Friday, 26 December 2008

Ho Chi Minh City trip - 26 Dec 08

We wake up at 8am today as we are meeting our Saigon hotpot tourguide at 9am today. Breakfast was included hence we decided to had it in the hotel today. We had french loaf and omelette. The french loaf was a bit hard. YQ n I decided that if the hotel serve the same breakfast everyday then we shall have our breakfast elsewhere.

Breakfast for the day

Our tour guide for the day is Fu. As confirmed in the email, he will be meeting us at our hotel lobby. We told Fu that we had to change some money first as we only changed S$50 yesterday. We found a money changer at Pham Ngu Lao street. The rate here is better than the airport.

Acccording to the forumers, Mai Linh is the most honest taxi company in Vietnam. Their meters turn on automatically once the taxi driver begin driving. We noted that there are taxi which logo are similar to Mai Linh taxi. Do take note of this as it's really very simliar. Other taxi should be avoided as their meter may be rigged.

Mai Linh Taxi Other taxis

Our first destination is Notre Dame Cathedral. With Fu around, we feel more at ease boarding other taxi rather than waiting for Mai Linh taxi. After the encounterment with the taxi driver yesterday, we were quite sceptical of taxi drivers. Inside each taxi, the meter is locked at the right hand side as Vietnamese drive on the left side. I was thinking, since the meter is locked then how can they rigged the taxi meter? The taxi that we board even have television and was screening a movie "The Bolt" preview. Taxi starts from VND15,000 (~$1.50) and can get to most places within district 1 for less than VND80,000.

Inside the taxi

Since yesterday, I noted that the shops signboard would display their address. This is really very helpful to people locating the address. For example the shop below address: 200-202-204 Ly Tu Trong, Q1, HCMC. This means the unit no is 200-202-204, street is Ly Tu Trong and is located in district 1. Q1 stands for Quan 1 which means district in vietnamese.

Shop in HCMC Charles & Keith store

Most of the places of interest are located in District 1. District 1 is similar to our CBD area where it is the busiest.

One of the fingerprints the French left in the city of Saigon. At first glance, Notre Dame Cathedral seems to be brick built, but in fact, it is made of red tiles bought over from Marseilles. Notre Dame was christened “Basilica” on December 7th and 8th, 1959, following the approval of The Holy See of the Vatican.

Notre Dame Cathedral is a very popular place for taking wedding shots. It is possible to climb the belfry which open on Sunday where there is a nice view of the center of Saigon.

Notre Dame cathedral (Front view) Notre Dame cathedral (Back view) Interior of the Cathedral Saw the wedding couple in the background?

Another of the fingerprints the French left in the city of Saigon, the General Post Office sits adjacent to the Notre Dame cathedral. It was built from 1886 to 1891 by Gustave Eiffel, the architect of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. With a beautiful dome-shaped roof and an interior of exquisite decorative patterns, the grand colonial building also includes dome-shaped window panes, in which are carved the names of inventors who contributed to the fields of electricity and telecommunications such as Edison, Morse, Ohm, Ampere and Bell. At the entrance, there is a large clock which was installed when the building was constructed, and is still in operation.

General Post Office

Once your enter the Post Office, there are row of telephone booth on the left and right. At the top of each booth door, there is a clock showing different time zone at different booth. It is possible to make IDD call inside the booth. I wonder in such modern days where handphones are so widely used, why would people still make call here?

Different time zoneIt's 10.43am in SingaporeInterior resemble a railway station with Uncle Ho Potrait overlooking the hall

We bought 2 postcards for mailing to each other. It's quite a good idea to send postcard where ever i travel. In the future when look back, I can see which are the destinations that I had been before. I read before that Mediacorp artiste Kym Ng used to sent postcards to herself during her air stewardess day.

The stamps are not self-adhesive and glue pots are available at the right corner of the post office. Fu told us not to mail our postcard into the post box and pass it to the counter instead. Btw the postcard only reach me a week after i came back. So slow...

Glue pots Sending a postcard to YQ

Outside the post office, there is a postbox and I took a shot. I like to take snap of postbox of different countries.


