Archive for June, 2013

A Table for 26 Persons Please: Trip to Vietnam (Part 2)
ITLOG_No. 19

Waking up around 5300hrs (VN Time) and prepared for the day ahead, having our early breakfast and then waited for the others in the group, at the lobby of the hotel, with the van arriving to pick us up, we piled into the van and then picked up others who would be also joining the tour. After all of the persons for the tour were accounted for, we headed out for our first stop, which is the Handicapped Handicraft.

Handicapped Handicraft, is a stop over going to Cu Chi Tunnels, here is where victims of the gas “dioxin”, which the Americans sprayed across the rice paddies and fields to kill the vegetation so that the Vietcong has no where to hide, but it did not only kill the vegetation but also others, this was called the “Agent Orange”

After travelling for about an hour, we arrived at the place and started to go around, since we were here the last time we were in Vietnam, I just took photos of the workers there then waited for the others at the van.

Then back to the road again to travel for almost 2 hours, later I have learned that we were near the border of Cambodia, and have arrived to the place called Cao Dai Temple.

Indigenous to Vietnam, Cao Dai, is in fact a fusion of the teachings from Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, with elements of Christianity and Islam. Founded in the 1920′s, Cai Daism was seen as the answer to the ideal religion and they also worship western icons with the like of Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare and even Joan of Arc. The religion has about three million followers, all in Southern Vietnam and there are several Cao Dai temples in the Mekong Delta too but none as grand as this.

(Built between 1933 and 1955) The structure of the nine-story Cao Dai Temple is part pagoda, part cathedral and part mosque – representing the ideology behind the religion. The exterior – fluorescent shades of pinks and yellows, rococo walls and mosaic-mirrored tiles that glint in the sun seems to find their delicate balance in the chaos. To it top off, the exterior that is already a feast for the eyes, are further ‘accessorized’ with multi-colored dragons of all shapes and sizes. Above the main entrance is the all-seeing Holy Eye, the symbol of the Cao Dai sect. The interior, needless to say, is just as engaging as statues of Jesus Christ, Buddha and the Hindu god, Brahma, stand side by side.

This is where I was told a lot of times not to go where it was prohibited, I was even told to not to sit on a part of the temple (because I was taking photos). And I noticed that all around the temple is an image or a carving of the third eye. Our guide then told us to gather back to the van so we could have our lunch, which is near the temple, and the food tasted ok with bird cages all around and you could hear them sing aloud.

After lunch, our next stop would be the Cu Chi Tunnels, and this time it started to rain. We were awakened by our guide telling us if we still want to continue with the tour, he said that for those who does not want, just stay in the van, but for those who wants to, then follow him, se we went down and headed to the entrance. Others on the group bought those pink disposable raincoats to protect them from the rain, good thing I had my rain covers and rain protection with me.

Cu Chi Tunnels is about 40 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam. The Cu Chi Tunnels are an elaborate underground community made up of 250 km of tunnels and chambers below the city.

The tunnels were dug with simple tools and bare hands during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s to provide refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers. Despite all the bombings in their town, the Cu Chi people were able to continue their lives beneath the soil, where they slept, ate, planned attacks, healed their sick, and taught their young. Some even wed and gave birth underground, but over 10,000 lost their lives here.

A well-defined walking track loops around the area, with things to see spaced at regular intervals, including examples of how people lived and what they ate. There is a 30m section of tunnel, which visitors can crawl through (not recommended for the claustrophobic), examples of traps used during the war, and the remnants of bomb craters. Warning: Many travellers put themselves into small ventilation holes for phototaking. It is great fun but consider your body before getting in as some had difficulties getting out and had to crawl to the exit point.

After the tunnels and some firing of the rifles, we were then brought to an area where you could sample some tapioca and tea, which is what the Vietcong would eat. Then by 1700hrs (VN Time) we were back on the road again, and headed back to Saigon City, and by 1800hrs (VN Time) we knew we were near the city already because of the heavy traffic and lots of motorbikes going in all directions. We were then dropped off at the hotel for a brief rest and by 2000hrs (VN Time) we headed out again to eat dinner.

Dinner was in an Italian restaurant called “Casa Italia”, where the manager and and another person were fellow Filipinos and we had a nice chat with them, ordering pastas and pizzas including a bottle of wine the complete the dinner.

