Monday, August 23, 2010

Vietnam Diary Part 3: Stray roses in the streets of Vietnam

Day 3 - May 1: Stray roses in 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 formal and symbolic dress in Vietnam. Why I feel like searching for a Vietnamese in Ao Dao on our last in Ho Chi Minh City? Well, ever since we have arrive here, we have been seeing numerous times these Vietnamese girls wearing tight-fitting silk tunic of different colors worn over pantaloons. You may see a woman wearing Ao Dai suddenly passed across you while walking down the streets or riding a bicycle or a scooter while strolling around Saigon. I have been fascinated of what is the concept behind wearing this formal dress in public. Later I realize that Ao dai symbolizes Vietnam in a way of an attitude that amidst the progress of the country towards modernization and embraces development they never forget their culture and traditional concepts by wearing Ao Dai. It also symbolizes Vietnamese' femininity as girls wearing it looks classy and prim. I think it has been a tourist’s trademark that without a photo with a Vietnamese in Ao Dai you're Vietnam experience is not complete. That's why we were searching for a Vietnamese in Ao Dai. But we were not just searching for an ordinary Vietnamese in Ao Dai, we we are searching for someone that is a perfect epitome of a Vietnamese femininity. And so we begin our search...

In the morning after we ate our free breakfast from the hotel, we planned to tour the city of Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City named after their revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh). We started our Saigon downtown tour by visiting again 23/9 Park and Ben Thanh Market in the morning. We take a look again at the shops of Ben Thanh Market. We are looking for souvenirs this time. Then we walked towards the central disctrict of Ho Chi Minh City. I realized that by just walking around the city and have a little help with the city map with me, you can reach the nearby places of interest that you want to visit in Ho Chi Minh City.

I got a glimpsed of Ho Chi Minh's City Hall. And at its front, I saw the famous landmark of Ho Chi Minh City which I frequently sees in travel magazines - Ho Chi Minh's Statue. It was located at a central park in front of the city hall. Colorful flowers and trimmed shrub trees adorned around the park where the statue is located. While, other tourists also flocks the place for photo souvenirs. Ho Chi Minh City Hall or Hôtel de Ville de Saigon was built in 1902-1908 in a French colonial style for the then city of Saigon. It was renamed after 1975 as Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee. Illuminated at night, the building is not opened to the public or for tourists. All that you can do is admire the buildings' French colonial style architecture. Or take a souvenir shot of it in any angle you want. Though, it wasn't opened for public visiting, picture taking is not prohibited in the surroundings of the building. That day, Vietnam's red and single colored yellow star flag flutters the whole outside facade of the city hall.

Downtown Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

Around the city hall, there were many blocks of establishments like boutiques, shops, restaurants, hotels and other business offices. We tried to visit some of them as we were looking for a great but cheap souvenir items that we could bring home. Then, we went to Dong Khoi Street that leads us to Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica - a cathedral that is said to be one of the oldest Catholic churches in Vietnam. Located in the downtown of Ho Chi Mihn City, it was established by French colonist and has two bell towers. The cathedral is noted for its Roman style mixed with Gothic elements architecture. It is said that the cathedral's all original building materials were imported from France. On the opposite side of Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica is the Saigon Central Post Office which was built by Gustave Eiffel (the same architect who also built the Eiffel Tower in Paris). The building was constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the early 20th century. It has a Gothic architectural style. The building is one of the tourist attraction in downtown Saigon. After touring and strolling we returned to Ho Chi Minh's statue to explore the other nearby flower parks and take more souvenir photos.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall or Hôtel de Ville de Saigon

From the map, one can easily locate the tourist places in Ho Chi Minh City as these places were just nearby that you can reach it through walking. The other nearby visiting places that we have not visited were the Reunification Palace (home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon), Ho Chi Minh City Museum (one historical site in the city) and Municipal Cultural Park (a large expanse of greenery behind Reunification Palace). From one district to another, no one can see the scars of war nor any clue that the war exist in the city. There might be hints of turmoil of the past but the peaceful and harmonious scenery that is living now in the city is covering all the scars of the past. Vietnam is really different now.

