My Planted Tanks Using DIY CO2

I have always been an advocate for DIY CO2. I like the fact that I can stock up my CO2 ingredients and make CO2 immediately.

There are a lot of people still with the old perception that DIY CO2 is for the amateurs. They still have the idea that DIY CO2 is in soda soft drinks bottles.

Well, enough said. Pictures speak for themselves.

75 Gallon

75 gallon grass jungle aquarium with DIY CO2.
75 gallon Grass Jungle

This has got to be a tough one for DIY CO2 users. 75 gallons is a lot of water to inject CO2.

Before I was running 24/7 CO2 I used to run 4~6 bps.

Earlier days before it becomes a jungle.

Equipment used

Filters: 1x Fluval 306, 1x Fluval C2
Lighting: Fluval AquaSky
Air pump: Aqueal

75 gallon Grass Jungle
Lots of hiding places for the fishes and they like it.

24 Gallon

24 gallon Corner Tank

I have re-scaped this tank a few times. It was a disaster initially when my wife insisted on having Goldfishes in it. Then I had a nicely planted HC hills scape which suffered a major BGA outbreaks. And finally the above is its current state.

Thick growth of HC

11 Gallon

11 gallon Iwugami styled tank

This is a difficult tank from the beginning. It is a low profile tank. A lower profile means there is very little depth for the CO2 bubbles to interact with the water before reaching the surface.

Being low profile also means the light intensity is very high. High lights is an algae magnet. The only way to compensate is to blasts your CO2.

It once was a hairgrass scape
Start!
Rocks in!
First round of planting
Water cleared
Algae!
HC growing well!

16 Gallon

16 gallon Work-in-progress tank

This tank is for my office. It is still work in progress.

Filled up and cycling!
Plants were doing really well
Background carpeting really well
Plants were exploding out! Added some moss

24/7 CO2 Injection + Air Stone

One of the biggest discovery in my journey of keeping planted tank was the benefits of running CO2 24/7 with an air stone running 24/7 as well.

Not only was the tanks algae free, the water was crystal clear and the fishes were significantly more active.

Accidental Discovery

A year back, I was having a difficult time dealing with Blue Green Algae in my Cube tank. After eliminating the BGA and all sorts of algae problems, they some how reappeared again and again after treatments.

Tank after running CO2 24/7 with air tube.

The final attempt I made was to run my CO2 24/7. I wanted to eliminate the possibility of a CO2 deficiency as the main culprit to the problem.

The immediate worries I had were:

  • faster depletion of my DIY CO2
  • gassing of fishes during night time
  • wasted CO2 during night

Little Difference in CO2 Consumption

How can that be??

How can running CO2 24/7 have no impact on CO2 Consumption.

Below are my logs on the CO2 consumption for my 3 tanks of various sizes, all running CO2 24/7.

11 gallon tank

Running 10 hrsRunning 24/7
23 days19 days
26 days21 days
19 days21 days
21 days24 days

24 gallon tank

Running 10 hrsRunning 24/7
22 days20 days
22 days20 days
18 days19 days
19 days19 days

75 gallon tank

Running 10 hrsRunning 24/7
14 days11 days
19 days18 days
14 days17 days
13 days16 days
Noted: All my tanks runs on similar DIY CO2 high pressure reaction canister tank. All canister tanks' capacity is 2L with 200g citric acid + 200g baking soda + 300ml water.

As you can see from my log, the differences in CO2 consumption is not much different between running 10 hours per day and running 24/7.

Reduced Injection Rate

The reason is I am running a reduced rate when injecting for 24/7.

By running at a reduced injection rate, first, I eliminate the problem of gassing my fishes at night. Second, the same amount of CO2 can last just as long.

For my 75 gallon, I used to run about 4~6 bubble per second during photo-period. When injection 24/7, the injection rate was reduced to just 1.5 bps.

For my 24 gallon, I used to run about 2 bps during photo-period. Now I inject at just 0.5~1 bps.

For my 11 gallon, I now run 0.5 bps instead of 1bps.

CO2 Build-up Overnight

Next thing that will come to mind is with a reduced injection rate, how can CO2 be at intended level?

During the night, CO2 will build up since plants are not using them. Plants themselves and fishes contributed to CO2 as well. By morning the CO2 build-up is so high that my drop checkers are usually in the yellowish green.

All these are ready to be used for photosynthesis the moment the lights comes on at full. Throughout the day the CO2 build-up will gradually be used up by plants, while at the same time small amount of CO2 injection kept the depletion gradual.

By the end of 8 hours, the drop checkers were almost blue. Time for the lights to dim out. I dim to about 20% brightness for another 4 hours for viewing purposes.

Air Stones

When I was switching to injecting CO2 24/7, I also added air stones to all my tanks as an “Insurance” in case my fishes got gassed out.

I realised that with or without the air stones my fishes were fine.

However, through this experiment I also discovered that my 75 gallon tank which did not have any surface skimmer or much surface agitation has a crystal clear water surface! It used to have mineral films on the water surface but it is now clean and void of surface deposits!

Another discovery was the water became crystal clear! Although this did not happen overnight, but after a month or so, the water is crystal clear. I believe this is due to the fact that the water now is very aerated.

More Stable pH level

Another discovery was that the pH level of the water is more stable when running CO2 24/7 when compared to 10 hours of injection.

I attributed this to the fact that CO2 constantly on and the build-up of CO2 and depletion of CO2 is more gradual, and hence the pH fluctuation is also more gradual.

The starting and stopping of CO2 injection prior to lights on and an hour prior to lights out also tend to have higher pH swing in water. And you will also need to time your injection timing perfectly with photo-period and CO2 usage.

Bye Bye Solenoid

One of my biggest pain is the solenoid. It is not only expensive, takes up a precious electrical socket in a world where socket space is precious, it is also the weakest link in the entire CO2 system.

