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

Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon)

“BRIEF EXPLORATION OF THE SOUL OF HO CHI MINH CITY”

PART 1

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.
(TO BE CONTINUED...)

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

"Hong Kong, several years after the Hand Over"

"Hong Kong, Revisited"

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“HONGKONG – REVISITED”

My wife and I used to celebrate our wedding anniversaries with private dinners together with our daughters. For our 27th wedding anniversary last August 2 last year, however, as early as January 2007, we decided to give ourselves a break and we carefully planned a Hongkong vacation!

Of all places, friends asked, why Hongkong? Personally, I have only one reason for choosing it over say Bangkok or Singapore or Palawan or Boracay. I was in Hongkong in April 1998 before the Hand Over (i.e., before the England turned over Hongkong back to China) and I want to make a comparison of what was Hongkong then and what is it now after the Hand Over.

As the planner in the family, I carefully planned the Hongkong vacation and of course asked for my wife’s opinion and concurrence along the preparation process! We decided that instead of booking for a packaged tour, we would book months ahead for a Cebu Pacific flight to take advantage of its great plane fare discount! We did the booking on-line by logging in cebupacificair.com and paying the fare using my credit card. We got a fairly reaonable plane fare for round trip Manila-Hong-Manila for two at only P 9,678.16.Cheap, is it not? Since we had to pay for the Philippine travel tax of P1,620.00 each and the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminal fee of P750.00 each, we spent only P14,418.16 for plane fare! Imagine, it was a lot cheaper compared to other airlines and other destinations!

The next thing I did was to goggle search for affordable clean hotels in Hongkong again using the internet. I was able to compare the hotel rates until I decided to book on-line and pay the 10% down payment again using my credit card. I paid the balance in cash when we checked-in.

I reasoned out that since we do not intend to stay in our hotel room most of the time but rather we intend to be outdoor on sightseeing, we would choose a budget hostel rather than a fancy hotel. We finally chose the Dragon Hostel located in downtown Mongkok, Kowloon side, with only the ratings made by previous occupants as basis. Our room was only P800.00 per person per day for Thursday and Friday and P900.00 per person per day for saturday!

Finally, I applied for an official leave from my office for August 2 and 3 since we had chosen our vacation to be from August 2 till August 5.Having made all the necessary preparatory activities, we were confident that we were ready to take our flight at 8:00 a.m. last August 2!

Nagmamahal,

Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 19:52 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged lodging Comments (0)

My 2008 Travel to Singapore, KL and Thailand

Bangkok, Final Leg

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If I were to give an endorsement of something that I really liked during my trip, I will highly recommend two: first the VIP Double-Decker Air-conditioned Bus from Phuket to Bangkok and second, the Bangkok Centre Sukhumvit 25 Hostel on 25 Sukhumvit, Bangkok.

After the bus driver dropped me at the Phuket Terminal, I boarded the VIP Double-Decker Air-conditioned bus. It is a double decker bus with toilet, two drivers and a uniformed hostess serving snacks and softdrinks. The VIP bus ticket shows the words Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion. The trip was very smooth and comfortable, a far cry from the long train rides that I had on the locomotive trains! The Phuket to Bangkok trip took only 12 hours from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. A full dinner was served in a restaurant where we had our only stop-over at 10:00 p.m. A Thai film which had an English sub-title was shown. It was a movie about a coach who painstakingly built a tug of war team composed of kindergarten boys. It was funny with a very strong message on the pressures of winning and how small kids handle it.

When we arrived at the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok, we bought a taxi coupon for a fixed fare of 500 Thai Baht for a taxi trip from the Terminal to Sukhumvit 25 where our hostel was located.

The Bangkok Centre Sukhumvit Hostel is highly recommended. It was very accommodating: they simply asked me to pay a membership fee of 200 Thai baht which is valid for three years. I was given an air-conditioned room with hot and cold shower, tv and refrigerator. It was more than what I needed. I was only looking for a place where I could leave my baggages but I got a room where I can freshen up with shower and have a few hours of rest before I went shopping at Pratunam area. For the room stay from 8:30 a.m. till 8:00 p.m. I paid only 800 Thai baht!

At 10:00 a.m.I went to Pratunam area. I simply took a bus from the hostel to Pratunam. I shopped till 4:00 p.m. and went back to the hostel for some rest until I left for the airport at 8:00 p.m.

The hostel made an arrangement for a taxi (actually it was a Mazda 3 which was privately owned) for me. It was a colorum vehicle (just like in the Philippines) for 350.00 Thai baht from the Hostel to the airport.

