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Monday, December 3, 2012

Lost in Saigon

We were picked up from the guesthouse at around 6:30 AM by the bus company shuttle service (still in Phnom Pehn). Yup, they have one which is impressive. We don't have to be in a hurry to go to the bus terminal by ourselves. We bought our tickets from the same bus company we used from Siem Reap which is the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport. The bus to Ho Chi Minh City leaves at 6:45 AM.

Again, we didn't have time for a proper breakfast so we just bought bahn mi to go. :) The sandwich was pretty similar to what we had in Siem Reap, this one only had onion leeks.

breakfast onboard again

We bought some other snack and bottles of water. It's going to be another 6 hours on the road. Most passengers were travelers like us, only they were Caucasians.

want some? :)

Cambodia-Vietnam Border Crossing

After 3 hours or so, we were all instructed to get off the bus and bring all our belongings. We figured we were already at the Bavet (Cambodia)-Moc Bai (Vietnam) Border. The system was very organized. First, the conductor asked everyone to hand him the passports. Then he explained everything we have to do (over the microphone) before we got off. He took care of the departure stamps from the Cambodian Immigration and handed them over to the Viet Immigration. We walked to the other side of the border and went straight to the Immigration queue. We waited for our names to be called one by one and got our passports stamped for entry. No more questioning or whatsoever just like in the Cambodian border.We and our luggage went through the x-ray scanners before we were allowed to exit the Immigration and that was it. When we were all finished with the immigration process, we boarded the same bus and continue our journey to Ho Chi Minh City. The whole process only took us more or less 20 minutes. Easy breezy. :)

Another 3 hours of eating, sleeping and watching Cambodian music videos (which I found highly entertaining hehe) had passed when we finally saw a sign of Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived at around 1:30 PM. Another nice thing about this bus is that they do not just drop passengers at a terminal. They go straight into the city center and will ask passengers about their area of choice. In our case, we were headed to the backpackers's district of Pham Ngu Lao so we were dropped off in the area. Perfect!

We didn't book any accommodation there in advance. The first thing we did when we got off was to ask around the hostels area. In Pham Ngu Lao, there's this compound full of hostels and guesthouses. We entered this one alley and inquired about their room rates. Red Sun Hotel gave us the best rate so we stayed with them. Maybe it was off season then. We haggled with them to get a lower rate.

Red Sun Hotel

I am also not giving a recommendation entry for them. The room was just fine but I did not like it that much. The rooms were small. If you are claustrophobic I don't think you would enjoy staying there. I'm not sure what machine was attached to our room's wall but it really made our room so freaking hot and noisy! It took some time before the A/C cooled it up. Also, it rained on our last day in Saigon. I'm not sure how the rain water got in but the staircases were flooded which is very dangerous for the guests. Who knows what can happen if you accidentally slip on them. Yes, there's no lift. We had to use the stairs all the way up to the 4th floor with our heavy packs. Oh well, that's what we got for a discounted rate. We only got it for USD 9 (not giving us much right to complain). By the way, the receptionists and their customer service was downright. They assisted us in every way they can. I'm giving them good points for that. I assume our experience would have been nicer if we were given a better room.

Ho Chi Minh City Tour

Just like we did in Phnom Pehn, we just rented a motorbike that we can use on our own City Tour. The hotel receptionist assisted us to get one. The rental was just the same as in PP which was USD 7. Fair enough. We just requested for a map and then off we went. Little did we know that it was so easy to get lost in the streets of Saigon!

On the first leg of our so called "tour", everything was going smoothly. We found the Ho Chi Minh City Hall first. This French colonial building was built in the early 1900's. We can just take photos outside since this is not open to the public especially to the tourists.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall

We saw the Notre Dame Cathedral next. It's official name is Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Like the City Hall, it was established by the French colonists. All building materials of this church were imported from France. Sossy. :)

Saigon Notre Dame Basilica

In search of the Reunification Palace (which we never found), we came across the Ho Chi Minh City Museum. This building was also built during the French colonial era and used to be the residence of the the French high-ranking officers. It's former name is Gia Long Palace. They turn it into a museum after the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Ho Chi Minh City Museum exterior

