Saigon: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (Day 3)

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine from college asked about film photography and Australia, heavy stuff if I may say, haha!  And no, I didn’t just realized how ancient my previous posts were… but after he asked about those two mouth-watering topics, I revisited my (this) blog and after which — I seriously missed posting awesome stories/travels!  I was planning on sharing something more recent but I can’t just start with a new one while my Saigon trip is left hanging.  So it’s only right for me to continue with where we left:

Day 3: Saigon, Vietnam

Allow me to refresh your memory, I took this trip with a good friend of mine last November 2011, I’ve already posted day 1 and day 2.  We stayed in Vietnam for 4 days and 3 nights – we are now at our third day!

We had planned for a whole day tour and it sure was a long day, trust me when I say long day!  We were picked up at our hotel very early for a long drive to Cai Be Floating Market.  And so the journey begins.

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Rice fields and bridges, numerous of those but one weird or maybe it’s more proper to use unusual – it was very unusual to see a tomb in the middle of a rice field.  Okay, for me it was unusual, I’m not so sure for you, but I did ask about it with our tourist guide.  He said that most of the families there bury their dead near their houses.  I’m not really sure why and I didn’t want to dig deeper, haha!  Moving on, we travelled by land for more than an hour and honestly my eyes never felt fuller than before, the daily life of the people in Vietnam was happening before us.

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I’ve mentioned before that Vietnam was very popular with the “costume/clothing” white long dress, black pants underneath the long dress and with the traditional Nón lá or in layman’s term, a leaf hat.  And who would forget those ladies in bicycles, ey?  I saw a few students in that perfect image which was pretty cool.

We arrived at our first stop a bit past 9 AM and since we were off to a floating market the tourist guide asked us if we had troubled ourselves with bringing a bottle of mosquito repellent and of course none of us did.  He asked us to buy from a vendor somewhere there and yes, we could not have let this moment pass us without buying ourselves our own Nón lá, we are after all tourists, haha!

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There’s Ate Shirley with her Nón lá!  See those boats there?  “All aboard!”  Sorry, I couldn’t help it.  I just had to, haha!   Those will be our ride for the next two hours or so.

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These are not their usual or normal boats, these boats are for tourist.  Later you’ll see their traditional rowing boats.  Oh before I forget, we are accompanied by four other tourists, two ladies from Australia and two backpackers from Germany, cool right?

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In front of you now, confidently standing our very, over the top friendly tourist guide, whom which named our group (the six of us girls) the ‘Lara Group’, that happens to be ate Shirley’s last name, I say this guy is totally crushing on ate Shirley, haha.  We are now at the Floating Market itself, haha.  See those pumpkins on top of the boat there?  That’s how they sell their produce here.  Notice also the long stick that has a dried pumpkin tied to it?  Whatever you see hanging on those sticks, that’s the produce they’re selling.  We were a bit disappointed when we got there, for one because we got there very late and two – there weren’t so much boats, so yeah we didn’t really experience the whole lively atmosphere of the floating market.  On the other hand, a glimpse of it isn’t so bad too and seeing the river and the houses alongside it was pretty awesome.

Welcome to Mekong River!

From a point of view of a NatGeo fan, I’ve seen a few documentaries about the Mekong Giant Catfish, and let me tell you, they are gigantic!  Those giants are found in this river itself, okay fine, not in this part of the river of course but in this long stretch of river that somehow connects to few other countries, and that is just – Awesome!

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See that lady in the boat?  This boat is where she lives and on the side of that photograph, a ferry with passengers, transporting commuters.  And below, notice the houses and how tall their antennas stand, it’s weird that I love how each small house has one.

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11The next photograph, this is the traditional rowing boat.  This is why a Nón lá is a must for them, to ‘protect’ themselves for the heat of the sun and also from rain.

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After an hour of boat ride we took a stop for some tea in a shop that particularly sells honey and some skin products.

