February 2, 2011

South East Asia on a shoestring 2: Around HCMC & Mekong Delta

2nd day – Around Ho Chi Minh City
 We wake up around 8am knowing that some of the people are leaving already so left only the three of us and Karl from Sweden. We start our day at 10am using bus number 18 heading Pham Ngu Lao, District 1 to find bus ticket to Phnom Penh.  The mode of transportation we used during our stay in Ho Chi  Minh is only bus and taxi. Their buses are comfort enough with air con on it and no matter how far or close you destination is you pay only D 3.000 for each journey.  

Traffic in Ho Chi Minh, in my opinion, is as bad as in Jakarta :D. I am not talking about being stuck in the middle of the street cause I’m sure Jakarta is worst. I am talking about the motorbikes .. yeah.. they are even crazier. I feel that I can go across it in the middle of Jakarta’s crowded street but not in Ho Chi Minh. It’s just scary knowing that they even doent want stop though you have already crossing the street at the right place. It’s quite experience though. Once, our friend Phil, a CS from States, I’m not sure whether he took photos or videoing us while we are crossing the street HAHAHAHA :D. Thanks a lot Phil.

We arrive at the final destination of the bus stop, Cho Ben Thanh Bus Station. The central bus station is right in front the Ben Tanh market, is a big marketplace in the downtown area of Ho Chi Minh, in District 1. Today is considered one of symbols of the city. Popular with tourists seeking local handicrafts, textiles, souvenirs, as well as local cuisine.  While me and Felis just get a nice bag with a Vietnamese motif on it and Grace gets usual Vietnam T-shirts.

We walk the Pham Ngu lao while seeking for Sapaco Tour around the street. The Pham Ngu Lao area is known for its affordable guest houses and mini-hotels as well as the availability of tourist agencies which primarily cater to budget tourists also lots of restaurants with international, Italian, and local food. At the Sapaco we buy our tickets to Phnom Penh. We get 200.000 Dong or USD 11.00 for ticket. After tickets we go around the Pham Ngu Lao to find our lunch. We enter the Bui Vien Street around Pham Ngu Lao and having lunch at the local food restaurant. With 17.000 Dong, we can have beef and veggies also a bowl of soup. And the rain starts to wet the Ho Chi Minh City, we decide to move and enjoying coffee at Stella coffee shop in front of our restaurant. Me and Grace tasting the famous Trung Nguyen coffee and its true.. I love it a lot! I have Ice Coffee Milk with only 25.000Dong which cheap for a nice coffee milk like that :D .

We wait the raining to stop almost 2 hours, and then decide to leave Stella though still raining. We buy raincoats and ready to walk using the city map. We start walking from Pham Ngu Lao and passing by the Ben Tanh Market. Heading the Ho Chi Minh City Museum . The Ho Chi Minh City Museum is an historical site was built during the French colonial era and situated at the corner ofnear Reunification Palace.

After the museum we are going to Reunification Palace formerly known as Independence Palace, built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, is a landmark in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It wasthe home and workplace of the President of  South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The complex covered an area of 12 hectares, including a palace with an 80-meter-wide, a guest-chamber capable of accommodating 800 people, with a spacious gardens covered by green trees and a lawn. Most of the building materials were imported from France. Lots of local tourists and foreigners are visiting it. With entrance Dong 15.000 we can enjoy all this 3 storey building. 

The rain stops when we go out from the museum. We walk the garden right across the garden in front of the Museum and we look at some of young people around the garden just to hang out and chill out with friends. Grace is interested to taste the local food named  Banh Trang. A giant crackers made from rice flours and added sesame seeds in it. The price is Dong 5.000 per piece which later we find out it cost only around Dong 3.000 according to Kha, our host :D. The cracker doesn’t really taste good until we eat it using chilly sauce we brought from Indonesia :D, yeah we bring Saos Sambal ABC hehehehe.

We eat while sitting in the garden with the side view of an orange building called Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica is a cathedral established by French colonists and constructed between 1863 and 1880. Too bad, we cannot enter the cathedral because there is a holy mass inside and we are just happy just to take some photos from the outside with Virgin Mary statue stands right in front of it.

The time is around 5 pm when we are heading the Saigon Central Post Office just beside across the Cathedral. This beautiful building has a Gothic architectural style. It was designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel in harmony with the surrounding area. Even we do not send anything, we get in the building and admire its huge hall. This post office also serves some of the major telecommunications like internet and telephone. In the right and left wings of the front building also sells some of local handicrafts with the price higher compare with the local market.    

