Published: June 21st 2008June 14th 2008
I spent my christmas last year in Ho Chi Minh. This blog is way too late, I know, still I would like to share the experience I had there.
Christmas season is a big feast for Filipino community. This is the time where those that are separated to their families either by work or by choice had the chance to reunite and celebrate. So since this is my first Christmas away from my family and my country, I bid to make the best out of it.
I arrived Late September in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia to take up a 3-year study on Prosthetics and Orthotics. Three months before Christmas break Kuya Don and I already planned our 3-day stay in Saigon. The plan is, we will celebrate Christmas at the dormitory together with our fellow students and then travel to HCMC early morning. Unlike in the Philippines that you have to pay the ticket the moment you board the bus, we went looking for a cheap ride a day before since reservation is required. After we visited 2 travelling agency we settled for a 10 US$ ticket for an A/C bus. We left Phnom Pehn at exactly 7 o
clock in the morning and expected to arrice in HCMC at 2 in the afternoon.
For a quick recap for those who are not familiar with Ho Chi Minh, here's a few info taken from wikipedia
- the largest city in Vietnam and is located near the Mekong Delta with a total land area of 808.9 sq mi (2,095 km²)
- founded in 1698, it was the main port of Cambodia, before being annexed by the Vietnamese in the 17th century under the name of Prey Nokor
- Under the name Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina, and later of the independent state of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975.
- In 1975, Saigon was merged with the surrounding province of Gia Định and renamed Hồ Chí Minh City (although the name Sài Gòn is still frequently used, particularly by its citizens.
- has more than 9 million people,making it the largest metropolitan area in Vietnam and Indochina.
Travelers can enter Vietnam from Cambodia by land and vice versa. The exit point of Vietnam is called "Moc Bai" and the entry point of Cambodia is "Bavet". Before you can reach the
boarder , the bus have to board a boat in Neak Loung.
Officially Day 1
At about 11 am, we reached the boarder and did immigration and custom stuff and have enough time for lunch. For the whole duration of our travel, i find myself drifting to sleep once in a while. Aside from the constant view of paddies, there's not much to see. This is expected since Vietnam, the world's second largest rice exporter, sold overseas nearly 3.6 million tons of rice worth roughly 1.2 billion U.S. dollars in the first eight months last 2007. In fact, it is one of the major source of imported rice in the Philippines.
After a 6 hours-grueling bus travel, we arrived to our new home for the next 3 days. The bus stopped at district 1, which is known to be the Backpackers area, for its cheap hostels, ours is US$7/night.
We then settled our things and head to KFC to satisfy our grumbling stomachs. Since we didn't have a map on hand, we opted to look for a local who could help us find a market for souvenirs. We spotted a lady, maybe in her early
20's eating with a young boy who were also dining. After we asked for directions, the lady just answered us in grotesque face. Then we realized she couldn't speak English. As we were to say Cám ón
(thank you in their language), the boy spoke, explaining that the lady, indeed, could not speak English. Like the world turned upside down, 2 unlikely lost travelers and 1 clueless local were connected by a 7 year old boy, translating every words we utter. When asked how he could speak English so well, he just replied in a dignified way yes, of course
So we headed on our own, with a new found lesson...
Never, ever, underestimate the kids of today's generation, they may know a lot than what you expect
The first stop, Ben Thanh Market.
Even though there are numerous shops scattering the city, the most popular shopping area is around Ben Thanh Market. The market is obviously not a modern shopping complex but it has virtually everything to satisfy shoppers. And I mean everything. From food,to shirts, bags be it a sassy one or the rugged North Face, down to electronic goods, to dining utensils. Turn your head 360 degrees, and your eyes will be amazed by what you'll see. It's like going around Psar Thmey of Phnom Pehn or Divisoria, but a lot lot better.
But before we went inside, I noticed that the city was dominated by motorbikes. They are everywhere. I think there were even more moto than cars. And imagine the city is about 10 million people, that means there are a lot of motor bikes on the road. It ranges from 3-4 million units, thanks to cheap imports from China. It was said that if Beijing is the "the City of Bicycles" , then
Ho Chi Minh City is the . You really have to have a guts to cross the streets. What's amazing is that, though they seem like to come from every possible direction, they manage not to hit each other. Some can even manage to have a decent conversation while driving and take note they are not on the same moto but driving side to side!!! CRazy... Matt was really right in giving me the warning to watch out for the crazy traffics and it seems like it is not only applicable in Phnom Pehn but in Saigon as well. And one thing more, if men can discuss, probably their latest gigs, while driving, women can ride the moto in de quatro style!!! and the most amazing thing is, they are in their gowns!!!!! (don;t forget to check out the video I uploaded to see what I mean)
After turning and turning around, we decided to get a new view, and we still haven't any decent map on our hands. We just walk and walk and walk until we reach Saigon Center, a calm shopping center at the heart of HCMC. It was merrily decorated to match the festive mood of Christmas. Elves were at the entrance instead of Santa Claus. Most passerby took a pic. Who would not want their picture taken with all the elves on their back?It's Christmas season after all. Except for the occassional International brands and spome local products for souvenirs, there's not much inside to linger on so we move on to another shopping mall, Thuong Xa Tax. Primarily, to get artificial cool air...
