Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Goodbye to Saigon

7-12-2009, Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, Vietnam
Last minute shopping and Goodbye to Saigon

Before going to airport, we visited a local morning market, Cho Thai Binh(Thai Binh Market), walking distance from our hotel at Pham Ngu Lao Street.

It is a very vibrant wet market, crowded with the local Vietnamese people, we are the only foreigners. But the ladies was able to shop for clothes with local prices. The most interesting part of the market is they are selling live frogs and fishes. But I still did not find any dog meat stall in the market.

Saigon River

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We left the wet market and walked to Saigon River. I told my wife, I need to look at Saigon River before I leave. We walked into Ham Nghi Street, which was connected to Pham Ngo Lao Street in front of Tran Nguyen Han Round About(opposite Ben Thanh Market), near the HCMC Bus Centre. Ham Nghi Street will lead straight to Saigon River bank. Along the river bank, we can see the Hotel Majestic, with its colonial French architecture, the six storey building is now a 5 star hotel overlooking the Saigon River.It is located at 1 Dong Khoi Street, formerly rue Catinat. Built for local Chinese businessman Hui Bon Hoa in 1925 in a French Colonial and classical French Riviera styles. It had changed names many times, but now renamed again to its original name.

The Saigon River (Sông Sài Gòn) is a river located in southern Vietnam that rises near Phum Daung in southeastern Cambodia, flows south and south-southeast for about 140 miles (225 km) and empties into the Nha Be River, which in its turn empties into the South China Sea some 20 km north-east of the Mekong Delta. The Saigon River is joined 18 miles (29 km) northeast of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly named Saigon) by the Dong Nai River, and just above Ho Chi Minh City it is joined by the Ben Cat River. Saigon River is important to Ho Chi Minh City as it is the main water supply as well as the host of Saigon Port, which a total cargo volume load/outloaded of more than 35 million metric tons in 2006. The river is brown in color indicating heavy pollution, with water hyacinth floating on the river surface. Scientists warn if pollution continues unchecked , Saigon River may become a dead river in the future; the Saigon City needs to take drastic measures to prevent further pollution.

In Saigon River, you can take a junk tour of Saigon River. Tourists may even ask the junk owner to go to their favorite spots e.g. Nha Rong Wharf (where Ho Chi Minh left to save the country) and the Thu Thiem Ferry( where people are on their way to or from work). The price for a junk tour is about VND80,000 for an hour. If tourists go in a group the price is cheaper because each junk holds ten persons. But if you cannot take the smell of the river pollution, it is to avoid the boat tour. If you are still want a Saigon River cruise, to experience the vibrant city lights of Ho Chi Minh City,you can join two-hour dinner cruise on the Saigon River. This Ho Chi Minh dinner cruise is a Vietnamese dining experience with a difference and the perfect way to soak up the activity along the Saigon River. You will cruise 2-hours on a traditional Junk or the replica of the emperors' dragon boat “Saigon Bonsai Cruise” for a magnificent and memorable dining and entertainment spectacle along the Saigon river. May be the aroma of the food for dinner cruise will prevail over the smell of the river pollution for junk tour.....But I did not make any choice, due to limited time available as I need to leave Saigon this afternoon.

The river side is still under construction for further development, and traffic at Ton Duc Trang Street was heavy with heavy vehicles doing their routine port logistic business. It is difficult to cross the street to the river bank. The construction may be the Saigon River Tunnel, which is an underground tunnel that is currently under construction. It will run underneath the Saigon River in Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city of Vietnam. The tunnel is being built with capital from the Japanese ODA, in conjunction with a consortium of Japanese contractors. The construction of the tunnel was scheduled to be completed in 2008, but has been delayed, and completion is now expected to be in 2010. Upon completion, this tunnel will help connect the existing urban center of Ho Chi Minh City with Thu Thiem New Urban Area in District 2. The Saigon River Tunnel is part of the East-West Boulevard, an important road project under construction to ease the congestion of transport in the inner city as well as transportation from downtown to the Mekong Delta Region. The existing downtown is linked with the Thu Thiem New Urban Area by many bridges, namely: Thu Thiem Bridge, Phu My Bridge and Ba Son Bridge.

Around the river bank, there are many bank buildings. This must be Saigon's financial hub. Malaysia's Public Bank is located at Ben Chuong Duong Street. But I did not locate Ben Nha Rong building (Nha Rong Wharf )where a young boy Nguyen Tat Thanh (Uncle Ho Chi Minh) was there, when he departed from France in 1911. Located in the junction of the Saigon River (at an end of Nguyen Tat Thanh Road). It was the first step from here he began the journey to change the whole Vietnam, and Saigon is latter named after him. The Saigon river bank was under heavy construction, I will trace Uncle Ho's footsteps next time I come.........