Next stop – life at the riverside!  The boat dropped us somewhere and now… we walk!  Immersion! 

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This old man sat alongside side of the road and there he patiently peeled some dried Longans.  I wasn’t so sure if I were to feel sorry for this man or uncle, but the face looked so familiar – it was not poverty that you’ll see in the face, there was so much more to it – same with the other Asian countries I’ve been to… it is not poverty that defines these faces.  Perseverance and patience describes them best.  I admire those lines in their faces.  It is the mark of persevering and not poverty.

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Walking some more, we went for a quick stop at this exotic shop.  Vietnam is very popular too with their exotic food but this shop we were at, they specialized in exotic snake wine, our new friends were brave enough to taste snake wine, ate Shirley and I on the other hand were not, haha!  But I did try my best to pose with a python, normally they will let it hang on your shoulders but I didn’t want us to be skin to scale, haha.  So, I asked our guide to carry it for me.  Smart you say?  No, scared is the best word.

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If you were in Vietnam and you didn’t try their popular crispy rice popcorn, then my friend, I have tried it for you, haha.  I did not just try it, I saw them make it!  It was easy and fast, it was hot though because of the thick smoke it creates white cooking them but I guess once you get used to it, it won’t bother you much.

After visiting a few small shops we then pave our way to a Vietnamese house, we had lunch there and we rode bicycles to villages, sightseeing the rural ambiance.  It was a nice experience if I may say!  After that semi-immersion, we then head back to the river.

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Say Hi and Goodbye to our new friends!

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Mekong River is the 7th longest river in Asia!  Pretty awesome, I say!  I’ve been to Bangkok before but I didn’t get to visit their version of Floating Market, I can’t say that the Cai Be floating market was awesome because I didn’t get too see the real action but seeing and soaking up the life in the Mekong River was awesome!  So, 7th longest river in Asia and 12th longest in world, Mekong River, believe it!  And I have been there!

It sure was a long day but a good realization about traveling – if you are traveling to see point A and point B and missed out on what was in the middle of point A and point B, you’ve wasted more than half of you trip.

Goodnight, Saigon.

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Guarding my Heart

My best is yet to come and until that day comes — I’ll keep my peace and my words sealed until there’s nothing more to be concealed.

For now I’ll dream of my someday – and be amazed that one day I will be released from today.

Saigon: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (Day 2)

Today is another Bed Weather which gave me enough time to finish compiling these photographs. Two or three weeks ago we celebrated ate Shirley’s birthday and we also started with our Vietnam journey – Last July 29th we met up in the airport, she was here in manila for about 2 hours which gave us enough time to catch up!

And boy did I really miss her and amongst my other friends in Singapore. I guess it’s such a relief too that Singapore is just a few hours away! But enough about that, let’s move on with our day two in Saigon!

We woke up really early because we have a tour scheduled for the whole day.

‘Good Morning Saigon!’

7.30am call time and present we were! And it was nice to see Saigon in that early hour. I can attest that Vietnamese are early risers and true enough they are hardworking too!

You’ll love the next photograph; it’s a flood of motorbikes! I wasn’t kidding about how much motorbike is a necessity for them… in their streets you will also see numerous vans and buses, tour buses in this case. I’d have to say that Vietnam is doing a great job with promoting tourism for their fine country, you’ll see a number of foreigners just by crossing the streets and not to mention the crowd in the airport.

Our first stop was at an eggshell/lacquer souvenir shop. The products they made are wonderful but the prices are not so appealing to me, hahaha. I guess it’s one of those shops that take advantage of foreigners, ey? Most of the stuff they sell can be seen in the usual markets and way cheaper.

However posing for photographs wouldn’t hurt, ey? Haha

Remember I told you about how Vietnamese are always pictured in bikes and hats? This is the best example of it! Though mine is not as beautiful as the others but you do get the picture now right?

