Category Archives: Viet Nam

Souvenirs (last of 4 parts)

I used to buy “pasalubong” for friends during travels but after buying around 40 packs of assorted green tea flavored KitKats one time, post cards seemed to be the economical alternative. For our final day, I bought around 20 post cards for recent travel fellows and academic advisers, taking me around 2 hours writing messages and addresses. Tiring work indeed, and I might altogether stop sending people such in future travels.

Hoping to send these cards back home, the post office (a nice place to see in Ho Chi Minh), and most shops are closed. It’s new year’s day, and people are with their families celebrating the occasion. No choice but to bring these postcards back home for the Philippine post.

Strolling around the city at this time of year is a good experience, as there are relatively fewer people around. Passing by a public park, we had a chance to see a multitude of items on exhibit–wood carvings, bonsai plants, flowers, landscaped gardens, precious stones and china wear, and still more flowering plants–dazzling the senses with an atmosphere of joviality. A lot of things to see, you’d get hungry or thirsty and still would not have been able to visit all the items on display. Good thing a free taste booth for a brand of fruit juice was set-up.

About 15 minutes after my free taste, my stomach kept growling and howling I had no choice but to look for a Wash and Clean room. Since almost all of the restaurants are closed, I had no choice but to storm through a chair-barricaded Jollibee (the only Jollibee there) and apologize to the staff currently wiping things outside. Another staff was inside cleaning the counters, I had to say “sorry, emergency, wash and clean.” He realized the gravity (brought upon by the impending mass ready for exit) of the situation and led me upstairs. As if to further prolong the agony, he had a hard time looking for the right switch in the circuit box, lights were turned on and off, until finally, the right room was lit. Not more than 5 seconds passed, I was almost seated on the throne, and you know what happened next.

I took my time to ensure a complete purge since we still had a lot more to see! So we strolled some more afterwards and went back to our hotel to pack our bags and wait for our Vietnamese friend to show us typical new year celebrations.

Their place is about 20 minutes away from the city center through motor bike. I had to say this part was one of my favorite moments of the trip (aside from the Jolibee experience *grin*). They lived near the Mekong, in a nice house along a narrow street good for two-way motorcycle traffic. He introduced us to family members, ate local cuisine, drank local liquor (very good! and strong!), and toured us around the community. I felt at peace and connected with area, it’s as if I’m somewhere very familial and close. Yes, it had a homey air. (what’s up yow!)

While it would have been good to stay for a night there, our plane is waiting at the airport, and papers to write and other requirements to do missed us dearly. But I won’t say bye, just Hoooo Chi Minh again soon. 😉DSC_4664

 

(Pasalubong refers to the practice of bringing home souvenirs from a trip or while coming home from work, for placating an angry wife/husband/girl friend/boy friend).

 

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Travel light all the time (and why you should – 3rd of 4 parts)

Traveling light is a core principle that should be inherent for any adventurer. By this, I mean leaving all unnecessary baggage behind whenever reaching places here and there. What you should be bringing instead are your stories, attitudes, and actions that empower, encourage, and strengthen people and places you interact with and travel to. Just like the Mekong, a trans boundary river (7th longest in Asia) traversing 6 nations starting from China, then to Myanmar, to Laos, to Thailand, to Cambodia, and finally to Viet Nam. If you are in Ho Chi Minh, you can find a lot of tours offering Mekong River as a destination. It is quite far from the city center however, and the whole affair would last around 7-8 hours.

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The Mekong is a system that brings essential nutrients up stream to the lower basins. It provides water for agriculture, household use, and livelihoods for millions of people in terms of tourism, resource harvest and production.

Unfortunately, due to ongoing urbanization and uncontrolled resource use, unnecessary baggage in the form of used plastic packaging and other items are also flowing in the river. Unsightly indeed if you see a river like so. Just like a traveler carrying unnecessary baggage, whether physically or non-physically. So travel light, not just in terms of physical articles that you carry, but also that in terms of your attitude, personal issues and problems, and character. Rather be free, be happy, and live at the moment.

If you live at the moment to witness events such as lunar new years, in this case in Ho Chi Minh; you’ll smell, feel, behold, and mind the beckoning flowers, the dancing fireworks, and the sea of people (caution for agoraphobic people and somewhat similar individuals). Again though, travel light, don’t leave your trash, and take with you the memories that would hopefully and continually inspire you to achieve your dreams.

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Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon (and other stories in Viet Nam – 1st of 4 parts)

Favorable economic conditions and occasional promo fares have certainly allowed most Filipinos travel to places within and outside the country. It was February 2015, and the lunar new year in Viet Nam is set to be on the late night of the 18th (that was Wednesday going to Thursday). Lunar new year celebration in this country is very lovely as almost everywhere are flowers of various colors, sizes and arrangements, making even the most manly of men (like me *cough*) feel a little bit flowery inside. I’d say that one of the best times to visit Ho Chi Minh (HCM) is during this lunar new year season.

