Sunday, February 27, 2011

In Saigon, Day 3

I started my day early with updating my facebook status. The "universal" facebook is inaccessible in public wifi zone in Saigon. In my hostel, I can only access it from the free internet at the ground floor using the hostel's desktop computers. I intended to overtake other guests in the queue so I went down early and thought of taking the breakfast after that. Indeed, no long queue for internet accessing in the morning.

I stayed in the hotel until 10am in time for me to check out. I have one last visit to pay, that is in the War Remnants Musuem. I so wondered how attractive and interesting their musuem exhibits; it captured me and have me glued at reading almost all english translations. Everything exhibited inside and outside the musuem affected me deeply. It even altered a bit of my perception and impression of US of America in terms of political and social manueverings. I even related the war crimes in Vietnam with those in Afghanistan and Iraq spearheaded by USA.

I am glad I visited the musuem last for the fact that I spent about 2 hours studying the plight of Vietnamese, the Saigon natives especially, during the US invasion, and the nation's history as well. I have never been interested in history or musuems, but this one's different and left me so curious.

Here are some captured moments I had in the musuem:

The mega-machines purposely made for war
I was there!
The ruins made by war to Saigon

The machineries employed and mobilized by US troops to combat viet cong and unarmed civilian alike

Exhibit of guns and ammunitions of different sort used by American soldiers

That's the Vietnam War Crimes statistics

Check the comparative statistics between WW2, Korean War and Vietnam War
 As I strolled around on my way to and from the War Remnants Museum, I saw more of Ho Chi Minh City's attractions. What really impressed me is their use of the parks, indeed it is called people's park because citizens really make use of it day in and day out, weekdays and weekends. And what I would always remember Saigon is their common, meaning everyone's, mode of transportation --- motorbike. When I return to the Philippines, I will for sure associate motorbikes with Saigon or Vietnam.

A closer look of the notre dame cathedral

A temple at the corner; don't know if this is buddhist or taoist temple

Unique sculptures in the city culture park

Parking area solely for motorbikes

I know I would not dream of coming back to Saigon but it will surely become part of me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Conquering Saigon

In Saigon, Day 2

I wished I could start the day early, but exhaustion caught up on me. And then the day continued to annoy me many times in so many ways. I am sorry but it felt like my day was half successful.

I am supposed to pay my third day in the hostel through credit card because I ran out of vietnamese dongs I exchanged in the airport upon my arrival. But the lady receptionist (the owner as they said) declared that their card swiper is not functioning. I paid cash instead with what was left in my wallet. With that, I have to find a nearest money changer to compensate the lost VND374,000. I initially thought that money changers are crowding around Ben Thanh Market, a proclaimed touristy shopping center. However, there were none around (I did the circling of the market just to look for a money changer) so I went back to Pham Ngu Lao Street where my hostel was and I found one named "money exchange". I guess this is one reason why people I happened to ask didn't know what money changer is. Or maybe my english is hard for them to understand. My gosh! And so my Philippine peso was exchanged to VND at 310, way lower than the VND380-to-Php1.00 I exchanged at the airport. Nevertheless, I have to have cash to afford my tour of the day.

I climbed Bus No. 13 at Ben Thanh Market, as endorsed by, and headed to Cu Chi town for a price of VND5,000. I immediately transferred to Bus No. 79, the bus liner that will pass (fingers crossed) through the Cu Chi Tunnel. My notes on this tourist destination says "Chu Chi Tunnel", so I pronounced "chu" instead of "cu" everytime I asked somebody, Vietnamese natives of course. But they did not understand my inquiry. TUNNEL, I loudly stressed. Luckily, a girl at my backseat knew little english and confirmed that the bus indeed will pass through the entrance to the tunnel I was destined to visit. True enough, a huge signboards intermittently and strategically placed along the road guided me more and boosted my confidence. It said the tunnel is 22 kms away from the Cu Chi Town proper. That's how adventurous I am; yet lost in translation due to stupidity of misreading the word cu as chu. I paid VND4,000 for the fare.

The weather is very hot in the tunnel area and it majorly contributed to my exhaustion. After paying the VND80,000 entrance fee, I proceeded to the nearest restaurant to take the lunch of beef steak with vegetables and steamed rice, lemon juice as the accompanying drinks, costing me VND85,000 more.

Having regained the energy, I decided to pursue the tunnel experience. The tickets (4 types) were exchanged with an entry badge and amidst the forresty area I went and encountered other tourists.

The experience was really wonderful, the tunnel architecture is very creative, innovative, high-technical and impressive. The viet congs were aptly labeled as "rats". In short, the Cu Chi Tunnel cruising was and always is AMAZING! to me. It was worth visiting despite its remoteness from the Ho Chi Minh City proper. To give you the visual perspective, here I am outside, inside and around the tunnels:

Welcome! That's the entrance...

