 5 minutes overtime period. Some poor decisions by the refs did not help our cause. Dubai took the lead again in overtime, but within the very last minute the never tiring Toni scored his third goal in this match and the game went into penalty shoot-out mode.


Somewhat luckily for us, Dubai did not score against our Vietnamese goalie “Nhat” (hopefully, Stefan will post his FULL name "Đặng Nguyễn Hoàng Ming Nhật", which is quite an eye-opener!) and after two Hoppers had successfully scored, the match was decided.


Some waiting ensued, combined with anxious calculations about WHEN exactly the different “frequent fliers”, respectively heavy business travellers, Toni and Guido had to depart for the airport for their respective trips to Auckland/Sydney, with the conclusion that Toni could still play in the semi-final game but would have to leave straight after that, and that Guido would be able to play in the final as well – if we would reach that… For both Carlos and Fedor, their flight time back to Europe was later at night on that day and hence caused no stress.


On we went to the semi-final against Mucha Caliente Singapore. This game was won a bit more easily, without the stress of overtime, i.e. during regular playing time, with a scoreline of 2 : 0. This brought The Flying Hoppers the qualification for the FINAL against a Taiwanese side consisting mostly of ex-Internationals – a team that had previously won the SAIGON SIXES two years back and which, according to James, were the clear favourites to win again.


Before we could start that last game, we all saw Toni off and thanked him for his fantastic efforts on and off the pitch!


And then, finally, a quite dramatic FINAL game was played. Without Toni around, all our remaining players (without me, of course) had to play the whole game fully concentrated. The Taiwanese side did score first, but eventually Sacha managed to score an equalizer. And then the 1 : 1 scoreline was held during the regular playing time as well as during the overtime period. Which meant that another nerve wrecking penalty shoot-out was to decide the game, and it did indeed develop into quite a dramatic outcome.


Taiwan elected to go first, and their first 3 players all scored their goals. But so did Sacha, Stefan and Fedor from our side. Then, the next player from Taiwan scored again and Sacha replied in kind, but his shot only just touched the board – lucky!

And then, the “drama” started. Fedor walked up to Nhat and asked him to hand to him the goalkeeper’s helmet and he replaced him in goal for the next penalty, somewhat to the surprise of a lot of spectators and also to some of the Taiwanese players. And guess what? The next Taiwanese player missed his penalty shot by playing too high, i.e. missing the board. Thereafter, Fedor took off the borrowed goalie’s helmet and proceeded to take the next penalty-shot himself, as discussed with Stefan beforehand. And Fedor ,“cool as a cucumber”, scored that decisive penalty and made The Flying Hoppers the winning team of the



In participating and winning this tournament, the Flying Hoppers set the following additional two new records in this current year 2015:


a) First year ever where The Flying Hoppers were going onto FOUR Tours !

b) Unbeaten in two Asian tournaments (Hong Kong at Easter / Saigon Sixes)


Guido had to depart for the hotel in a hurry right after the game, but the rest of us got to drink a few beers and then participated in the closing ceremonies. Of course we expressed our sincere thanks and appreciation to both James Chew and to Jerry Singh. James really must be commended for single-handedly establishing hockey in Vietnam and having such high ambitions for this sport. Instead of the current three grass-pitches, there should be an astro-turf pitch ready for next year’s tournament – a cheap one ‘made in Vietnam’ he told us, smiling.


Quite a few more beers later, we were awarded the Winners’ trophy, which we dedicated to Carlos. He has meanwhile placed that trophy on a mantle-piece in his home and mentioned that there is room for further trophies…. see the relevant picture in the photo-gallery.


We finally set-off with our trusted bus driver back to the Majestic, where we could just briefly say good-bye to Guido and still enjoy a few farewell drinks at the Pool-Bar with both MAN OF THE MATCH Fedor as well as solid defender Carlos, both of them leaving soon thereafter.


The few remaining in Saigon were Corinne and Shoko as well as Stefan, Sacha and myself. We five decided once again to go for a nice Vietnamese dinner, this time at the Hoa Tuc Restaurant ( As we had come to expect, the food was fresh and fragrant and provided yet another great dining experience.


As far as my memory serves, for once we decided not to make it a late night after that!