Our second stop is one of the popular temples in Vietnam, Cao Dai Temple. I’m not sure if it’s categorized under religion or cult but for this entry we shall place it under culture! It’s a ‘movement’ that combined 3 religions into one – when we got there we were just in time for their prayer time.

One of the rituals they followed was people were not allowed to enter from the main entrance because ghosts/spirits would enter from that door and so everyone, including myself and ate Shirley entered from the side door, we were asked to take of our shoes.

We were allowed to takes photographs inside but we weren’t allowed to take photos right at their faces. The ladies in white are in mourning stage, they are praying for a member of their family whom they just lost. I’m not sure though how long they are required to be doing this all I’m sure of is that they were many.

As you can see in this photo, there are people in white and some in colored which is an indication of ranking and which specialty of religion they specialized in. The steps show ranking of how deep/mature they are in their ‘movement’.

This compound might be big and they sure do have hundreds of visitors each day not because they share the same belief – for some it is merely to understand better what and how the world is and be aware of it and to appreciate how creative people can be.

But know that it is not religion that saves us and no amount of prayer can ever allow you to cross over to heaven. There is only one way:

John 1:12

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

Moving forward with our trip next stop is at Cu Chi Tunnels!

This covers history and a glimpse of how Vietnam lived in the war times. Tunnels will define it best, they lived in those tunnels for days, weeks and months!

I can’t imagine how they managed but I was able to experience 15 minutes or so in one of the tunnels and it was a horrifying experience! It was very tight and breathing took so much effort! I didn’t even get a chance to take a photo because I was so busy convincing myself not to panic or faint! This was my favourite part of the day. And it sure was the best way to know their race. This was our last stop for the day tour. I do appreciate our tourist guide very much; he shared with us a story during the war-time. One member of his family was trying to escape the country. His uncle and a few of his friends and a family braved themselves and took a small boat to exit the country. But they didn’t actually know how many days they’d be travelling – so it came to a point that they ran out of food. The men in the group gathered and concluded that in order for them stay alive they had to make sacrifices. Drawing of lots took care of it… have you seen the movie ALIVE? Well, remember I told you there was one family in the boat? A dad, a mom, and two kids, but when they finally reached land, they didn’t have a dad anymore. A few men sacrificed their lives for some to survive.

I didn’t think stories like that happen in real life but that story made my Vietnam trip one of my favorites. And life is different after hearing that story!

I kind of got a bit sad after our tunnel experience maybe because I got too emotional about it? To lighten things up ate Shirley and I decided to explore the night market and street food and we did enjoy it!

That’s how our day was, I thought at first that Vietnam didn’t have much to offer but on the contrary – it was full of everything, sure they didn’t have tall buildings, stupendous bridges, enormous malls and fast trains… but they had as much to offer or maybe even more, they didn’t have all those spectacular things and still it was one heck of a day!

Good Night for now Saigon!

Saigon: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (Day 1)

Composed two days ago:

Today a good friend of mine (from Singapore) is celebrating her birthday, ate Shirley happy happy birthday!  And to celebrate her birthday we’ll be visiting Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam where I vacationed with ate Shirley way back in 2011.  We were there last November 5-8 of 2011, we actually were supposed to be flying to Bangkok, Thailand but during that time – some areas in Bangkok was flooded.  The night before our flight to Bangkok I had our booking transferred to Vietnam!  And Vietnam has truly surprised me/us indeed!  (oh, and because our trip to Bangkok got cancelled, I still pursued Thailand and welcomed 2012 there with my ever adventure hungry self, LOL)

Here we come Ho Chi Minh,Vietnam!  Our flight left Singapore early morning and we arrived in Vietnam around 9 in the morning.  In the airport itself you’ll find taxi booths and agents that can speak English.  These agents are also in-charge of some bargaining, so be sure to scan a few of them first to see if what’s the standard rate.  After agreeing with the price they will be jotting down your hotel name and address in a piece of paper which you will later pass to the cab driver, efficient right?

