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Vietnam

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Six best experiences in Saigon

July 22, 2011
Banner in Ho Chi Minh

I never thought that I would like Saigon. For me, there’s hardly anything to like about another urbanised city in Southeast Asia – bad traffic, dirty, noisy and difficult to go around to. I wanted to leave Ho Chi Minh before I would have gone in.  It’s not a city that you’ll easily appreciate and enjoy.

But in a way, Ho Chi Minh had suprised me. Despite the presence of heavy traffic, polluted surroundings and dirty streets, I can say that there were more appealing factors that made me appreciate and enjoy the city.  I think our 5-day stay there was enough for us to live in the city a bit, and slowly check-out what it has to offer.

For me, here are the things that made it extra special.  Here are my top six experiences:

Pho: Step 3

(photo from Yvonsita)

FOOD

The heart is closer to the stomach, and surely Saigon’s food offerings had captured our senses. Staying in Pham Ngu Lao, we have street foods available on almost every corner. The fried noodles is to die-for and my personal favourite. There’s also the staple Pho , chicken fried rice, and banh mi to name a few. We sat down on small stool, and they made it fresh right in front of us. And the good part is that it hardly hurts your pocket as they can come very cheap.
Ben Tanh market - Saigon

SHOPPING

Ho Chi Minh is also a shopper’s paradise. We particularly enjoyed going around the Ben Tanh market. Products range from clothes, bags, various linen, jewelry, souvenirs, dried fruits and coffee –  you name it and probably they have it. This is a hot-spot for tourist, so the first prices are higher than the normal, so bargain down to at least 50 per cent of the price. Simply walk away if they don’t agree with the price, and they’ll likely to approach you with a sensible offer. This is a very busy place, so pickpockets lurk the market, so be very extra careful.

Park in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh

GREEN AND HEALTHY LIVING

I like that despite the city’s urban lifestyle, there’s still a place to enjoy a greener and healthier lifestyle in HCMC. There are parks and green trees all around the city, the most convenient is the one near Pham Ngu Lao. There are also parks worth a visit like the ones close to the Reunification Palace and the Tan Dinh district. Food as well comes with various greens. Even KFC meals come with a side of cucumbers and tomato.
Saigon beer

COFFEE & BEERS

Vietnam is the place for coffee lovers, it’s cheap and as delicious as the one you get from Starbucks. Any restaurants usually have iced coffee which goes well with different kinds of pastries & banh mi. If you fancy brewing your own, head to Ben Tanh, get a pound of coffee and also the Vietnamese coffee maker. If coffee is not your thing, tea also scores some good points.

At night, enjoy a cheap Saigon beer (10,000 VND per bottle) in Bui Vien. It’s not really strong nor crisp as other beers, but for the amount you’ll pay for a bottle – this is an example of quantity being a better option than quality.
Motorcycle traffic in Saigon

MOTORCYCLE RIDES

Going around HCMC’s traffic is an experience itself,  and the best is through taking in a motos or motorcycle taxis. It’s a different kind of adrenaline rush once you strap into the motorcycle with the driver whisking you through the city’s busy streets. I won’t advise to drive a motorcycle yourself in the city as some experience is needed in order to manoeuvre around. For taking in a moto, bargain with the driver to around 30-40,000 VND.
Helicopter at War Remnants Museum - Saigon, Vietnam

CITY’S HISTORIC BACKGROUND

I enjoyed Ho Chi Minh as it offered many avenues offering access to the city’s rich yet tumultuous history. The city has two main sites – the War Remnants Museum & the Reunification Palace. It’s great starting place in order to understand where Vietnam had come from – though some of the facts they’re presenting are skewed towards a pro-communist/anti-American sentiment. Both the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum are close to the tourist circuit so you can arrange an afternoon to see both.

Have you been to Ho Chi Minh? Do you have any other experiences you want to add? Feel free to share them below!

Travel Blog

Two sides of the Cu Chi tunnels tour

July 16, 2011
Shooting at Cu Chi tunnels

As any traveller would say, itineraries change and original plans become more of a suggestion once you get into a destination. The same applied for us in Vietnam.

Originally, we were supposed to go to the beaches of  Mui Ne, but we changed plans and opted for the closer Cu Chi complex instead. Nen got sick so an overnight trip with 10 hours cumulative bus travel would not work for us. Also, after an interesting experience at Saigon’s War Remnants Museum, getting on a historic and cultural experience was, in this case, better than lounging on the beach. 😉

At Pham Ngu Lao, tours to Cu Chi were sold as much as Pho were on the streets. It costs 6USD for a half-day tour and 9USD for a full day with an added visit to Cao Dai temple. We were easily sold into it and opted for the latter.

First stop was the Cao Dai temple – a 2-hour road trip from Ho Chi Minh City. The practice of Cao Dai is a combination of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism – and as many religions promote, it”s dedicated to good living and charity.

Cao Dai temple, Vietnam

The colours of the temple were bold and striking. Red, blue and yellow were everywhere from banderitas,  robes of their high priests, even the emblems inside the temple.  Nen and I actually matched the occasion as we were also standing out with our bold blue and red shirts.

