Saturday, October 1, 2016

Stroll Around Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC Trip Day 3)

We went around Ho Chi Minh City on the first day, and Cu Chi Tunnels on the second. Third day, we planned to visit museums and shopping around the city. We took our breakfast at the roadside stall. Then, we took a taxi to Museum of Vietnamese History (or Vietnam History Museum). The taxi took 10 minutes to reach the museum (in fact, it was within the walking range from our hotel).

From the websites, we learned that the museum highlights the collections from Champa, Cambodia, and artifacts all around Vietnam, and we wished to find some stoneworks that complemented our visit to My Son temples. All our excitement frozen to find the museum was closed on Monday. What? Yes, it was CLOSED ON MONDAY, we didn't realize it until we were standing in front of the ticketing counter. The good thing was, we could save the money for shopping. Anyway, the admission was VND 15,000.

Completed in 1932, the museum building blended both colonial and local architecture.

We found this unique building opposite of the museum. By the way, the city zoo and botanical garden are located next to the museum. 
Museum opening hours 8 - 11 am, 1:30 - 4:40 pm, closed on Monday.
Back to the city center, we went to Ben Thanh Market again. It was not too warm in the morning.

We really like the dried fruits, especially the dried mango. Besides, we bought a few other dried fruits, and some socks. Bargaining? Yes, please read more about shopping in Ho Chi Minh City in our next post.

We stroll around the city for a while, before we decided to visit the City Museum. The museum is located a block away from the Independence Palace (next to the City Hall). The building was named Gia Long Palace and Municipal Museum of Ho Chi Minh.  

Built in 1890, the building was designed by French architect Alfred Foulhoux as a museum, but soon taken as French Governor's Residence. The lesson behind- we shouldn't build a museum more beutiful than the palace. The building was then becoming the residence of the governor of Japan, back to French, then the South Vietnam. At last, the Vietnam Government under communist ruler, turned Gia Long Palace back as museum, 100 years after it was built. The museum is opened 8:00 am - 5:00 pm, daily. The entrance fee was VND 15,000 per person. We need to pay extra for our camera. We stayed in the museum for 1 hour.

Municipal Museum of Ho Chi Minh City.

The museum exhibits custumes of different ethnics in HCMC, musical instruments, currency, photos, and many more. Most importantly, it has some collections of the artifacts from Thang Long Imperial Citadel. At least, our sorrow of not able to enter the top-of-our-list museum remedied, a bit.

Photo galleries, certificates, and other items related to the achievement of city were displayed.
The museum is a beautiful structure with nice compound.

Walking out of the museum, we continued our trip to Diamond Plaza, then to Vincom Center (yes, again), and took a sumptuous buffet lunch at the Japanese restaurant there (upper right). At night, we dined at Bitexco (upper left). Of course, signature Vietnam Coffee- Nguyen Trung couldn't escape from us (lower row).

At night, we strolled around Nguyen Hue Road again, before went back to hotel. We had an early flight back to Malaysia the next day. We will share more about our accommodation, transportation, food, and shopping in Ho Chi Minh City in our next post. Stay with us!

Danang, City of Hue, Hoi An, & My Son
Hanoi & Halong Bay

Friday, September 30, 2016

Cu Chi Tunnel, a Must Visit Site Near Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC Trip Day 2)

We strolled around Ho Chi Minh City and visited some heritage sites around the city in our first day. Second day, we decided to visit Cu Chi Tunnel, located 45 km away from Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnel in fact was the main reason for us to visit the city. We booked a half day tour through our hotel with VND 220k per person- transportation and English speaking tour guide included, without lunch and entrance fee. The entrance fee was VND 110,000 (approximately MYR 18 or USD 4.50), opening hours were from 7 am till 5 pm. 

Cu Chi is a district in Ho Chi Minh City. During Vietnam War, there were only several villages scattered around the area. However, the area had became the major battle field, due to the discovery of more than 200 km of underground tunnels used by People's Liberation Armed Force and Vietcom to fight against the South Vietnamese and US armies. 

Storage of ammunition, food, hospitals, meeting room, command centers, dining area and other war-related facilites were built underground, far from the reach of enemy, yet near to the heart of the enemy- 45 km from Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels connected the nearby villages, Saigon River, border of Cambodia, and greater network of the nationwide tunnels. The tunnels, with the entrances well blended with the surrounding, were excellent for guerrilla warfare. As retaliation, US army dropped millions tonnes of bombs onto the area. Ironically, these modern weapons failed to defeat the hand-dug tunnels. Cu Chi area is still considered as the most bombed, shelled, gassed, and defoliated area in the world. 

The bus picked us from our hotel at 8:50 am.
The bus stopped at handicraft center supported by Vietnam government (upper row), by hiring handicapped workers to produce high quality of handicrafts. We stopped there for 20 minutes, listened to the explanation (lower right) and demonstration on how the handicraft was made.