I like walking the Sai Gon Pedestrian. It’s wide and shady without street stalls here and there. We walk along street where lots of boutiques and restaurants. And then we meet the Municipal Theatre or Saigon Opera House. Just like the other building we met before. This Opera House also built during the French colonialism and it capable to accommodate 1.800 people inside. All the furniture,, inscriptions and décor were all imported from French.

Passing through some gardens and then we finally reach the Ho Chi Minh City Hall. The sun sets and all over is dark, Ho Chi Minh City starts to light the night. To me this building is the most beautiful building in Ho Chi Minh, maybe because of the lights.. well I don’t know :D. In front of the building stands the statue of Ho Chi Minh where the name of the city taken. He was a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary and statesman who was prime minister and president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

After walking the city, we are heading back to Pham Ngu Lao to meet Kha. I also having appointment with another couchsurfers, Marlyn from French who is at the moment staying in Phnom Penh and having her exam in Ho Chi Minh City. We meet another 4 couchsurfers. A couple from US Phil and Laura also Kylie, same from US but at the moment staying in Shanghai and Dave from Argentina. So now there is 11 people plus me, grace, Felis, Kha, Nguyet (local couchsurfers) and Karl going to have dinner in a local Vietnamese Restaurant. Don’t ask where the restaurant is because, I think only the locals know this place :D. And it has good food for sure .. love it ;).
3rd Day – Mekong Delta one day Tour
At 7.30am Kylie, Felis, Grace and I are in Pham Ngu Lao waiting for the bus to take us to Mekong Delta at 9am. Our itinerary today is going to the southern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches the sea through some distribution. The journey takes around two hours by bus. The tour cost USD 9.00 per person include lunch and a package of island hoping tour. They are around 20 people on the bus locals and foreigners. First stop they are taking us to the souvenirs workshop and shop made by the handicapped people. And then heading to the harbor to get on the big boat for island hoping. The boat can accommodate around 50 people and they take us across the brown Mekong River.

The first island we visit called Coconut Island. There we can see the making of coconut candy and coconut wine. We can also tasting them. I buy some of coconut candies to be brought home. The coconut candy cost around Dong 100.000 for six packs. Actually this almost the same like Indonesia food, Dodol :D. After the Coconut Candy manufacturing the tour take us trekking the island and continue to the other island from the different pier.  

On the way to another island, the rain starts to fall and its getting bigger when we are on the island. Here, we can see feeding the crocodiles show. By buying meat, we canfeed the crocodiles using fishing equipments. Kylie feeds some of the crocodiles while we are here. We are having lunch on this island, and I am quite disappointed because they don’t give us any drinks and we have to buy it by ourselves. And the drinks are quite pricey. Lucky us we bring our own water ;).  We are continuing the island hoping to the next island where they serve us the local fruits which is the same fruits just like we have in Indonesia. They serve Rambutan, Pineapple, Lychee, Jack Fruit, and Melon also tea. After the fruit tea time, we are escorted to the different part of the island. We go trekking through the fruit garden and then we finally reach a small pier where traditional small boats droved by the local are waiting for us. We will go through the small river heading to our boat in the downstream. We pass the local houses on the riverside and watching the local people doing their daily activities. While we are on the boat, they are giving us the local hats to protect us from the rain.

I remembered my friend mention that Mekong Delta is just okay. Even the river in Kalimantan is much more beautiful compare to this place and I totally agree with her though I never been to Kalimantan before. But I really admire the way they create this tour really interesting. The tour also include the local people by giving the chance to take part on it. I don’t know whether they will give the fee for them but I feel that if Indonesia can do such things like this I’m sure tourism will be much better in Indonesia.

We end up the trip and going back to the City around 5pm in the afternoon and then continue our day with early dinner around Ben Tanh market. We tried Pho 2000, the president Pho. I was wondering why the president Pho and my question answered once we enter the restaurant. The former US President, Bill Clinton, was having Pho at this restaurant during his visit to Ho Chi Minh. It’s shown by some photos on the wall. Dinner finish and we gather again with our friends, the couchsurfers who stay at Kha’s and to have karaoke afterward. I was wondering to sing some of the latest songs when I found out that the songs are all from late 90s :D, but we are happy and having so much fun with each other. Knowing that tonight might be the last night I see them.

That night while packing, we have some conversation with Phil and Laura about Indonesia. We introduce Indonesia through food, Felis cooks indomie rasa selera nusantara :D that she brought from Jakarta. Yeah.. one of the effective way to offer the beauty of our country ;) and they said will probably visit Indonesia someday *finger crossed.

Continue to South East Asia on a shoestring 3: Cambodia Overland

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