Two days earlier, we arrived in HCM, having been fetched from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport by a not-good-English versed, 40-something man. He wore a collared shirt, wore slacks and leather shoes, and walked in a bandy-like manner (medyo sakang ba). Around 5’2″ and a thinning hair line, he held a placard bearing my friend’s name. We approached him with a “hi, that’s me…” (while pointing at the name written on the poster) and without further ado, or even checking for our passports, led us straight to a white car. A friend did all the tour and hotel booking mostly through Agoda, and the hotel we stayed in provided an airport transport service. Although the car did not bear the hotel’s name, we put our luggage in the trunk nonetheless (while I secretly took note of the plate number), communicated further with gestures to the driver, and vroomed through the Philippine-like streets of Ho Chi Minh, feeling “is this the right transport service or not?” Oh yeah!

I wanted to interview the driver but unfortunately I can’t speak Vietnamese. I stared at the empty shops instead, a big “Fifty Shades of Grey” advertisement, litter (mostly plastic packaging), a group of drunk men walking away from a still open establishment, and dark street scenery typical at 2 am. Around 20 minutes later, the driver says “here.”

My friend wondered if we were at the right place, since the hotel entrance we were looking at did not match the pictures shown in the internet. Again with not much ado, the driver got some of our bags, walked away from the parked car and led us into a dimly-lit alley. Images from the movie “Taken” flashed in my mind, so I kept my guard up and passport ready, in case we will be trafficked to Paris. But my friend recognized the hotel’s name, so we will not be kidnapped, and we were in the right place. We stood in front Mai Vy Hotel, only that it was closed.

The driver pushed the doorbell button, and a young man, obviously just woken up, opened the collapsible metal doors. The two talked for about 6 sentences, and we entered the hotel. The driver went his way, and I said my first Vietnamese word for the day, “kamm uhn” to him. The young man also does not speak English, and we just communicated with gestures. There were a lot of slippers, shoes and sandals before the main entrance, and in this sense you would recognize a customary law of leaving your footwear outside before entering. My friend showed a print-out of the reservation for a room for three, and the young man led us to the 4th floor.

The room was ok, small but good enough for three backpackers. There were three large beds, a small fridge, some beer (YAY!) and three bottles of water. The TV showed mostly Vietnamese speaking dialogue, even foreign shows were voiced over in Vietnamese. Although I found it funny at first, it was a very cheap and efficient way for citizens to access foreign content. There was a single voice actor translating all the dialogue, for example, the video shows a female character speaking but a delayed male voice will say the dialogue in Vietnamese. We unpacked, washed ourselves, and caught some zzzzzzs.

If you booked a tour in HCM, you would surely go to the War Remnants Museum and be exposed to the horrors of war and the ease that peace and reconciliation brings; Ben Thanh Market and HCM’s personality; Handicapped Handicrafts and the ways victims of war strive for a better life; the Independence Palace or the Reunification Palace and too many to mention sights and sounds; the Saigon Central Post Office; and the Notre Dame Cathedral (Roman Catholic). All these places and more, we visited with other tourists from all over, although our group mostly came from Chile and the Philippines. (Shout out to the three recent medical doctors from Davao City who we met during the tour. I hope for the best in your careers and future travels, Alexa, Pat and Jeb! Siya nga pala ah, crush kita, *toooot*. Ah, kapag nagkasakit ako at ikaw doctor ko, tingin mo pa lang, gagaling na ako ah! *badum tsss*).

There is a lot to see in HCM, it was just that if you are on a group tour, you all have the same schedule, with a lot of places packed in the itinerary that it is not enough to appreciate and read all the exhibits, smell all the aromas, and internalize the curves, arrangements and movements of all the places. I definitely would have spent more time in the Museum, Palace, and the Post Office. Probably next time. Soon.

The tour finished around 3 in the afternoon, and we went back to our hotel for some rest. There was still sunlight so we decided to stroll around, exchanged some of our limited-edition, hard to earn US dollars (we changed our peso into USD back home) in the hotel for 21,000 Dong to a dollar. We walked out the hotel almost millionaires and visited the nearby park, (our hotel, which was in District 1 was near a park), saw more flowers, and hiked a few minutes more to a local market. A place where you can see a lot of Deuters, Jansports, North Faces and other famous brands like they were the real thing. They looked authentic indeed, but cost much less. There were also souvenirs like key chains and ref magnets, coffee and more coffee and lots of cheap stuff. But it’s wise to budget and canvass the best price, and so that we did, and walked from stall to stall.

You can haggle by the way, but only for the next lowest price. If you lower your price further, all you’ll be hearing is Vietnamese. It’s wise to have visited all the shops you can, find the best price available, go back to your choice stall, and then buy your item of interest right away. Or just ask for the next lowest price for the item you like in the first stall you visit.

While non-food stuff are cheap, the food was just a bit expensive relative here in the Philippines. That’s okay though, since the food we had was great! And to cap the whole day off, a bottle of beer! Beer is cheap in HCM!

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It was a fun-filled 1st day indeed, until I found out that I lost around 560,000 Dong (around 25 USD or P1,100). We still have 3 days left, and of course I travel with low budget. Will I survive the next three days without beer? I just gave my kamm uhn to God because I had a great day! (Interested to know what happened next? Check: https://makkosadventures.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/hcm-2nd-of-4-parts/)

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