 Incomplete handicraft. The white colour part of this picture was made by either seashells or egg shells.

We reached Cu Chi at around 11 am. The tunnels were built nearby Saigon River (upper left). We could see from the nearby restaurant (upper right). The parking area was full with tourist buses (lower right). After a short briefing, we took a few minutes walk to the visitor information center, to buy tickets with VND 110,000 per person.

There was a small exhibition area at the tourist center with the "remnants" of the weapons used in Cu Chi area- napalms, rocket launchers, grenades, rifles etc.

Our tour guide was humourous, informative, and multitasking. He helped to check our tickets at the entrance (upper left), guided us through the tunnels site (upper right), and explained the history of the tunnels to us all by himself (lower left). Then, we watched a video about Chu Chi for 20 minutes. Our tour guide explaination was excellent, but the video was boring and hard to follow.  

We were brought to the field after the video session, to walk on the most bombed, gassed, and defoliated land on earth. We walked around the forest to see the tunnels’ entrances and ventilation system, traps, weapon workshop, shoes making, and clothes making workshop.

A crater caused by bombing of B-52 aircraft. These type of craters can be seen all around the area.

Bobby trap were used mainly to cause serious injury rather than killing the US soldiers (upper row). The reason was, if you killed one, only one was down. If you seriously wounded one, it took another two to take care of the disabled one. The first tunnel entrance shown to us was narrow. The park staff demonstrated his skill to go into the tunnel.

Then, more tunnels' entrance were revealed (upper left). Narrow and hard to be seen. The ventilation holes are well blended into the environment (upper right), which may look like an ant hill. Disposed US tanks (upper right) and models of the local fighters were shown along the walkway.

Weapon worshop extracted the gun powder from the unexploded US bombs, and used it to made anti-tank explosive and grenades. Well, we learned a lesson of creativity, as well as the power of recycle.

20 minutes wandering in the forest, we were led to the resting point in the park (upper left). The shooting range was located next to the resting area (upper right), with the bullets could be bought at the office, with a minimum purchase of 10 bullets per time (lower right). There was a shop selling souvenirs and drinks at the resting point. Washroom is available there as well.

Then, it's the time to visit the tunnel- to the best of our estimation 100 - 150 meters long. We went through the full distance, not very hard for us. There were several exits at certain distance, so we could get out of the tunnel whenever we felt uncomfortable. At the end of the tunnel, free tapioca were given to the winners. Well, what's what the Vietnamese ate the most when they were in the jungle.

The entrance was about 5 feet tall, we need to bend a bit to get inside.

A small staircase in the room led us into a 2 feet tall tunnel.

The tunnel seems small at the beginning, and made us feel uncomfortable. We got used to it a minute later, and we could move very fast in the tunnel afterward.

At some of the point, we needed to lay and crawl (yes either face down or face up) over the tunnel, while at some of the point, we couldn't see the person in front of us. But worry not, what we need to do is following the light.

There is a meeting room at the end of the first tunnel. Most of our members left at this point. But a few of our group members decided to continue to complete the second part of the tunnel, and we succeeded. 

Underground kitchen with the "chimney" channeling the smokes far away from the kitchen. Tapioca was served from the kitchen nearby the exit of the tunnel.

Cu Chi is really a must visit site nearby Ho Chi Minh City. Our tour guide told us that visiting the souvenir center was a policy set by their government. We don't really know how true it is. However, we were sent out of the center with a smile, even without buying anything there (but we did donate some money to support their work). 

We had no problem walking on the ground, but moving in tunnels was different. Hand bag, camera bag, backpack, and even big bulky camera could be a burden in the tunnel. Well, keep these items with our tour guide would be a good idea, or even better, not bringing them to Cu Chi.

Some information stated that Cu Chi is infested with mosquitoes, centipedes, and other vicious insects. We prepared insects repellent and some medicines, just in case. Lucky enough, we didn't have the chance to apply them. Cu Chi was extremely warm during our visit. Water was hard to find, so bringing some water to keep ourselves hydrated is important. Our trip was full with activities, and we didn't really have time to sit down in the canteen there to have a meal for the whole trip. We brought some sandwich and snacks, and with that, we skipped our lunch.

We travelled back from Cu Chi at around 1:20 pm and reached Ho Chi Minh City at around 3:10 pm. We took a rest till 5 pm before strolled around Nguyen Hue and food around the area. We visited Vincom Center again and took some traditional Vietnamese food there as well. Bought some souvenirs at Vincom Center and returned to hotel at around 9 pm.

We had a few options for day 3- museums, Bien Thanh Market, and water puppet show, were some of them. Follow us.

