20 May 2012

Vietnam Tourist Spots: Reunification Palace, Saigon Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, War Remnants Museum

Hi there!

And so now I go on with the story of our adventure in Vietnam. After snoozing a bit, it was time to visit the local tourist destinations in Ho Chi Minh.

First stop, the Reunification Palace.

The Reunification Palace, Vietnam

The Reunification Palace is where the Vietnam War was ended. In 1975, a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates and declared the victory of the communist party, thus ending the Vietnam war. That said tank can still be seen at the grounds of the Palace to date.

Having a picture with a young lady at the Palace's souvenir shop. Oh, a little trivia, they DON'T call females "miss."(E.g. Miss, how much is this shirt?) Instead, they use "Lady" and "Madam." 

Having my picture taken with a statue of Ho Chi Minh. He was a Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leader who was prime minister (1945–1955) and president (1945–1969) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People's Army of Vietnam and the Việt Cộngduring the Vietnam War source: wikipedia.

Meeting Hall of the Reunification Palace. This was where top leaders gathered and made
important policies and decisions. 

Inside the Reunification Palace, you can expect to see the president's office, meeting halls, conference halls, and a view of the City.

After an hour touring the Reunification palace, we walked around the block and saw this restaurant. We didn't know what to order so we sorta just told the waiter to "surprise us." And this is what we my tita got ---

Tomato and pipino salad

I asked for their local best seller and this is what I got --

Pancake with veggies.
I love veggies. This was the perfect mirienda.

After eating our mirienda, we went to the Saigon Post office which was just walking distance from the restaurant. This Post Office was built by 20th century French colonizers. It features a Gothic architectural style and was designed and constructed by Gustave Eiffel with the original materials flown from France.

Inside the post office.

Inside, you can buy post cards and stamps; there is also a souvenir shop. That portrait of Ho Chi Minh right there reminds me of Kung Fu movies I used to watch when I was kid. I want my own portrait painting just like that someday with a tagline: "Wanna try my Kung Fu?!"

Notre  Dame Cathedral

Just opposite the Saigon Post Office is the Notre Dame Cathedral. The design reminds me of San Sebastian Church in Manila. We wanted to go in and pray, but it was closed.  Notre Dame Cathedral was built by the French between 1863 and 1880.

Next, we hailed a cab and went to nearby War Remnants Museum.

The exhibit was a graphic encounter. It shows explicit photos of the effects of the war. There were pictures of dead people as a result of war in almost every gallery. Some photos show people injured, disfigured, mutilated, or amputated. It's horrific, but that's reality.

Tank you very much. My first photo with a tank.

Outside the building is a large collection of military vehicles, planes, and helicopters that was either left by the departure of The US forces or they were captured by the North Vietnamese Army. 

The War Remnants Museum. 
It is said that the museum was originally called Museum of American War Crimes, but it was changed as not to offend tourists. 


The museum speaks for itself -- a compendium of the effects of modern warfare.

Effect of Agent Orange
One gallery details the effects of the 75 million liters of defoliant sprays dumped across the country, including hideously malformed fetuses preserved in pickling jars.

"Agent Orange." It's the first time I really got to understand what Agent Orange meant. Agent Orange is the common name used for one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program. It is an extremely toxic dioxin compound. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.

It is said that during the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly  (80,000,000 l) of material containing chemical herbicides and defoliants mixed with jet fuel in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, as part of a war operation to defoliate forested and rural land, depriving guerrillas of cover and to destroy the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside, thus depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply. (source: wikipedia)

My first day in Vietnam was unique because it's not the usual fun getaway that we Filipinos expect from a vacation. Most tourist spots in this part of Vietnam are all related to war. It was depressing. It didn't sink in to me until it was time for us to go.  I didn't know United States of America resorted to chemical warfare in an attempt to win a war. What a shame! The Vietnam War  is a ghastly shadow that continue to haunt our very souls.

More stories of our adventure. Next, I will tell you guys how we left Vietnam and set foot on a journey to Cambodia.




17 May 2012

My First Out of the Country Experience: Vietnam


I love the Philippines.  I am quite satisfied traveling locally as much as I can, but I have to admit that sometimes there is still that eagerness to find out what's beyond our country. When I was a little boy, I knew someday I was going to set foot on a foreign soil. I just did not know it was going to be this month already!

When my mother invited me to go with her and my titas to Vietnam last month, I couldn't contain my excitement. We would be flying to Vietnam then cross the border to Cambodia and get to see the famous Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap. We invited Sweetpea, too. I was so excited that Sweetpea could come with us. We booked our flight early and got the best deals from Cebu Pacific.