How often do you hear people complain about having their fishes gassed due to a failed solenoid.

When you inject CO2 24/7, you can save yourself a solenoid, AND a timer, AND free up a socket space!

Role of gaseous exchange in CO2 injection

Dennis Wong (Dennis Wong and Xiao Zhuang are the same person if you are wondering 😆) has a very nicely done up video on YouTube on this subject. And I think everyone interested in this subject should watch his YouTube Channel, particularly on this topic.

You can also check out his website The 2 Hr Aquarist. There’s tons of stuffs that I learned alot from.

Planted Tank Shopping List

I kept a list of my personal To-buy or Bought From Where items on my phone. I regularly check the list when I am at the LFS or shopping online.

Filtration

I am a fan of Fluval filters. There are not only have better exterior designs but they are a joy to clean and use. Never fail and very quiet.

External Canister Filters

Fluval Advanced Filtration System 🤤

This is Fluval’s latest in aquarium filtration. Absolutely amazing. Fluval’s engineers went to work on a clean sheet of paper and this is the result. I leave you to read for yourself.

HOWEVER! Since its launch, the sales volume is not the best Fluval would want to. It is currently selling at half its retail price everywhere.

I still cannot justify buying this right now although it is slightly more expensive than my Fluval 306. I’ve got mouths to feed and loans to pay. One of these days I’m gonna get my hands on one.

Fluval FX6 A219 Filter

This is the biggest you can get from Fluval. No need much introduction. The reviews were everywhere. Someone got it for $170 on Black Friday.

Fluval 106/206/306/406

The Fluval x06 family of external filters are the workhorse of the company. I own the 306 and the 206. Both are extremely quiet and efficient. Takes the maintenance cycle to beyond 2 months. The smaller 206 that I have has some issues with the valve level though.

HOB Filters

Fluval C2/C3/C4

The Fluval C series of hang-on back filters are ideal for quick maintenance. But make no mistake they are extremely efficient and reliable. I have all C2, C3, C4! I run a Fluval C2 in my 75g in addition to my 306. I use it to generate surface agitation as well as use it purely as a Purigen filtration and floss filtration. I run a C3 on my 11g and a C4 on my 14g. Some might say they are noisy but that’s because they do not know how to sit the impeller shaft properly. I will write a page on it later on.

Lighting

Chihiros RGB Series

Chihiros RGB Aquarium LED Light – Colorful for Plant and Fish Tank 25W Light 30-45cm (RGB-30)

I started with the Chihiros A Series for some of my tanks that requires medium/high lighting. However, the colours of the fishes are kind of washed out. So I decided to try the RGB series one day. And all I can say is, for this price, there is no other lights that will come close and still grow your plants.

Here’s the link to purchase on Amazon.

Chihiros A Series

The Chihiros A Series is what I will call beginner’s lighting for a planted tank. This light is the cheapest one can get for that kind of light output. PAR value is good but not the best for rendering colours. But one thing for sure the wavelength of the light is meant for planted tanks. It will grow anything you put under it. Construction is acceptable. Gets hot. But it grows plants.

Get it cheap from AliExpress! Amazing FREE shipping to USA!

Citric Acid & Baking Soda

For Singapore’s reader you can get citric acid at 500g pack from Poon Huat. They have 13 outlets island wide. They have 10% sales every Monday and Sunday. Prices at the point of writing is about SGD5.10. Baking Soda comes in 600g pack and cost just SGD1.80!

Get from Amazon

Get from eBay

10 lbs pack Citric Acid. Cheaper on eBay with free international shipping!

to be continued…

Removing Aquarium Blue Green Algae (BGA) Cyanobacteria

[Updated 27 October 2018]

THIS, has got to be the most hated nuisance in any aquarium.

You landed on this page for a reason. For the first time in your aquarium hobby life you have Blue Green Algae in your aquarium and it must be driving you nuts!

How to determine if it is BGA that you have

This algae is so notoriously a PITA that it even has its unique signature to go along with its reputation.

Visually

The BGA has the look of a web form that you will most likely find on the glass initially, forming from the substrate to a few cm above. Eventually, you will find in just a matter of days it has started to invade and cover the top of your carpeting plants. I did not find them growing any higher on mid-ground plants.

The BGA has the look of a web form that you will most likely find on the glass initially, forming from the substrate to a few cm above. Eventually, you will find in just a matter of days it has started to invade and cover the top of your carpeting plants. I did not find them growing any higher on mid-ground plants.

Signature Smell

The BGA has a very pungent musky woody smell. No other algae smell this bad. If you remove just a small piece and leave it in a container, the smell can cover the entire room the next day when it dried! 🤮

Removal

Physical Removal

When you try to remove it, a whole big piece will usually come out. And you must be thinking, gee that’s not so hard to physically remove BGA. But man you ain’t see nothing yet.

Within just one day the BGA will return with a vengeance! Determined not to be defeated by you the BGA grows easily twice as fast as your plants!

Water Change Ineffective

Large water changes in consecutive days are not effective against this beast.

Flourish Excel

Dosing Flourish Excel at 2x, 3x, or even 4x the recommended dosage will not even put a dent on this monster. Spot treatment only sees limited success but the thing will come back in a few days time.

Nuking with AlgaExit

I use Easy-Life AlgaExit as my last resort when I faced with overwhelming algae growth in my newly set up tanks. It works 99% of the time without causing any permanent damage and lost to life.

In the case of BGA, it’s no dice. ZIP. Doesn’t work.

Increasing Flow

I put in a 2000L/hr wave maker to see if improved circulation works but alas they are still there! !#$@W#$%

So What Works?

BLACKOUT Treatment

I was reluctant to do black out to my tanks as there are just too many hits and misses posted online about black out disaster. And I am just too lazy to tape up the tank, plus I cannot bear my fishes not eating for a few days and it could be the last time they see me or I see them, forever.

