A Travellerspoint blog

"A Brief Exploration into the Soul of Ho Chi Minh City"

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)



Vietnam Rose. Cruelty of the vietcongs. Rage of Rambo. These are hazy notions that pervaded in my consciousness as a consequence of the bombardments of propaganda materials by the foreign news and the movies during the 1970's. The logic that the american-controlled media ( e.g. Newsweek, Time and Readers' Digest) fed into our brains was simple: the americans had to send troops to Vietnam to protect the democratic government of then President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam from the clutches of the cruelty of communist vietcongs of North Vietnam. Further, the americans argued that they have to provide a balance of power in the strategic south east asia region since the russians and chinese were openly supporting the North Vietnam government during the Vietnam War. If it were that simple, I thought then that cruel vietnam war was justifiable.

I was still in my second year college in the University of the Philippines at Los Banos when the North Vietnamese forces liberated Saigon in April 30, 1975. The fall of Saigon left a big black eye for what seemed to be an invincible american military force, it shocked the entire humanity how such a dominant world power lost a major war. The fear of the vietcongs from among those loyal to the americans and the government of Nguyen Van Thieu sent thousands to become refugees popularly known as the vietnamese boat people. They fled Vietnam on board small boats, oftentimes attacked by pirates in the high seas, robbed and their women raped, got hit by tropical storms until they were able to reach friendly shores particularly in the Philippines. Refugee camps funded with international humanitarian agencies monies were established in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan and in Bataan province.

On the lighter side, Filipino soldiers who volunteered in Vietnam during the war were heard of being infected with vietnam rose – a slang term for a venereal disease from vietnamese whores in Saigon. A few years later, hollywood movies dealing on the cruel vietnam war were aplenty- the most notable was the Sylvester Stallone Rambo series.

This is were I am coming from. Since 1975, I read and heard for myself and had made my own mind set of what is Vietnam. When I went to Hanoi (actually the present capital of Vietnam) in 1998 as the Philippine Department of Agriculture representative to a food security conference, very briefly I had a glimpse of what is Vietnam. Way back then, it left me an impression of a developing city where everything is very orderly even as the number of motorbikes and scooters were already noticeable in the streets. Hanoi was a small city such that within few minutes drive we were already in a vast ricefield. But, I told myself, Hanoi is North Vietnam. Saigon would be a different world!

Having visited the more developed neighboring Asean cities (Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok and Hongkong) I told myself, this year's vacation with my wife would be a different one: an exploration into the soul of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Thanks to Cebu Pacific and my Credit Card, I was able to book on-line through the internet for a promo fare six months earlier. In the same manner, I was able to book on-line two weeks before our scheduled flight a hotel room for us. Since the arrival time of the Cebu Pacific plane in Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City is at 30 minutes past midnight, I decided to book for a hostel for our stay after our arrival at the airport until the check in time at the regular hotel at 1:00 pm. The idea being was that if I booked for the regular hotel and we arrived at 12:30 in the morning, it would already be counted one day stay. So I booked for a less expensive hostel in order not to pay for a one day room in the more expensive regular hotel for only about 9 hours stay after our airport arrival. I also made arrangement with the hostel for a taxi to pick us up at the airport upon our arrival asit was already very late in the evening. The fee for the taxi that fetched us was US $ 15 and I paid the hostel US$ 17 per day although we stayed only for 9 hours. On the other hand, the rate of the Ha Hien Hotel where we stayed for the rest of our stay in Vietnam which is located in District 1 was P 1,400.00 per day.

As a developing urban city, HCM does not have malls but have wet markets, does not have an Metro Rail Transport (MRT) and LRT systems but have plenty of motorcycles, does not have many expensive and fancy restaurants but have clean food stores serving Phoa (vietnamese noodles), does not have much high rise buildings but have a concrete american-designed buildings.

My wife who is a heavy coffee drinker learned the hard way that in HCM, (except perhaps in the Gloria Jean where I saw a branch in District 1), coffee is often served with ice in glass and not in coffee mug or cup. We were inside the Ben Thanh market when she had the urged to drink coffee. When we ordered for it, we have to act it out that we want to have a hot coffee and not ice coffee!

Moving to more substantive issues, after we finally settled in our hotel room at 1:00 pm, my wife wanted to take an afternoon nap, but I insisted that we have to take advantage of the cool cloudy afternoon and we walked from our hotel on Ly Tu Trong Street to the Independence Palace which is just about a kilometer away. Walking leisurely on Huyen Tran Cong Chua Street towards the Independence Palace, we passed by small shops selling flowers and massage parlors with massage attendants wearing white short dresses openly sitted nay displayed in front of the massage parlor.

