Archive for May, 2013

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A Table for 26 Persons Please: Trip to Vietnam (Part 1)
ITLOG_No. 19
(07.05.2013-11.05.2013)

Going on a trip requires a lot of money to spend for accommodation, transportation, food, plane ticket and other things. That’s why we work our arsses off, so that at the end of the day we could plan a trip and enjoy a well-earned holiday. Since I’m doing freelance work, I had to work double time to earn money for trips. Our budget for trips are spent on lodging which for us means, staying at backpackers inns, staying with friends or relatives, or even go Couchsurfing, where we meet a lot of new friends.

Instances where opportunity knocks, grab it!

We were invited to join a trip to Saigon with my partner’s family, our 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 ride to Seam Reap. I wanted a tour of the Mekong River, but I was alone in wanting to visit the place, so we settled for a day’s tour to Cao Dai Temples and Cu Chi Tunnels. The planning of this trip was stress full on my partners part because she was in charge of booking most of the plane tickets plus setting up the accommodation of each person at the Blue Diamond Hotel (which for us would be a luxury, since we are used to staying at backpackers inn), and also the places where to eat… and we were a group of 26 individuals including at least 4 kids.

We were scheduled to leave at 2250hrs(PH Time) and we were out of the house 1500hrs (PH Time) to pick up the others on the group. From our place in Quezon City, we headed for San Juan then to Wack-Wack for a total of 10 persons in this group and 4 others waiting at the airport (the other group composed of 11 persons left for Saigon at an earlier trip). After the usual check-in of our bags, we headed for Pancake house and had our dinner there, after which, we passed through immigration and security checks, then waited at the lounge area at the gate. Then an announcement came over the PA system that our plane would be delayed for about 30 minutes and we would be waiting a little bit longer. At around 2110hrs (PH Time) we were told to board the plane, se we gathered our hand carry bags and trooped to the counter to board the plane, leaving Manila at around 2130hrs.

Arriving at Tan Son Nhat International Airport at around 0050hrs (VN Time) and passed through immigration, heading for the foreign exchange booth to have some Vietnam currency to pay for the taxi, while I got city map for at the stand for the group. Since we could not find any vans around like the previous trip, we opted to get 3 taxis to take us all to the hotel, we were the last group to leave the airport and arriving at the hotel at around 0200hrs (VN Time), where we got our room assignment and then rested for the night.

Waking up around 0600hrs (VN Time), and prepared for breakfast, where we would be eating a complimentary buffet breakfast at the restaurant of the hotel by 0700hrs (VN Time). After breakfast we headed back to our room and just lazed around because we would be meeting up with the group at around 1030hrs for lunch, having taken our group picture, we then took a taxi and headed for our first lunch together as a group to Cha Ca La Vong where they only serve one thing in their menu, which is snake head fish.

One of Hanoi’s most famous specialties is Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong grilled fish pies). The dish was invented by Doan family and has quickly become so popular that the name of the street where it is served was changed into Cha Ca (fish pie) from its former name Hang Son (Paint Street).
To have tasty pie, the fish selected is Hemibagrus with solid fresh, less bones and good scent. Fish bones are left away to keep fish meat only, then, it is seasoned with fish sauce, pepper, saffron and galingale. After that, the processed fish is grilled by coal heat and turned upside down to make both sides baked.
When serving, an oven of coal is needed to keep Cha Ca always hot. It is served with rice vermicelli, dried pancakes, roasted peanuts, sliced onion leaves, basil and shrimp paste with lemon and chili.
Hanoians often eat this dish while sipping some alcohol in the cold weather. If you are in Hanoi, you should come and explore the grilled fish pie yourself.

While you sit down at the table, the waiter starts laying there some seasonings includes a bowl of well – stirred shrimp paste sauce mixed up with lemon. After dropping the liquor, he will decorate the bowl with a few slices of red fresh pimento, a plate of grilled grounded nuts of gold yellow color, various species of mint vegetables o­nions in small white slices. 