Our next destination is Saigon Opera House which is within walking distance from the General Post Office. Near the Notre Dame Cathedral is Diamond Plaza, we didnt visit it at all throughout our days in HCMC cos it's one of the high end shopping centre.

Diamond Plaza No wonder there is no double deck bus here Street hawker Louis Vuitton shop

Saigon Opera House was built as a classical opera house to entertain French colonists. The building was renovated in the 1940s but was badly damaged by bombers in 1944. During the war, it is a shelter for refugees. It currently hosts vietnamese theatre and traditional music shows.

Saigon Opera House

People's Committee Hall is one of the most magnificent and photogenic colonial building in HCMC. It is the house of the city government and is not open to the public. In front of the hall features a statue of Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh is famously known as Uncle Ho in Vietnam) cradling a child.

People's Committee HallStatue of Uncle Ho

Rex Hotel is a popular base for journalists during the Vietnam war and is one of the best known landmark in HCMC. There is a roof top bar which offers superb views of the surrounding.

Rex Hotel

Our next destination is Reunification Palace and according to Fu, the distance is quite far so it's we board a cab and head there. On the way to Reunification Palace, we passed by a huge park. Yes, it's huge. A good place for the locals to get a shade from the scorching sun.

A park in front of Reunification Palace

We reached the Reunification Palace at 10.20am but it was closed today. It will be open tomorrow so I noted down the opening hours. We took a photo at the entrance and board a cab to our next destination.

Reunification Palace

Quite a nice building but I don't know the name

Jade Emperor Pagoda is one of the most uniquely ornate pagodas in Ho Chi Minh. The temple was built in 1909 and honours the Jade Emperor. When we reached there, the temple is under renovation.

I discovered that there is no pagoda in the temple as I thought that there is pagoda inside otherwise why there is the word "Pagoda" is behind the name of the temple. It seems that all temples in Vietnam are called Pagoda. We left within 15min and headed to Vinh Nghiem Pagoda.

Jade Emperor PagodaBustling street in HCMCJeep

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is the largest pagoda in HCMC. This is the first pagoda in Vietnam to be built in Vietnamese traditional architecture style and is famous for the seven storey pagoda tower.

Tree is moving house

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda Knocking the bell

On the way to Quan An Ngon for lunch, I snap a shot of a motorbike carrying dozens of toilet paper. Now I would not doubt those emails which I saw those motorbikes carrying items such as furniture or even the whole family.

Not an unusual sight in HCMC

Bus stop Newspaper vendor

Quan An Ngon (Address: 138 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D1) literally means "restaurant of delicious eating". It's set in an atmospheric old French villa across the street from the Reunification Palace. With numerous stalls scattered around the large, shady restaurant, the result is a gastronomical delight for food lovers. It is highly recommended in tour books and is advised to reserve ahead as it is very crowed during lunch hours. We didnt make any reservation so we waited a while before we were ushered to a table with 3 seats.

I ordered Com Tam Bi Suori Cha (Steamed broken rice served with grilled pork chop, shredded pork shin and egg cake). What is broken rice? Definition: "The kernel of rice can become cracked in the field, during the drying process, or during the milling process. Cracks are usually caused by moisture migrating too quickly within the kernel (drying too fast, or moisture being added back to a dry kernel). Often these cracks cause the kernels to break during milling and so broken rice is generated." Broken rice used to be consumed by the poorer people but it has gained favour in wider circles as it has a different texture and slightly starchier consistency than the preferred long grain rice.

The whole dish is super tasty and we ordered Vietnamese Popiah. It came with something similar like thick beehoon which can dipped in the sauce provided. It taste better than the one we tried last night at Pho 24.
Inside Quan An Ngon Apple juice, Guava juice and Watermelon juice Yummy lunch Popiah

After having our lunch, we took a cab to War Remnants Museum. However the museum was closed from 12 - 2pm. Hence we walk around the streets and Fu suggested going to a coffee cafe.
Cigarettes vendor Oops, Fu was capture in the shot

Motorbikes are available for rent and if you are brave enough to survive the chaotic traffic, why not rent one and roam around?

