21 September 2009

20 September 2009

Sights ~ Bus Trip from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh

Note: This is a Work-In-Progress. Target Completion Date: 31 Jan 2010

Sun, 20th Oct 2009. Phnom Penh:
At 8.30am we boarded a 45-Seater Bus for what is supposed to be a 6-hour drive to Phnom Penh with one breakfast/lunch stop near the Vietnam/Cambodia border.
The one-way trip cost us only US$10 per head and this Bus was recommended by the friendly staff of the Saigion Mini Hotel 1.
We travelled for 2 hours before we arrived at the 1st Immigration Checkpoint which took approx. 30 mins to clear us. Boarded the Bus agian & arrived at a restaurant near the border where we have another 30 mins stop. Some passengers were having breakfast, some bought foodstuff including maize from the street vendors.
When we board the Bus again, we passed thru quite a number of Casinos built on the Cambodian side. The Vietnamese Government do not issue license for Casinos, so the Casinos were built at the border to attract the Vietnamese Gamblers, after all it's only a 2-hour ride form HCMC!
Jeff Tips: I bought 2 packets of Hersheys for US$4.90 each which actually costs US$10 in the Duty Free shop at Phnom Penh Airport.

17 September 2009

Across 2 Cities in One Week ~ Ho Chi Minh City

Ben Thanh Market - Modern & Charming!

Ho Chi Minh Trip (17 Sep to 20 Sep 2009)
Jeff's Tips on moving around Ho Chi Minh City!
1) Make sure you only get into 2 types of Taxi only - Vina Sun & Mai Linh - if you don't want to be cheated. Fares around town should be approx. US$2 to US$3 (one way). It's safer and cheaper to go into a metered Taxi then a Cyclo.
2) When crossing the road, watch out for Cars and then just walk across. Somehow, the motor-cycles will know how to go around you.
3) If you want to do a Portrait, it's probably the best place. Only costs you US$20 for a One-person portrait on oil
4) Taxi Fares to District 1 (or other District in the City Center) from the Airport should not be more than US$10.
5) Using the US Dollars is better than Dong and get better pricing!
6) Classical Concert & Documentery DVD's are good buys at US$2 per copy. China-made CD's with hardcovers are also good buys at US$2 per copy
7) Street Foods are cheap, clean & tasty and worth exploring. If you have a chance, do what the locals do, take a sit at a stool, order some snacks and Vietnamese draft beer (light and cheap) at US$0.50 per mug!
8) Try the local coffee. You can get them at the Restaurants & Bars or better still at the sidewalk cafes - sit down at the sidewalk, order a cup and watch the daily life in Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese Communist Revolutionary Leader and Statesmean and was prime minister (1946–1955) and president (1945–1969) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was well know for defeating the French in Dien Bien Phu in 1954

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in honor of the leader. HCMC is Vietnam's largest city and the moment you landed and board a Taxi to your Hotel, it would appear that the City is vibrant and chaotic at the same time.
I was told that there are 3 million motor-cycles in HCMC alone! You'd also notice some really expensive new Cars and new Taxis among the sea of motor-cycles, which shows the progress of Vietnam and wealth accummulation.

Before I arrived, I have the perception that HCMC is a massive city and would be difficult to get around unlike Hanoi & it's wonderful Old Quarters. However, when we set foot on the Hotel and begin to explore the sounds, sights and streets of HCMC, it has some of the elements of Hanoi's Old Quarters with a few uniqueness of it's own.
We would be walking along small roads with double-story shops selling DVD's & CD's, Luggage & Bags, Books, Cafes, Restaurants, Barber, Massage, Art shops, shops selling coffee, spices, silks, baskets, not forgetting the teeming markets which sells just about anything and the many street vendors along the sidewalks. And, almost suddenly, you would find yourself in a major intersection with wide roads and big, tall buildings. Five Star Hotels, international
Restaurants and high-end Boutiques.