After exhausting all known methods I admit defeat and took the black out route.

The night before I wrapped the tank up I fed the fishes 4 times! Talking to them “eat well buddy, I will see you guys in a few days”.

I took a long hard look at each and every fishes for it may be the last time I will ever see them again.

Blue Green Algae BGA blackout treatment

I bought black trash bags, turn off the CO2, add in an air-stone, and tape the tank up. At night, I will open up a small pocket on the top to let air in (though I have air stone) just to aerate the surface.

THREE DAYS. Three freaking long anguish days I waited.

On the night of the third day when it was time to remove the thrash bags I unwrap the thrash bags thinking I would see my fishes long dead at the bottom of the tank.

Careful not to shock the fishes, I switched on a light some distance away so the fish would not be surprised by the sudden introduction of light.

One, two, three… all my fishes were there! So were the shrimps, the Otos, Whiptail Cats! ZERO CASUALTY!

It was still difficult to figure out if the BGA were gone as it was dim and I could still see dark patches on the HC Cuba where the BGA used to be.

After an hour of letting the fishes’ eyes get used to the lights, I switch on the aquarium light.

Wow, they were all dead! The BGA wasted!

BGA dead after blackout treatment
BGA wasted

The rest of the plants were even barely affected except for a patch of HC Cuba which was heavily covered in BGA before the blackout. The patch of HC were dead as well which I thought was already kinda dead when the BGA were blocking the lights anyway.

My HC bounced back in just 2 days and blooming after the blackout.

So if you are facing BGA as well, don’t waste time. Just do a blackout today.

NUKING WITH H2O2

H2O2 causing Blue Green Algae to bubble

WARNING: OVER DOSING H2O2 WILL CAUSE FISHES AND SHRIMP TO DIE.

For those of you who prefer to use chemical nuke, then it is H2O2 for you.

What is H2O2? Its name is Hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is mainly used in the world for bleaching pulp and paper. 😱 Don’t worry. H2O2 is deemed extremely environment safe. It will degrade into oxygen and water. And it is also used to sterilise surgical tools.

If you are still wondering how effective this hydrogen peroxide is against BGA, the answer is 100% lethal to BGA. Yes. BGA will be dead within seconds of exposing to this solution.

Where can I get H2O2/Hydrogen peroxide

As I found out, this chemical is not some exotic solution. Any supermarket or pharmacy should carry this solution. And it is cheap too. One thing to note is that the shelve life of H2O2 is very short. Discard any solution not use after 45 days.

How do I administer H2O2

Here comes the fun part, the revenge you have been waiting for.

Switch off all water pumper, power heads and filters 15 minutes prior to administering. This is IMPORTANT. What we are trying to achieve here is absolute stillness in water.

Next, use the formula of 1ml of H2O2 per 2 gallon as your guide. Extract the H2O2 using a syringe. Reach down to the area affected most by the BGA REALLY SLOW, making as little wake in the water as possible.

Squirt the H2O2 in short burst DIRECTLY onto the BGA. FIRE IN THE HOLE! Immediately you should see that micro bubbles forming under the BGA, on the BGA, and around the BGA! If the water is extremely still the entire are where you have squirted the H2O2 will begin to have chemical reaction.

Visually you should be able to see the affected area melt away. And within seconds, some how, the shrimps are all heading this way to feast on the BGA. I mean, under normal circumstances the shrimps wouldn’t even touch these BGA but now, it suddenly appears that the BGA is a hidden delicacy!

Once your squirting is done, just go fix yourself a cup of coffee and watch the bubbles. After 5 minutes or so when the bubbles stopped, it is time to perform your water change. Do not repeat this treatment until next week on your water change day again.

Repeat weekly treatment until all BGA are gone. You will also notice that areas not squirted by the H2O2 will see BGA dying off or retreating. Therefore it is not necessary to squirt H2O2 directly onto affected areas, just those heavily infected area.

Commercial Aquarium CO2 Reactor Review

One of the ways to inject CO2 into the aquarium is by using a reactor. Reactors are great way to inject CO2 because it promises high dissolving rate and almost no bubbles so your aquarium will not look like a soda. But the greatest advantage, from the point of DIY CO2 users, is you do not need to have high pressure in order to use a CO2 reactor. And you can also make your CO2 last much longer than using a diffuser.

However, CO2 reactors also have their down side. For one you will need to add additional powerheads in your aquarium and that is yet another piece of item in your tank besides your heater, surface skimmer, and what have you.

Dymax CO2 Diffuser MD-103



I bought this for my 75 gallon at first but found it too small for such a big tank. I later used it on my 20 gallon.

Dissolving Methods:

This is a simple reactor design whereby water flow will generate a vortex at the top of the reaction cylinder and CO2 comes into contact with high water flow and gets dissolved into the water. There are three spinning balls which are supposed to aid in further CO2 dissolving.

Setup:

I had a 800L/h water pump connected to the reactor using 1.5 big bubbles per second CO2 flow rate.

Results:

The reactor worked fine on the first day. Only two out of the three balls were spinning. The bottom ball became a hindrance to flow actually. CO2 level was in fact lesser than when using a atomizer diffuser.

I increased the CO2 flow rate to about 2 bubbles per second by the additional CO2 was not getting dissolved. The CO2 air pocket above the the reaction cylinder began building up and eventually escaped as undissolved big bubbles.

So with a 800L/h water pump the maximum CO2 injection was just 1.5 bubbles per second. IT wouldn’t  accept anymore. I was contemplating on using a higher flow water pump but that will make my tank into a washing machine.

On the third day, only the top most ball was spinning. And finally at the end of the third day all three balls stopped spinning.

After a quick clean I managed to get all three balls spinning again, but only to find the same problem after two days again.

Verdict:

This is one of the most affordable CO2 reactor in the market. If you have a small tank this will work just fine, if you don’t mind the constant cleaning.

