I apologize to all Vietnamese, but the real reason why we visited their country was the fact that there were no direct flights to Cambodia and we so wanted to visit Angkor Wat (that trip here). We took advantage of Philippine Airlines' sale (every January) of USD 99 for Asian destinations and flew to Vietnam just to fly to Siem Reap. Of course, we took the chance to see a little of the country as well. And the country proved to be a nice stopover.
Morning of the flight to Siem Reap, we asked for a map of Ho Chi Minh (more known as Saigon to the older generation) from the hotel receptionist and did a D-I-Y tour of the city, just like we always do. So 'round we go.
The People's Committee Building was under repair. I took a picture anyway.
This is the Notre Dame Cathedral. we went inside where it was very quiet (there aren't that many Catholics in the country). When we went outside, we saw just in time a couple unloading from their car and into the church for their wedding.
For some reason, the post office of Ho Chi Minh City is a must go. It's nothing much outside but it was quite impressive inside. After we took a shot outside, we were reprimanded by a local. He said it's dangerous to leave your stuff (especially cameras in tripods) because motorcyclists might pass by and grab it away.
My friend read in a blog that one should send a postcard from this post office. And so she did-to herself. :)
The Saigon Opera House has a beautiful architecture. It costs a lot to watch a show inside though, so we contented ourselves with appreciating its beauty.
After this, we were distracted by a... mall. :D Everything was a bit more expensive so we didn't really pick up anything save for a patterned stockings for me and the country's map for a collection.
After our trip to Cambodia, we booked a couple of tours for the next two days from our hotel. These trips were out of the city and therefore, harder to do on our own. Anyway, at USD 15 per tour, it wasn't so bad.
Our first tour was Cao Dai Temple en route Cu Chi Tunnels. The temple was really fascinating. We got there in time for the service. (I didn't really understand any of what they're saying.) The downside of seeing their ritual is that we couldn't go near the altar which I was very interested to see it being such a unique religion.
It is a monotheistic religion and yet they have saints of all kinds, from Sun Yat-Sen to Victor Hugo to Winston Churchill to Nguyen Binh Khiem.
After our short stop in Cao Dai, we proceeded to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We're not war fanatics, but we did enjoy this tour. First, we watched a video about Vietnam War. Then we went around the area where they showed us the different freaky traps, some with double whammy snares.
Then came the tunnels themselves. This below is an opening on the ground from the tunnels beneath where tourists can jump down and take a picture with their head springing up or something like this. :)
The tunnels themselves were a network of passages. The only open part to the tourists are the ones a little more wide. An American steward that I talked to in India while having breakfast told me though that they gave their tour guide a little "tip" and they were able to explore deeper into the channels where they had a hard time getting themselves through and they had a hard time breathing due to thinness of the air.
This is the most fun part of the tour, for a reasonable fee, we got to buy 10 bullets (the shells of which I brought home!) and tried firing real rifles! It actually hurt our ears since the suppressors weren't really effective. BUT it was the rush of firing a very loud round. It must be a lot better than Tacsiapo Wall (which I have yet to try. :( ) as a stress reliever. This is simply A MUST DO! in your life. Doesn't even have to be in Vietnam.
Scary bomb shells were shown at the end of the tour. It was complementary to the big craters we saw around the area.
We got back to Ho Chi Minh with some time to try out the local food in the area around Ben Thanh Market where we found we could eat all kinds of local food. The must-try food? Of course, the Pho noodles in anyway you want, Spring rolls made in the Peking duck style (meaning you get the skin, add some veggies and sauce!) and the best of all, soft-shell crab! It's just so yummy! I often get it as often as I can here in Manila.
The next day, our last tour day, we went for the Mekong River tour. We took the bus from the city, then transferred to a speed boat. We had a lot of stops!
First was an island where we got to try the local honey products mixed with tea and another mixed with... GIN! It was just one shot though. A funny story about this is that we shared a table with Japanese tourists when my friend clinked glasses with me saying, "chinchin!" (cheers in Italian) which unfortunately, without her knowledge meant the male's privates in Japanese. The Japanese guests looked scandalous! I think they guessed it meant something else in our language though since they didn't say anything.
The second island was where we had fruits (most were typical in our country which is tropical as well.) but the caucasians did find the fruits surprisingly fascinating. Same goes with the snake on display that they took turns taking picture with it.
Another stop was an island where they make coconut candies. The tour guide showed and explained to us every step the candies were made. At the end, we got to try a lot of different types and bought those that were good.
Finally, my favorite part of the tour, we rode on these boats and went along the peaceful narrow part of the river. It was just so relaxing that it made me decide to go back when I'm older and can no longer do strenuous touring. The view was just amazing with the leaves bowing into the river making me feel worshipped by nature. Of course, that's a conceited part of me the RARELY arises.
We had lunch in an island (I keep referring them to 'islands' since I just can't pronounce and therefore could not remember any of the names. Sorry!) where we were aloud to explore by ourselves after eating. We weren't able to though since we got distracted talking with an Australian teacher, Steve.
To our surprise our bell which indicated it was time to leave on our speedboat back to Ho Chi Minh City which we had to pay extra (the other option was to go back by bus) for USD 5. It was truly worth the extra fee. The sunset was incredible tinting the river and the surrounding mangroves orange and red.
With this beautiful sight our last picture of Vietnam, we go back home. I may not advise that you spend to go to Ho Chi Minh, but I would definitely advise anybody going to Cambodia to drop by Ho Chi Minh to experience the city on the way.
We also resolve to back to Vietnam and this time visit Hanoi. :)