Monday, 29 December 2008

Ho Chi Minh City trip - 29 Dec 08

We woke up at 7am today as we are joining Sinh Cafe day tour to Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Temple. We had booked the tour few days earlier with Sinh Cafe which cost VND13,000 ~ S$13 which includes a/c bus, tour guide but exclude lunch and entrance fees. Sinh Cafe is located at 246 - 248 De Tham St., D1. It is one of the reputable budget tour operators in Vietnam and there are outlets in various parts of Vietnam.

We had our breakfast at a cafe which is few shops away from Sinh Cafe. We waited quite some time before they took our order and before the food is served. We had to reach Sinh Cafe by 8am hence we finished our breakfast quickly after it is served. The food is so so and Bi Saigon definitely served better breakfast than this.

Our breakfast Selling loney planet books

As the bus has not arrived, we waited outside Sinh Cafe. There are also a lot of tourist waiting for the bus. A bus came but it is not our tour bus. Do take note of the destination pasted outside the bus as that there are many buses. We boarded the wrong bus but luckily there is another passenger who has the same seat number with us so we were wondering why. The tour guide can over and saw our receipt and told us that we boarded the wrong bus. -_-"

Waiting for the tour bus
Shin Cafe

Finally our bus arrived at 8.25am and we board the bus. There are seats number allocated to every passenger on the receipt. Our tour guide is Tan and he distributed mineral water and wet tissue to every passenger before the bus depart.

Bus arrived
Seat number allocated
Free mineral water
Free wet tissue
Hawkers School
ATM Machines
Motorcycles for rent
Transporting bricks using cyclone
Traffic jam
Cows in padi field
The tour guide told us that the journey to Cao Dai Temple at Tay Ninh tooks about 2 hrs and we will be stop by a souvenir factory. We reached the factory at around 9.30am and went for a toilet break. The souvenirs sold here are much more expensive than those sold at Ben Thanh Market and I wonder how much does each worker earns a month? Based on what I found in the internet, the average wages per annum is US$800. That's lower than what a Singaporean earns per month.

Workers working
Finished products
Shhh... just trying

The bus departed at 10am and we slept on the way and reached Tay Ninh at around 11.40am.

Tây Ninh 西寧 is a town in southwestern Vietnam. Tay Ninh is approximately 90 km to the northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. The city is most famous for being the home of the Cao Dai religion, an indigenous Vietnamese faith that includes the teachings of the major world religions. Cao Dai is a combination of Christianity, Buddhism , Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, Geniism, and Taoism . Established in the Southern regions of Vietnam in the early 1920's, the religion was officially codified in 1926. According to Tan, this religion can only be found in southern Vietnam.
The Cao Dai religion's Holy See, built between 1933 and 1955, is located around 5 km to the east of Tay Ninh's town centre. It's a very big compound like an enclosed village where there is temple, schools, houses inside here.

Gate to Holy See
On the way to the temple
Cao Dai Temple
Tan, the tour guide told us that we can take any photo outside the temple but once inside the temple, we should not take photo of ourselves or any people inside except the prayer ceremony. The CaoDaist pray 4 times a day at 12am, 6am, 12pm and 6pm. The followers (those wearing white) do not need to pray 4 times a day, only those wearing those yellow, blue and red robes are required. I wonder if everyone is required to pray 4 times a day, wouldn't it disrupt their work and also they can only sleep less than 6 hrs a day from 12am-6am? I definitely cannot.
Visitors are only allowed to walk at the side and not enter the center hall area.
Inside the temple
Cao Dai altar
Red, Blue and Yellow represent Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism respectively
Divine eye
Cao Dai ceremony
Inside the Holy See is a painting depicting the Three Saints signing a covenant between God and humanity.
Tôn Dật Tiên (Sun Yat-sen), Victor Hugo and Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm
The prayer ceremony last for around an hour but we didnt stay inside the temple for so long as Tan told us to gather back at the bus at 12.20pm.

Such a unique tree
Roads inside the compound
We had our lunch at a shop which is outside the compound. We are among the first to place the order and yet we are among the last to be served . Sian....
Waiting for lunch to be served
Noodle soup with chicken
Fried rice
After the lunch, we depart for Cu chi tunnel, the journey tooks about 1.5hr and I slept on the way due to after lunch effect.