Just like a typical museum, it gives you a glimpse of their history and important events that happened in their city and country.

an example of Viet livelihood

Outside the museum, you can see tanks, helicopter and a fighter plane. They probably used it during Vietnam War where South Vietnam was overtaken. Vietnam was then turned into a communist state and Saigon was combined with the surrounding province. They officially renamed it into Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

no to war please :)

The mural below reminds me of our very own EDSA Revolution scenery.

don't be takot, let's make baka! ;p

The photo below shows the traditional Vietnamese clothing for men and women. I actually wish I can wear one. I know that the women's is called Ao Dai. I'm not sure if it's the same for men. If anyone of you knew it, please, please leave a comment. :)

wanted to wear this too!

Before we left the museum, we have to pay for the parking fee. The person manning the parking lot was the cheerful old lady with me at the photo below. Even though we hardly understand each other because of language issues, we managed to get what she was saying hehe. She wants to have a picture taken with me and she even asked me to do the "Japan Japan" pose hehe. She is so cool. :)

my 1st Viet friend :)

We strolled around in our motorbike again soaking the local street scene. There were a lot of other tourists walking around the city center. Seeing vendors in their traditional conical hat was so cute hehe. It is very Vietnam. :)

Viet vendors

The next thing we saw was the Saigon Opera House also known as Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Theater. It is another French colonial structure and was used by the Lower House assembly. It was converted into a theater after the fall of Saigon.

Saigon Opera House

After this, was when we started to seriously got lost in the streets of Saigon haha.

motorcycle country

We thought we had the most number of motorbikes on the road in the whole Asia, but we were all wrong! I think Vietnam has more! Even girls rock a motorbike there. Beau was amazed seeing a woman in skirt and high heels driving one. :)

We'd been driving around and kept on coming out at the same place. When we tried going to an out-of-the-way road, we ended up in a bridge leading out to the city! We got really lost haha. It's hard to drive around Saigon. The street names are alike and very confusing. Add to that the prevalent one-way system. I think you need at least one week to get used to driving in Ho Chi Minh City. We never get to see three more attractions in our list because we ran out of time.

with the tallest building in Saigon

It was getting so dark so we  gave our own little city touring up. We just came back to Ben Thanh Market (which is near our hotel) and checked out stuff we can buy for pasalubong. That photo above was taken at a parking space in Ben Thanh. Behind me is the Bitexco Financial Tower which used to be the tallest skyscraper in Vietnam. It has 68 floors. A taller building topped out in Hanoi just a year ago.

When we were done looking around, we searched for an eatery where many locals go. We saw this one place packed with people. Ordering was a challenge. The waitress had to call her boss who speaks English. We then requested for an English menu and just pointed what we want hehe.

Viet Pork Adobo? :)

To our surprise, the food served to us looked really familiar. We didn't picture it as it is when we read their menu. We ended up eating "adobo-ish" dishes that night haha.

Chicken Adobo rin? :)

The funny thing was, my Beau ordered a pork dish. It was something similar to a sweet and sour pork according to their menu description. We were astounded when it came out as Spicy Chicken Adobo. We just laughed it off. We don't want to make a scene and it looked okay so he just settled with it. We already got their attention when we were ordering and we didn't want any more of it. We just want to dine like one of them locals so we did not make a big deal out of it.

Ice Cold Jasmine Tea

Another thing I noticed in Vietnam was the free iced tea. Yes, it's free! Although it wasn't our usual Lemon Iced Tea (it was Jasmine), it was surprisingly refreshing. It will be served to you while waiting for your food. I even remembered asking about it because we did not order one. The waitress just smiled and said "it's for free". I was so naive haha. Very nice. No need to order a drink.

We were suppose to see the Water Puppet Show that night too, but we were already tired and we might have trouble of finding the place again so we just decided to pass. We just went to Saigon Square to shop around a little bit.

Even though we did not cover everything we need to see in Ho Chi Minh City, we enjoyed that day very much. I don't know but there's something about getting lost, not understanding the language of a country, traversing strange roads, walking around with people whom you completely don't know - that makes me feel very thrilled. I love the excitement the unfamiliar brings. :)

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” — Henry David Thoreau

This is Part 1 of my Vietnam travel series.

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