MONDAY,  November 9th - Visit to CU CHI Tunnel Complex - Transfer to An Lam


Many thanks from me to both Corinne and Shoko for kindly organising a sightseeing tour to the relics of the Cu Chi Tunnel system some 70 km to the North-West of Saigon. Apparently each year more than 1 million tourists visit these sights. It is a unique architectural structure, a system of deep underground tunnels having several floors and alleys and branches more than 250 km long. This tunnel system embodies the strong will and intelligence of the Cu Chi people and is a symbol of the heroism of the Vietnamese people during the war (against the French and the USA).

Sacha had visited this site on his last visit 20 years ago and noticed that the venue was now much more geared towards tourists.


After the long drive back to the Majestic and the checking out procedure, the ladies had to attend to some last minute shopping duties. Sacha and I went on a quick “farewell” visit to the Bier Garden.

Then we all used taxis once more to take us to that famous pier venue, where a special transfer boat was picking us up to take us to the An Lam Saigon River Resort “Private Residence”, i.e. a very relaxing classy retreat, which describes itself as follows:


AN LAM is the combination of AN related to “peace/quiet atmosphere” and LAM as “forest” or “nature”. That is all the property wants to be – a hideaway place to ease mind and blend in the beauty of nature.


That “peace/quiet atmosphere” was a touch disturbed temporarily by our somewhat noisy farewell drinks “party” for Sacha in one of the many swimming pools, each unit having its own swimming pool area.


After several firm reminders by the An Lam staff, Sacha took his leave more quietly and went on his way to the airport for his flight back to Sydney. The rest of us, Corinne, Shoko, Stefan and I just relaxed and enjoyed dinner at the An Lam that night.


TUESDAY,  November 10th - Relaxation day


In the true spirit of that tranquil resort, we were just hanging around and relaxing fully during the day. For the evening we planned a trip into the nearest part of the town with decent restaurant options, i.e. taking the resort’s shuttle boat to that pier once again and from there a taxi ride. The taxi dropped us at a Tib restaurant, but it was not the one we wanted to go to. Hence we were forced to engage in some pre-dinner walking to finally reach the aimed at TIB. ( Tib specialises in Hue dishes. The former capital of Hue in central Vietnam is home to a delicious cuisine all of its own, and Saigon has some excellent examples of it. TIB is probably the best known, due to its connection with the legendary Vietnamese songwriter Trin Cong Son.

Hue specialities apart, TIB has famous customers, too. President George W. Bush and Australian PM John Howard, having worked out a coalition agreement, celebrated at a TIB dinner in 2007. Photos on the wall show this, as well as other personalities who have eaten at this famous restaurant.


To us four it was just a nice venue to have a final dinner together. As always, very enjoyable indeed.



WEDNESDAY, November 11th - Departure day


All four of us were about to depart on that day, me leaving first. However, it must be made clear here that all the visitors (except for Sacha and I) did spend a lot longer in Vietnam, as they all had started off visiting Vietnam by spending time in both Hanoi and Halong Bay. So I am convinced that besides the VERY MEMORABLE tournament win, all The Flying Hoppers on this tour will also take home other nice memories from a country with beautiful sights and very friendly people.



After my return to Hong Kong I asked for some feed-back from other participants and received the following, which I am very happy to quote:


From Sacha:


My highlights:

- Seeing all my Swiss friends and seeing how well they are

- Vietnam War Museum and my personal memories how Vietnam was 20 years ago

- The friendliness of the Vietnamese people and the tournament organisers

- To top all these experiences, we even won the tournament – sensational


From Toni:


It was a truly great experience. My comments are:

- Sensational “Bier Garden” with lots of beer in close proximity

- Very helpful staff at the tournament, always flexible and eager to help and very happy to have us there.

They made us feel special!

- Great laughs about many things such as “the Ferkel”, “Mrs. Shitstorm” and others

- The motorbike traffic system was a fantastic thing to watch….

- The team spirit both on and off the pitch was as always on a high – it was so much fun to be with

you guys!


From Stefan:


Liebe Freunde,

Ich kann Euch gar nicht sagen wie viel es mir bedeutet hat, mit Euch, meinen besten Freunden, das Flying Hoppers Jubiläum in Vietnam zu feiern. Weil Ihr nicht nur die besten Freunde seid die man sich vorstellen kann, sondern auch herausragende Hockeyspieler, war der Turniersieg schon fast logisch.

Wir können wirklich stolz sein was wir in 20 Jahren Flying Hoppers zusammen geschaffen haben. Ich freue mich schon auf die nächsten 20 Jahre!




Those comments sum it all up very nicely indeed!


May we see each other again on many future tours ….Vancouver in 2016/ Auckland in 2017 etc. etc.


Your scribe