After dinner, we headed to Bui Vien, which is like the Malate area in the Philippines. Bui Vien is a street connecting Tran Hung Dao street and Cong Quynh street in district 1. It is named after a famous diplomat and mandarin under the Nguyen dynasty. There are a wide variety of hotels, art galleries, gift and fashion shops, restaurants and travel companies.

After a couple of drinks, we then took a cab and headed back to the hotel not after buying some iced coffee for the night.

The next day was spent shopping for souvenirs and things to bring back home, after breakfast, we then headed for Saigon Square then transferred to Ben Thanh Market to but stuffs. Heading back to the hotel, we then met one of our CouchSurfing friend, which we invited to join us for lunch at Nha Hang Ngon.

Ngon Restaurant is one of the famed and well-established restaurants in Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City. The term Ngon literally means ‘delicious’ food and this restaurant is known to serve authentic Vietnamese local cuisine stylized like street food yet offering a hygienic ambience. The restaurant is credited with serving a variety of noodles, rice dishes and finger food at a reasonable price of a 50% hike compared to road-side stalls. Being a highly popular venue with locals this place is mostly crowded and packed during the lunch hours with both local residents and tourists. The interior with diffused lighting and banana plants gives it an, other wise serene out look.

In due course this restaurant has become a genuine Saigon – Ho Chi Minh institute serving local dishes and has a highly chaotic ambience full of laughter, shouting and clanging of cooking accessories and another special feature is the open-air kitchen. You get to experience a comfortable seating arrangement with a regular table or a seating arrangement in either the balcony or the courtyard. Decoration wise the main building is having different cooking stations at different corners and each cooking station specializes in respective regional cuisines. Prices of main courses vary between VN$ 7000 to VN$ 55,000.

After lunch, we together with our CouchSurfer friend Thuy, headed for a café to have some iced coffee and we were taught how to drink it, which is after drinking the iced coffee, you follow it up with a cold tea or in Vietnamese it is called tra (pronounced cha) to remove the bitter taste of the coffee.

We then headed back to the hotel to pack our things and rest, at around 1800hrs (VN Time) we gathered in the lobby of the hotel for us to go out and eat dinner for the last time together in Vietnam, we took the taxi and headed for SH Garden Restaurant.

Terrace Restaurant, located at the corner of two of the oldest boulevards of Saigon – Nguyen Hue and Le Loi – established in the 1930s’, where romantic memories of an old Saigon can suddenly come to you. A variety of delicious traditional Vietnamese dishes are served in a nice and simple family style. Upon entrance you meet an old and unique wooden elevator taking you to a banana and lemon grass garden on the terrace with the sound of country music, which promises to bring you a cozy and sensual feeling.

This is where I was a bit disappointed because I have packed my tripod in my bags and this was a nice place to take photos of REX Hotel in front and the rotunda. But had to make do using the ledge to brace the camera. And the menu here is placed in an iPad along with the normal menu, so you can see the photos of the food you are ordering and they have nice food shots.

After dinner, we then headed for Kom Back Dang to have some dessert of ice cream. And the variety of ice cream that they have, we ordered different kind and had a taste of each, including the durian ice cream. Walking back to the hotel and collecting our bags, we took the taxi heading for the international airport. Upon arriving, the counter was still closed and we had to wait for it to open, and waited also for our companions to arrive. Checking in our bags and headed for the immigration area, which is where I had some problems, first the machine that verifies the passport bogs down and had to wait for about 10 minutes for it to be back to normal, I ask the immigration officer if I could transfer lanes but did not answer back, then at the security check, I had to bring out all my stuffs in my hand carry bag including my laptop and cameras for them to scan it thoroughly, alas I was through and head for the lounge area.

Here we waited a little bit longer for our flight back to Manila because it was delayed again. Finally we were allowed to board the plane at around 0030hrs (VN Time) and left Vietnam 30 minutes later. It was a stable flight and had a chance to take a couple of zees, then came an announcement that we were experiencing some strong turbulence and had to put on our seatbelts. Landing at NAIA at around 0400hrs (PH Time) and we were picked up to be brought to our respective houses.

This trip was somewhat different for us, different because we were used on staying on inns and pension houses. Different because, of the food that we eat, we usually try as much as we can to eat street foods, but this time we ate in a classy restaurants that we could not have eaten. Different because, we were 26 in a group and with that lot of persons, it would be a rowdy crowd and would annoy some people who would like to have a quiet time. Different because, this was the first time I had been with the family of my partner, and for this I thank them for accepting me to their clan.

Till the next adventure we would take!

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