Dymax CO2 Diffuser MD-107

I bought this after purchasing the MD-103 for my 75 gallon tank. The MD-103 was insufficient for such a big tank so I thought a longer MD-107 would do the job.

However, I was wrong. The MD-107 was a complete rubbish! The cylinder housing and the rolling balls are too tight. As a result the balls cannot spin at all!

Results:

I was unable to get this to work because of an apparent design flaw.

Verdict:

Do not buy! It should be removed from the shelf in the first place!

ISTA External Turbo Co2 Reactor Diffuser

Well, I must say this reactor looks kind of similar to the Sera one. I did not have good experience with this reactor.

Dissolving Methods:

The intake is from the side together with the CO2. Water and CO2 upon entering the housing will be met with two blades. The velocity of the water entering will propel the blades.

The revolving blades will stir the water and cause CO2 to be dissolved into the water. Water then escaped by entering from the bottom of the center tube. CO2 will be kept floating at the top unless they are dissolved into the water.

First, it takes 12/16 inch tubing, and none of my existing Fluval canister filters uses 12/16. The only filter I have that uses 12/16 tubing is a Shiruba filter.

Setup:

Next problem, my Shiruba filter did not have enough flow rate to power this reactor. So I gathered all my tube reducer and used a 800L/hr water pump to push it. But it is quite futile. The water upon entering the reactor slowed to a trickle. No dice.

Then I used a 1000L/hr powerhead and managed to turn the blades in the reactor. Nice. But somehow the air pocket within the reactor cannot escape. After an hour the air pocket was still there. And I am beginning to lose my patience. Time to refer to the user manual, but the only problem is, there’s none!

On an obscure corner on the box, there is a line that stated that I will need to invert the reactor to eliminate the air pocket.

With all those tubing, inverting the reactor is next to impossible! After a lot of trouble I managed to get rid of the air pocket.

Disaster struck the next day. I found myself staring at a fish tank 3/4 filled with water. The reactor has developed a leak overnight. I did not isolate the leak but after dismantling and reassembling the reactor the leak was no longer there.

As one problem get solved another surfaced. Just after two days some debris got into the reactor and the blades were not spinning as fast as they used to.

Verdict:

I never get it to work in the end, but if you do, please let me know how it performed. Too much hassles in my opinion.

ISTA Max Mix CO2 Reactor

This is one of the better reactor around. The price was really cheap and it dissolved CO2 well.

Dissolving Methods:

Water enters from the top at the side and turns two blades. CO2 is enters from the top and stay on the top.

As the blades turn CO2 gets dissolved into the water which then escape by enter the center shaft tube from the bottom.

Setup:

I use a 900L/hr power head to power this reactor. The reactor comes with a L tube which you should affix to the top to deflect the outflow.

Results:

There was not much visible bubbles. Blades ran well with a 900L/hr power head. Occasionally you will need to do simple flushing to get rid of debris.

The downside of this reactor, the intake is from the side and outflow is on the top. WTF? You will need to fit the 90 degree pipe to deflect the flow. Also the suction cup position is awkward. It forced you to run the reactor in certain direction only. The reactor is also VERY BIG. On my 75 gallon it look like a sore thumb. I could not hide it in the background because of the suction cups’ position.

But the main problem that I faced was the fact that it cannot dissolve enough CO2 for my 75 gallon tank. When I turned up the CO2, the reactor kind of reached a threshold for dissolving, and the gas just accumulated until it get ejected into the water as giant bubble. Changing to a higher flow rate power head resulted in the tuning getting lose because the piping diameter is really small. Relocating to a smaller tank was not possible as the flow rate to power this reactor will make your tank like a washing machine, and the size of this thing makes smaller tank implementation undesirable.

Verdict:

A poor-man reactor, can be cheaper than DIY reactor. However, big foot print and mismatched flow rate makes this reactor undesirable for neither large tank nor smaller tank.

Huey Hung Aquarium CO2 Power Atomizer

This is an accidental find actually. I was looking for a high pressure DIY CO2 canister on Taobao when one of the recommended searches displayed this reactor.

I now have these reactors in ALL my tanks!

Dissolving Methods:

Strictly speaking, it is being marketed as an atomizer rather than a reactor. But the way I see it, it is some sort of a hybrid Cerges reactor cum atomizer. It creates both CO2 saturated water as well as micro bubbles.

It has its own impeller that spin water rather than depends on an existing flow from your filter or powerhead.

The actual working of this reactor is still unclear though. The main reactor housing consists of an atomizing cup, an intermediate chamber, and an inner chamber! 3 chambers in total!

Water is being sucked into the inner chamber via an opening at the bottom. CO2 is then mixed and forced out at high pressure into the intermediate chamber. In the intermediate chamber undissolved CO2 is further mixed with the water before being expelled out into the atomizing cup.

In the atomizing cup, new water flowing in is again mixed with exiting water which is already mixed with CO2.

This repeated mixing and expelling forced a high level of CO2 to be dissolved into the water. And due to the high pressure created within the chamber, CO2 are forced to dissolved into the water and when the water exits from the chamber, the pressure drops and CO2 return to gaseous state forming extremely fine micro bubbles. The result is a highly CO2 saturated water as well as micro bubbles.

Results:

The size of this reactor is still acceptable, and it comes in two different flow ratings. A 400 L/Hr or 600 L/Hr but the dimensions are identical.

In my 11g low profile tank I used the 400 L/Hr reactor. Running CO2 at about 1.5 bps, the CO2 are almost completely dissolved. Some CO2 escaped in the form of fine bubbles and was not visible from far.

In my 20g tank I used the 600 L/Hr reactor. Running CO2 at about 2 bps, the CO2 are completely dissolved.

In my 75g I used the 600 K/Hr reactor. Running CO2 at 4-5 bps, I get micro bubbles.

The manufacturer claims that the reactor is good up to 20 bps!

