Saturday, March 28, 2015

On Motorcycles, Banh Mi and Wars - Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Vietnam

Looking out at the crazy traffic outside (motorcycles, bicycles, tuk tuks), I gazed upon my window on the sleeper bus that took almost 16 hours to finally reach our last destination for this trip. We were in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to be exact.

Holding on to our dear passports, we eased our way through the immigration counter, thanks to the ASEAN visa free policies. Our sleeper bus dropped us off at Pham Ngu Lao Street. Without prior hotel reservations, we scanned the area for hostels. We crossed a nice park and found our home for three days, the Vietnam Inn Saigon along Le Lai Road (check here for discounted tours, transportation and activities in Ho Chi Minh).

Ho Chi Minh Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Vietnam

Motorcycles Ho Chi Minh Vietnam
Cross at your own risk
We shelled out US$ 20 each for two nights (with free 15-min. back massage and one free round of beers at night which we didn’t get to avail of) on an 8-bed mixed dorm room at Vietnam Inn Saigon (check here for discounted hotel rates). We immediately went into our assigned dorm and rested for a while. I was on a lower bunk and had a full glass window on my side. I was ready to retire but then our stomachs grumbled so we headed to a nice restaurant to get a decent meal after 24 hours of traveling.

Vietnam Inn Saigon Dorm
8-bed mixed dorm at Vietnam Inn Saigon
Vietnam Inn Saigon Toilet and Shower
Communal toilet and shower
Vietnam Inn Saigon
The rooftop bar
The group ordered almost everything on the menu. We had fried rice, fresh spring rolls and some other dishes that I failed to note down, I was starving, forgive me.

Coconut Fried Rice
Coconut Fried Rice
Fresh Spring Rolls Ho Chi Minh
Fresh Spring Rolls
The road scene was kinda intense. Living in Manila, I thought that I'd be an expert road criss-crosser, but no. Hundreds, or maybe thousands of motorcycles were crossing the road every other green light (me thinking, should I glue my eyes on the traffic light or the road itself?). It was intense that it almost took us some five minutes just figuring out how to cross a narrow strip. You'll get use to it after two days or so, don't worry.

Moving on, we went to Ben Thanh Market and checked out some coffee and other stuff for souvenir. We then waited for the market to shut and checked out the night bazaar outside. And the bazaar didn’t disappoint us at all. We had a fair dinner on one of the shacks and rummaged through the stalls for some knickknacks. And I must say that the highlight of that shopping spree was the pretty, young lady merchants. They were so adorable and very charming.

Ho Chi Minh Vietnam
Motorcycles everywhere
We booked a half day Cu Chi Tunnel Tour the next day from our inn for US$ 5 each (yes, in dollars). We grabbed some Banh Mi, Hot coffee and Iced coffee from a nearby stall and waited for the bus to collect us from our inn. I also spotted a peddler who sells silken tofu (taho), it was just ok, we have better versions of this in the Philippines. We met other tourists as we hopped on the bus and started the ride going to Cu Chi.

Banh Mi Ho Chi Minh

Banh Mi Ho Chi Minh
Banh Mi is love!
15,000 Dong (US$ 0.70 )
Ho Chi Minh Coffee
Hot coffee, Saigon style
Ho Chi Minh Iced Coffee
Iced Coffee
Ho Chi Minh Silken Tofu
Silken tofu = taho
First stop was a local handicraft workshop. We all got to witness how a piece was made from egg shells and stuff. A few minutes more and then we were herded back into the tour bus and taken to the main event that day.

Cu Chi is around 40km. northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. The main feature of this tour is the Cu Chi tunnel complex; dug by hand by the Vietnamese guerrillas, these are extraordinary network of underground rooms, kitchens, weapon factories, storage areas and more that were used during the Vietnam War (covers up to 200 km. from the Cambodian border to Ho Chi Minh City). It’s a miniature version of what used to be the hideout of Vietnamese people during the 30-year war that shows their ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Cu Chi Tunnel Ho Chi Minh

Upon arrival, we were briefed about the Vietnam War through a video presentation and then the booby trap sessions followed. There were exhibition areas of old weapons used during the war and some loads of booby traps that were really exceptional.

Cu Chi Tunnel Ho Chi Minh
More traps
Cu Chi Tunnel Ho Chi Minh
Camouflage
We were then herded to this entrance to the underground. Those who wanted to try and crawl inside the channels can do so. But there’s a catch here, you cannot back out once you’re inside. Though you can pass through three different channels (which gets smaller as you go further) the fact that you cannot go back from where you entered is totally frightening, not for those who gets freaked out on confined spaces.

