Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

SAM_2422-tile

In the middle of Ho Chi Minh City sits two beautiful structures that are a reminder of the country’s French colonial past – the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and the Saigon Central Post Office. This was our last stop in Vietnam before heading back to Kuala Lumpur.

SAM_2438-tile

Named after its much larger and grander counterpart in Paris, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica was constructed in the 1800s by the French, with two large belltowers flanking the entrance. It is easily spotted from a distance due to its distinctive red-brick hue. All the materials were brought in from France for the construction. There is a statue of the Virgin Mary just across the road in a small patch of green facting the church.

SAM_2426-tile

SAM_2428-tile

And across the road is the Saigon Central Post Office, another colonial building constructed around the same time. It still functions as a regular post office apart from being a popular tourist attraction. It’s pink and white facade, along with arched windows and carvings have a distinctively European feel to them. And guess who designed this building?

SAM_2431-tile

The post office was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the very same guy who created one of the world’s most well-known structures in Paris today – the Eiffel Tower.

SAM_2448-tile

Our stop was very brief as we had to catch lunch and a flight home, so after some snapshots, we were bundled onto the bus again and driven to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant.

We had Egg salad, Vietnamese paper spring rolls, cashew chicken and pho. The rolls were great and filled with shrimp and sliced vegetables, while the cashew chicken was cooked well, tender and had a crispy fried noodle basket to go with it. I had my pho without the herbs and stuff, because they were not really to my taste.

SAM_2454-tile

My verdict on Vietnamese food? I guess I like certain things, but it’s very vege-heavy, which is not something I’m particularly fond of. These days I don’t eat meat as much, but I still don’t like vegetables so much. If I were ever to go vegetarian, I think I’d subsist on fungi and legumes. O-o

SAM_2457-tile

SAM_2463-tile

SAM_2470-tile

Last view from the bus as we head to the airport.

SAM_2478-tile

Goodbye, Vietnam! It’s been fun:)

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Note: The following post contains imagery that may be disturbing to some readers.

War is a terrible thing – and it’s easy to forget that fact when we’re safe and well fed in front of our keyboards, thousands of miles away from where conflicts are happening. I mean, who cares about some faraway war, as long as they don’t affect us, right? It’s kind of sad that all some people worry about is whether or not their butt looks fat in this pair of jeans, whereas in war-torn countries they are constantly praying that they will live to see the next sunrise.

Although history has told us time and time again that war only brings about suffering for innocent people, human beings are still apt to repeat the same mistakes, commit the same atrocities – and one wonders if we as a race has ever learned anything through thousands of years of ‘civilisation’. Even today, although we might not want to acknowledge it, there is war EVERYWHERE. Fighting in Syria, the emergence of the IS, the killing of innocent civilians in Palestine, the intrusion of Ukrainian territory, atrocities and kidnapping against girls by the Boko Haram, etc.

If you think you’re safe because you’re far away, think again. I’m a Malaysian, and none of these conflicts affect me directly. And then bam, one of our planes were hit by a missile while flying through Ukrainian airspace. The hundreds of Dutch, Malaysian and other passengers on board that flight had nothing to do with any war either. It just goes to show that violence and conflict CAN happen, because human beings will always be the same deep down, no matter how ‘civilised’ we would like to portray ourselves to be.

I don’t believe in any one God, but sometimes I wonder if He existed, why did he make human beings to be so… cruel and barbaric?

SAM_2400-tile

Anyway, that was a long introduction for the next place I visited during my stay in Vietnam – the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh city. One of the most popular museums in Vietnam (at about half a mil per year – coz people, like me, have a morbid obsession with death), the place houses a collection of war time photographs and items, in particular from the Vietnam War. Just outside the grey blockish looking museum are a few old army crafts such as choppers and tankers used during that era.

SAM_2399-tile

SAM_2401-tile

SAM_2405-tile

Propaganda posters line the entrance to the three-storey museum.

SAM_2407-tile

The place is divided into a few sections – one chronicling the main battle between North and South Vietnamese troops (and their respective allies), others depicting the effects of chemical warfare aka Agent Orange against Vietnamese villagers, etc.

SAM_2406-tile

This museum is not for the fainthearted. The depictions of war crimes are extremely gory and brutal – pictures of soldiers posing with victims who are missing limbs or heads, of people skinned alive, lifeless bodies of women and children piled up in the dozens, of villages burnt and desecrated. It’s hard to stomach just looking at them – makes you wonder how human beings can actually commit such acts of savage barbarism against each other. Animals kill for survival and food, but only mankind relishes in causing pain and suffering in others. Call me a misanthropist, but I truly believe that the Earth would be a better place without us.