The very welcoming temple as you cross the fields to the tunnels

You can also have a closer look at pagoda within the area

This structure reminds me of one of the towers in the movie, Lord of the Rings

A very intricate graphics of a Vietnamese civilization inscribed in the colored tiles

Ah, that's me and the stupendous surroundings

Being playful in the bush on the way to the tunnel area, right after lunch

Notice the tag? That means I am through to the tunnel

Looks like I am one of the human-sized maniguins

Fitting into the most claustrophobic hole - the entrance to the tunnel

Yeah, I survived creeping inside the skimpiest hole of a tunnel 

Entering another hole; this time it's bigger and spacious and brighter

Got the picture? One can really fit into a tunnel

I can even take a pose inside it, hee hee hee

At the meeting room; I was granted the entrance and joined them (the maniguins)

Imagine yourself inside it... and you really have to try Cu Chi Tunnel; so worth the experience

Into the deeper tunnel I went

Read it: Hen gap lai! See you again...

The series of unfortunate events resumed as I went back to Ho Chi Minh from Cu Chi Tunnel. I climbed up a bus painted the same color as the one I rode earlier unmindful of the bus number. It bore the No. 70 instead of 79, which I only noticed several minutes later. I prayed that the bus will parked at the same terminal I disembarked earlier at Cu Chi Town. But it didn't; it halted beside Bus No. 122 at it arrived in an unknown terminal. I noticed that all my co-passengers boarded the Bus No. 122 but I did not join them. I appoached a sidewalk vendor, bought a bottled juice and asked what bus number should I ride to reach the city proper. But he pointed me to Bus 122. I hesitated because its signboard said a different destination, to An Suong (I can not remember the correct spelling). And I can not find it (the destination) in the map I was bringing. But I hopped in, giving in to Vietnamese, who for sure knew the way. I was so right! The bus halted at another terminal station --- meaning that I have to find and ride another bus one more time to reach the city. This time I confirmed first with the bus driver if the signboard Ben Thanh indeed refer to the Ben Thanh Market or anywhere near it. The lady collector of that Bus No. 65 answered yes.

I reached the hotel more exhausted for that very long drive home. And then the lady receptionist received us with shocking question: "You don't have room for tonight!" I initially find myself confused whether that was a question or a declaration. Oh my! I have noticed my stuffs scattered on the nearest bench beside the reception counter along with baggages of check-out guests. I told her I did pay this morning for the night's stay but she reasoned I did not leave my passport so she didn't know my room is still occupied. It is not my fault I told her for not leaving my passport, but the fact that I paid for the day is enough to keep the room for me. She gave me another room instead for 20USD saying that she gave the 17USD room to other guests. My golly! I grabbed my things and climbed up the assigned new room. I partly blame myself for not inquiring about the house rules, nevertheless, I have a bigger room and I did not bother paying her the difference.

My plight in Vietnam can be described as being "LOST: both in translation and direction". So for all who plan to visit Vietnam, particularly Ho Chi Minh City, make sure you have researched as much as everything and you should stay in nice hotels.

Friday, February 25, 2011

In Saigon, Day 1

I arrived in Saigon 30 minutes past midnight (1:30am in the Philippines) and found my targeted guesthouses to be fullybooked. Luckily someone took the liberty of finding me a room for a 4USD tip. I ended up at the rooftop room of Nga Hoang Hotel in Pham Ngu Lao St., District 1. It cost me 10USD for each night of stay.

Despite the lack of sleep, I rose from bed early to see Saigon in broad daylight. I started with the native pho as my breakfast and started walking around noontime. The humidity in Vietnam is manageable. Huge crowd riding a motorbike is everywhere. It's crazy but it's cute.

I followed the map I researched and my journey started at Ben Thanh Market, then Vincom Plaza, Notre Dame Cathedral, Reunification Palace, Xa Loi Temple, City Culture Park and forgotten to drop by the War Remnants Museum.

Walking is so fun, notwithstanding sweats, because you have the chance to observe the culture, the activities of the day, the unpublished attractions. I happened to notice the Saigon Cinema, a buddhist temple at a corner near that cinema, a hindu temple and more, particularly the cheering squad rehearsals at the City Culture Park.

See below the captured moments I have had in Saigon during my first day.

Remember that reminder. Okay?

A view of settlements from my window.

The early morning pho.

The only hostel available for the night, thus I booked it for 2 more nights.

The view (just an arc of 2-39 park) at the nearest corner from the hostel.

Streets are always packed with motorcycle riders, residents and aliens alike.

A site from the rotonda where the famous shopping centers (Ben Thanh Market and Saigon Tax Center) stand.

The intricate (with french-touch not -kiss) architecture of their city hall.

The only shopping mall I found to have western fastfood, the Popeyes. A relief from viet's pho foods.

The chance to take a clear view of and pose at the Notre Dame Cathedral.

At the Reunification Palace

Inside the auditorium of the Reunification Palace

You have to pay an entrance fee of 30,000VND to pass the towering steel gates around the Reunification Palace.

A chance to sit and relax for a while. I just don't know what the label says. That's actually what I am trying to capture in the photo.

My first view of a pagoda in Saigon. Interesting the Xa Loi Temple is!

That's a monument/icon made of evelasting flowers (exclude me).

A hindu temple so hidden along Tru'ong Dinh Street.
At night, sipping a saigon beer is refreshing. That was after I dined at the nearest KFC.
VNDs left after one day of being a millionaire

Their parks are so relaxing; perturbed only by street vendors insisting to sell coco fruit juice and a shineboy so persistent to shine my rubber shoes.