Danang, City of Hue, Hoi An, & My Son
Hanoi & Halong Bay

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ho Chi Minh City Tour, Continued (HCMC Trip Day 1)

From Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, we continued our city tour to the Independence Palace and War Remnant Museum. We took 10 minutes to walk from Saigon Cathedral to the Independence Palace. Independance Palace is a beautiful building with well preserved interior. It was the office and residence of the president of South Vietnam. 

According to the local, the palace was built according to fengshui- with the main building located on the head of a dragon. However, the good location was not good enough to stop the advancement of North Vietnamese Army into the palace, and marked the end of Vietnam War in 1975. Although the palace was the place where the rulers resided for hundreds of years, the current structure that we visited was built in 1966.

The entrance fee for foreigner was VD 30,000 per person, opened from 7 - 11 am, 1 - 4 pm daily. The palace is located at Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Road. Too difficult to remember? Well, if you are standing in front of the cathedral, facing the entrance, you just need to turn left, cross the road, walk through 200-meter long garden, and you will find the palace right in front of you.

The 200-meter long garden ensures a comfortable walk from the cathedral to Independence Palace.

The Independence Palace is a white building with a fountain in front of it.

The ticketing counter is located at a side of the palace's compound (upper row). The interior of the palace was well preserved. The function room (lower right) and meeting room were located on the ground floor.

The president's office at the first floor.

The helipad on the top of the palace (upper left), the president's car (upper right) and residence (lower right), and the underground bunker were some of the interesting sites that we could see around the palace. The president's residence was decent, but still considered luxury compared to where Uncle Ho Chi Minh stayed in Hanoi.

 Don't forget to stop at the balcony of the palace to take a look on the busy street in front of the palace.

We left the palace through another entrance at 11 am, and walked to War Remnants Museum. The museum located at Le Quu Don, some 10 minutes away from the palace. The entrance fee was VND 15,000 per person, and the opening hours were from 7:30 to 12:00 noon, then from 1:30 to 5:00 pm daily. 

We roamed around the museum till 12 noon (yes, we left after the last call for lunch break). The real "hardwares" of the remnants are on the outside of the museum building, while the inside are mainly photo galleries. We couldn't deny that the photo galleries were shocking, but well, we expected to see other types of "remnants" other than the photos.

We left the Independence Palace through the back door. How to go to War Remnants Museum from there? Once you are out of the gate, turn right and walk till the end of the street (as shown in this photo). Then, turn right, walk, and take your first left turn. The museum is some 100 meters away on your left. So, it's as simple as "right-right-left-left".
The museum is a modern 3-storey building.

 The compound of the museum was not big, arranged with many old U.S. war machines.

Tank and helicopter.

The ground floor of the museum consisted of several souvenir shops (upper left), while the upper levels highlighted a few photo galleries (upper right). The walkway on the higher levels were blue due to the lighting effect (lower right). Several types of bullets and guns were exhibited in the museum as well.

The orange gallery showed the effect of the dioxane to the local communities. Dioxane was the orange powder dispersed by U.S. army to clear the forest.

We went through all the photo galleries, but not in detail. We skipped most of the captions, as it was too much for us to read. Well, the photos collected all around Vietnam during the war could be the best way to show the "remnants" of the war across the whole country. But frankly, we were expecting more "physical" remnants rather than the photos, meaning, we hoped to see more on the things that we could touch with our hands, rather than with our heart.

Unless you like to see endless sad photos of the war, or else the museum is not a good place to stay for long. We left War Remnants Museum for our lunch at somewhere near our hotel by taxi. The taxi service was good- metered, cooling air conditioner, polite and professional driver. He couldn't speak English, but well, we managed to communicate with him with simple body language, and the destination "Saigon Square"- a landmark nearby our hotel. We took banh me (bun) and fruit juice as our lunch at Hoppy.

Went back to hotel to rest for a while. Afternoon, we walked to Saigon Square and Ben Thanh Market. The sun was stinging hot. Saigon Square was air conditioned, but the hot weather turned the shopping mall into a big stuffy box. Bien Thanh Market was even worse, but we managed to stay at the food and beverage section for a while, and took several local delicacies- shredded pork spring roll, shrimp and pork spring roll, and beef noodle. The food tasted good with reasonable price. Unbearable heat drove us from the market and we decided to visit the market some other time. We took a walk down Le Loi Road, shopped around at Parkson and Vincom Center till 7 pm (first visit). On our way back to our hotel, we stopped and joined the congregation of night strollers at Nguyen Hue Road. We will share more about shopping and food in Ho Chi Minh City soon.

 Nguyen Hue Road looks different at night.

Vivid city hall at night.

Night strollers at Nguyen Hue Road.

Although none of the attractions were as stunning like the Thang Long Citidel in Hanoi, The Imperial City of Hue or the old relics at My Son, the city stroll was a great experience for us. Well, the experience would be a better one without hot weather.
We rested around 11 pm. Next day, Our itinerary- Cu Chi Tunnel. Stay with us. More about our experiences in Vietnam are available at: