Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ho Chi Minh City: At first sight

"Vietnam is a country any serious traveler should visit at least once in his/her life.
The country has a vast offer of places to visit."

~Virtourist.com~

This travelogue should have been over by now. But because I am a natural slack and a topsy-turvy person, I guess I have an excuse why this series has not been posted yet. I wish I could put this blog in an auto-post mode, but even the most quickwitted machine couldn’t compose a narrative for me or at least recall a story that was.

Anyhow, the story continues…

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in the late afternoon which provided us enough time to look around and discover the city. Our official city tour would not commence until the next day. But before that, we searched for a place to eat and fill our growling stomachs. Our hotel was located in Bui Vien Street—a busy, commercial street chock-full of skyrocketing buildings and houses. Everything is expanding vertical which rallied me around of my fond memories when I was in Hongkong amazed by the tall buildings here and there.

I tried looking up every now and then worrying to my heart’s content if those tall buildings would crumble down and fall on me, just as I was crossing the street. How unfortuante and an absurd talk.

jackpacked houses

Congested houses, a mix and match of colored, tall buildings, narrow street, traffic--This is crazy but it looks pretty much like Manila from here.

tall buildings and street wires

See the electric wires? Even that looks familiar. But at least they are not as loopy and convoluted as we have back home.

Bui Vien Street

We are staying in a 7-storey building and the manager put us in the 7th floor, which could be both a curse and a heaven sent. Tell you later about the 'curse' but right now, let us focus on the advantage: a nice spot for photography. I can see the whole of District 1 from our window.

We found this Italian resto called, Cappuccino which is adjacent to our hotel. It’s very easy to remember and they serve pasta and pizza and coffee. The tag says something like Gastronomia Italiana: Traditional Italian Cuisine. I was hungry and my stomach wasn’t ready for any Vietnamese food yet so I ordered one of their combo meals (which included fried rice, egg, veggies, and fried chicken) plus a glass of mango juice, which cost me around 57,000 dong ($3.56 or P185).

In Vietnam, one pays by the thousand, which I find really funny because I feel like I am rich. In the Philipines, holding 16,000 pesos is a thrill in the bin. Jesus, I could buy a lot. In Vietnam, holding 16,000 dong is almost a zip (it’s equivalent to a dollar).

Capuccino resto

Here's the Cappucciono Gastronomia Italiana resto. It's convenient as it is just adjacent to our hotel. We ate here a couple of times I think.

foodie goodie

For a food adventurer like Oki, this would be the 'most mundane' lunch ever in Vietnam. For me though, this is the most appetizing especially with a growling stomach.

After appeasing our stomach and resting a bit, Oki and I went for a stroll around the city trying to familiarize ourselves with the new environment. Not really new though. I loved the frill.

Ho Chi Minh City, usually abbreviated as HCMC, is NOT the capital city of Vietnam (like Toe mentioned in her blog). It’s actually Hanoi. But HCMC is the largest city in Vietnam and is located near the Mekong Delta. I used to think it is the capital city (stupid me!) which I think is understandable because under its former name, Saigon, it was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina, and later of the independent state of South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975.

Ho Chi Minh City is named after the leader of the Viet Minh Movement whose face I have become utterly familiar (long scrawny face and the goatee). I bought a couple of souvenir shirts with his face on it. HCMC is one of the most populated metro areas in Vietnam with more than 7 million people living in there.

Today, HCMC is a frequent destination among tourists all over the world (mostly those from the West). And why not? The city is popular for its great architecture. The city is adorned with wide elegant boulevards and historic French colonial buildings from their magnificent halls down to every corner of their city hall, theater, post office, banks, people's court, and brilliant churches. It’s like the old and the new meet and converged to harmonize and be an attraction aside from their main functions.

So at first sight, what was HCMC looks like?

motorcycles on traffic

If there's one thing that greatly differ Metro Manila from Ho Chi Minh City, it's the number of motorcyles and scooters on the street. Jesus Christ, they have at least thousands of them roaming the city everyday. It's the most common and easiest way to get around the city, according to the locals.

motorcycles in movement

Here they come! And some of them were even wondering, what the heck I am doing at the side, taking their photos.

This is District 1

Another high angle shot of the long and narrow Bui Vien Street. At the other street is Pham Ngu Lao Street, the backpackers' area.

It’s congested but it’s easy to find your way out especially if you know how to ask. Language is not much of a problem either as most establishment-owners and vendors understand English (if not, one could always do the mime). Least to say, the city is foreigner-friendly. In fact, from above if you look down at the crowd you’ll see a mix of blonde hairs along with the black, silk long ones. You know what I mean.

The traffic is nerve-wracking especially with all the motorcycles coming from nowhere but it becomes easy to appreciate once you get used to it (give it a few days). Money exchange is not a problem as most establishments take payments in dong or in dollar. But it’s easy paying in dollars because you don’t have to by the thousands and I am awful in math. Food is pretty much cheap. There is no Jollibee but at least they have the Lotteria.

sreet scene

A lady clad in Ao Dai, their traditional costume, completed with the conical hat which is almost synonymous among us, Asians.

sreet scene

I found him napping at the side of the street. Looks comfortable to me.

Ho Chi Minh City pretty much feels like home. Need I say more?

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12 comments:

pieterbie said...

I love your photos, but somehow this city does not look that attractive to me. I'm sure you can find something to make it look attractive :-)

haggis basher said...