Overall this has got to be the best commercial CO2 reactor/diffuser I have ever used.

The biggest plus for me is that it is efficient and you do not need to connect to a powerhead or slow the flow by using the canister’s outflow. The footprint is small and you can easily hide it in the background. It is the most ideal for my low profile tank where additional power heads is not possible. In addition, I am running a HOB filter whereby I cannot use any inline atomizer or reactor.

One other function stated in the user manual is that if you invert the reactor and place it near the surface, it becomes a protein skimmer!!??

I believe the biggest problem for most reader is you cannot find it anywhere else online except Taobao.

[Updates]

Recently I came across a model that is quite similar and it is available on Amazon. It is worth check it out.

Which taxi to take in Saigon?

In Vietnam, taxi is the number one complaints for tourists and expats. Ripped off a trip, going in circles, and being robbed off are all too often and are daily affairs.

In Ho Chi Minh City, the taxis are divided into two categories, company operated taxis and private taxis.

Private Taxis

I will touch on private taxis first. AVOID, at all cost, even if it means you have to walk back to your hotel.

These taxis are unregulated. There are no background check done, and there is nothing to stop them from over charging you or even hurting you with force.

These taxis lurk around in tourist spots like train station, outside popular bars and pubs at night, bus station, just to name a field.

They will try to disguise their taxi as a legit ones with taxi company’s phone number written outside their taxi, or have extremely similar or similarly but not exact taxi company’s name decal stick to their taxi. For example, I have seen Vinasum taxi, Vinnasun taxi, VinSun taxi. (The legit taxi should bear the name Vinasun.) You name it.

The easiest way to identify these taxis are by their puny little meter. The first thing you will notice upon entering these taxis is that the interior of the taxi is run-down. And the driver is not in uniform.

Vietnam Dodgy Taxi
Dodgy taxi in Vietnam

Company Operated Taxi

Even company operated taxis are not safe to be honest. Even my wife (a Vietnamese) is afraid to travel on certain companies’ taxis.

There used to be just two companies operated taxis which are safe to take, namely Vinasun and MaiLinh. But these days, the locals are giving Mai Linh a missed as well. So that just left us with Vinasun.

Forget about Saigon Tourist Taxis. These taxis are driven by thugs. They tout at the airport and some downtown 5 star hotels. These are their turfs. Other taxis are prohibited from picking up guests there. I have seen other cabbies beaten up by these Saigon Tourist Taxis.

And these thugs also threatens passengers when they refused to pay tip. They will routinely refuse to give you back any change. They will almost always take the longest routes. And I have reasons to believe their meters are tampered with. There’s just too many horror stories that I have heard. So just avoid them completely.

If the hotel you stay in happens to have these thugs as the official taxi, just walk out to the main street and hail a taxi.

Vinasun

The safest by far is Vinasun taxi. Mostly honest day to day work horse of Saigon. They have strict policies that will see you being erased as a driver if you receive more than 3 complaints from passengers.

Their taxi is their only livelihood for most. And I have spoken to many whom spent every night sleeping in their taxi, only to return home for a shower and meal and off they go again picking up passengers. By sleeping in their taxis, first they ensure nothing can be stolen from the taxi (like side repeater light! Trip meters!). Second, their home are probably rented and really small, so by sleeping in their taxi at night ensures their wife and children get more room to sleep.

How to spot and recognise a legit Vinasun taxi.

Aquarium DIY CO2 High Pressure Canister Tank

CO2 Becomes Affordable

A typical DIY CO2 high pressure reaction canister with single stage regulator.

When I first saw this thing on Taobao, it just blew my mind away.

As a DIY CO2 planted tank owner, you will know the bane of low or inconsistent pressure produced by existing kits in the market. And most DIY CO2 setup will hardly last a week. Furthermore, DIY CO2 lacks the pressure to deploy atomizer diffuser. (Atomizer diffuser can produce really nice micro bubbles. Micro bubbles dissolves into water much faster and efficiently than large bubbles.)

This canister replaces your soda bottles A and B. It is now a single phase reaction camber. The pressure produced is good for any kind of diffuser in the market and the pressure is consistent enough to provide weeks of stable CO2.

Growing HC carpet with DIY CO2 is now possible.

Construction

The tank is made of high grade stainless steel. The tank also received a good high shine polish.The overall build quality is very good and sturdy – very untypical of Chinese made products.

In fact the tank looks so good that you can have it displayed alongside your aquarium without being a sore-eye.

The recommended safety level is 25kg/cm2, which is 5 times of those soda bottles. A standard reaction will create 20kg/cm2 of pressure for a 2L tank and can last more than 2 weeks for typical use.

I do not recommend exceeding the recommended amount of ingredient of 200g citric acid and 200g baking soda.

My Dwarf Hairgrass in a 60cm low profile tank.

Package Content

The cannister came with the below items:

  • a set of 6 sets of baking soda (200g) and citric acid powders (200g).
  • a bubble counter with built-in check valve.
  • airline tube with suction cup.
  • a base stand.
  • a small 300ml plastic measuring cup
  • a small funnel.

There are options (combo) for an electric solenoid, ceramic diffuser, co2 checker, etc. They will usually label them as “set meal A, set meal B, etc.”

Tao Bao?

For readers who resides in US or Europe, the words Tao Bao may sounds foreign to you. Tao Bao is the largest online store in Asia. It used to be the only place you can buy this high pressure canister.

Furthermore, the site is in Chinese only! Although Tao Bao has begun selling and shipping to customers overseas, they will not ship this canister to customers residing overseas.

How to buy

In Asia, third-party Tao Bao purchasers are blooming everywhere. These third-party purchasers will purchase items on customers’ behalf and ship items to customers residing overseas.

Typically you will need to sign up on the purchaser’s website. Then you will copy and paste the Tao Bao’s URL of the item you are interested in buying. The purchaser will then require you to make a payment for the item.