We then got in a cab and passed the paper with our hotel name and address to the driver and yes our driver didn’t speak any English word which was fine because looking at my side of the window was good enough for me!

The first thing that I noticed in this wonderful country, boy do they love motorcycle, you’ll be amazed how a whole street can be flooded with them!  I guess it’s cheaper and more efficient/faster?

Our first day in Ho Chi Minh or with its more popular or dramatic name Saigon was filled with exciting and intense adventures!

And I say from the streets of Saigon:

Chào! (jow)

Hello! 

Our Hotel was 45 minutes away from the airport, without traffic!  I booked a hotel from agoda.com, it’s a small hotel with a homey feeling, ate Shirley and I agreed that if we do decide to visit again, we’d still stay in the same hotel.  The best part with our Halo Hotel its 2 minutes away from the famous Ben Thanh Market which is a major plus!  We took a few minutes to rest and we were off to Ben Thanh Market, we had our first meal there, and when I say market, this is one typical Asian market dirty floors, fire hazard with a bit of stench but – the food was fantastic!  Ate Shirley and I braved the food stalls there and really had our tummies full of healthy vegetable dishes!  It’s sad to say that I am very picky when it comes to food – I do try though, sometimes, LOL!  I was never adventurous with food: NO TO EXOTIC FOOD!  But that’s not stopping me from enjoying my trips!

We found this very mouth-watering steamed rolled rice pancake (as they call it) and it became my favourite dish in Vietnam, either fried or steamed, I loved it!  Vietnamese food like all Asian countries they are very fond of vegetables, fruits and they love using different spices and flavours which makes the dishes even more interesting.  Honestly, I’m no fan of veggies, but in Vietnam – I am changed, LOL!

Street food are no different, I love them!  Green mangoes with chili salt and a handful of magic, ate Shirley loved it!

The best part in touring is bargaining and the best part in our short vacation in Vietnam – there was no minute wasted!  Feast your eyes in this market or should we say – heaven of cheap, colourful, useful, good quality: bags, shoes, trinkets, handicrafts name it, they most likely had it!  Later I will show you a few scenes from my shopping escapade!

A trip in Vietnam will never be considered complete unless you have experienced their motorcycle ride!  Back in the older days they were very famous with the image of a girl dressed in a white dress with a hat made of nipa (?) and riding a bike, now that we are in the modern days – motorcycles are more famous, LOL!  A well-known fact in Vietnam, body-massage, foot-spa, pedicure and manicure are like the cheapest!!!  The quality though will last only for about 5 days or so but for its rate it’s not considered bad anymore.  From our hotel we had arranged for a body-massage session, we were told that someone will pick us up from the hotel to take us to the ‘spa house’.  And truly someone did, he rode a motorcycle and I was shocked, haha.  The first thing I thought, can the bike carry us both, LOL?  Since ate Shirley and I were up for the challenge – here is the evidence!

It was a 10 minute back ride, LOL!  The funny thing is for the amount that I paid for the body-massage, I would have doubled it just to experience the bike ride alone.  That’s how fun it was!  I guess I’ve tried riding a motorbike back in the Philippines but to experience it in Vietnam, it’s a totally different story!

After our body-massage we walked a few minutes from the spa house and got our nails beautified!  And we were off for a painful shopping spree!!!

They had everything in that market!  Food, clothing, accessories and mostly handicrafts, Vietnam is popular with their crafts of lacquer – dinnerware, frames and coasters they had it, they all are shinny and colourful!

Since I was already there in Vietnam, I didn’t pass on purchasing on some lacquer products!  One of which I am using in my room, I did bring a big luggage from this trip, and I used up every inch of that trolley, haha!

We had dinner in the market and went back to the hotel not so early and not so late – our next day, calls for an early rise and shine – the official touring around Vietnam begins!

I’m sure we are both excited to reminisce about our second day in Vietnam, see you again here!