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!



khantotantra said...

kaya pala nawala ka ng ilang weeks, nagbakasyones ka pala mr. panda :D

Mukang masaya ang trip kasi dalawang country ang pinuntahan nio. :D Nice.

Excited sa mga next post mo about vietnam at cambods :p

s said...

super nice :)

i think vietnam is interesting kasi sabi they have strong french influence daw?

about malate, i think our malate is prettier based on the photos :)

tsaka talaga? millionaire?? lol


baka naman worth one million ang isang soft drinks dyan? hahaha

mahiyain yata ang culture ng mga vietnamese kaya hindi nag-smile?

tsaka sa airport ba ng pinas, nag smile ang mga staff?

di pa kasi nakapasok sa naia


pero love your nationalistic side "more fun in the phil" :)

more pics naman dyan :)

Anonymous said...

I'm quite envious!
My Dad work there for years but he never had the chance to show how Vietnam was a nice place, I guess soon when we have the time! looking forward to it

sweet pea said...

Whee! d pa ako kasama dito! sumunod lang ako the next day! ! more pics...pero i loved cambodia more...kasi mas mraming historical stuff!!!

McRICH said...

naks kaya pala tahimik ang panda dahil naglagalag sa vietnam & cambodia with the family and sweet pea! o nagthank you ka ba kay little sis? angaling nyang magtravel light a, mukhang praktisado. wag ka na magworry at i-enjoy lang ang moments, sa next travel ka na lang maghanda. at least learning experience ang iyong 1st out-of-the-country trip. it would also help if you could fit/blend in. you know, by dressing down, using earth colors na damit. that way, malalayo kayo sa mga sakim na tourist vultures.

haha napahaba :)

Rah said...

@khant - masaya siya lalo kasi mura :)

@s - sige, because you requested for it, I'll try to add more pics :)

@harvey - true it's a nice place, friendly people, too.

@sweetpea - ako din mas gusto ko sa cambodia, pero sa siem reap, ewan ko lang sa phnom pehn. :)

@mcrich - salamat sa mga tips sir mcrich, yon ang nakalimutan namin, to blend in with the crowd :)

Wella Daynne said...

Wow. Cheers to having a great time! Hope I'd find time to travel too. Nkakaaddict mag travel and explore new cultures.: )

Ken said...

Musta na? I'm Filipino myself and my wife is Vietnamese. I'm glad you found Vietnam as a nice place and that you had fun there. I've been there already three times, two times visiting and staying with my wife's family outside TPHCM and during the Tet(New Years) season. One of the misconceptions abut VN is that it has alot of French influences. I noticed that Filipinos have this obsession with anything colonial or European. In fact VN has been influenced by ancient Chinese culture for 1000 years, so it's more of an Asian mix of Chinese, indigenous Vietnamese, and Cham influences on their language, food, dress, religion and architecture. The only thing French is Catholicism(VN has the second largest Catholic population in SE Asia), French bread, coffee shops, and the current Latin script they use in their language.
Hope you will have a chance to go again and do more touring outside of the city.