Crazy! Yes it was! I know 10 days is not enough to get acquainted to one place, yet we visited 3 places last November, actually 4 if I am to include our 15 hours layover in Singapore.
It started with me wanting to experience crossing a land border. Since I hail from a country surrounded by the waters, I cannot do that. Also, I’ve been wanting to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, so I thought it would be the chance. My friends from work decided to join me in this 10-day adventure. So flights were booked, hostels were reserved, and bags were packed.
Our adventure (or maybe a little misadventure I should say) actually started the night of our flight from Manila. We booked our November flights months before, taking advantage of the SQ fare deal. We were excited because it was our first time to go on a trip abroad together, our first time too in those countries, plus we learned the dates we booked coincidentally happened to be the ‘Water Festival’ in Cambodia and the ‘Loy Krathong’ in Thailand.
It was later announced by the government that the week of our flight will also be the week of the APEC Summit Meeting, where some of the world leaders will come to Manila. So 2 days were declared public holidays in MNL to give way to it. We thought it was great as we had two extra days to prepare for our epic VCT adventure! But we learned later that some flights were cancelled or moved due to the airport congestion as the world leaders arrive or leave. So we were bummed to know that our 7am flight was moved to 1am. Urgh!
I live somewhere close to the airport, about 30 minutes at least from my family’s house if there is no traffic (but then it’s always traffic in MNL, so never mind), but since we sort of anticipated it, we left at 5pm for my 1am flight.
My parents were supposed to drive me all the way to the airport, but due to the horrible traffic and road closures, we only made it half way. I had to walk! Good thing 2 of my male friends were also dropped by their taxi in a nearby establishment and waited for me. So we walked about 30 minutes in a barricaded road going to the airport with towering walls on both sides and skyway on the top. The only vehicles allowed to pass were those from the dignitaries and only lights you will see were from the traffic light that changes from green to yellow to red, and those airport lights that can be seen from afar. So imagine how dark it was there as we walked with our heavy backpacks and luggage. It was almost a deserted place, like a scene in one of those zombie movies, if not for a very few people walking to our opposite direction making their way home.
We left MNL at about 1am and arrived in in SGN (Ho Chi Minh) after our 9 hours layover in SIN.
-Ho Chi Minh City-
The first leg of our trip is the former capital of Vietnam – Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it is called now. Since our trip is too short (2 days), we decided to make the most of our time. After we checked-in to our ‘party hostel’ in Pam Ngu Lao in District 1, we headed out to fill our starving tummies in a local restos in the nearby streets of De Tham and Bui Vien. Not quite a fan of Vietnamese cuisine but I have to say I love their Pho!
One thing you will immediately notice when you arrive in Vietnam is that there are too many motorcycles! If jeepney is to the Philippines, motorbike is to Vietnam! They are the ‘kings of the road!’ And they are everywhere, even on the side walk or in a very narrow alley, so you always have to watch out.
Day 2, we got up early so we can book our bus to Siem Reap for the next day, but we were told that no bus that will take us directly there since there is a festival. All buses can only go as far as Phnom Penh, and we’ll have to wait another day to be able to travel to Siem Reap. And that is a no since we will meet our other two friends who will join us in Siem Reap and Bangkok. So we booked a one-way flight with Vietnam Airlines that cost us almost freaking $200 USD just to be able to get there as scheduled. Too much for a one-way flight! But on a brighter side, flying saved us some 10 hours or so travel time that allowed us to explore Saigon a little bit longer.
Since the hostel we stayed at only serves 3-1 coffee for breakfast, along with a Banh Mi and omelet, I just have to get my black coffee somewhere! So as we started our exploration, we stopped at a Trung Nguyen Coffee shop to get my caffeine fix. And boy, the coffee I ordered – their famous Legendee coffee, is one of the best coffees I’ve ever had! I love it and I just had to bring some coffee back home.
Well, unfortunately for me, some of my friends seemed to be only interested in shopping or hunting for that Nike outlet stores for discounted items, and not much about seeing the city. And though I also bought a few souvenirs when we stopped in Ben Thanh Market (which I’d say is a tourist trap), I didn’t enjoy much of the shopping and haggling.
We didn’t get to visit much that day due to their bargain-hunting, so I was kind of frustrated. I just took some pictures of the streets and the locals we saw along the way. It was already night when we passed by the famous Independence Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon.
We headed back to our hostel for the ‘happy hour’ where guests get 2 free Saigon beers per night. The hostel owns the bar next door and it is where most of the guests and even backpackers from the other hostels hang out. Yeah, too much of a party hostel for me, but it was still a nice experience.
And I don’t really drink, maybe just a bottle or two and just on very rare occasions, so I just had one bottle just to try their local beer. And my verdict? Hmm… I didn’t like it much.
On our last day, since our flight is at night, I decided that I will explore the city. I told them that if they want to go with me they can, but no shopping this time I told them. So off we went to the War Remnants Museum, back to the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Post Office, and the stroll in park and streets that we passed by.
Then it was time to leave the Ho Chi Minh.
– to be continued-