SAM_2409-tile

Some tourists have commented that the pictures are not an accurate representation of the War as a whole, being skewed towards putting the West and its allies in a bad light and glorifying the North Vietnamese troops as heroes. While that may be true to some extent, it is undeniable that some of these really bad things DID really happen.

SAM_2412-tile

A total of between 1 to 3 mil innocent civilians lost their lives in the fighting, and subsequent disease and starvation.

SAM_2416-tile

SAM_2417-tile

SAM_2418-tile

Shrapnel from an exploded bomb

SAM_2419-tile

Another section of the exhibits were dedicated to the horrifying effects of the chemical warfare dubbed Agent Orange, to root out the communists by destroying their crops. However, most of these ‘targeted’ areas were actually producing food for the local population, and with it destroyed or contaminated, the people were left to slowly starve to death. Those exposed to the toxic chemicals also suffered diseases. The pictures were really hard to look at – many of them showed severely deformed villagers, some who did not look like humans at all.

Even the military personnel during the war were not spared, as many US army veterans developed fatal diseases towards the end of their lives after being exposed to Agent Orange. While there ARE sadists in every army, I’m sure many of these were just ordinary American soldiers following orders and did not want to be part of this.

The bottom line is, who needs hell when you have it on earth, by mankind’s own hand?

SAM_2420-tile

Young children looking at Hazmat masks used during the war. I imagine their grandparents would tell them that they are very lucky to be born in a later generation. Who knows what horrors they would have seen 40, 50 years ago?

I feel truly blessed to live in Malaysia where it is relatively peaceful. However, forces of extremism are growing stronger and no real effort is being done to stifle them. We live in a world where tolerance seems to be eroding to make way for violence and anger. When I was growing up, ‘terrorists’ were unheard of, but today they are right on my doorstep. Many young Malaysians are being drawn away to war torn countries like Syria to fight for a misguided cause far away from home.  If this trend of extremism continues, I doubt that Malaysia would be a ‘safe and moderate’ place for very much longer.

 

So this travel post has been quite depressing, but yeah.

WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM 

28 Võ Văn Tần, 6, 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Phone: +84 8 3930 6325

Opening hours: 730am – 12nn; 1.30pm – 5pm

Entrance: VND15,000

 

Reunification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City

We’re almost coming to an end of our Vietnam trip! It has been an amazing few days in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, exploring the rich sights, smells and sounds of a country full of heritage, culture and beautiful natural scenery. On our last day in HCMC before flying back to Kuala Lumpur, we managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing at the Reunification Palace. 

SAM_2358-tile

Our bus dropped us off right in front of the palace, and we were greeted by the sight of a beautiful, well-kept green park with tall, shady trees. These were planted by the French during their colonial rule of Vietnam – doesn’t it resemble a lovely European garden? The trees were picked specifically for their aesthetics and their ability to withstand Vietnam’s scorching tropical heat in the sumer.

SAM_2360-tile

Right across the road is where we are headed – the Reunification Palace. Built on the site of the former Norodom Palace, the building was the residence and office of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam war. It was also where the war ended after North Vietnamese troops stormed the gates with a battle tanker.

There were lots of tourists and locals milling around the lawn. We were led by our guide, Mai, for a tour of the building.

SAM_2369-tile

Inside, we got to see the well-preserved rooms used by the South Vietnamese president during his short reign. Some of the rooms were very grand. (Above) A meeting room where the president would meet with officials and delegates, equipped with microphones.

SAM_2370-tile

Another official room with soft red carpets and comfy looking chairs. The designs were distinctively influenced by Chinese and Vietnamese culture.

SAM_2373-tile SAM_2376-tile

The President’s office itself was simple and no-frills. There was a huge wooden desk and a large painting behind the seat. In another corner there was a small table with high backed chairs for guests. An emergency exit led to secret underground bunkers, which we will be exploring very soon.

SAM_2377-tile SAM_2378-tile

View from the balcony where the President and important people would make appearances to the crowd below.

SAM_2380-tile SAM_2382-tile SAM_2386-tile

Dining area for the lady of the house who would have guests of her own – wives and children of the ministers and foreign dignitaries. There was also an entertainment room equipped with the latest technology for that era, a chess and games spot to pass the time while the men discussed important affairs.SAM_2392-tile

The most interesting part of the tour was the underground war bunkers, which included a room for tactical discussions. There was a fading, yellowing list of ally troops plastered against one side of the wooden-walled room. Large maps behind glass displays were also well preserved. One of the tour guides explained that the president and important ministers/staff would be holed up down here during emergencies, running the government from beneath the ground and issuing orders.