Cu Chi Tunnel Ho Chi Minh
Let's do this
Cu Chi Tunnel Ho Chi Minh

Me, my buddy and my two cousins went on with the ordeal. We were cheery at first and as we crawl upon the tiny channels, we panicked. My buddy and my other cousin went out on the first exit while me and my other cousin went on to finish the whole course in a very panicky way.

We had fun, yes, but the trip was just ok, not that remarkable.

The next day, we again booked a full day Mekong Delta Tour with lunch from our inn ($30 each). We had some quick bite on an eatery near our place and waited for the bus to pick us up.

The bus ride to our jump off point didn’t bore us, thanks to the scenic view. The Mekong River Delta is located southwest of Vietnam and it is here where the Mekong River meets the sea. We traveled to My Tho where we transferred into a huge traditional boat for the river cruise.

Mekong Delta Tour Ho Chi Minh
Our party boat
The boat tour passed along quiet villages and rural areas. Stilt houses along the banks and fishing boats that are also used as dwelling places dominated the river. We stopped on different islands (Dragon, Unicorn, Phoenix and Tortoise) and were trapped on some souvenir shops, honey café and rice paper wrapper factories (used for spring rolls).

Mekong Delta Tour Ho Chi Minh
Rice paper wrapper
Mekong Delta Tour Ho Chi Minh
Free tea
We were then brought to our lunch area somewhere where traditional Vietnamese dishes were served. We chilled for some time, borrowed some bicycles and roamed around the place. And then it was time for the next part of the tour.

We boarded a smaller boat (four tourists maximum plus the boat rower) and had a rowing boat trip along a small canal. It was serene and very relaxing. I even tried to row and failed.

Mekong Delta Tour Ho Chi Minh

Mekong Delta Tour Ho Chi Minh
This.is.hardwork
We again boarded the bigger boat and went back to our bus.

The trip could’ve been better if we only knew what island we were in or the historical background of each place. We didn’t know our itinerary (our fault maybe) and we didn’t have any knowledge on what was going on.

Can Tho Bridge
Can Tho Bridge 
The next day, our last, we went around the city to check out some museums and other landmarks. We didn’t have maps but we managed to do some walking tours around.

First stop was the Reunification Palace which was, well, forgettable. If you’re pressed for time, just skip this.

Reunification Palace Ho Chi Minh
Reunification Palace
Next was the War Remnants Museum which was very heart-breaking, sad and depressing. We should’ve done this on our first day for the stories and photos really haunted us.

War Remnants Museum Ho Chi Minh

War Remnants Museum Ho Chi Minh

And then food trip at one of the best pho restaurants in the city – Pho Hoa Pasteur. And indeed, they serve one of the best phos in town. Never miss this while you’re in Ho Chi Minh.

Pho Hoa Pasteur Ho Chi Minh
Pho Hoa Pasteur
Pho Hoa Pasteur Ho Chi Minh
One of the best phos in town
We then headed to Pham Ngu Lao Street (the backpacking district), we needed to check out the night scene in Ho Chi Minh. It was literally party on the streets. Everyone was comfortably lounged on the sidewalks with vinyl sheets that served as mats. We had some Saigon Beers and good street grubs. 

Ho Chi Minh Vietnam

Street Food Ho Chi Minh Vietnam
Saigon beer plus baby octopus!
Our Vitenam adventures ended in a not-so-fun way (blame it on the War Remnants Museum), it was depressing. Or maybe because the end of our month-long trip happened to be in Vietnam, or maybe not. Just go there and enjoy the food, me now thinking about Banh Mi, Pho, Iced Coffee and more. Please!

Ho Chi Minh Vietnam







8 comments:

  1. Ang ganda ng unang pic. Ang lakas maka-evocative at maka-mysterious. Haha! Nakaka-miss ang HCMC. Di ko sya naikot nun masyado so nakaka-inspire bumalik dahil sa post na to.

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    1. At di rin namin siya naikot ng todo. May rason bumalik talaga. Hehe. Salamat naman sa evocative Jay :)

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  2. Mekong Delta tour, yan and di namin nagawa, Weekend lang kasi nag lamyerda sa HCM. True Banh Mi is Love and Saigon Beer. hahaha

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    1. Kami din Joey super siksik ng It kaya maraming di nagawa. Next time :)

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  3. i miss bahn mi and the coffee...
    great pics...
    love your travel series...
    hope to bump in one for your trips :)

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    1. Same here... Hope to bump into you on your trips :)

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