Once payment is made, the purchaser will proceed to place the order under their account. The item then gets shipped to the purchaser’s warehouse in China.

Once they have received your item in their warehouse they will notify you and you will then need to make a second payment for shipping.

I have compiled a list of third-party Tao Bao purchasers here.

Shipping Issues

Two of my third-party Taobao purchasers refused to purchase this item on my behalf. Only one shipping agent agreed to ship for me after a lengthy description of what the item was and what it does.

You will need to inform your purchaser that the canister is an EMPTY tank. There is no pressure inside the tank. It also helps to inform them that this tank is for aquarium hobby or for DIY CO2.

And I also had to discard the accompanying baking soda and citric acid powder because it will highly impede port clearance speed. (As of May 2017 all agents prohibit shipping of powder substance of any type.) Any powder that accompany with other items WILL be detained for inspection. So if I want, I had to ship the powder separately and had them declared separately.

Air freight is not possible due to international shipping regulation.

It took about 2 weeks by sea freight to reach me. And that must be the longest wait in my life. But when I got it, the feeling was tremendous.

Another HC tank!

Where and how to get it

Currently, to my knowledge, there are only two online retailers you can buy the canister from. AliExpress and Tao Bao.

AliExpress

Please be warned that the prices on AliExpress is 3~4 times more expensive than Tao Bao although they are perceptually the same merchants. The variety and number of merchants selling are also extremely limited.

The AliExpress merchants will settle for you the shipping. Shipping cost is usually not included for USA and Europe. Shopping on AliExpress is safe and they have insurance and dispute centers. So far I have not encountered any problems since I started purchasing items on AliExpress.

Click here for the link to the AliExpress merchants selling the canisters.

Tao Bao

Tao Bao is a maze to navigate. It lacks navigational studies and its website is extremely cluttered.

I understand a lot of my readers are non Chinese so I have created some links below so you can jump immediately into the link and use it for your third-party Tao Bao purchasers.

Feng Kuang Shui Cao

Feng Kuang Shui Cao
疯狂水草CO2钢瓶水草DIY二氧化碳发生器

Available in 1L, 2L, and 4L canister tanks.

Cheapest starts from USD50.

Source city: Beijing

URL: https://detail.tmall.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.6.3cd8762bZx1qMG&id=562557848008&cm_id=140105335569ed55e27b&abbucket=12&skuId=3900574307548

CHOFA

CHOFA
臣凡 二氧化碳发生器 diy自制反应钢瓶

Available in 1L, 2L, and 4L canister tanks.

Cheapest starts from USD34

Source city: Wenzhou

URL: https://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.20.3cd8762bZx1qMG&id=557486907742&ns=1&abbucket=12#detail

Wu You

Wu You
无忧鱼缸二氧化碳CO2发生器

Available in 2L canister tanks.

Cheapest starts from USD42

Source city: Beijing

URL: https://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a1z10.5-c-s.w4002-21116352494.16.34509e35TxuUFB&id=534870751535

Wan Jia Bao Bei

Wan Jia Bao Bei
玩家宝贝CO2钢瓶水草DIY二氧化碳发生器

Available in 2L canister tanks. Available in single or dual stage regulators.

Cheapest starts from USD44

Source city: Guangdong

URL: https://detail.tmall.com/item.htm?spm=a230r.1.14.15.6c8522f30NSoGc&id=574850706844&ns=1&abbucket=12&skuId=3764061888575

How to Set up

To get things going, the setup is very fast and easy. Much faster than the Bottle A + Bottle B citric acid baking soda setup.

Step 1: Unscrew the regulator from the tank.

Step 2: Pour in 200g of citric acid powder.

Step 3: Pour in 200g of baking soda.

Step 4: Pour 300ml of water at a 45 degree angle.

Step 5: Screw back the regulator.

Before you pour in the water, make sure the regulator is readied by your side. The moment the water hits the ingredient the reaction is instantaneous.

Immediately you could feel the tank turning cold! Cold enough to have condensation around the tank. The pressure gauge shot to 10kg/cm2 instantly. After a few hours I managed to get 20kg/cm2 of CO2 in the tank! Holly cow!

The screwing back of the regulator can sometimes be challenging especially when you can feel the pressure gushing out. PANIC!

Stay calm and make sure the regulator’s thread fits the tank nicely or you risked damaging the screw threads.

One trick is to use ice instead of water. Measure 300 ml of water and pour them into small tray that makes small cubes. So the reaction will only start when the ice melts.

This way you can take your own sweet time to screw the regulator back in place. However, do note that if you use ice instead of water the pressure build up will take about 1 hour to reach 10kg/cm2, and no less than 4 hours to reach 20kg/cm2. This is because of the low temperature. When the canister return to normal room temperature is when the pressure will reach 20kg/cm2.

Operation

The regulating valve knob is also very smooth and precise. I can fine tune it to achieve 1 bubble per 4 seconds! And it held the rate true throughout the day weeks in operation.

When I changed from using an atomizer to a reactor to inject CO2, I managed to get 22 days of CO2 running at 2 big bubbles per second for 14 hours per day!

This is because when using an atomizer, towards the end of the tank the pressure will drop below the minimum working pressure to power an atomizer. However, the pressure within the tank is still sufficient to power a reactor for another 4 days at least!

Good luck!

[Update March 2018]

I have since upgraded all my soda bottles DIY CO2 to the high pressure canister tanks!
[Update May 2018]

After converting from diffusers to a CO2 reactor, I managed to get 22 days of CO2 running at 2 big bubbles per second running for 14 hours a day for my 20 gallon, and 23 days for my 11 gallon running at 1.5 big bubbles for 14 hours a day!