As I marvel through the city sights of the downtown, my mind was still in search mode of the Vietnamese girl in Ao Dai. A Vietnamese girl in Ao Dai is clad a rich or pastel color of the dress while wearing the Nón lá (their famous conical leaf hat) is my ideal shot. I saw a woman of age wearing a black one but she was quick walking out of our way for a souvenir shot. It is said that the colors of Ao Dai indicates the wearer's age and status. Young girls wear pure white, fully-lined outfits symbolizing their purity. Older but unmarried girls move into soft pastel shades. Only married women wear “Ao Dai” in strong, rich colors, usually over white or black pants. Along the Le Loi Street, when we passed through a restaurant, we saw an attendant girl wearing a beautiful blue Ao Dai. We insist to have a photo with her and she gladly participated. We thought we have found already the perfect Vietnamese girl in Ao Dai. But as we headed on walking along, we saw two Vietnamese girls wearing green and gold-colored patterned Ao Dai. I thought that a photo with them will be another great souvenir shot. So, we took photos with them too. The two girls were giggling in laughs as we invite them for a photo shot. I think they were thinking that tourist like us think of them as celebrities because of taking photos with them. They happily participated in a souvenir photo. Still in fascination, I thought our search for the Vietnamese girl in Ao Dai is over but in every street corners, I can see all of them. Walking, shopping or riding a bicycle. The conclusion of my search is not only finding the perfect girl in Ao Dai for a souvenir shot but to a realization that it symbolizes the perfect epitome and beauty of Vietnamese femininity and an attitude that the Vietnamese people prides and does not forget their cultural ways of life.

Before we retire to our hotel, we did shopping for souvenirs. Our girl-in-Ao Dai fascination continued in buying a doll wearing a golden Ao Dai. We also bought
miniature Ao Dai figures in key chains and magnets where the word "Vietnam" is engraved on it. All perfect souvenirs of Ao Dai fascination and Vietnam experience. I have notice that souvenirs of same quality were cheaper in street side shops of the down town than in Ben Thanh Market. After a grand exploration of Ho Chi Mihn's downtown, we arrive at Liberty Hotel passed 10 am. We organize our things and packed-up our clothes to leave at 12pm. As we leave the hotel we took souvenir photos with the hotel attendants of the hotel because they were also wearing beautiful green Ao Dai. We bid goodbye to them and says, "kam ang" (Thank you) for their friendly service. Then, we took an airport bus which gave us a scenic tour in Ho Chi Minh City. I saw the Municipal Cultural Park and the back of Reunification Palace. I was also lucky to see the Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, a pagoda built in Vietnamese traditional architecture style where one of the sets of TV series Vietnam Rose took place.

Ho Chi Minh City Hall illuminated at night.

We arrive at 1 pm in Tan Soh Nhat International Airport. Too early for a check-in, the counters were still closed, so we rest for a while. I also took the opportunity to wander around the shops and duty-free around the airport. I have also noticed that check-in agents at the airport, women staff also wears Ao Dai. 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 seemed to have move on into the changing life of today. Vietnam is a promising country to development. The country is progressing and developing. The city glitters as if it has never been in a darkest historic war. And the people who were affected by the turbulent past of the war continues to live... moving on, to continue living life... they are like stray roses flocking in the streets of Vietnam that adds color to its history as each of them brings a story of their culture, war, healing and love. I am satisfied that I have found the answer behind the beguiling metaphor "Vietnam Rose" only by traveling here. Relieving my Vietnam experience, those were the thoughts that were circling in my mind as the plane ascends to the sky... Two and a half hours later we will ascend to Manila.

Vietnam Diary is a three part series story of my trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam last April 29 - May 1, 2006. I have reached the last retelling of my past travels as today I share the last story of my RetrotTravel series. Actually, this trip is a college graduation gift for me by my mom. This travel trip was a great exploration and discovery of the colorful culture, significant history and natural attraction wonders of Vietnam. I am narrating it via a diary format in which I tell the experiences I had their in my 3-day visit, exploration and discovery of Vietnam. Happy reading!