To many customers, the sight of such seasoning already greatly stimulates their appetite. A few minutes later, fried fish, yellow in color and flagrant in smell put o­n a plate of anethum vegetable, is brought in. But that is not all. A few seconds more, as soon as a cauldron of boiling fat is brought in, the waiter starts pouring it o­n each bowl of grilled fish, thus producing a white smoke and sputtering noise.
Now, this is the time for picking and choosing what you like from the dishes on the table; sticking them into your bowl. Everything in all dishes should be eaten together.

Because we were a group of 26, with at least 4 kids, we were directed at the second floor of the restaurant and we were seated at a long table at the end, far from other customers, because we were a little bit excited. The people who served us were somewhat confused on how to serve a large group of people. After lunch, and some blessings given to us, we then headed for Trung Nguyen Cafe to have a taste of some true Vietnamese coffee.

Trung Nguyen coffees are one of the most sought-after pleasures by tourists when visiting Vietnam. These rich, multi-species, heirloom coffees are deep-roasted but never burnt, giving you a uniquely delicious coffee experience.
Vietnamese coffee is traditionally packaged as ground coffee to be brewed in the regionally popular Phin Filter (as served in Southeast Asian coffee shops and restaurants) or French Press, but will brew well in drip machines. If you are looking for a unique gourmet coffee experience that you can brew in your Keurig machine.

We got something to drink, while I got some cold pineapple shake because I could not drink coffee, while the kids got something to eat since they were not used to eating fish with lots of vegetables, and then ordered a lot of bags of coffee to take back home

Heading back to the hotel to change a bit (it was hot and humid) and get some things for a tour to the War Remnants Museum, (in which we have been before, but wanted to take more photos), when we were about to leave, it started to drizzle and with the kids with us, we took a taxi going to the War Remnants Museum, arriving and paying for the entrance, I was surprised to see that the exhibit has changed, it used to be just occupying 2 floors now it occupies 3 floors and the exhibit for the agent orange has its own exhibit at the 2nd floor.

The museum comprises a series of themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment placed within a walled yard. The military equipment includes a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter” bomb, M48 Patton tank, an A-1 Skyraider attack bomber, and an A-37 Dragonfly attack bomber. There are a number of pieces of unexploded ordnance stored in the corner of the yard, seemingly with their charges and/or fuses removed.
One building reproduces the “tiger cages” in which the South Vietnamese government allegedly kept political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photography, accompanied by a short text 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. The photographic display includes work by Vietnam War photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa that he donated to the museum in 1998. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, the last time being in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses allegedly deformed by exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds, contained in the defoliant Agent Orange.
According to travel reports from foreign visitors, the exhibits are “blatantly one-sided” with a “a heavy dose of anti-American (and South Vietnamese) propaganda”, “full of propaganda” and “need to be taken with a grain of salt”, but “they do graphically portray the horrors of the Vietnam War. US anthropologist Christina Schwenkel wrote in a 2009 book that while the description “war crimes” has been dropped from the official text, the museum still exhibits pictures that are considered controversial and perhaps unrepresentative like that of a “smiling U.S. soldier proudly displaying a VC head as a war trophy” accompanied by a caption that is still hinting at a criminal element, in this case: “after decapitating some guerillas, a GI enjoyed being photographed with their heads in his hands”. Schwenkel’s book also mentioned how the Vietnamese regime “borrowed images from the West and inserted them into a “distorted” history”, using images of the War to substantiate their version and views on Vietnam War history.

Having taken my fill of photos, we then walked back to the hotel, passing some shops where they sell sports equipment and thought that I will get some for my kids. I then decided to walk to Notre Dame Cathedral and take some night photos of the place but was disappointed that the church has no lights at night, so I did get off some shots, then transferred to the street corner and took some photos. After which I decided to take a photo also of the Opera House, but got confused on the way and got lost, I did not know that the Opera house was just the next block where I was standing, since we have to meet up at the lobby at around 1900hrs (VN Time), I headed back to the hotel, when I arrived, our friend back in the Philippines was there, and we invited them to have dinner with us in a street corner near our hotel, which the kids say was the best dinner they had, they even ate pigeons.

After a heavy dinner (which I ate a lot), we said our goodbyes to our friends and then headed for the night market at Ben Thanh Market, where we got some souvenirs to take back home, heading back to the hotel and dropping by to buy some iced coffee, we then called it a day, because tomorrow we would be visiting Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels.

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.