After a while, we met a vendor selling coconut (buko) juice. I was taken by a surprise when he suddenly talked to me in broken english advising me not to openly display my cell phone as there are lots of cell phone snatchers riding in tandem on motorbikes. But, I told myself, how can I keep my cell phone inside my pocket when I am using it as my camera! Quickly, the vendor was already rubbing my elbow with a nicely peeled cold coconut which he opened, placed a straw and offered it to us. I thought it was for free, but he told the two coconuts was 40,000 dong! I suddenly remembered the Zest-O racket of our vendors in our Manila buses! (Note: In Manila, one time, inside a bus, my daughter experienced being given a tetra pack of Zest O orange drink from a vendor without ordering and being asked to pay for it much higher than its normal cost!)

Independence Palace was the Presidential Palace during the time of South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu. We had a lady tourist guide who was speak english well. We moved around the Independence Palace with a group of tourists composed of europeans, americans, and indians with our english-speaking tour guide who explained to us that the palace was the official residence of then President Van Thieu and his family, Presidential Office where he held office, met foreign dignitaries, held social functions. The palace has several elegant conference rooms, a moviehouse, spacious function rooms, living rooms and a roof deck with a helipad. It has several basements war rooms, Presidential bedroom and radio rooms which provided President Thieu direct access to the American President during the Vietnam war. At present, it is now a tourist destination which gives the tourists the impression of how strong and mighty the Presidency of then President Thieu, which to everyone's surprise bowed to the north vietnamese forces withdrawing without being bombarded.

Posted by E. Sandalo 01:33 Archived in Vietnam Tagged lodging Comments (0)

"Visita Iglesia and Cutud Crucifixion - the Conclusion"

The Cutud, San Fernando City , Pampanga Crucifixion

Same thing with the rest of the churches, we said short prayer before we moved to the next one. The third church was in the nearby town of Guagua. An NHI marker said it was Father Jose Duque who constructed the Church made of stone and bricks in 1620. We proceeded to the town of Sta. Rita, passing the town center of Guagua where we saw for ourselves the on-going construction of the drainage system which was published in a national paper. It became a subject of complaint by the residents because the concrete drainage canals were constructed above the level of their business establishments!

The church of Sta. Rita was closed when we reached there at 10.30 am. The church was the location of the wedding scene of Marimar where I appeared as the father of the groom (played by Marvin Agustin). We moved to the church of Bacolor. This time, two months after the last taping day of the popular “May Bukas Pa”, the parking area was filled with cars. Inside the church, it was like a fiesta, people were busy taking pictures with the several parts of the church like the corridor, the priests room, Santino's room, the altar used as background. I went to residence of the the parish priest – Father Jess Manabat and greeted him. Father Jess gave me an Ube jam (halaya) in a microwavable plastic container. This is his regular “pabaon” to us during our May Bukas Pa taping days.

We next went to the Betis church, but we stopped along the way when we saw a small church which we later learned was Our Lady of Lourdes Church. It was a our sixth church which is recently constructed.

Finally, we visited Betis church, our seventh church. It is very impressive with its wooden floors and a huge main door with carvings. Betis is known for its carved wooden furniture.

It was already a few minutes before 12 noon when we motored to Cutud inSan Fernando City. We arrived at the crucifixion site at 12:10 pm. The place was already crowded with people noticeably, a lot of foreigners were around. The crucifixion hill is elevated, about two meters high. On its left side, a huge tent with markings bearing the name of a local politician on it was already full of local VIPs, on stand by medics, and policemen. On the right side, an elevated scaffolding was set up where cameramen, mostly foreigners had set up their cameras ready to record the crucifixion.

We were positioned at the back side of the crucifixion hill. There were fewer people there. We stayed inside our cars because the heat of the sun and the dust from the ground which is basically lahar sand were very difficult to bear. We waited for two hours. From time to time, there were groups of penitents bloodied from the wounds in their backs who would finally get near the cross as their final point. They would remove the cover of their faces and place it at the foot of the cross. The police would them get near them and convince them to leave the hill and get treatment from the medics at the tent. There was one case where the police had to bring a stretcher to bring the weak penitent to the tent.

The time was 2 pm when men clad in roman soldiers uniform, some on horse back arrived on the crucifixion hill. The man to be nailed positioned himself on the cross. A nail was hammered into his left hand in one strike. Another nail on the right hand, this time in two strikes of the hammer. The Cross was raised, time for the feet to be nailed. One hammer strike each foot. At 2:08 pm the crucifixion was done. We immediately left the place as my family were already very hungry. We drove back to the San Fernando City proper to have our lunch. Unfortunately, the Fisherman's Grill was closed and same with the other restaurants, only Mc Donald and Jollibee were opened. We had our quick lunch at Jollibee.