Read the other parts of Vietnam Diary:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Romantic Sunset

During my friend's beach wedding in Matabungkay Beach in Batangas last summer, I took this romantic sunset view from the wedding reception. It is simply romantic because the sunset took place just in time of the start of walking of the wedding entourage. And added to the romantic shot is the lovely shadowed figures of a couple relaxing... or maybe romancing by the sunset.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Vietnam Diary Part 2: The Mekong Journey

Day 2 - April 30: The Mekong Journey

Today we will have a scheduled one-day tour in southern provinces of Vietnam. This tour was scheduled yesterday in a nearby travel agency found near our hotel. Actually, there were many tour agencies around Pham Ngu Lao street that offers various tour packages for a tourists... all you have to do as a first-timer in Vietnam is to choose which tour agency gives the best tour package at a right price. At 8:00am, we were picked up 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 family and friends who are taking the opportunity to have a holiday trip.

The highlight of the Mekong Journey - a paddle to the canals.
The bus trip range from 2 to 3 hours duration. Our destination - My Tho City. It rained when we arrive in My Tho City, which I thought will spoil our Mekong tour. There were still few raindrops but right after it stop we took a ferry ride to visit Ben Tre. The ferry ride we took crosses the Mekong River, which was a huge river and actually Asia's 7th longest river to reach Ben Tre. Mekong River is colored brown that it looked a like a river of milk chocolate drink. During the ferry tour, I saw 4 islands of shape, Tortoise Island, Unicorn Island, Phoenix Island and Dragon Island as instructed by the tour guide. Then, we changed our mode of transportation again from a ferry to a smaller ferry at a small station in which I got nervous because the smaller ferry is like a small boat now that shakes up easily when it is not in balance . I am also afraid to fall into the water river. My mom was also nervous and cautious at the same time while transfering to the smaller ferry.

Ferry to Ben Tre province.
When we reached Ben Tre, we were treated to the demonstration of how the locals make coconut candies from a home-made factory. Then, the locals gave us a free samples to taste their coconut candies. It taste good especially when it is just newly-made. Then our tour guide explains to us how the locals use the tools in making coconut candies. There were also 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, we walked towards a narrow road with many trees around leading to a restaurant place. The local tourists with us excitedly picked "makopa" fruits from trees that surrounds the area. They are happily giggling in picking it up in the trees while speaking Vietnamese that I don’t understand. We had a short rest at the wood-designed restaurant. Then, our tour guide show us the bee-keeping box nearby, He then proceeds to show us a slide full of bees. He tells us that the locals were collecting honeys to sell. After the demo, a Vietnamese girl wearing an Ao Dai went to our table and serve us honey lemon tea. She demonstrate to us on how make a honey lemon tea. She put a drop of honey on the tea cup, then pour it with a tea. And she then squeeze it with a lemon that looks like a calamansi. Well, its my first time to taste a honey lemon tea and the sweetness of honey mixed with the tea is relaxing and invigorating to the palate. There is also a beer made out honey served to us, which look like a vinegar because of the translucent color. But we did not try to taste it. Later, I am annoyed by a bee who keeps on flying near our honey pot. My mom tried to sway it away. But I warned her that it might attack us. Then, our tour guide showed a large snake (a python) taken from a cage to which my mom was alarmed (she is afraid of snake). We stand up and went away from the others as they were busy taking pictures in the surrounding trees. 

After that, we ride again to the small motorized boat and went out of Ben Tre province to the station where we left the first ferry we rode earlier. It seems that bigger ferries cannot travel inside the narrow water canals of Ben Tre. Our ferry lead us to the Unicorn Island where we ate our free launch from the tour package. The restaurant was placed strategically under a fond of hyacinths with the background of the vast Mekong River. Then after a few minutes of rest, we proceeded to Tortoise Island. There is a large open cottage for an activity area in the center of the island. Me and my mom's colleagues seated in one of the tables inside the cottage. Then, we were served with cuts of local fruits like papaya, pineapple, dragon fruit (my first taste of this fruit) and mango while being serenaded by the local children in their Vietnamese folk music. The whole audience applause after the children finished singing. 