(above) Telegraph and communications station. Bulky grey machinery such as typewriters and telegraph machines were kept here.

SAM_2395-tile

We traverse deeper into the bunkers. This area was lined with steel plated walls and echoes reverberated down its narrow corridors. The white flourescent lights flickered overhead. I wondered if there were ghosts of old Vietnamese officers here, still issuing commands for their ghostly comrades in a war they’ve lost decades ago.

It must have been terrifying to have the lights flicker on and off while battles raged on above their heads, the ceiling shaking and sounding as if it would collapse any moment.

SAM_2397-tile

I wouldn’t want to be stuck down here for more than 15 minutes – there was a claustrophobic sense of being trapped, of not knowing night from day, of being completely cut off from the outside world even though the surface was only a few dozen feet away.

The trip to the Palace was definitely an interesting insight into Vietnam’s rich but sad history. It was like a ‘journey’ of seeing how the South Vietnamese president lived, where he worked, to how it all ended ‘underground’ when the North Vietnamese army attacked. A worthwhile visit if you’re in Ho Chi Minh City.

REUNIFICATION PALACE 

135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Phone: (848) 8223652 – 8290634 – 82941

Opening hours (Daily) : 730am – 1130am, 1pm – 5pm

Entrance: VND20,000

 

River Cruise down the Saigon River

What’s your idea of a romantic dinner date? If you’re looking for a nice, quiet cruise down the river at night with good food and entertainment, then you’d probably pick a river cruise. We hopped onto one of these one night at the Saigon River, which runs right through the heart of Ho Chi Minh City.

SAM_2310-tile

We boarded at a ‘dock’ area, which housed numerous boats that have been converted into floating restaurants – their lights reflecting in the calm surface of the river’s water.

SAM_2312-tile

Our boat was the Dong Duong 25, decorated in the style of a traditional wooden boat, with open windows to allow the salty river air to float in.

SAM_2314-tile

Interior of the double-decker boat restaurant.

SAM_2322-tile

SAM_2331-tile

The journey would take 1.5 hours down the Saigon river and back to our original point. We set off at 8pm. While we waited for our food to be served, local performers danced and played music for guests.

SAM_2327-tile

Then it was nom time! For appetisers, we had a squid salad with cucumbers, chilli and various herbs in an orange sweet and sour sauce. The squid was perfectly marinated and was fresh and bouncy to the bite.

SAM_2330-tile

Steamed prawns, which were fat and juicy. My favourite part of having shrimp is the delightfully creamy roe in the head. Mhm!

SAM_2341-tile

Billboards lining the river. They were an odd mix of capitalist advertisements, like ads for beer and products, coupled with propaganda messages calling for national patriotism.

SAM_2343-tile

SAM_2348-tile

Deep fried fish with sweet and sour sauce. This was pretty good too, crispy on the outside and tender white fish meat on the inside.

SAM_2349-tile

Tender fried chicken drizzled over with brown sauce.

Halfway through the cruise it started raining really heavily and we had to shut all the windows. The boat started bopping up and down the rough currents. I was kinda worried it would hit something and sink!

SAM_2350-tile

We got back to the dock early (captain must have thought to cut it short coz of weather) but once we docked, it stopped raining -___-

We finished our meal with a nice hotpot in the cold weather.

The cruise would have been great if not for the sudden fierce storm in between, but otherwise it would be a good bet for holidaying couples to try. It can get a bit pricey though at around USD66.

River cruise bookings are available online or onsite. Be sure to check for the best prices!

Dai Nam Zoo, Binh Duong Vietnam

SAM_2228-tile

Hi and welcome to another part of my trip to Dai Nam, a sprawling tourist complex in Binh Duong Province and the pride of Vietnam – being one of it’s first and largest theme parks. The dry park was a bit of a disappointment and we didn’t go to the man made beach, but we did drop by the zoo for an hour before heading back to Ho Chi Minh City.

SAM_2229-tile

At the entrance, we are greeted by cartoonish figures of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. My horse looks more like a cow donkey hybrid, but points for trying, ja?

We rented one of the small tourist buggies which took us around the smallish zoo and stopped where we wanted to take pix.

SAM_2236-tile

Small animals section. Here are some porcupines. Some of the enclosures looked unkempt, and there were ‘extra’ wildlife scurrying around… by that I mean huge ass rats scampering across the rocks.

SAM_2239-tile

A sad looking wildebeest (?)

SAM_2241-tile

We spent a lot of time looking at these white and black gibbons. They looked really fluffy and energetic, swinging left and right while some visitors tried to give them food (even though there were signs clearly saying that you shouldn’t). There was a mamma gibbon with a baby clinging to her belly… so cute!!! But my camera didn’t manage to capture the pictures.