Check out my commercial CO2 reactor review here. When using a diffuser or atomizer, towards the end of the tank the pressure will drop below operating pressure for ceramic diffuser or atomizer. However, if you use a reactor, the minimum working pressure is low and you can actually get another 4 more days or more!
75 gallon Grass Jungle
75 gallon Grass Jungle with DIY CO2

Tanks details in this page

Dwarf Hairgrass tank equipment list

Tank size: 60cm x 30cm x 24cm 43 litres or 11 US gallon
Light: Aquael Slim Leddy
Filter: Fluval C3
CO2 Diffusion: INTENSE fine mist Atomizer
CO2 Indicator: UP Aqua CO2 Indicator
Substrate: ADA Amazonia
Water pump: 180L/H
Cooling fan: Dymax Vortex Cooling Fan
Surface skimmer: Eheim Skim 350 Surface Skimmer

Iwagumi tank with HC equipment list

Tank size: 60cm x 30cm x 24cm 43 litres or 11 US gallon
Light: Chihiros A Series
Filter: Fluval C3
CO2 Diffusion: INTENSE fine mist Atomizer
CO2 Indicator: UP Aqua CO2 Indicator
Substrate: ADA Amazonia
Cooling fan: Dymax Vortex Cooling Fan
Surface skimmer: Eheim Skim 350 Surface Skimmer

Cube Tank equipment list

Tank size: 45cm x 45cm x 45cm 91 litres or 24 US gallon
Light: Aquael Slim Leddy
Filter: Fluval 206
CO2 Diffusion: INTENSE fine mist Atomizer
CO2 Indicator: Generic Glass Drop checker
Substrate: ADA Amazonia
Circulation pump: 180L/H generic water pump
Cooling fan: Dymax Vortex Cooling Fan
Surface skimmer: Eheim Skim 350 Surface Skimmer

The Vietnamese Dong

The Vietnamese currency is the đồng, and it is represented by the symbol ₫.

A rough guide: US$1 = VND20,000. Yes, that’s 20 thousands Dong. Well technically it is about US$1 = VND22,000 but rounding off makes it easier to remember and calculate.

A common myth: You can use US dollars freely and they are legally accepted.

Can I Use US Dollars in Vietnam?

Legally, all transaction must be done in the dong. But almost everyone will accept the greenback. However, using the dollar does not necessarily mean that you are getting an upper hand.

If you use US dollars to pay a street vendor, he will give you a crappy exchange rate and you cannot even bargain, or you will not even get any change back! And even if the rate is poor your mind will be racing like mad trying to figure out how much will that be in your local currency.

If you go to a restaurant and request to pay in US$, you will get one of the worst exchange rate in this world. The only time you will get a better exchange rate is when you change your money with a black market money exchanger.

So just use DONG. I only use US dollars when I want to buy something expensive and carrying the equivalent of DONG will mean carrying two kilos of money in my backpack, and waiting 20 minutes for the staff to count the notes.

As the Vietnam Dong is not an international traded currency, whatever rate you get back home cannot match those money changer in Vietnam. You may want to change US$50 at home so you can use it for taxi, purchase a drink, etc.

The largest Dong denomination is VND500,000. Haha, yes half a million dong. That is about US$25. So imagine buying a air conditioning units that cost US$2,000. Always ask for smaller denomination if possible. Taking a short taxi trip will only cost VND30,000 and if you give the driver a VND500,000 note he will just shrug and tell you he has no change for that, or worse short change you, or worst will not give you any change back.

For tipping, it is fine if you tip in your own nation’s currency or US dollars.

So after you have settle in your hotel you can then hunt for the best exchange rate. I have a page on where to exchange money in Saigon (the old name for Ho Chi Minh City).

Where to get the best exchange rate in Saigon

Which Hotel to Stay in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon

Location dictates the prices of hotels. In HCMC most of the hotels concentrate in District 1. In HCMC the city is divided into districts. District 1 is the city center (Click here for city map). Stay here.

Don’t stay at places near the airport or other districts. The prices are not that much different most of the time, and the daily taxi fare will make it worth staying in District 1. In addition, most taxi drivers are familiar with every street and hotels. If you stay outside district 1 half the time your taxi will have difficulties understanding which street you are heading to. Furthermore, legit taxi are hard to come by outside of district 1.

In District 1, the most convenient place to stay will be the immediate area around Ben Thanh Market. The next best area will be Pham Ngu Lao (backpacker) area. These two locations have the most concentrated amount of convenient stores, money changer, shops, restaurants, etc.

Saigon District Map
HCMC District Map

Others may convince you to stay across the river in district 2, 4, or in district 3 or 5. Just say no. Maybe on your second or third trip you can try those after you get an idea how the city is like and get your orientation right. For now, just stick with the above two areas.


Vietnamese lesson: 
Ben Thanh (sounds like Burn Ton in English). The local calls it Chợ Bến Thành, Chợ meaning market. 

Phạm Ngũ Lão (sounds like Farm Ngoo Lao) is the backpacker's zone with plenty of budget hotels, bars, pubs, restaurants, etc. Phạm Ngũ Lão is the name of a general from the Tran Dynasty

5/4 Stars Hotels

hmm… nothing to say about them. Great locations, English speaking staffs, comfy beds. They are all the same everywhere. Where’s the adventure? However, it can also be daunting for a first timer to Asia to stay in smaller hotels. And a well established international hotel can offer a great get away from the dust and chaotic traffic noises of HCMC.

I will only recommend two hotels here (for now). The first is New World Saigon which is absolutely value for money and fabulous location, the other is the Park Hyatt which is the most expensive and luxurious but also the best (and relatively cheap for a Hyatt).

New World Saigon Hotel – 5 Star

When my folks were there to visit me, they always like to stay in New World Saigon Hotellocated within walking distant to Ben Thanh Market along 76 Le Lai Street in District 1.

To the north east are rows of restaurants, shops. To the west is a big park and there is a very popular bar – 17 Saloon that offers 2 floors of live music playing rock on the ground floor and pop music on the third.