Yes, HCMC has it's hidden charms. And HCMC is affordable. HCMC has everything you want
at a reasonable price. From a hair cut, massage to the famous Pho (Vietnamese Noodles).
From DVD's or CD's to one of those Made-In Vietnam Luggage or Bags. From hats, silks and local T-Shirts at the Ben Thanh Market to branded wears at the Saigon Square.

You can have coffee in the front of one of the 5 Star Hotel at one moment and the next, you can be sitting on stool in a walkway having the coffee and chatting with the locals who seem to enjoy their morning, day and evening coffee and watching the world go by!
Now, I know why the foreigners and Vietnamese immigrants keep coming back and made the City swell! I would say HCMC is among the liveliest cities in Asia!

HCMC is a city which has the present....for the new rich and wealthy and the past for those who were around during the fall of Saigon. HCMC has the majority young people in the 20's & 30's who were not around during the Vietnam War and who wants a good life, a good future and would welcome Visitors whether they are from Asia, Europe and even USA.
I can see that the older generation who has experienced the hardship and turmoil of the 15 years War will preserve the past.
After a few days in Vietnam having the best meals, the nice walks to check out the sidewalk shops, the friendly people who would smile, back if you smile at them, I told myself I'll be back!

Top: Inside the Ben Thanh market
L to R & Bottom: The famous Food Chain - Pho 24; Delicious Pho (Noodles) at the Pho24

HCMC's Street Vendors (not as many as in Hanoi)

Cao Dai Temple, the priests and disciples

At the entrance to Cu Ci Tunnel, a group photo with American English Teachers (Stacy, Nick and Gang) who has completed a one-year Korea stint, and now on a 6-weeks tour of SEA and also a Korean lady (Jenny) who was travelling alone

Top-to-Bottom: At Cu Ci Tunnel - Tapioca, staple food during the Vietnam War; our knowledgeable guide, Hai, giving us a run-down; Me & my AK-47, Russia's famous Assault Rifle; bullet studs from the AK-47 or M-16 fired at the Firing Range

At the Lemon Grass Restaurant - highly recommended!

Common scenes on sidewalks - sitting on small stools having a bite!

The Entrance of the famous War Remnants Museum

Weapons of War - Howitzers

L-to-R: Some Exhibits in the War Museum; A Victim of War

Top to Bottom: The Grand Palace also known as Reunification Palace; Our guide, Nuong, giving us an introduction before the 1-Hour Tour; One of the State Rooms with various color schemes

Top to Bottom: Quan An Ngon (Meal at the Square) started in Ho Chi Minh and has a branch in Hanoi. Ngon, in short, is street foods put together in one place. Walk around and try to make a note of what is available. Perhaps, you would want to use your Digital Camera to help you by taking a photo of the name and the dish and you can then order from the Menu later by showing the photo. Delicious!

Saigon Square...popular among Locals & Expat, better quality than Ben Thanh market

1) Quan An Ngon, 138 D, Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, 825 7179
Excellent selection of Vietnamese street foods, cooks at different stations, wide Menu
(Walking distant from War Remnants Museum)

2) Lemon Grass, 4D, Nguyen Thiep, 822 0496
In the City Center, nice ambience, delicious food, even a lady playing traditional music

3) Pho 24, 271D, Pham Ngu Lao http://www.pho24.com.vn
Famous Pho (Noodles), fresh spring rolls, extensive range of juices and Vietnamese coffee.
There is also a simple Noodle Joint - Pho2000 - which is next to the Ben Thanh market. It
claimed that President Bill Clinton tatsed it's noodle on a visit to HCMC.


1) Saigon Square, very popular with the locals and expats, near the Dong Khoi area, walking
distance from the Ben Thanh market

2) Ben Thanh Market, sells just about anything. You can shop and eat here.
Mainly locals shop here. In the evenings, a bazaar of clothes stall and food stall
surround the big market