Vietnam is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. It has over 2,000 years of history which includes decades of foreign influences from powerful nations such as the USA, France, China, and Russia. People cannot talk about Vietnam without remembering the Vietnam War back in 1975, although not everybody can recall the specific details.
Given its rich history, my family and I became very interested in going to Vietnam, especially to the famous City of Saigon which is now called Ho Chi Minh City. So, on the 8th of August 2013 we flew from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Manila) to Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Saigon). The first thing we did after landing was hit the foreign exchange counter to have some Vietnam Dong in our pockets before we venture into the city. My USD50 turned into VND 1, 045,000 and just like that, I became a millionaire!!!
Since we bought the cheapest flight available on that day, we arrived in Vietnam just a few minutes before midnight. The lateness of the time didn’t give us many options in terms of transportation going to the hotel. The airport is approximately six (6) kilometers from District 1 and should only take about 20 minutes drive. However, some airport taxis tend to negotiate with foreigners and offer ridiculously over-priced fares for such a short distance. They can be a little too aggressive about it too. It’s a good thing that we asked for assistance from the airport travel desk and they recommended the most reputable taxi companies which are Mai Linh and Vinasun Taxi. We spent about $8 since our hotel is near the airport. If your accommodation is located in District 1, you should spend around $10 to $15 but not more.
We arrived at the Xuan Hue Hotel located at 71/2/3 Nguyen Bac, Ward 3, Tan Binh District around 1:00 AM. It cost us $48 for two nights in a Standard Room. Since we got three rooms, we paid USD 144 in total.
Places we visited during our stay:
1. Cathedral Notre-Dame. The architectural design was impressive. The structure has two bell towers about 58 meters high. Since the structure was established by French colonist, you will get that I-Am-In-France feeling while looking at it…well, maybe just a little.
2. The Independence Palace or what is widely known as Reunification Palace is a huge structure that is similar to America’s White House. It was home and workplace to the president of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and was also the site of the end of the war during the Fall of Saigon way back 1975 when a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed into its gates. It was actually really cool to see this place and remind you of that piece of history! Especially, when you get to see those jet planes and tanks on display in the courtyard. We weren’t able to go inside but we were still amazed by how the place was well maintained and preserved.
3. Museum of Ho Chi Minh City. (Gia Long Palace) which is very near the Independence Palace. Just one block away, to be precise. Gia Long Palace is the most interesting museum I’ve ever seen. Aside from impressive taxidermy, you can see a lot of old Vietnamese people made of wax. The wax people were showcasing different means of living in Vietnam from the commercial port, trade, service, and handicrafts.
The museum also boasts nature archaeology but the main theme of almost every corner is a revolutionary struggle. Gia Long Palace reveals everything one wishes to know about Vietnam in just a few hours and it only cost VND 15,000 to get in.
4. Ben Thanh Market will greet you with so many street food vendors! We ordered what looked like ramen, spring rolls, and some weird juice. I wasn’t able to get the food names because I was really famished but I think that whatever you order will suit your palate because Vietnamese people like their food flavorful.
5. Chu Chi Tunnels. It was a two-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The entrance fee was VD 90,000. If you are not claustrophobic, you will definitely enjoy walking through the endless underground darkness. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat as well as supply routes for hospitals, food, and weapon. You can also see living quarters for numerous North Vietnamese fighters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces and helped to counter the growing American military effort.
When you first step into the forest, you will not suspect the existence of civilization beneath the ground that you are walking in. You’ll be amazed by how the trap doors were hidden. Closed and camouflaged, it is almost undetectable. When you get inside (assuming you fit), it will take some time to adjust your vision and senses.
In my opinion, Vietnamese people posses’ unimaginable cleverness or else they will not be where they are now. With all those countries trying to conquer them, one can imagine they wouldn’t stand a chance. But look at them now, striving and carving its way to economical growth.
When we finally got to our hotel, I can’t help but think how blessed I am to have lived a normal life. So long, Vietnam! Thank you for sharing your great history with us. Until I see you again…
Have you been to Vietnam or are you planning to go? I’d love to share experiences and expectations in the comments section. Talk to you soon!
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