Thoung Xa Tax has a quite track record having been in the business since 1880. Located at the corner of Charner st. and Bonard st., both were renamed which I could not remember. Before it was known as Les Grands Magazins Charner. During that time only the elite class of the society or the landlords of the countryside can afford the products from foreign countries, mostly France & Britaing. It was renovated in 1942, renamed Thoung Xa Tax in 1960, donated to the HCMC People's Committee by late 1975, coined as Russian Market in early 1990s, undergone complete overhaul in 2002 and finally reopened on April 2003, after nearly 2 years of upgrading. Just like Saigon center TXT was also very much decorated. You can find snow and christmas trees in every corner While Christmas songs are endlessly played on their speakers.
It's getting dark so we decided to go back to our base. It was pretty
sight to see as a lot of foreign travellers finding their way back to their hostels while others were savoring their beers on the open bars. After dinner, i decide to sleep early to have enough energy the next day.
Day 2: Final Look on HCMC but definitely not my last
My second day went fine. Tired but very satisfied. Though I had my lone footprints (Since Kuya Don liked to watch movie and I to see historical and famous sites, we decided to split up) stamped on the streets of Saigon, I can really say...
I did it!!! .
Guarded with a map, which I obtained from a travel agency near our hostel, I headed to Behn Thanh to find some souvenirs. With all the handmade crafts that represents Vietnamese culture, you can easily spend your much saved money, so before that happens, I checked my map and head east to see the People's Committee Building.
Formerly known as Hotel de Ville de Saigon, it is one of the city's most photographed and recognized building with its french colonial style. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public or tourist and can be photographed from the outside only. In front of it is the statue of Vietnam hero Ho Chi Mihn, to which the city is named after.
Honestly, I already foget my Asian history and I'm in a hurry to finish this blog so I can start a new one. So much to recap in a little span of time. So, to I took a few infos in wekipedia.
Ho is most famous for leading the Viet Minh independence movement from 1941 onward, establishing the communist-governed Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945 and defeating the French Union in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu. He led the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War until his death; six years later, the war ended with a North Vietnamese victory, and Vietnamese unification followed. The former capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in his honor.
Reunification Palace (Vietnamese: Dinh Thống Nhất) formerly known as Independence Palace (Dinh Độc Lập) built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, is a historic landmark in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was designed by architect Ngo Viet Thu as the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and the site of the official handover of power during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. It was then known as Independence Palace. I think you hav to pay for a certain amount to get inside the building.
Just a few blocks away from the Reunification building is the Notre Dame Basilica.
Established by French colonists in 1863 and was finally completed in 1880. This building has two bell towers reaching 58 m tall. All building materials were imported from France. The outside wall of the cathedral was built with bricks from Marseille. Although the contractor did not use coated concrete, these bricks have retained their bright red color until now. (description quoted from somewhere).
After I spent some quite time to reflect (Yes! i did some reflection), I then crossed the street to see the inside beauty of the Post Office. On one side of the main entrance of the Post Office are Telephone booths that has clocks on top of each door with Vietnam's map on topmost, making it more look like a time travel machine. If this is true, then i'd like to go back in the past. Located in city centre, it is the place where locals and tourists get in touch with the outside world since Internet access is limited to business enterprises and hotels.
with all the walking, I need some energy to continue. So after spotting Diamond Department store after strolling Notre Dame Basilica and Post Office, I headed for a savory lunch.
Checking my map, War Remenants Museum is on the way. So there I go.
Since I arrived, 1 hour earlier, I opted to go to nearby 5-tiered pagoda and then went back to the museum.
The museum opened to the public on September 1975. Collections are divided into the 8 permanent thematic exhibitions.
1. Historical truths: causes, origins and process of aggressive wars
2. "Requiem"- collection of photos taken by 134 war reporters killed during Vietnam war 2
3. Vestiges of war crimes & aftermaths (this really made me sad. I learned that during the war, 3 million Vietnamese were killed (2 M were civilians)
4. Imprisonment System - showing typical camps and prisons including some collections of pictures of torturing methods used to exterminate prisoners physically and psycholigically.
5. Photo collections of Japanese reporters
6. International support for the Vietnamese people in their Resistance War
7. Children's painting collection "War & Peace"
8. U.S. State-of-the-Art weaponry used in the Vietnam War
The battle was long ended but the damage is unreversible. All the people had long overcome the dreadful nightmare of the past, or so I guess.....
After the museum, I went back to Behn Tahn to buy some more souvenirs.
Though my trip to Saigon was short, it was
amazing. I know I'll be back again....
tiger cages in Con Dao Island
this are models of special cells used for detaining political prisoners. With a size of 2.7m x 1.5m x 3m, 5-14 people are squeezed in during hot season and reduced them to 1 or 2 during winter, what a torture
till then Saigon
There are more photos below