Muddy road
Wedding celebration
I noted that the Vietnamese guys like to sit along the road side and drink coffee. This makes me wonder whether the guys need to work or not? Or just the female who are bringing home the bacon?
Resting place for coffee
We reached Cu chi tunnel at 3pm and the entrance fee is VND80,000 per person. The tunnels of Củ Chi are more than 250km and are located in the Củ Chi district of Ho Chi Minh City. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong guerrillas as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for numerous guerrilla fighters.

Map of visiting points
Underground pass to the Cu chi tunnel site
Watching documentary
Size of the tunnel
Tan demostrate to us how the guerrillas came out and enter the tunnel. This trap door has been enlarged to accomodate those caucasians. The original one is small than this.

Camouflaged trap door
A booby trap with bamboo spikes
Clothes worn by the guerrillas
Taking a snap with the guerrillas
Tanks used during the war
How the bombs & mines are made
There is a shooting range here where the visitors can try. If i don't remember wrongly, it cost about VND 200,000 for 10 bullets. I did thought of trying but the loud shooting sound put me off.

Shooting range
Bomb crater
Now come the most exciting part of the tour - an experience inside the tunnel. The tunnels had been enlarged to accomodate those caucasian. It's impossible to walk inside the tunnel and I can only walked by squatting. For those bigger size people, I guess they can only climb on the floor.
There is another tunnel called Vinh Moc tunnels at Quang Tri near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. The tunnels were built to shelter people from the intense bombing and according to Tan, people can walked inside the tunnel before bending unlike the Cu chi tunnel.
Tan told us that the first exit is located 50m from the entrance and the tunnel is one way so no turning back. I told YQ to bring touchlight cos it's really pitch dark inside the tunnel. I ask YQ to enter the tunnel first so that he can guide me with the touchlight. There is a girl behind me who keep screaming cos it's really dark inside the tunnel. ><" It's really very stuffy inside the tunnel and I'm perspiring. I really wonder how the guerrillas managed to stay inside the tunnel for years. For those people who has claustrophobia, better don't try. We missed the first exit and I'm really stuffing to death so I told YQ to look out for the second exit and alas, we found it and quickly exit. There is a couple who are in front of us who didnt notice the exit and still continue to squat their way. They turned back after they saw us exiting the tunnel. It's really good to breathe in fresh air again.
Going into the tunnel
Inside the tunnel
Finally out of the tunnel
Fresh water from the stream
Smoke from the underground kitchen
Tan told us that he can only estimate the distance from here back to HCMC but not the time taken to reach HCMC. This is because there would be traffic jams and he don't know how long is the traffic jam.

Tired and exhausted after a day
Lane for motorcycles
Overhead bridge is not a common sight in HCMC
Traffic jam
Bus plate number is so big and prominent on the bus
We reached Sinh Cafe at around 7pm and we head to Tuan & Tu for dinner. Tuan & Tu is located at 28/38B Tran Cao Van, D3 and is open 11am to 2pm and 6 to 9pm daily. The small villa with six tables and a small courtyard is easy to miss, look for a door that simply reads ‘Tuan & Tu’s’ and knock to get in.
It's really very easy to miss this place and we even went into a pub next door loh. -_-" I like the ambience in this restaurant. Initially we ordered three dishes and the waiter told us that it's too little. In the end, we ordered four dishes which is too much for us to finish. All the dishes taste ok lah, the food at Quan An Ngon is the best among all the places I had tried. The dinner cost us VND360,000 ~ S$36 which is not cheap loh. But hard to find such price in such a place in Singapore.

Apricot juice and sau fruit juice
Hanoi styled spring roll
Steamed pork with scrimp sauce
Clam sour soup
Snail cooked with tofu & green banana
We left at around 8.15pm and walked around. YQ bought two pair of short while I bought a T-shirt for only VND 500,000. We didn't have enough Dong to buy more clothes so we left and board a cab back to the hotel.

>>Day 6: 30 Dec 08

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