As we returned by walking along Nguyen Hue Street. After the view of Sun Wah Tower, I saw Citibank and Bank of China offices, which are located at the same building, but at both side. My brother in law saw another Malaysian bank, Malayan Banking Berhad along the road. There are many 5 star hotel in the area, and some have already decorated their hotel for the coming Christmas. The Christmas mood is coming to town....

We reached the Nguyen Hue Round About, and turn to Le Loi Street, walk passed Saigon Centre. The Christmas decoration is also put up by the shopping centre. After the Tran Nguyen Han Round About, our guest house is near by.

From the Saigon River, wife return to the morning market(Cho Thai Binh or Thai Binh Market) again to buy some jeans for the daughter , her usual last minute shopping. I followed, but personally took a detour to the site of beautiful Catholic Church. Crossing the road opposite the market, walking through the bus station( for buses going to Phnom Penh, Cambodia from Saigon) to arrive at the Church. The church is located at the corner of Ton That Tung Street, facing the junction of Nguyen Trai Street and Le Lai Street triangle. It is a beautiful church, the church door is still closed, I am not able to enter the church building. However I can enter the church compound, there are some faithful morning prayers, praying at the corner of enclave with Mother Mary at the church compound.

Leaving the church, I walked into another busy commercial street, Nguyen Trai Street and took a small alley back to hotel. In the alley I saw a wedding is going on , where the local community is having the wedding party at the restaurant . There is a tea offering service from the newly wedded to the elders, dressed in traditional dress. The culture is similar to the Chinese, and I took the opportunity to take some photo. From the restaurant, walking to Le Lai Street, which is the street parallel to Pham Ngu Lao Street, where our hotel is located.

After a shower in the hotel, we went to the alley near the guest house to have our lunch. The second time we visited the stall, the communication gap seems to have improved, and the serving was fast. The sitting at the short stools with the short table, like the local Vietnamese do. Tasting the Vietnamese food before we leave Saigon, and of course the Vietnamese coffee.....

With the help of a manager from a bakery shop nearby, we managed to hire a taxi to airport; cheaper than the pick up car hire offered by the guesthouse. It is only US$6-7, compared to US$29 guest house operator charged us when coming from Hue. As Vietnamese style, the taxi driver packed us all 7 people in one taxi, and all the way to Saigon's Tan Son Nhat International Airport, with a little of uncomfort due to our luggage. But we saved US$23(equivalent to Ringgit $70-75), and the comfort is at last we win over the Vietnamese guest house operator in our last minute in Saigon(not easy, really, you need local help). It is victory to look at his face when he quietly seeing us took the taxi.....

We will come back as a smart traveler........

Maps( especially for potential traveler to Saigon)

It is difficult to obtain a reasonable Saigon map, especially if you are staying in budget hotel. You can however purchase a larger map at any tourist office which cost around 8,000 dong. eg. Central Post Office off Dong Khoi Street opposite to Notre Dame Cathedral. But if you wish to obtain good free city maps, it is obtainable from international 5 stars hotel such as:

1. New World Hotel Saigon across Park 23-9 at Le Lai Street, District 1
2. Windsor Plaza Hotel at An Duong Vuong Street in District 5 (Chinatown)

Tourist Information Center (4G 4H Le Loi St, District 1. Tel (84-8) 822 6033), located at the northeast corner of the roundabout at the intersection of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue, right in the heart of the city. It's a great place to pick up a free map (which includes a map of Hanoi, as well). It will be much help if you have a good city map,it is easy to travel by your own in District 1 of the city. A city walk is one of the top charms of your tour in Saigon.

8-12-2009 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Home Sweet Home In Penang Island

Today, 8-12-2009, I am now at home in Penang, writing this blog.

Leaving Saigon, Vietnam on 7-12-2009(yesterday)by Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Saigon's traffic is still chaotic; the people still in the mood of their celebration on their winning football matches at Asean Game, we know they will celebrate tonight again with all their souls. The Christmas mood is coming early to Saigon, the peak season for tourists is now started. But it is sad we need to leave Saigon and missed the Christmas celebration.

We will miss the crowd, the noise, the traffic, the market, the alleys....and the thrills of crossing the street near round about in Saigon; the thrill of bargain shopping; the thrill of communication with the local people.

We were charged excessively for the airport pick up; the accommodation is not cheap for the guest house, and for a group of 7 people; the overcharged seafood; and they just like to clean up every single American dollars you have in the pockets....

But it is a holiday, why worry about the bad experience; it is part of the travel excitement; the expression of being cheated. Shit, it is just that, next time be more smart in Vietnam, you are not the only one.

Looking back, there are good side of it, the Vietnamese who are not in tourism sector are friendly and helpful....

It is Vietnam, just like my wife said it is sweet and sour, but we still enjoy every minutes of Vietnam. May be my next plan is to travel from Saigon to Phnom Penh, and continue to Korat and Bangkok, or from Hanoi, Lao Cai, continue to Quilin in China.

Ya, not to talk too much, I am going out for my Penang food; Char Koay Teow, Pan Mee, Nasi Lemah..... and Prawn Mee....

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