My flight though was very much delayed. When I checked-in, the flight advisory board had indicated that the flight was moved to 2:00 a.m. but we were able finally left at 3:00 a.m. already. The Cebu Pacific air flight stewardess apologized for the delay but blamed the authorities of the NAIA 3 terminal for the delay. According to her, there was confusion in the NAIA that caused their delay in departing from Manila which had also resulted to the delay of their arrival in Bangkok.

We finally landed NAIA 3 at 7:00 a.m., August 3. I was very thankful to God for the learning I got from the trip. More over, God made it possible that during the entire trip we had a very fine weather while it had been raining here in Manila during that period!

Nagmamahal,

Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 08:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged lodging Comments (0)

My 2008 Travel to Singapore,KL and Thailand

Kuala Lumpur Leg, Part 1

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“TRAVELLING IS LEARING: MALAYSIA LEG, PART 1”

A country’s historical past (referred to as kaagi in cebuano which according to modern-day historian Inquirer’s Ambet Ocampo is more appropriate word to use) plays a vital role in its development. Take the case of Singapore. As a former British colony, English language is widely used by the Singaporeans. Another legacy of the british colonial era of Singapore is its efficiency as a trading hub. Products from as far as the Malaysian peninsula (another former British colony) were brought to the harbor of Singapore using the railway system for shipment to Europe. The Railway System is a major monumental infrastructure established by the British colonizers and left behind after the colonial era.

The Singapore Railway Station constructed during the British colonial era is still standing and is currently being used by the present Malaysian railway company named Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad Antarabandar (KTM). When I arrived at this Station, I immediately took pictures of this historical landmark. This building is lucky it was constructed in Singapore which must have a good sense of history. Today, it is still in existence being surrounded by new high rise buildings. If it were constructed in the Philippines it has long been torn down to pave way to a new shopping mall or a new condominium!

Our train for Kuala Lumpur was scheduled to depart at 9:00 p.m. I made a fatal mistake of eating dinner in one of the eateries inside the Singapore Railway Station. I was spared from chewing a hot chili flavored food but was not lucky enough on my choice of a fried fish. I got LBM when I reached Kuala Lumpur! Muy advise, before going to the Railway Station, take out some food from either Mc Donald or KFC.

The train was delayed by 45 minutes. I took the Superior Class (CMB) which is an air-conditioned seat. As the locomotive train started to move, I experience the same old toot, toot sound coupled with the klacking noise as the locomotive wheels hit the railway. It took me almost an hour before my ears got used to the sounds of the moving train and eventually I was able to sleep.

My shallow sleep was abruptly interrupted when the train stopped at the border of Singapore and Malaysia for the immigration formalities. The border appeared to be very well-secured by the Singaporean government with all the heavily armed border guards with sniffing K9 dogs. The fence on the border are all topped with deadly modern bladed barbed wires.

After the we got the immigration stamp on our passports, the train ride continued with the toot-toot and matching klacking sounds which my ears had slowly been acquainted with as I went back to sleep.

The train made several stops on the stations along the way to Malaysia until it was 7:00 a.m. when we finally arrived at the Kuala Lumpur Sentral. It was still dark when I disembarked from the train and walked into Kuala Lumpur Sentral which is a huge complex transportation terminal. It provides link among several MRT lines, the Air Asia airline, KTM train lines to Singapore and Thailand, bus and taxi connections.

I immediately had my US dollars exchanged with Malaysian Dollar or Ringgit or RM. My 100 USD was changed to 321.00 RM. With my RM, I went to the ticket of the KTM train and paid my train ticket for Hat Yai, Thailand which I had reserved through the internet. I was scheduled to take the train to Hat Yai the next day at 9:00 p.m.

I then bought a taxi coupon for taxi ride to the Matahari Lodge where I had booked for our stay Kuala Lumpur. I asked the man at the taxi coupon counter if there is a train or bus line going to Matahari Lodge which is located in the China town. He said no train or bus line to that area. So I decided to buy from him a taxi coupon which was 9 RM from the KL Sentral to the address of Matahari Lodge. The taxi driver speaks good English and was very helpful. He went to look for the entrance of the Matahari Lodge when we arrived in the area.

However, Matahari Lodge is actually located in a very strategic area. The taxi coupon man was just more keen to sell taxi coupon than to help me spend less on transport. I could have taken the MRT train from KL Sentral to to the Central Market station which is just the next station for one 1.50 RM!. Matahari Lodge is just in front of the Central Market Station!. Also, there are buses plying a route that pass in front of it! Anyway, I just consoled myself that having took the taxi made it easier for me to locate Mahahari Lodge since I had never been to this area before. I was in Kuala Lumpur some 20 years ago and have not seen the Central Market or even the Chinatown during that trip!

to be continued….

Nagmamahal,

Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 08:01 Archived in Malaysia Tagged lodging Comments (0)

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