Day 1, April 29, 2006, The Red Country
Our journey to the "Red Country" starts in our 7:30am departure of flight PR591 to Ho Chi Minh City. I was definitely excited on this trip to Vietnam because it’s my first time to visit that country. And not only that I'm excited to learn the cultures of Vietnamese people living there. Plus traveling is my passion. I love the thrill and excitement of learning that traveling brings. This also serves my vacation after everything about school has finished.
Onboard, the moment I've been waiting is near. I can vividly see the strip of land of Vietnam. This add more excitement rush in my feelings. But what striking me most is the color of Vietnam's soil. So why did I called it a "Red Country"? It is because the moment I saw the land of Vietnam from the air it was colored red.
Our plane landed at Tan Son Nhat International Airport. I thought were going out of the plane via plane stairs as I've searched in the net but I was wrong, their international airport has already 4 airbridges (where people walk through in and out of the plane). Tan Son Nhat was medium size compared to NAIA Terminal 2. It was just like Cebu's international Airport. But beside it was an under construction building of their new airport of the same name. The work of construction is clearly seen from our plane as we went on taxiway. Vietnam deserves to have a new international airport bec. tourism is booming there.
At the airport there was a beautiful Vietnamese girl that I won't forget in the airport moneychanger who was wearing an "ao dai" (their widely-known traditional dress). She was an attendant of the money changer where we change some of our pocket money for local spending. I won't forget her because of the sweet smile she showed after we changed our money.
The moment we step out of the airport... I had an impression of Vietnam is like Philippines in many ways. They're almost the same, especially the Vietnamese, they are just like us. And the weather is hot! Just like Philippines the weather in Vietnam was a tropical hot. But it is mildly hot there than here which is hotter than hell this summer. As we ride a taxi to go to our hotel, we got a preview of the daily life scenario in Vietnam. Scooters (their main mode of transportation which is amazingly everywhere) are everywhere and the parks are plenty. Many of the buildings were being constructed, a sign that they are a developing country. They are more of a rural place than an urban. Yet, their air is clean and unpolluted unlike here... But I can't help but compared it to ours. We're still better in terms places and buildings along with transportation but if the economy is being asked... hay naku... their economy is booming even their places are more of a rural scenario. And as with us... don't ask me.
We arrive at Liberty 3 Hotel (a 3-star hotel but very very fine) at 12:00pm. We arrive 10 at the airport. The hotel was cool. It was beautiful and very clean. I feel more like a tourist because of it especially when I saw the room. I'm with my mom on this trip with his friend and officemate and wife (they were on the other room). I was amazed at the terrace of our room. It was overlooking the scenery streets and buildings of Ho Chi Minh City! And so I get our cam. That was the first photo I've taken with our cam. Our hotel was in a strategic location. It is in the heart city of Ho Chi Minh City. It was like a "Makati" of Vietnam.
So we plan our day to day trip around the city... First stop - Ben Thanh Market. But before we go to this "shopping heaven" we passed through 23/9 Park which perfectly fine for afternoon strolls (actually according to the tourists information Ho Chi Minh alone has 10 national parks!). I've noticed that around the city and in every buildings or streetposts Vietnamese flags were hanged and displayed, together with banners in red and yellow collored letterings. It was later we learned that Hoh Chi Minh were in a 3-day holiday because tomorrow, April 30 was the celebration of Ho Chi Minh City’s Liberation from American control and was return to their communist government. So we came to Ben Thanh Market which was like a "Divisoria" but a decent and "cleaner" type. It is a market building (so no worries when rain comes while in the middle of shopping) where low costs goods are being sold. You can actually ask for cheaper prices in buying items and discounts when buying many. It is a real shopping paradise for everyone who wants Vietnamese made goods from shoes, bags, shirts, souvenirs to fruits... everything that shoppers might find valuable is there. And one day is not enough to stroll around Ben Thanh Market so we bought few good items and went back to hotel at 6pm bec. we were tired in trying to stroll around the whole market and it was their closing time.
We just leave the goods we bought in hotel, 1 to 2 hours later had a dinner at local resto... it was a fine Vietnamese cuisine. At night Pham Ngu Lão street was alive! There were many tourists around and as the night goes deep many people esp tourist were flocking around trying bars and night-out at Pham Ngu Lao. I see how the night life happens in Vietnam. At the terrace I can clearly see the scenery of these Ho Chi Minh city nightlife. The buildings were nightly lit. And the people were strolling around as every place you want to visit is just a walk away. I really felt what a "tourist" really like bec. I never experience this kind of luxury in my whole traveling experience. It was sure relaxing moment. I ended my first day watching cable tv and sleep happily hoping another unforgettable journey.
