26 May 2008

the heat is on in saigon - part 1

well, ho chi minh is the official name these days. two weeks after myanmar, i was off to ho chi minh with some friends for the long weekend. it was a trip planned to get out of singapore for a little while, as for the past several weeks, the boys were complaining they were getting stressed out at work. nearby malaysia and the indonesian islands were off the list, we've all been there. so it was decided somewhere new, within our budget, and most especially, somewhere with lots of photo opportunities was the place to go to: ho chi minh, it is!

the first thing one sees from the plane window, just before landing, is the saigon river. from that vantage point, one sees how it snakes through the land and the other cities beyond. my friend and i noticed that it looks like manila, only we didn't see any roads, flyovers or highways, just a lot of buildings and houses that looked crammed together.

home for the three day, two night stay in the city was lan anh hotel right in the middle of the backpackers area. this may have been the cheapest hotel i've stayed in, 24 usd per night for a room for three people, with free breakfast, to boot! (the chillis might argue that last hotel in yangon is the cheapest, but that was 15 usd for a 2-person room, with no water, no electricity and no breakfast).

the thing you notice about ho chi minh is the abundance of motorcycles! they rule the road here, with nary a care for the traffic lights. even in the white stripes of the pedestrian crossing, you don't really feel safe. crossing the streets was in itself an adventure in this city.

getting ready to attack you

briefly unpacking and resting at the hotel, we then set off for the war museum, to see remnants of the vietnam war. there were old helicopters, tanks, bomb shells--leftovers of the war during the 50s and 60s. there were a lot of disturbing images about agent orange and how it affected the people of vietnam. that particular stop of the trip was, for lack of a better word, heavy. i'm not quite sure how the american tourists feel when they go to that museum.
where napalm bombs were dropped

we moved on to the reunification palace, so called because the last president of south vietnam, (whose term, according to our guide, lasted a mere two hours) surrendered to the troops from north, thereby reuniting vietnam in the 70's. it's like malacanang, only, in my view, less grand.


a little further down the street was the notre dame cathedral, a remnant of the french occupation of vietnam. beside that is the central post office. you'd think why would we want to go inside a post office, right? aside from the architecture, that dome-shaped hall inside was very pretty. plus, it had air-conditioned phone booths!

phonebooths*

following our map, we walked to the corner of vo van tan street, for some (drum rolls, please!) JOLLIBEE! yes folks, there is a jollibee in vietnam. several branches, in fact. 2-piece chicken joy, please!


we were joined at this point by ex-housemate h and her friends who were also in hcm for the weekend. they led us to the high committee building (formerly the city hall). the photographers in the group clicked away. unfortunately, it rained, and we looked for a place to while the time.

we were drawn to a restaurant conspicuously named "no delicious, no pay". the waitress told us they really mean it. fortunately for her, we already had dinner and didn't try out the concept. instead, we tried out their local beer.
when the rain stopped, seeing as there weren't anymore places we can take pictures of at that time of the night, we headed back to the hotel. and then went out to try another bar, creatively named "go2eat, go2bar, go2bed, go2bbq". each floor of the building corresponds to the name (use your imagination, and think of the sequence). travelmate t bought 2 traditional vietnamese sandwich from one of the street vendors. it looked like a sub, filled with butter, liver pate, ham(?), and pickled vegetables.

by 2 am, we went back to the hotel to rest. we booked ourselves for a tour of the cu chi tunnels for the next day, and we had to be up by 7.

*pic grabbed from myk
more vietnam pics here

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