As we were on our way home, I recalled the question of a free-lance writer who interviewed me while we were in the crucifixion hill in Cutud. He asked me if the reenactment was relevant in the present time. I tried to recall what my answer was: I said, “as a way of reminding us today of how Jesus gave up his life for our sins, for me, the reenactment was relevant. But, of course, we should not wait to see a reenactment for us to realize how Jesus love us”.

As a final note, rather than going to the beach or spending the holy week in Baguio, visita iglesia had become our family practice of observing its holiness. However, it should not in any way be viewed as the only way of becoming good Christians which should be a daily lifestyle rather than a seasonal activity.

Posted by E. Sandalo 16:20 Comments (0)

"Visita Iglesia and Cutud Crucifixion in Pampanga, Phils"

The Cutud, San Fernando City Crucifixion Reenactment

We were caught in an early morning heavy traffic at the crossing of Quirino Highway and the Tungko-San Jose del Monte Road. The local traffic police managing the traffic must have thought it would be wise not to let the vehicles turn left at the intersection going to Grotto so as to avoid heavy traffic in the Grotto area. However, this resulted to the traffic build up along Quirino Highway.

While we were stalled in the traffic, I remembered the early years after we moved in into our new house in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. It was in the late part of 1980's. Our house is just three kilometers away from the famous Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in barangay Gaya-Gaya. This is a very popular site for people to visit during holy thursdays and good fridays. I used to bring my wife and two little daughters to the Grotto where there is a man-made life size station of the cross. We used to leave the house as early as 6:00 am and walked to Grotto which would take us less than an hour. We would go through praying the station of the cross and would be back home by about 10 am. But since about five years ago when the Catholic church had publicly announced that the masses and other activities in the Grotto are not authorized by the Church, we decided not to visit Grotto anymore.

Last friday, despite the advisory of the church on the activities in the Grotto, the volume of people who visited it must still be large causing the traffic at the intersection. We spent some 30 minutes in the traffic before we were able move towards the Marilao entry of the North Luzon Expressway using the Gumaok – San Jose del Monte road. Just as we were about to reach the Marilao entry, the flow of the vehicular traffic was rerouted because of the large volume of devotees of the Divine Mercy Shrine. At this point, I told my wife that next time, we would avoid this route and instead take either the Balintawak or the Valenzuela entry to the NLEX.

Considering that we left our house at 7:00 am and arrived in San Fernando, Pampanga at 8:35 am, the traffic in Tungko and the rerouting near the Divine Mercy Shrine were indeed causes of delay since I used to travel this distance in 45 minutes during the “May Bukas Pa” tapings.

My eldest daughter who got married last year spent the holy thursday in a resort in San Simon, Pampanga together with the family of her husband Martin. We agreed to meet the young couple at the SM San Fernando at 8 am, but because of the traffic, they waited for us for 35 minutes.

I informed my family of our itinerary: from SM San Fernando, we will visit seven churches: the Parish Churches of Lubao, Sasmuan, Guagua, Sta. Rita, Bacolor, Betis and San Fernando. Then, we should be at the Crucifixion site in Cutud by 12:00 noon as I read it in the newspaper that the crucifixion will be at 12:00 noon.

We were in two cars. As planned, we visited first the San Agustin Parish Church in Lubao. This is the church that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo heard mass during her birthday last April 5. It is made of bricks. A National Historical Commission marker said that it was constructed by an Augustinian priest Architect Father Antonio Herrera from 1614 to 1630 out of locally made bricks and sand mixed in egg albumen contributed by the people of Lubao.

After saying a short prayer, we motored to the nearby town of Sasmuan passing through the bangus fish ponds where school of egrets were feeding on the snails. The church has been renovated complete with newly-installed modern tiles. ( to be concluded)....

Posted by E. Sandalo 16:17 Comments (0)

"Pilgrims of Our Lady of Piat"

religious tourism

overcast 25 °C

Me-an of Polaris Rest House told us that the travel time from Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte to Tuguegarao City in Cagayan is four hours. We calculated and managed our time on the road. After checking out, we went to the Wind Mills of Bangui and had lunch in the nearby KangKang Café before we finally traveled to Tuguegarao at 2:30 p.m. We arrived Tuguegarao at 7:30 p.m.

My wife is from Tuguegarao that was why we included a stop over in this City not only to visit my wife’s relatives and friends and to visit the grave of my father-in-law but to pay homage and pray at the Basilica Minore de la Nuestra Sonora del Piat in Piat, Cagayan, the shrine of the miraculous image of the our Lady of Piat.

Church records reveal that the image of the Our Lady of Piat arrived from Macau in the year 1620.Since that time, she had moved around Luzon and according to the account of numerous devout faithful countless miracles and prayers were answered and were attributed with the intercession of the lady of Piat.

