This was our honeymoon, so please do not comment on why we did it in style and splurged. Well, actually the splurge part is only the Halong Bay cruise, we dedicated the rest for our usual-budget-backpacking style.
OK. Right after the wedding, avoiding post-wedding disaster (we managed to learn how to do that after successfully avoiding pre-wedding nightmare) we headed to our newly-rented apartment in Jakarta, to head for Ho Chi Minh City the next day
Hup hup hup, leaving Indonesia on AirAsia flight we arrived at Thanh Son Nhat airport in the evening. Catching a metered cab to downtown HCMC is not very expensive, pretty similar to the taxi fare in Indonesia. It took us 45 minutes. We headed to Dong Khoi. For those who have been to Vietnam, yes Dong Khoi, not Pham Ngu Lao, although it’s within walking distance.
Pham Ngu Lao in Distrct 1 is famous for backpackers as it offers a range of budget up to 3-star hotels, guesthouses, backpacker lodges, dorms, you name it. Nightlife, massage, coffee shops, pho vendors, restaurants, souvenir shops pamper tourists with their bargain prices. Ben Thanh Market is just around the corner.
While Dong Khoi is the hipper side of the city where four and five-star hotels are located, along with fancy malls, consulate offices, and so on. And I chose to stay in Dong Khoi, because I’ve been to Vietnam and previously chose to stay in a budget hotel in Pham Ngu Lao.
Whatever you call it, Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, you will see the pictures, statues of Uncle Ho everywhere. As a national hero, the most prominent figure for Vietnamese, Uncle Ho depicts the independence of Vietnam. His statue, in the heart of HCMC is only one evidence. The other is the Dong that you are holding.
Cu Chi Tunnel
As I did not have the chance to go to Cu Chi Tunnel in 2008, this time I must go. Paying equal to Rp 100,000/person we joined for a half day tour. They picked us up in our hotel and we started the 1,5 hour trip. Around a few kilometers from the destination, the minibus taking us there got flat tire. After almost an hour we got a replacement, a better and bigger bus.
Cu Chi Tunnel is complicated networks of extremely small underground tunnels, used by the Vietcong to move around during the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Hundreds of tunnels would cause the inexperience lost. The entrances of the tunnels are very small it’s impossible for American soldiers to enter them. My husband tried to enter one of the tunnels and he could fit in. OK, I should feed him more!
Overall, with a 10-minute experience exploring the tunnels, I enjoyed it. The fact that I’m a fan of history, war history particularly, may contributed to that. In the tunnel, there were chambers where the VC women cook. They created the tunnels in a certain way so the smoke from the kitchen would go out hundreds of meters from the original chambers. Cooking it during dusk, the enemies would mistaken it as fog.
The site also offers original tanks and traps and weaponry used during the war. And don’t be scared if you hear a loud pam pam pam pam – sounds of fired arms. They want to add an atmosphere of war for the tourists. For those who fancy shooting, a shooting range is provided in site.
We did not join this one, because my husband thought that going to weedy river would only remind him of his previous oil rig. But since I went to this tour before, I think I will share whatever I recall from 3 years ago.
It cost around USD 15 for a day trip. At first we went to the pier using minibus. Transferred to a wooden boat, we went along the muddy river. And yes, it may look like a river in Kalimantan. Brownish with some floating villages – I would definitely prefer to see floating villages in Halong Bay where I will tell later in Hanoi part of the story.
We visited coconut candy factory, which tastes like ‘sandal jepit’ or even harder. You cannot chew the candy, the candy will chew you! The best part of the tour is a short trip using very small boat (2-4 persons per boat) across the bushes.
We got back to the city using speedboat (with extra cost). For those don’t want to spend extra money, you can take the minibus back to the city.
The tour provides you with tea and snacks, also lunch (I came during Ramadan, so no comment on the food).
It is a five story palace where the President of South Vietnam lived during the Vietnam War. When the Northern Vietnam Army crashed its gate in 1975 marked the victory of the Communist, also the lost of the United States in Vietnam.
The Palace is massive, you can see the presidential suites, war room, radio room, replica of cars used by the president. From the rooftop you can see the life of Saigon. For you who has children, they maybe like to play on the garden, you can take a break from the hot sun sipping coconut juice. Just don’t get ripped off!
War Remnants Museum
At the first glance, you would see a lot of planes and choppers. If you go inside, there will be weaponry such as bullets, grenades, guns, bombs etc. If you go up, you’d see pictures, a lot of pictures. And you’d have to walk from one side to another – don’t do it the other way around if you want to enrich your knowledge on Vietnam War.
That’s just about it. I kinda enjoy it. First, I got the history, second the planes are great background for my photos.
On one of VN’s Airbus 330s, we flew to Hanoi. The flight took 2 hours. It’s around 45-one hour drive from the Noi Bai Airport to Old Quarter. For me, walking around Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake is just lovely. In the middle of the lake there is a temple where you can go in through a famous red bridge – one of the landmarks of Hanoi.
The Old Quarter consists of silk shops, restaurants, bars, all with its own style without losing their Vietnamese touches. You can find some halal restaurants in this area. Souvenirs are even cheaper than in Saigon.
If you go to Hanoi, I know that you will go to Halong Bay. It is 175 km away. And it is stunning! Halong City is a bit of a drag, an overdeveloped town with some unfinished construction. But when you aboard the junk – a wooden traditional boat – and sail away, you can just forget about your problems.
We took a tour from Handspan, cruising on Indochina Sail which cost us USD 192 2D/1N. Yes it is expensive, but let me remind you once again, it was our honeymoon. The junk was great. A real 5-star. The bedroom and attached bathroom was even better than the most 4-star hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
On that day we sailed to Bat Cave and visiting floating villages nearby. The villages have houses, schools, shops. All is floating. Well, that why they are called floating village. These villages are so far away from the mainland where they can get their basic supplies.
We also visited Titop island where tourists can climbed the step up to the top of the hill and see the breathtaking view of Halong Bay. It was just magnifique.
The meal – don’t get me start it. They provided us with complete set menu for lunch – appetizer, main course, another main course, dessert. Oh my, let’s forget the wedding dress, it would never fit me again. The dinner was indescribable. CRAB. And clams, and prawns, and fish, and squid, and crabs again. Lots and lots of seafood, along with other menu for buffet dinner.
The second day started with taichi session. It was continued with breakfast while enjoying the misty Halong Bay from the sundeck. The karst was gorgeous, better that Phi Phi islands. The boat was then sailing back to Halong pier and this ended our cruise.
For you who want to do the cruise, you can pick a 1N2D or 2N3D, a fancy or more pocket-friendly cruises. Aloha junk is among the most favoured.
Around the Old Quarter
Bargain down – the phrase that always appears in my blog post! Generally the price in Hanoi is cheaper than in Saigon. Do buy some silk for your moms. They are good quality and indeed very nice.
You can just stroll around the city or take cyclo to some of its attractions: Perfume Temple, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (I told you that the country is full with Uncle Ho!), One-Pillar Pagoda etc.
Walk around the Lake in the evening, have a sip of Vietnamese coffee with Vietnamese spring rolls. It’s simply heaven!