Day 2, April 30, 2006, The Mekong Journey
Today we were scheduled to a one day trip in Upper Mekong River. This was scheduled yesterday in nearby travel agency found near our hotel. Actually the were many tour agency around Pham Ngu Lao street that offers the best package for a tour trip... all you have to do as a first-timer in Vietnam is to choose which tour agency gives the best trip package at a right price. At 8:00am we were pick by the tour bus at the agency. Many people at the tour were Vietnamese and only few foreigners like us. At the bus we met Tiun (pronounced as "Tuan"), a local who were with his friends and family take the opportunity of the holiday to have trip.
It was almost a 2 or 3 hour bus ride like a Batangas trip before we arrive in the provincial scenery of Trung Luong. To my disappointment, it rain when we arrive in My Tho City, which I though it will spoil our Mekong trip. There were still few raindrops but we took a ferry ride to visit Ben Tre. At the ferry we crossed the Mekong River... which was a huge river and the water was colored brown maybe because the ground of the river is mud. At the trip we saw 4 islands of shape, the Tortoise Island, Unicorn Island, Phoenix Island and Dragon Island. We changed our ferry to a smaller one at a small station in which I got nervous because the smaller one shakes up when it's not balance and I'm afraid that the smaller boat will turn over to water. You have to be cautious in balance as you go through inside the smaller boat because it threatens turn over. My mom was also nervous and cautious.
At the smaller boat, its continues to rain but few drops only, luckily the small boat has a ceiling. The motorized boat takes us to Bao Dinh Canal which has many water coconuts around the canal and guides the boat to the place. We thought this the same scene we saw at the teleserye of "Vietnam Rose" because of the water coconuts and the boat but later on we realized there is a more closer resemblance of scenery on our later trip.
We reached our first stop - Ben Tre - in which we see the the locals making coconut candies and the locals gave us a free taste of their coconut candies. It taste good especially when it is newly made. There were still few raindrops. Then our tour guide explains to us how the locals use the tools in making coconut candies. There were restaurants and souvenir shops there. Then we hop again in the small boat and continue our tour in Ben Tre province through the canals again. On our second stop there is a small sized road with many trees around leading to a restaurant place. The local tourists with us excitedly picked "makopa" from trees. They are happily giggling in picking it up in the trees while speaking Vietnamese that I don’t understand. I said to myself ano ba yan? Samen ndi yan pinapansin... We went inside the place... there was a restaurant. Our tour guide show us the bee-keeping box and show us the slide full of bees where the locals are collecting honeys to sell. A local went to our table to give us a honey lemon tea, which is relaxing and good because of its sweet taste. She put a honey on the cup first then pour it with a tea then squeeze it with lemon that looks like a "calamansi". There was also a beer made out honey served to us, which look like a "suka" or vinegar because of the translucent color. But we didn't taste it. I was annoyed by a bee who kept on flying near our honey. My mom tried to sway it away. But I warned her that it might attack us. Later, our tour guide showed a large snake (a python) to which my mom was alarmed (she is afraid of snake). We stand up and as the others were busy we take pictures in the surrounding trees.
We ride again in the small motorized boat and we went out of Ben Tre province to the station where we ride a ferry again. Then we proceed to Unicorn Island where we ate our free launch from the tour package. The restaurant was place strategically under a fond of hyacinths. Then after a few minutes of rest we proceed to Unicorn Island. There we were served with local fruits like papaya, pineapple, dragon fruit (my first taste of this fruit w/c was delightful) and mango while being serenade by the locals in "Vietnamese Folk Music". Our tour guide told us to continue walking inside the island where we saw many fruit gardens of many trees.
We headed to the end of the road with fruit trees around and lead us to what we really don’t expect! We will be heading to another canal - Tan Thach Canal - where we will be taking a small paddled boat just like the scene that we saw in "Vietnam Rose"! My mom and Ate Yoly excitedly head first towards the boat while talking that is what they saw in Vietnam Rose series where Angelica Panganiban was being paddled with AJ Dee in the scene. I told my mom that we were really "Vietnam Rose" because of this boat trip. Then the local who will paddle the boat gave us their native hat - the infamous "salakot" of the Vietnamese. We excitedly wear it to feel the ambiance of what is really like to be in "Vietnam Rose" series. We were paddled through the canal that was fully covered with water coconuts. It was a beautiful sight to see and to experience. While enjoying the sights of the water coconuts, my mom and I keep on saying Talagang Vietnam Rose talaga kami. Maybe it is because of the amazement of the experience. My mom reacted when we passed through another paddled boat being paddled by a pregnant Vietnamse, then an old woman... life is really hard but those are their ways to live. The trip crossed us the Unicorn Island and headed us to the floating station for the ferry ride again. We made sure that we got a picture in the paddled boat while wearing "salakot" but we get a ferry ride.
We cruise on our ferry to My Tho City again via Mekong River. This time the sun shines high brighter. We saw a ferry heading to Cambodia as the tour guide told us and saw from the distance the city of My Tho. When arrive at the station we went to the bus again and drove us to stopover in Bonsai Garden at 4pm. There we bid goodbye to "Tuan" the local we meet on the tour because they are on a two-day tour. And he was grateful that he met us. We made sure that we have a souvenir photo with him. We changed our bus as we headed our way to Ho Chi Minh City. While passing through the highway we wonderfully saw kite flying activities of the locals which amazed the tourists. I am very tired of the trip, though sleepy I still try to see the places we were passing through.
It was 5:30pm when we arrive in Ho Chi Minh, the tour guide thanks us for having the trip while I saw the entire scenery of Ho Chi Minh City as the bus passed through the city. Scooters still crowded the streets. And you can see the daily life of Vietnamese around. We were dropped by the tour agency and headed to our hotel to rest from a tiring whole day "field trip".
I think after 2 hour rest, we're back again on strolling and we went to Saigon Plaza Center. It was an amazing sight to see the lighted streets at night swarmed by hundreds of scooters crossing around. There are so many people and it was noisy due to music at Saigon Plaza Center. It happened to be that the center was on sale! And there were many people crowding around especially at digi cam and cellphone section. I am surprised that the Nokia phone that I like was on sale and it was cheaper here than in our country. The same also goes to digital cameras which I long to have. We just stroll around and after we went off to our hotel to rest from a very tiring day.
Day 3, May 1, 2006, Stray roses around the streets of Vietnam...
Today is the last day of our stay in Vietnam as our flight will be at 6pm tonight. And today is our search for a Vietnamese woman who is wearing ao dai - a traditional and symbolic dress of Vietnam. It’s for a picture because a woman who wears ao dai a symbol that you've been in Vietnam. Ever since we've arrive here we have been looking for these women in ao dai. Ao dai symbolizes Vietnam... in a way that while the city is modern and developing their traditional concepts lie wearing this costume have never fade in sight. Actually you may see a woman wearing ao dai suddenly passed across you while walking down the streets or riding a bicycle or a scooter strolling around. It has been Vietnam’s trademark that without having a photo of woman in ao dai you're Vietnam experience is not complete. And so we begin our hunt...
At the morning we ate our free breakfast from the hotel. This time planned to tour the city of Saigon - now called Ho Chi Minh City named after their revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. We passed 23/9 Park and Ben Thanh Market then we walk onwards and we were in the central disctrict of Ho Chi Minh City. You see, in just walking by you can reach the nearby visiting place you want to visit in Ho Chi Minh.
We first got a glimpsed of Ho Chi Minhs City Hall. And at last I saw the famous landmark of Ho Chi Minh City which I always saw in travel magazine - Ho Chi Minh's Statue - It was located at a central park in front of City Hall. Vietnam's red and single colored yellow star flag flutter the whole place. There were many establishments around like boutiques, shops, restaurants, hotels and other business offices. We went to Dong Khoi Street that leads us to Notre Dame Cathedral - one of the oldest Catholic churches in Vietnam. On the opposite side of it is the city Post Office which was built by Gustav Eiffel (the one who also built the Eiffel Tower in Paris). After few tour and strolling we went back to Ho Chi Minh's statue to explore place and take photos for souvernir.
From the map, one can easily locate the tourist places in Ho Chi Minh as these places were just nearby and you can reach it through walking. Nearby visiting places that we have not been were the Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City Museum and Municipal Cultural Park. From this district of Ho Chi Minh, no one can see the scars of war nor any clue that the war exist in the city. Vietnam was really different now.
We headed back to hotel to check-out. Along the Le Loi Street, we passed through an attendant woman wearing beautiful blue ao dai. We insist to have a photo with her and she gladly participated. We headed on walking along and we saw many souvenir shops around that offers cheap prices than Ben Thanh Market. Here, we saw two Vietnamese wearing green and gold-colored patterned ao dai. We take photos with them also. And they were happy to participate in taking photo.
We arrive at the hotel at 10am. We organize our things and packed up our clothes to leave at 12pm. But before we leave the hotel we took photos with the attendants of the hotel as a souvenir because they were also wearing beautiful ao dais. We bid goodbye to them and kam ang(Vietnamese "thank you") for their friendly service. We took an airport bus which gave us a further tour in Ho Chi Mihn City. I saw the Municipal Cultural Park and the back of Reunification Palace. I was also lucky to see the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, a temple place where Angelica Panganiban and Jason Abalos had a shooting scene in Vietnam Rose series.
We arrive 1pm at the Tan Soh Nhat International Airport. Too early for a check-in, the counters were still closed so we rest for a while. After check-in at 5pm, we boarded our flight PR596 at 7:10pm and we’re ready to leave Vietnam.
The scars of war won't be seen in Vietnam today. The city looked to have move on to live the life today. Vietnam is a promising country to development. The country is progressing and developing. The city glitters as if it has never been in war. And the people who were affected by the turbulent past of the war continue to live... moving on to continue living... they are like stray roses flocking in the streets of Vietnam looking for love that heals their broken heart brought by the war.
Relieving my Vietnam experience, those were the thoughts that were circling in my mind as the plane ascends to sky... and see the brightly lit city of Ho Chi Minh from the air. Few hours later we will ascend to Manila.