SAM_2249-tile

Inter-species besties

SAM_2254-tile

SAM_2262-tile

The white tiger enclosure. They really acted like big cats… ones that can kill you and eat you, but still cats all the same.

SAM_2261-tile

Dedicated journalists at work.

SAM_2263-tile

SAM_2267-tile

Another shared house arrangement which seemed like they were getting along fine – a couple of black dogs and a big cat. Apparently the sign said they had been living together since the dogs were puppies and the tiger was a cub.

SAM_2272-tile

Baloo so chill

Overall I’d say the zoo was the best part of our visit to Dai Nam. Although some of the enclosures weren’t well kept, the animals appeared fine and there were quite a number of things to see, like the white tigers, lions, hippos, etc.

SAM_2287-tile

We missed exploring the Historical area where they have all the big structures and temples. But other than that, I don’t think Dai Nam was worth our two hour ride from HCMC.

 

Dai Nam Theme Park, Vietnam

After a night of intense souvenir shopping at Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City and with our luggage firmly loaded with bags of jackfruit chips, Vietnamese coffee and other trinkets, we continued our exploration of Vietnam! An early morning rise and shine was in order since we had to do some travelling by bus. But first: Buffet breakfast!

SAM_2175-tile

SAM_2178-tile

In Malaysia, we don’t get to eat pork bacon at hotels because all establishments have to be Halal.Here in HCMC, I went nuts over the bacon strips, fried eggs fresh from the skillet done sunny side up, grilled tomatoes and pastries.

We stayed at New World Hotel Saigon, a posh place. It has a small casino next door catering to tourists. Vietnamese citizens are not allowed to gamble.

Had a big room all to myself with a king sized bed and like 15 channels to choose from. I felt much more comfy in HCMC than in Hanoi. It was too… quiet there. Here I could hear the thumping of the bass from at least five different clubs + the honking of vehicles, which slowly lulled me to sleep.

SAM_2179-tile

Pork everything and chocolate pancakes. Artery clogging goodness.

SAM_2193-tile

We then hopped on a bus to our next destination, Dai Nam Theme Park, which was a good two hour ride from the city. On the way there, we took in the sights of Ho Chi Minh City. So many bikes!

SAM_2201-tile

Đại Nam Văn Hiến is a tourist complex and theme park in Binh Duong Province. We were there on a weekday and the place was kind of dead. Most visitors were locals. The complex was huge, divided into several sections such as a ‘historical area’ where they had faux temples and statues of deities, a dry theme park, a wet theme park with the largest artificial sea in S/E Asia. We didn’t go in because the entry price was expensive. There is also a mini zoo in the area.

SAM_2211-tile

Visitors can rent tandem/single bicycles, but we decided to get some exercise after pigging it out at the buffet.

But the attractions were spaced so far apart, we finally decided to just go around in one of the free shuttle trains.

SAM_2202-tile

Large, elaborate structures showcasing mythical (?) figures. The signs were all in Vietnamese and the staff spoke little to no English, so we didn’t know what most of these buildings were. Visitors have to purchase tickets before going in each attraction.

SAM_2213-tile

SAM_2208-tile

SAM_2218-tile

SAM_2222-tileOne of the ‘wet’ rides.  It looked really fun, but we hadn’t brought a change of  clothes. And since we were writing for work, we stood at the balcony right opposite this ride to grab a pic of it coming down. The splash was HUGE and we had to dodge it just in time or risk being completely soaked.

SAM_2227-tile

SAM_2215-tile

Go-karting circuit

SAM_2219-tile

Dai Nam’s theme park area was a bit of a disappointment because of the lack of signages and lack of staff who could communicate basic English. The rides were small and were few and far between. Perhaps the beach (which it is more famous for) would be a better bet, so skip the dry park altogether and just go there. The zoo was a slight redeeming point. We didn’t get to see the temple area, but I heard that it’s nice there. But for me, I don’t think it was worth the long trip from and back to HCMC – you’re better off just exploring other places nearby.

DAI NAM THEME PARK 

QL 13, Hiệp An, tp. Thủ Dầu Một, Bình Dương, Vietnam
Entry: 100,000VND *Adults
Opening hours: 8am – 6pm
Getting There 
Ben Thanh Bus Station Bus no. 616 (VND 25,000/pax)

Ben Thanh Night Market, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

We are in Ho Chi Minh City, a bustling city that (almost) never sleeps! Unlike Hanoi, which is much quieter at night, HCMC is alive and thriving with activity after the sun sets with clubs, pubs, massage parlours and night markets operating until the wee hours of the morning. One such place is Ben Thanh Night Market located in District 1.