Just beside the New World Saigon is the AB Tower. At the very roof top of this building is an awesome bar called Chill SkyBar. It offers a breathtaking view of HCMC night view.

The hotel is one of the older established hotels in HCMC, but its room recently got renovated and it is a huge improvement from what it used to be. And typical for a 4 star hotel is it has got a swimming pool!

Sometimes I managed to book a room for my folks at US$120! For a (old) 5-Star hotel, that’s a bargain! And it is also the nearest decent 4/5-star hotel in the Ben Thanh Market area.

For your information, former US President – Bill Clinton used to stay in this hotel when he visited Saigon!

You can get a huge discount from Agoda here.

Park Hyatt Saigon – 5 Star

The Park Hyatt Saigon is the best hotel to stay in HCMC, period.

When some of my more affluent friends pay me a visit, they always choose this hotel. It is glittering and shiny inside out. It has everything that spells expensive. And it is expensive, and of course it is a Hyatt. Costing you no less than US$200.

Location wise, it is near ‘High Street’ of Saigon – Dong Coi. It is surrounded by high end shops and restaurants, but there are still affordable restaurants just across the street.

To the north east along Hai Ba Trung Street, hidden away in a alley are some fine restaurants and bars. To the south east just across the parking space is the Lion Restaurants which has a micro brewery facility serving freshly brewed beer and sausages.

There is also a good Chinese restaurant Hoàng Long that serves traditional Cantonese food and tim sum up till 3 am in the morning! A favourite hang out for people after going to the clubs. You can find really attractive ladies here late in the night!

The only gripe I have is that the area is dominated by Saigon Tourist taxi (operated by thuggish drivers).

Agoda offers some discount for Park Hyatt, but some discount is better than none.

2/3 Stars

Actually there are no 2/3 stars hotels. The only ones that are close to 3 stars are the Liberty Group of hotels littered around HCMC district 1.

But do not get discouraged by the 2/3 Star hotels. They are the main stream hotels and are extremely competitive in pricing and services. Every staff will be eager to please you. This should be your first choice of accommodation. It will give you a real experience and not burn a hole in your wallet.

If you have the budget I would recommend Liberty Central Hotel (Liberty 6 or Que Huong 6). It is along the main street of Le Thanh Ton and just beside the landmark Ben Thanh Market. Lots of cheap and great food around, clean and decent massages, manicure and pedicure. The Liberty group of hotels are really run properly and decent. I feel safe and CLEAN staying in their hotels. No I am not related to them. Every time my wife (a Vietnamese) will INSIST that we stay in Liberty Hotels.

Liberty Saigon Greenview

Another great hotel with good location will be Liberty Saigon Greenview. Located in the backpacker district in Pham Ngu Lao.

The reason it is call Greenview is because you can see the huge park just across the street.

This is my choice of stay every single trip. Why it is great?

First of all, for me, it is just beside Phuong Trang (Foong Chang) bus terminal. Our family always take their coach back to my wife’s home town in Ben Tre City. When I wrote beside, I mean really mean BESIDE! Not walk 50 meters turn right walk another 50 meters…. Phuong Trang bus goes to all parts of Vietnam. Air conditioned coach with great safety records. No sleepy bus drivers. No ego speeding drivers. Just good and safe.

Second, the rooms are slowly getting renovated and they are clean and spacious. Clean sheets are very important for my wife as she inspect them and make sure they are clean and new. We used to stay in local budget hotels and ever since she discovered the sheets were not changed from the previous guests, that was the end of our stay in local budget hotels.

Third, the staffs are really friendly. My wife likes the staffs. You can request them to buy you a bowl of hot Pho from around the corner and delivers to your room on a rainy Tuesday MIDNIGHT! Of course you need to tip them. I will talk more about how tipping will double your joy in Vietnam later on.

Fourth, the Pham Ngu Lao area is always busy with activities, noisy bars, music bars, English speaking shops and Xe OM, food, tour agents, pharmacies, art alley, convenient stores, rent a bike, SIM cards, photocopying, my… I live in this area for a while before returning home. I KNOW this place.

Again you can get fabulous discount from Agoda, most of the time I paid just US$30-40 per room!!! Some how I realised that Agoda also give superb discount for Liberty Group of Hotels. Most of the time it is 30-40% off.

Other Hotels

Another great local hotel group will be A&EM hotels (Ah Em). Their locations are not too bad, quite comfy rooms, but some times the receptionists are not as friendly, or you may get a receptionist who cannot converse well in English.

Another problem is some times if you return late at night the receptionist and the “concierge” or bell boy are sleeping in the hallway. You will need to knock on the door to wake them up to open the main door for you. Now don’t you laugh, a lot of the local hotels are runned this way.

Vietnamese Lesson
Hotel written in Vietnamese is khách sạn ("karc sunk").
Ben Thanh Market is written as Chợ Bến Thành ("jer burn ton").

Airbnb

I have not tried Airbnb stay, yet, and the reason is that their prices are way more expensive that staying in a hotel and a lot of their locations are just lousy. In addition, having been lived in Vietnam’s residential estates, my number one concern is security.

You cannot sleep in peace without double checking all your windows are closed and secured, doors locked, double locked, latched, and the balcony’s drainage cleared of debris or otherwise you will wake up in a pool during rainy nights.

The trouble with booking a hotel in Vietnam is the language barrier or they practice price discrimination against western tourists. Even as an Asian tourist you will also face similar fate. Even for someone like me who speaks fluent Vietnamese I still prefer to book via Agoda. Not only their rate is always BETTER than walk in rates, the information provided on Agoda website is extremely helpful for making a right decision, especially the MAP! If a hotel is not listed on Agoda, then don't bother at all. 

Please help me by clicking on the banner below if you are seriously looking for a hotel, as I can get a referral fee which helps me fund my yearly hosting and domain name fee. TIA!

Next: Vietnam – What to Expect As a Tourist