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Welcome to my blog!
I am sharing stories of my trips and providing some tips in case you also want to travel.
This is also a photo blog, so I hope you like the candid photos I have taken from different places!

Thank you for visiting my blog.

- CB (freezymenthol)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Saigon, Vietnam - An Unlikely Holiday Destination

Again, Cebu Pacific Piso Sale, and with all of the folks booking Singapore and Hong Kong which gets sold out in a blink of an eye, we decided to book in one of the most unlikely destinations to visit, Saigon.


Saigon, or now known as Ho Chi Minh City was just more than an hour's away with the plane just crossing South China Sea. Before coming to Vietnam, it is best to print out your hotel address in English, Viet and Chinese languages so that when you arrive in Saigon just present it to the taxi driver. Taxi is the BEST option when commuting around the city.

Busy side streets of Saigon.  Be prepared with a LOT of scooters.

Things to bring:
  • Light clothes, since Saigon is has a tropical climate like Manila
  • Extra money, that is if you intent to shop at Ben Thanh Market
  • Camera
  • Raincoat or jacket if you intent to visit June onwards
Upon arrival you would notice how interesting the traffic situation is in Saigon. The motorcycles really outnumber the cars. So if you think Manila's traffic is bad, think again. You will have a hard time crossing the street. The technique in crossing the street would just to put forwardas motorcyles would just avoid you by swerving onto the opposite direction.
Whenever I go to Singapore, Seoul or Hong Kong, I normally create my itineraries and avoid the group tour. But in this case, I would suggest that you set up a tour with an agency because this is more convenient here in Saigon. Here are some interesting places to visit before you exhaust all your money in shopping at Ben Thanh Market. Here's a preffered agenda
Day 1 (Whole day): Mekong Delta Tour
We opted to take the Ben Tre Tour since this is the most inexpensive of all tours. We are fetched by a van at 8:00am with an English-speaking tour guide. While passing along the busy streets of Saigon and towards Ben Tre, the tour guide was explaining the recent history of Saigon, the war and how the city came back to life.






The drive would take about 2 hours from Ho Chi Minh to the Mekong Delta which is known as the rice bowl of Vietnam. Upon arrival, we took a boat cruise around islets and tropical orchards through the canal of Vam Xep and reached a small islet, followed by a relaxing walk along shady and palm fringed trails passing by local villages where we saw their peaceful daily life. We also vistied a bee farm along the way and had a special tea with honey and sample fruits with a local family and share their stories of life in the Mekong Delta. We also had a chance to ride a horse-drawn cart that took us to a handicraft village, a coconut candy factory. After that we took a gondola and rowed through the tree-lined canals of Mekong River before returning to My Tho by motorized boat.
The we had our lunch at local restaurant on before heading back Saigon
For more details on this tour, you may refer to this website (below) or just make reservations at the hotel.
http://www.vietnamstay.com/tour/mekongdelta.htm

Day 2 (Whole day) Cu Chi Tunnel Tour
A trip to Saigon would never be complete if you have not experienced the Cu Chi Tunnel. Just like the Mekong Delta River Tour, this trip would almost take an entire day.



Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnel was the highlight of my trip in Saigon


Entering one of the tunnels


Cu Chi is about 40 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam and the trip would take abut 2 hours, so its better to join on guided tours rather than commuting by a bus.
A Tank of display in Cu Chi Tunnels

Some traps made by the Vietcong

The entrance fee in the complex is 80000 VND. Upon entering the complex you will be briefed at one of the make shift bunkers on how the Cu Chi Tunnels were built and what the purpose of the tunnels were. You get to experiencing squeezing in those narrow tunnels as if you were oart of Vietcong Army during the Vietnamese War.

For this trip, better bring some bottled water and extra clothes because crawling through the tunnels will be very dirty - but that is what you paid for basically.
  
There's also a rifle range at one stop of the tunnel tour, and you can try it out as well.

Day 3 City Tour
Reunification Palace

This is a very symbolic place in Vietnam's modern history.  The Reunification Palace was the seat of government of South Vietnam before it surrendered to the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army.  This is now houses great memorabilias of the Vietnam War.

Reunification Palace

Status of Ho Chi Minh

Front of the Reunification Palace

Conference Room
One of the tanks that came inside Reunification Palace during the fall of Saigon

War Remnants Museum
They say that whoever wins the war tells the story, and no other way to cement that statement by going to the War Remnants Musuem.  Be warned, there are a lot of graphic images in the museum showing US war crimes.  But this is the side of the Vietnamese People and how they perceived the war to be.
War Remnants Museum
War Remnants Museum


Notre Dame Cathedral

Just within walking distance in the central city area, Notre Dame Cathedral stands as a reminder of the French Colony in Indochina.  When we went there, several couples were doing pre-nuptial photoshoots.  It was just fascinating to see that even in a Communist country, you are still free to choose what religion you believe in (unlike in North Korea).

Visiting the tourist center across Notre Dame would be a good starting point if you want to avail of different tour packages and any other helpful information with regard to this city.


Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

Train Station across Notre Dame which is now converted into a Tourist Center
Tourist center in Saigon
Shopping at Ben Thanh Market

Great souvenirs in Ben Thanh Market
Souvenirs at Ben Thanh Market
  
Ben Thanh Market has a wide array of products that you can shop for, from knock-off bags to great souvenirs.  It's like Greenhills in Saigon!



During our spare time, we also had a chance to explore the nightlife of Saigon.
Interestingly, we also found a lot of Jollibee stores around the city. So if you miss the "Langhap Sarap" food, you can drop by in any of the Jollibee stores withon Saigon.

Overall, a visit to Saigon or Hi Chi Minh City was worth the experience.  The city has reincarnated from the ashes of the war a few decades ago.





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