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I was watching a movie in HBO entitled The Bucket List starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, when I decided to make my own bucket list (not that I am dying) and later adding another list, places to visit before I die (like the book entitled “1000 places to visit before you die”), and one of the places I wanted to visit was the ruins of Angkor Wat.

The opportunity came when Cebu Pacific Air offered a promo last March 2009 for their flights to Saigon, Vietnam which borders Cambodia where Angkor Wat is. The plan was to fly to Saigon, then cross the border to Cambodia and see Angkor Wat then back to Saigon. Not only will I be seeing Vietnam but also Cambodia with lots of historical places like the Chueung Ek Genocidal Center or better known as The Killing Fields in Cambodia and the Cu Chi Tunnels used by the Vietcong in the Vietnam War.

We booked our flight last March 24, 2009 and upon learning of our trip our friends also booked their flight and would join us and soon we were a group of nine individuals who are mostly members of the group PHOTOKALYE. The itinerary was from Manila, we would fly to Saigon, Ride a bus to Siem Reap (where Angkor Wat is), then a bus ride to Phnom Penh, then another bus ride back to Saigon then fly back to Manila.

Why take the bus?

Someone said that to really see the country you are visiting try to take the local transportation and meet the locals.

Our flight was at 2300hrs, Friday, October 16, 2009. We met up at the Terminal 3 at around 1930hrs, checked-in our luggage and passed through immigration then ate at a food stand at the airport then lounged out at the boarding area. We started boarding the plane at around 2240hrs at Gate 115 and by 2300hrs we were taxing off the runway and headed for Saigon. Arriving at Ton Son Nhat international Airport around 0130hrs, located north of District 1, first constructed by the French Colonial Government in 1930’s and by mid-1956, US aid built a 7,200-foot (2,190m) runway and terminal facility. During the Vietnam war, it was used by both US and the South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). Passing through immigration, we exchanged some dollars into the local currency which is the dong, for our taxi ride to Bui Vien, A backpacker’s haven with cheap hotels and food, and lots of bars, while we stayed with a relative and by 0300hrs we were all settled-in to rest or so I thought, because our friends still went out and had drinks.

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Woke up at 0700hrs, and by 0900hrs were headed to Bui Vien to meet up with the others and have breakfast where I ate fried noodles which looked like Lucky Me Pancit Canton. Heading back to Ngoc Mai Hotel and confirmed our trip to Siem Reap, then went to Hunglong located at Mac Thi Buoi Street to exchange our money into dong (they give good exchange rates), then off to see Saigon, which is the largest city in Vietnam, situated along the banks of Saigon River. Saigon is still the economic heart of Vietnam and the streets bustle with activity, not only to mention what seem like endless steam of motorbikes. Vendors, markets, shops, stands and cafes crowd the busy streets adding to the vibe. Chic bars and clubs popping up around the city to be crowded by affluent Vietnamese and Expatriates.

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Our first stop was to see the Opera House or Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theater located at Le Loi Street. Built by the French at the end of the 19th century and renovated in the 1940’s, is a fine example of colonial architecture and is a landmark at the center of Saigon. No longer in use for European Opera but sometimes used for Vietnamese Music performances.

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Our next stop was the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica located at Paris Square of downtown Saigon. Apart from the religious meaning that attracts the tourists, the special captivating point of the Notre-Dame Cathedral is its Neo-Romanesque style of architecture. All its red bricks were imported from Marseilles and colored glass windows made in France’s Chartes Province. Tiles have been carved with the words Guichard Carvin, Marseille St Andre France (stating the locality where the tiles were produced). Some tiles have been carved with the words “Wang-Tai Saigon”. Many tiles have since been made in Saigon to replace broken tiles during the war. There are 56 glass squares supplied by the Lorin Firm of Chartes Province in France. The cathedrals foundation was designed to bear 10 times its weight. In front of the cathedral is a statue of the Virgin Mary with its two 58-high square towers tipped with iron spires dominates the city’s skyline.

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Beside the Notre-Dame Basilica is the Saigon Central Post Office, a gothic architectural style designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel in harmony with the surrounding area. The post office reminds you of the European Railway Station, the modern skylight of the grand old structure resembles the famous European buildings like the Paris’ Les Halles or Milan’s Galleria of the late nineteenth century and also the Grand Central Station in New York. The central pavilion, with a huge clock and symmetrical extensions on both sides, add to its beauty. This fascinating building with alcoves and logical fenestration is an outstanding display of French design influenced by Renaissance architecture. The arched windows of the Central Post Office are adorned with decorative capstones. Engaged piers, crowned with imaginative human-headed capitals, make the frames of the windows. The green window shutters resemble any other French colonial architecture. The main entrance of the Central Post Office is decorated with intricate ironwork. Once you are in the city’s Central Post Office, you cannot afford to miss the huge maps of Vietnam on both sides of the building’s main entrance. The elegant interior is considered to be the most interesting feature of the Central Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City. The vaulted and shining interior with its glass canopy, huge ceilings and a giant portrait of Ho Chi Minh, has enough to charm you.

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After meeting-up with a former office mate who now works in Saigon, we headed for Quan An Ngon Restaurant. Ngon meaning “Delicious” is always packed with both locals and tourists. We got ourselves a table located at the balcony overlooking the courtyard and ordered Pho Bo for me but did not get a chance to taste which looks like halo-halo because I was full.

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After Lunch we started walking again and headed for the Reunification Hall is a historic landmark in Saigon. 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, and an NVA tank crashed through its gates, as recorded by Neil Davis. But not after passing through which looks like a government building but not marked on the map. We did not enter the Reunification Hall but instead headed toward our next destination, which is the War Remnants Museum.

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The War Remnants Museum formerly known as Saigon’s Exhibition House of American War Crimes, portrays the horrors and details of the Vietnam War. At present it is located within an assemblage of warehouses. However its new building adjacent to its present location is under construction. This museum standing near the city’s famous Reunification palace, with its halls filled with gruesome photographs and a real guillotine, depicts some of the worst brutality that happened during the Vietnam War.

One building reproduces the “tiger cages” in which the South Vietnamese government housed political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photographs, accompanied by short copy in English, Vietnamese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and atrocities such as the My Lai massacre. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, last in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses deformed by exposure to dioxin.

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After all those walking around, we headed back to Bui Vien and had drinks and ate banh mi. After sundown went back to where we were staying and then went out again do have coffee and drinks and by 2100hrs was back in the house and rested for out bus trip to Siem Reap

NOTE: Vietnam time is an hour late from Philippine time

Comments
  1. […] back again to KL that day. The last time we did visit two countries in one trip was when we visited Vietnam then crossed over to Cambodia. We had our plane tickets booked months before and then some pitfalls came in our life that we […]

  2. […] plane tickets and accommodation plus food will be paid for, we said why not! We would be visiting Saigon again after almost 4 years and would like to visit the place again, but this time no more 12-hr bus […]

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