To continue our tour, our tour guide told us to walk further inside the island where we saw many fruit gardens of many trees. We headed to the end of the road and lead us to what I really don’t expect to see! We headed to another canal, the Tan Thach Canal - where we will be taking a small paddled boat just like what I saw in a scene in Vietnam Rose! Vietnam Rose is a Philippine TV series that is partly shot in Vietnam and specifically in Tan Thach Canal! The canal is surrounded by many water coconuts that guides the paddled boat going through the canal. I quickly remember a scene that I saw in TV series because of the water coconuts lining the canal. My mom and Ate Yoly (my mom's colleague) excitedly hop first towards the paddled boat while talking that is what they saw too in Vietnam Rose TV series. I am also elated to experience the paddled-boat riding to the canal. I told my mom that we were like in a scene of "Vietnam Rose". Then the local who will paddle the boat gave us their famous native conical hat, Nón lá (leaf hat) which we excitedly wore. It is called "salakot" in our country. Wearing Nón lá only made me feel a deeper ambiance of being part of a scene in Vietnam Rose TV series. The local paddled us through the canal that was fully covered with water coconuts. It was a beautiful sight to see and a wonderful experience. While enjoying the sights of the water coconuts, my mom keeps on quoting the unique experience of being inside "Vietnam Rose." Maybe it is because of the amazement of the experience. I am too, also feel amaze to the experience of Tan Thach Canal tour. The trip crosses us to the Unicorn Island again and headed us to the floating station for a ferry ride back to My Tho City station. But before we got off the paddled boat we made sure that we got a souvenir picture with the paddled-boat while wearing Nón lá. After the souvenir shot, we cruise on with our ferry to My Tho City again via Mekong River.

Paddling in Tan Thach Canal.
In tour bus with our new Vietnamese friend - Tiun.
The sun shines brighter this time. It wasn't rainy anymore. I saw a ferry heading to Cambodia as told by the tour guide and from the distance I can see the city of My Tho. When arrive at the docking station we went to the bus again and drove us to a stopover in Bonsai Garden at 4pm. There we bid goodbye to Tiun, the local we befriend on the tour because their group is in a two-day tour. He was grateful that he met us. We also made sure that we have a souvenir photo with him. Then, we ride the bus that will head us back to Ho Chi Minh City. While passing through the highway, I wonderfully saw kite flying activities of the locals which also amazed the other tourists in the bus. I am very tired of the trip, though sleepy, I still try to have a good look of all the beautiful sights and places that we were passing through in the bus trip.

It was 5:30pm when we arrive in Ho Chi
Minh City, the tour guide thanked us for joining the trip. I am soaked again to a wonderful scenery of Ho Chi Minh City as the bus passed through the city streets. Scooters crowds the streets. Old French architectures is evident in the city buildings. Girls wearing Ao Dai while driving a bicycle. And the daily life of Vietnamese people is all around. We were dropped by the tour agency and then we headed to our hotel to rest from a tiring whole day "field trip."

Ho Chi Minh City at night.
I think after 2 hour rest, we were back again on strolling. We went to Saigon Plaza Center. There are so many people and it was noisy due to music at Saigon Plaza Center. It happened that the mall was on sale! And there were many people crowding around especially for gadgets like digital cameras and mobile phone. I am surprised that popular mobile phone brands are being sold cheaper here than in our country. Moreover, I saw a Nokia phone model that I like on sale! I long to have a digital camera and it is also cheap there at Saigon Plaza Center. Later, we continue strolling around Saigon. It was an amazing sight to see the lighted streets of Saigon at night swarmed by hundreds of scooters crossing around. I wonder how it feels riding a scooter and drive along with the other scooters. Saigon is alive again at night. Tourists flocks the bars again and some does night shopping. It feels safe to roam around as I heard Saigon has low crime rate. I have been fascinated by the simple life in Vietnam and I think I have enough exposure of it today. I need to retire for today to have enough energy to savor my last day in Vietnam tomorrow. I am hoping to find what is the meaning behind the enigmatic term -Vietnam Rose.

Vietnam Diary is a three part series story of my trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam last April 29 - May 1, 2006. I have reached the last retelling of my past travels as today I share the last story of my RetrotTravel series. Actually, this trip is a college graduation gift for me by my mom. This travel trip was a great exploration and discovery of the colorful culture, significant history and natural attraction wonders of Vietnam. I am narrating it via a diary format in which I tell the experiences I had their in my 3-day visit, exploration and discovery of Vietnam. Happy reading!

Read the other parts of Vietnam Diary: 
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