Cao Dai temple, Vietnam

After the short visit, it was another two and a half  hour bumpy ride to Cu Chi tunnel complex.

Once we arrived, we got into the briefing room that was designed during the time of the war. Again, we were bombarded with more anti-American point-of-view, which honestly got tiring.

The actual park was bigger than I imagined, but the tunnels themselves were definitely not for claustrophobics. Nen and I were brave enough to go onto the hole the size of a shoebox. I imagine how hard it was living in such small quarters. But if it’s between life and death, then I think being comfortable wasn”t on the top of their heads. We got to go inside a shorter series of the tunnels too (actually slightly made bigger for the tourists coming).

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It’s ironic actually how the whole tour progressed – from the good teachings promoted by Cao Dai, then a sudden shift to the horrors that was Cu Chi.

Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

They showed us traps the Vietnamese used to brutally kill their enemies. From Trap swing doors and rope swings – it was ingenious to be honest.

You step on the rice field, BAM!  A metal trap waits to capture you.

You open someone’s door, BAM! You’ll be hit with a wooden swing drilled with nails.

The “bad-assery” definitely peaks at the shooting gallery and you get to shoot some enemies yourselves.

The Cu Chi tunnel shooting gallery allows you to shoot using various different rifles – AK47, M16, M4 carbine.  Prices start at 10 USD for 10 rounds of bullets – with the price increasing depending on the gun you”ll use. We only got the carbine – which was the cheapest one.

Shooting range, Cu Chi

 

BOOM BOOM BOOM!

 

Nen & I got 5 rounds each. The feeling? must say pulling the trigger was exhilarating –  as if you suddenly release a big burst of energy.

But well I was not as bad-ass as I thought, perhaps because the target was too far that I don’t even see if I shot something or not. So definitely, no Top Shot or a casting on Wanted 2 yet for me. But it’s something I want to try again!

I love activities with adrenaline rush – and those that can somewhat potentially break your bones. But despite this, I am peaceful and usually all about harmony.  And definitely this tour has in a way brought the good and the bad out of me. 🙂

 

Education

23 Best Travel Moments at 23 years old

July 2, 2011
Riding atop of a bus in Bohol

I’ve recently turned 24 this week. And with this upcoming new year, I’ve decided to take a look back at the past year and relive the 23 best travel moments I had last year. Looking back, I’m really thankful for the great year I had and travel memories I’ve spent with old and new friends alike. In a year, I felt that I’ve experienced a lot of new things – and this post is a testament to it. Lots of things happened this year, including moving back from Belgium back to the Philippines, that significantly affected my travel and personal life.

On any case, I’m looking forward to start this new chapter of my life. I will definitely aim on continuing and finishing my travel goal. I hope for more moments like this, and definitely I’ll make sure that I’ll have the same or even a better year ahead!

  • World Cup Finals in Amsterdam

Celebrating the World Cup Finals in Amsterdam

  • Shopping at the Sunday Market in Lille, France

Shopping at the Sunday Market in Lille, France

  • Volunteering for Serve the City Brussels

Volunteering for Serve the City Brussels

  • Paying for the cheapest (0,20 EUR) and most expensive (22 EUR) for a bottle of beer

Belgian Beers

  • Seeing the Grand Place Lights in Brussels for the Belgian National Day

Grand Place Lights for Belgian National Day

  • Going home to the Philippines

Going home to the Philippines

  • Taking a Canoe Trip to Pagsanjan Falls

Taking a Canoe Trip to Pagsanjan Falls

  • Swimming on El Nido bay lagoons

Swimming on El Nido bay lagoons

  • Visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River

Visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River

  • Surfing for the first time in San Juan, La Union

Surfing in La Union

  • Accepting Edge Coaster & Skywalk challenge in Cebu City

Accepting the Edge Coaster & Skywalk challenge in Cebu City

  • Riding on top of the bus in Bohol

Riding on top of the bus in Bohol

  • Seeing the Chocolate Hills

Seeing the Chocolate Hills

  • ZipLine in Loboc, Bohol

  • Christmas in Manila

Christmas in Manila with my fami

  • Starting 25travels.com 🙂

Starting 25travels.com

  • Watching a friend take on the Burger Challenge in Singapore

Watching a friend take on the Burger Challenge in Singapore

  • Day drinking in Tanjong Beach in Singapore

Day drinking in Tanjong Beach in Singapore

  • Reaching the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

Reaching the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

  • Seeing & climbing the temples of Angkor

Seeing & climbing the temples of Angkor

  • Drinking buckets of redbull vodka and partying in Siem Reap

Drinking buckets of redbull vodka and partying in Siem Reap

  • Shooting a rifle in Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

Shooting a rifle in Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

  • Meeting old & new friends alike during my travels

23.Meeting old & new friends alike during my travels

Education

Learning about the Vietnam War

June 15, 2011
War Remnants Museum - HCMC

I grew up knowing only a silhouette of the Vietnam War.

Despite the close proximity of the Philippines, there was hardly any mention of the war on our history school books. It ended a decade before I was born but it seemed like a forgotten episode at least when I was in school.