Saw a tourist checking map on a scooter?

I forget the name of the cafe but it seems to have chains around Saigon. We ordered one coffee each and I only drink a bit cos I dun wanna become panda at night. Haiz... Also forget the name of the coffee we ordered but it taste so so lah. The cafe is filled with youngsters whom are hanging out with their friends.

Inside the cafeOur ice coffee

The War Remnants Museum contains exhibits relating to the American phase of the Vietnam War. There is a entrance fee of VND15,000 (~S$1.50). The tanks, helicopters, planes and arms on display are not what make of this an important visit. What draws most visitors here are the images on display. Visitors can see the effects of the weapons of mass destruction used by the Americans during the Vietnam War. Among the most disturbing exhibits are the formaldehyde-filled jars containing foetuses deformed as a result of the chemical defoliants used during the Vietnam war.

It's true that those tanks and planes don't attract my attention compared to those photos of kids with deformed body parts. After seeing too much, I did feel so disgusted that those innocents are hurt most in the wars. I really pitied those kids who were born with deforms due to the chemicals defoliants especially Agent Orange used during the war. Let us all bless that the world is in peace.
Logo of the different America army teams during the Vietnamese warImpact of the war



Mines Defoliants used Guns used during the war Photos taken during the war Tiger Cages in which the South Vietnamese Government housed political prisoners Tanks and aircraft used during the Vietnam war

Next, we went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. There is an entrance fee of VND10,000 ~ S$1. It tells the history of Ho Chi Minh City and there are artifacts on display. It does not really interest us so we left within half an hour.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Different currencies notes
Such a huge plaque

We are so minute Vintage car

We left and went back to the hotel and rest until 6pm before we head out for dinner. It was showering by the time we reached our hotel. We decided to go to Lemongrass for dinner. We asked the cab driver to drive us to 4 Nguyen Thiep. When we reached Lemongrass, it was full so the waitress asked if we mind going to another branch which is 5 min walk from here. We went to the other branch at 56-66 Nguyen Hue, Palace Saigon hotel 14th floor. We passed by a gold shop and the exchange rate here is better than the money changer at Pham Ngu Lao so we exchanged S$100 here.

We ordered Lemongrass seafood soup which taste like tom yam soup, just that it's less spicy and sweeter. We also ordered Baked prawns in garlic and butter. I found that the food here is ok but the ambience here is great. Our dinner only cost around S$20. Where to get such price for 2 person in a nice restaurant in Singapore?

CrackersLemongrass seafood soup & Baked prawn in garlic Inside the restaurant

We finished our dinner at around 7pm and decided to walk to the puppet theatre as we had an hour to spare. We passed by those places of interest which we visited in the morning. The buildings especially People's Committee Hall is lighted up and is completely a different scene from the day.

Night view of Saigon
Night view of People's Committee Hall

Nice paintings

Snowman without snow

Night view of Notre Dame Cathedral

Night view of Central Post Office

After walking for around half an hour, we still havent reached Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. Hence we decided to board a cab and head there. The cab fare is cheap, only VND28,500 ~ S$2.85. The puppet show is played at 6.30pm and 8pm for a duration of 50 minutes with no intermission at VND$65,000 (~$6.50). Website:
Rong Vang (Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre) Enlarge model of water puppet Waiting for the show The show is starting

We reached our hotel at around 10am and YQ suggest going to their funfair and take a look. We bought some fried food and clam for supper. I didnt ate much so most of the food were finished by YQ.Fun fair
Night view of Pham Ngu Lao Our supper

Before we went back to the hotel, we went to the nearby store to buy mineral water. The brand Aquafina taste better than La Vie. We decided to buy 5 litres to pour into those 1 litres bottle which we bought previously as the price is much cheaper. A 5 litres mineral water only cost VND18,000 ~ S$1.80. Where to find such price in Singapore? Super duper cheap.

1 & 5 litres of mineral water

>>Day 3: 27 Dec 08

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