After being lonely in my drawer for many years, my passport finally found its purpose:  to be  stamped at by immigration officials. I'm glad Vietnam and Cambodia are non-visa countries, it saved a lot of time and money. I wish I could have prepared for the trip more even though I was coming out of a busy school week. I wish I had a chance to pick up tourist guide books to familiarize myself with the itinerary. Thank goodness my cousin Tsina helped us book our hotel and set up the itinerary for our trip. We are all thankful to her.

When traveling abroad, I know the importance of preparation. I wish I noted the number and address of the Philippine Embassy at the very least. I wish I knew how helpful it was to buy a local SIM card and not rely on international roaming services. These could be helpful in times of emergency. I wish I learned useful Vietnamese and Cambodian phrases in advance, like "hello" and "thank you." In short, there were a lot of things I should have done.

I crammed my things into my suitcase and reminded myself to travel light.I showed my younger sister Angelica  how proud I was that I was able to pack my suitcase light, she frowned.

"Kuya! Is this the way you pack light?! Let me help you."

She halved my suitcase load with an evil smile. 10 t-shirts down to 5. 6 shorts to just 3. She discarded my running shoes and replaced it with comfy slip-on.

"I know you want to run in foreign land, but you will be walking the whole day that jogging will just be extraneous. It is okay to reuse clothes, there is always laundry service, if you ever need it."

I would later find out later that she is right. It was a good advise that I took. The plane ride was a breeze thanks to my comfort kit. I'm very proud of my comfort kit (made up of an air pillow, a sleeping eye cover, and blanket.) The flight was as good as sleeping in my own room. The cabin crew were hospitable and cute,  but noticeably trying to fight out stress and being sleepy.

Vietnam touchdown. Two and a half hours later, at about three in the morning, our plane landed to Tan Son Nhat International Airport. The airport is located about four miles from downtown Ho Chi Minh City. At the immigration counter, I flashed my grumpy passport to be stamped on. The immigration officials there could use some smile. They should go to our country. It's more fun in the Philippines.

We had to exchange our US dollars to Dong as our first agenda. It is safer to exchange your dollars in a bank or bank accredited exchange. Be careful when you're exchanging your dollars there.  Some money changers offer attractive higher exchange rates, only to find out later they charge a commission fee. That commission fee is written in the signboards in a microscopic print. It is misleading. A group of Filipinos computed their money exchange and realize the difference. They went berserk. That's when I realized Vietnam is not perfect, they have dishonest merchants, too.

1 US Dollar can be exchanged for 20,000 Dong. "Dong" is their local currency. Yeah, it sounds funny, I know right? I've even composed a song in my head I entitled "The Dong Song." First line goes, "That dong do-dong dong dong!" 

My 100 USD was exchanged for more than 2 Million (2,000,000 d) Dong. I was an instant millionaire, can you believe it?! I remember Forrest Gump once said, "You only need so much money in this world, the rest is just for showing off." I tried to be humble even if I was already a millionaire, *wink.

Our airport transfer service from the hotel was waiting for us outside. Our destination was the  HongHoa Hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh.

At HongHoa Hotel room.
The hotel is known to budget travelers. It is walking distance to the famous tourist destinations. After settling down, we took a nap, at around eight in the morning, it was time to explore the streets. At 17 dollars a night, it was a steal. The hotel has all the basic amenities you need including WiFi. The comfort room even has a bath tub.

The first photos of our trip feature the streets of Ho Chi Minh.

The streets of Ho Chi Minh. Red flags galore.

There were red flags with stars and hammer and sickle everywhere. The city was probably commemorating a historical event. Ho Chi Minh reminded me of the streets of Malate, Manila. The weather was cloudy and humid just like our weather in the Philippines.  

The streets of Ho Chi Minh were not as spotless as you would expect it to be. You would see occasional trash here and there. We have cities here in Philippines that are cleaner. Motorcycle is the primary mode of transportation there, few people have cars. Even ladies wearing skirts and dresses use motorcycles. 

Local fruit vendors with the very iconic Vietnamese conical hats.
There were no shortage of fresh fruits in Vietnam. Lanzones, mangosteen, mangoes, coconut -- they sell it at prices comparable to what we charge here in the Philippines. It seems fruits in Vietnam are very sweet and tangy. 

Tita Corazon, Tita Milkah, Coconut vendor, Imelda my mom.
The tale of the traveling titas. While I was doing my best to pack light, they seemed to be doing the opposite :) hehe ok lang. I don't mind carrying the extra weights.

My mom with the garden sun flowers at Notre Dame Cathedral. 

Yours truly with a tourist police in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Whatsup brother from another mother! :)

It's my first out of the country experience is like being transported to a parallel universe. I felt like an alien, everything was familiar yet so new.

More stories of our adventure in my next posts. 

Till next time,  Ciao!