SAM_2151-tile

Very similar to Malaysia’s pasar malam, the market offers everything from cheap clothing to fake designer goods/perfume, street food, handbags, souvenirs and other touristy items. Bargaining is a common practice. Me, being absolutely terrible at it, let my travelmates have a go at it lol.

SAM_2148-tile

Colourful steamed glutinous rice snacks. Most of the stalls are lit up by makeshift generators with noisy hums and smelly fumes. A couple of bikes weaved up and down between the throng of tourists. I was actually quite surprised to see a lot of Malays from Malaysia/Brunei here. The shops even sold tudung (head coverings) and jubah (robes) for cheap prices, while some eateries had ‘halal’ signs on them.

SAM_2155-tile

We stopped by one of the shops for souvenirs to bring home. The instant 3-in-1 coffee mix costs only VND100,000 (about RM30) for three packs. Vietnam is also famous for it’s jackfruit chips, which were sweet and crunchy. We bought bagfulls of these as well. (VND100k for 1kg). They also had grind coffee, but I figured it would be harder to pack into my luggage so no go.

The sellers here are multilingual,speaking a combination of both English and Mandarin Chinese. One guy even spoke fluent Malay to us when he found out we were from Malaysia.

SAM_2157-tile

DVD seller peddling his wares on a bike. He had a speaker on and was playing 90s love ballads, which could be heard a good way down the street.

SAM_2158-tile

Another peddler selling roast peanuts cooked over a wooden fire.

SAM_2169-tile

SAM_2159-tile

Paper cut out souvenirs. They seemed to feature random stuff from all over the world…. spot Malaysia’s Petronas Twin Towers in there?

SAM_2163-tile

Local hawkers in front of a selection of fresh seafood items which will be cooked on the spot.

SAM_2168-tile

JQ and I tried the street iced-coffee prepared by a very good looking Viet guy. The coffee was strong flavoured but very sweet and sugary.

SAM_2164-tile

Ben Thanh Market is a fun place to visit if you’re into shopping and stuff. It also operates as a wet market of sorts in the day. We went there twice since our hotel is just a 10mins walk away. Just remember to be mindful of your belongings when you’re here, and always bargain for the best price. Happy shopping!

Enter Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is better known to the locals, is the largest city in Vietnam, with a population of over 8mil. It was the centre of administration during the French-colonial era, and later the South Vietnam forces backed by the West. It’s capitalist-oriented past is reflected in the tonnes of touristy shops and establishments, unlike Hanoi which, although under an open economy, strikes me as distinctively ‘rigid’ or ‘spartan’ (Karaoke centres are the only form of entertainment, and most shops close after 9pm). HCMC, however, is like Kuta in Bali – thriving, colourful, bright and never sleeps.

SAM_2129 - Copy-tile

We arrived at the Tan Son Nhat airport after a two hour flight from Hanoi. Our guide, Mai, immediately hopped onto the bus and took us around the city. It was approaching evening and the roads were full of scooters and bikes returning from rush hour. I saw many more familiar shops like Starbucks, McD, Giordano, etc which were absent in Hanoi.

SAM_2130-tile

Apparently many Malaysians favour coming here, so much so that some signs are in Malay. 🙂

SAM_2133-tile

Mai brought us to a back alley restaurant (I am terribly sorry, but I can’t remember the name at all D:) which had a nice ambience and served fusion Viet/French cuisine.

SAM_2136-tile

Did I mention that every set meal in Vietnam comes with a bottle of glass Coke? Not the can varieties: actual, glass bottle Coke. I don’t see these in KL anymore.

SAM_2137-tile

Deep fried Vietnamese spring rolls. Crunchy and crispy on the outside with soft, juicy vegetables on the inside. If only vegetables taste as good as these, I’d eat them everyday lulz.

SAM_2138-tile

Duck ravioli.

SAM_2139-tile

Vermicelli salad.

SAM_2140-tile

This was like, the bomb. Grilled stuffed squid, topped with fresh, chopped tomatoes. The squid was springy and fresh, stuffed with a combination of herbs and minced meat for different textures. My only lament was that the portion was quite small to be shared among so many of us.:P

SAM_2141-tile SAM_2142-tile

Cauliflower and vegetable stew. This was okay, but not flavourful enough

SAM_2144-tile

Viets seem to love putting pineapple in everything. This was so sweet it was more like  a dessert soup.

SAM_2146-tile

And to finish off, some spongecake topped with soft custard.

It was a great way to start our intro to Ho Chi Minh City – Hanoi’s more party-going sister. More to come!