Good to see you back on your travels. HCMC looks quite similar to Manila, just cleaner and not as crowded!! What was the curse of the hotel? no elevator??

kyels said...

The photos you posted are beautiful and it reflects the way of life in Vietnam. It's one of the countries that I'm hoping to visit one day pero before that I'd like to finish my dreams of hopping from island-to-island in Pinas. Do you think that's possible po?! Haha!

Anyway, it's so similar to Pinas --- in a way w/o any sights of pedicabs and jeepneys though. Hehe!

Off topic; don't worry about your thesis na. I'm sure you can come up w/something for the proposal. May I ask, is this thesis for your Masters or PhD? And what are you going to focus on? I'm almost dead writing my thesis. Napapagod na po ako ... Haay.

(:

my gulch said...

@Peter,
and even the word 'attractive' is relative these days. this is just a portion of the cityscape, a portion of what my window could provide for me, but pretty much the whole of Bui Vien Street. but i get what you mean. more of the architecture next time.

@Mike,
a lot cleaner? yea i guess so. i notice that i get a bit defensive these days every time Manila is being compared to other congested cities in SE Asia. say Jakarta for example, i think Manila is better. A lot better. :-D

about the curse. well, i would cry to death if there's no elevator. wouldn't even dare live in there. also, that would be the most illogical thing considering most buildings there are skyrocketing high. the curse is that...will tell you later! :p

@Kyels,
that's possible i guess. considering that the Philippines consists of 7,107 island i don't see why it's not. haha! you have to be loaded though. i mean really loaded. or you can just choose among the three major islands: luzon, visayas, or mindanao to concentrate on. it would be fun!

about your question. my dream is to finish my PhD degree by the age of 28 unfortunately that will never happen. currently, i am working on my Master's thesis. It's in Creative Writing (Filipino). I am majoring in short fiction (poetry is out for now) but I am having troubles with my creative collections and i am nowhere near my defense proposal yet. I am such a slacker! i wish there is a treatment for people like me.

Sidney said...

First I want to congratulate you! I saw some of your pictures in the Manila Bulletin today! Nice!!!
Now you are getting famous !

As usual a very interesting post with matching pictures.
If you continue I will stop traveling in the Philippines and start backpacking in the rest of Asia! ;-)

Ferdz said...

Huy! You're on Manila Bulletin! Congrats! Ma check nga mamya. :P

Am amused with these photos. Nakakatuwa yung multi colored buildings. Korek ka sa sinabi mo sa Motos na yan. Sa una nakaka takot tumawid pero a few days after sanay ka na. Kahit tumawid ka alam mo ikaw na iiwasan. haha

the donG said...

very much like the manila except the number of motors as seen on the road. i thought sleeping on top of a motorcycle was hard. LOL.

Diong said...

Nakakamis ang ganitong character ng street scenes... sarap mag picture dito!

my gulch said...

@Sidney:
aw, you saw that? so you must be a regular reader of Picture Perfect (or newspaper for that matter)? anyway, thanks! not as famous as you though. ;-)

@Ferdz:
akala ko dati sobrang dami ng cyclo dito kase sa tuwing nakakapanood ako ng movie na set sa Vietnam, yun ang laging ine-exposed na public vehicle (parang tricycle natin sa Pinas) kaso di pala. sandamakmak ang motorsiklo nila, grabe talaga. one time tumawid kami sa isang Crossing, sobrang tagal ata naming nakatayo, di kami makatawid, hehe.

@the Dong:
well i thought so too but looking at him, he seems to have the knack for this kind of sleeping position. imagine he's sleeping at the side of the national highway (where a horde of motos and autos are passing) and the public sidewalk on the other lane (where everyone looks at him like a piece of exhibit in a museum). intense.

@diong:
ay naku oo, feeling ko matutuwa kang mag-street photography dito. ang daming makikita. one good thing about the people here is that, they never seem to mind. mukhang sanay na silang pini-picturan at ini-exoticize ng mga foreigners/tourists.

Ferdz said...

Oh. TO answer your question last time. I've been to Itbayat as well. It's very rugged but beautiful place. Feels like a giant couldron. Kulang nga lang ulit ang oras dun last time I was there.

Pa post naman nung na feature sa Manila Bulletin. Di ko nakita eh.

Toe said...

Wow, you're in Manila Bulletin? Congratulations Rayts! I'm so proud of you.

I love love love Ho Chi Minh! Haha... you're pictures do look like Manila... it looks like Phnom Penh too. Lalo na yung mamang natutulog... parang sa PP talaga. :)

My parents are so scared to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh because of the motorcycles. :)

It's funny what you ate in the Italian restaurant... parang Asian food din... fried rice and fried egg. :) But it is indeed perfect for a growling stomach.

my gulch said...

@Ferdz:
i see. ang galing naman pala. will really try to go there one day. sana this year. ;-)

@Toe:
Thanks! oo nga parang may nakita din ako sa PP na natutulog ng ganyan sa moto. kakatakot nga talaga sa HCMC noong una. tipong bigla na lang susulpot ang mga motor kabi-kabila. pero natuwa ako, hehe. ang dami kong kuha ng mga taong naka-motor...parang fashion show in their motorcycles. babaeng naka-skirt, naka-porma, casual, matanda, teenager...ang galing.

oo nga. nag-Italian resto pa kami tapos di naman umorder ng pasta or pizza. pero yun nga maganda sa resto na yun kase pati pho meron sila.

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