My wife myself and my mother-in-law attest to their answered prayers made with the intercession of the miraculous image.

That Sunday when we made a pilgrimage to the Lady of Piat, we traveled some 37 kilometers from Tuguegarao City to the town of Piat. We passed by tracts of lands planted with sugar. The Basilica of the Lady of Piat was filled with devotees when we arri ved. It was the mass that started at 8:30 a.m. that was going on when we arrived and the church was overflowing with people having mass. Even the patio and the streets leading to the church were all crowded.

After the final blessings for the 8:30 a.m. mass, we inched among the crowd towards the front portion of the Church. We heard the 9:30 a.m. mass. The was a fully crowded again with devotees.

Joining the crowd of devotees of the Lady of Piat for mass was a different experience.

The next day, we left early at 5:00 a.m. for our trip back to our home in Bulacan province. The maintenance works going on for the national road across the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Viscaya and Nueva Ecija were almost completed, thanks to EVAT, it made driving a lot faster. However, what is more annoying is the presence of numerous public motorcycle cabs which are plying along the national highway specially in the portions of the cities of San Jose and Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija. I thought that these traffic hazards are banned in the national highways. I have never seen as numerous public motorcycle cabs before in my whole life as numerous as what I had seen in these two cities!

We were finally home at 6:00 p.m. We were so thankful to God for giving us a wonderful family bonding moments together throughout our travel!

Posted by E. Sandalo 05:26 Archived in Philippines Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

WindMills of Bangui, Patapat Viaduct of Ilocos Norte, Phils

man-made infrastructures attracting tourists

sunny 25 °C

One of the famous jokes during the time of President Ferdinand E. Marcos who was born in Batac, Ilocos Norte was that almost all kinds of infrastructures that can be funded by the government were already built in Ilocos region. The region has the Don Mariano Marcos State University, the Fort Ilocandia, the (Balay Ti Amianan) Malacanang of the North to name a few.

However, the latest man-made structures that have been drawing tourists in this part of the Philippines are the Wind Mills of Bangui. These were constructed long after the death of former President Marcos. Viewed from afar on Pagudpud beach, the wind mills are very prominent and awesome. Looking at these structures from a distance, one is naturally urged to get close to it. So after spending the whole morning on Pagudpud beach, we checked out Polaris Beach House only a few minutes before the cut-off time at 12:00noon.

We drove back to the next town of Bangui (coming from Manila, Bangui comes first, then Pagudpud) to get close to these new man-made structures. It took us only twenty minutes to reach the wind mills of Bangui.

Twenty wind mills which are 23-storey tall are lined up along the windy shores of Bangui bay. The shore line is directly facing the South China Sea where the strong winds are coming from.

A few minutes ago, while I was writing this blog, I google searched the Wind Mills of Bangui and was able to get these information from a website site named waypointdata.com:

”The Bangui Wind Mills were built by the NorthWind Power Development Corporation to take its share in reducing the emission of harmful greenhouse gases (GHGs) causing global warming and to accelerate the rural electrification of the government.

In this area, wind mostly comes from the north-east, from the sea towards the land. To optimize the full benefit of the winds, turbines are installed along the shore facing the sea effectively removing wind breaks and achieving a terrain roughness of class 0.

The ‘Wind Farm" as it is aptly called consists of 15 wind turbines (Egay’s Note: there are now 20 turbines). The turbines are on-shore and arranged in a single row spaced 326 meters apart. The turbines hub height (ground level to center of nacelle - that part holding the blades) is 70 meters high (roughly equivalent to a 23 storey building), each blade is 41 meters long (just 9 meters shy of a Olympic sized pool) giving a rotor diameter of 82 meters and a wind swept area of 5,281 square meters.

Every body is welcome at the wind farm (you will not see any fence) and wonder at the beauty of the wind mills. Visitors are reminded, though, to — Take nothing but pictures (and/or videos), leave nothing but footprints and retain nothing but memories.

Waypoint narrative by: Dino_T 2007 and EPPGarcia 2007…”

After having lunch at the KANGKANG Coffee Shop and Restaurant located a kilometer away from the windmills, we were already on our way to TuguegaraoCity in Cagayan province.

An hour later, we passed by the Patapat viaduct which is a remnant of the Marcosian infrastructures in Ilocos region. According to the explanation from our friends in the Department of Public Highways, it is more expensive to construct the portion of the highway by side-cutting the mountains. So instead, a viaduct was constructed on the mountainside which looks like a skyway but with pillars constructed on the portion of the seawaters.

I am not an engineer, but my simple mathematical calculations could not convince me that the viaduct is the cheaper alternative to a mountain side cutting!

Posted by E. Sandalo 21:41 Archived in Philippines Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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