Growing older, I started learning about the war from its “Hollywood” representation – Apocalypse Now, Miss Saigon and various TV documentaries.

I”ve read up a bit a few weeks before I left for Vietnam. It’s always good to know the history of a country and understand where the place you are visiting today had come from.

The war was between the Communist DRV (North Vietnam) and the US-backed anti-communist South-Vietnam government. Eventually after a few decades of fighting, the Communist north defeated the south reuniting the whole of Vietnam under communist rule.

In Ho Chi Minh, the main tourist sites have a connection with the events surrounding the two-decade struggle. Amidst the bustling streets and crowded markets, it’s hard to think that a few decades ago, so much history had happened on where we were standing. There are two main sites in HCMC that I found interesting.

The Reunification Palace (then Independence Palace), where a tank crashed its gate signalling the surrender of South Vietnam. It”s now a museum with the interior remaining similar from how it looked 30 years ago.

Another place is the War Remnants Museum – a few blocks away from the Reunification Palace.

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

It displayed old helicopters, planes, tanks and Chinook choppers used at the war. While inside, the museum showcased photographs and various artefacts all aimed on showing the aftermath of a war that forever changed the lives of the people affected.

There were foetuses of Agent Orange victims, shrapnel from downed B52 planes, different ammunitions and a collection of hundreds of photos usually of victims and the areas devastated.

It’s interesting to note that the Vietnam War was the first war placed under constant viewing (and scrutiny) from the global media. Amidst the hundreds of photos, I particularly like this one – a precise photo of a falling B52 bomber plane taken when the plane was crashing mid-air. Kudos to the photographer!

Down B52 museum

The War Remnants museum may not be the best venue to get your facts straight as information had been skewed towards their communist government and an anti-American sentiment. But we can’t deny that these events happened – towns got bombed, families lost love ones, and futures forever shaped.

The outcome of a war is often written by the victorious side, but the aftermath, nevertheless, had disastrous consequences on both sides. The horrors of war existed on both sides and this is what was missing at the museum. Indeed, the US and its allies (including the Philippines) have brought destruction to Vietnam, but there have been attacks by the DRV particularly to their fellow Vietnamese, that were not shown. I understand that this is a government-run museum aiming to position themselves better in the society. But what I felt was that there is a reactive often aggressive response rather than a peaceful intention to move forward.

But if you ask any common Vietnamese, there’s no sense of retaliation against Americans or to anyone else, but rather the spirit and attitude that it’s time to move forward and look forward into the future.

What I enjoy about travelling is that it gives you an opportunity to learn outside a book, classroom or the press. There are far much lessons and experiences to gain from seeing the old structures from time past, looking on how a community thrives with their present lives and how people you meet are continuing to shape up their futures.

Truly, travel is part of the university of life.

PS: I’ve found out that even the Philippines sent 10,000 troops to support the war in Vietnam of course backing up the Americans – and this struck me the most. We grew learning barely nothing about the war even though 10,000 of our own troops went.

Have you trave

Travel Blog

1 month to go: Vietnam & Cambodia Trip

April 12, 2011
Vietnam & Cambodia

It’s only a month to go before I start our 10-day trip to Vietnam & Cambodia. And am I excited? hell, yeah!

I’m excited for the trip because of a couple of things – one because this will be my first international trip for 2011 and the longest backpacking trip yet (it will be a 9 day trip!). It’s also my first time to go to Vietnam & Cambodia.

With 9-days, I expect to see much more than a weekend – and of course, it will be a bit more relaxed than a weekend trip. I’m particularly excited for the Cambodian leg of our trip as I get to finally visit and see Angkor Wat. At the same time, I’ve been looking forward to be part of the traveller circuit  again. And of course, I’m also adding 2 countries to my 25-country list and will up my travel points to 21 countries.

I’m not doing the trip alone but with a good friend of mine, Riya. It will be her first trip outside of the country – so she’s more excited than I do when it comes to this trip.

We’ll arrive their early morning of 14 May and will travel to a few points across the country and will need to be back to Ho Chi Minh by 22 May at night for our flight back to Manila. When it comes to preparation, we have our draft itinerary below which of course is subject to change:

Day 1 (May 14) – Around Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam
Day 2 (May 15) – 12 hour trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia from HCMC
Day 3 (May 16) – Angkor Temples
Day 4 (May 17) – Siem Reap // Travel at night to Sihanoukville
Day 5 (May 18) – Sihanoukville
Day 6 (May 19) – Sihanoukville
Day 7 (May 20) – Sihanoukville to HCMC (12 hour trip)
Day 8 (May 21) – HCMC to Mui Ne (day trip)
Day 9 (May 22) – Around HCMC
Day 10 (May 23) – Trip back to Manila

View Vietnam & Cambodia Trip in a larger map

Now, it is only a draft itinerary for now – looking at it, I’m a bit concerned that it maybe too many places with too little time, and I’m open to suggestions.

Have you been to Vietnam or Cambodia? What are the places that we should definitely visit? Food to try?  Share them below!

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