Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Travelogue : Ho Chi Minh ~ 23-26/05/08

At long last, I finally made my way to Vietnam, thanks to K Liza! She asked me whether I wanted to go with her to Ho Chi Minh, and we’ll be staying at her friend’s house.

Well, being a thrifty (a nicer of way of saying cheapskate…well not really, I try to save as much as possible :-p) person that I am , of course I said yes upon hearing bunking over at someones place (aka free accommodation). Actually I’ve declined a few invites to join tours to Vietnam, in the hope that I would be sent there courtesy of the Company…..but that reality quite a distant, so this is definitely better than more waiting (for a wholly sponsored trip, aka free trip)!

We paid RM 518/pax for the return flight by AA.

Tip # 1 :

If you are not travelling alone (more than 1 pax), do a group booking, i.e. make ONE flight booking, but with all the members of your group. By this I mean you should get ONE booking number, with all the members of your group under the SAME booking number.

Reason : To get a collective baggage allowance.
Each person gets 15kg bag allowance, so if you have, say 2 pax in your group, you will get a collective 30 kg bag allowance.
If you book separately, you will only get 15kg baggage allowance per person. Hence, you will be charged RM 10 per 1kg excess baggage.

E.g. : Say your bag only weighs 10 kg, but your friend’s bag weighs 18 kg. Your total baggage weight is 28 kg.
If you booked separately, your friend will be charged for 3kg excess baggage, that’s RM30 flying out of his/her pocket already.
If you booked under ONE booking number, your friend will not be charged, as the collective weight allowed is 30kg, but both of your baggage now totals only 28 kg.

OK, back to the travelling.

Day 1

There’s only 1 AA flight out to Ho Chi Minh, Code : SGN (previously known as Saigon) daily, ditto for flight from SGN to KUL (LCCT), i.e.
KUL – SGN : 1740 – 1830 (SGN is 1 hour behind Malaysian time)
SGN – KUL : 1900 – 2150 (the same flight arriving Saigon, returning back to KUL)

So we arrived SGN after maghrib, it’s night already. If you are booking under a pre-arranged tour, it is quite a waste of the first day, as you only have time for dinner, then head to your hotel.

Anyway, K Liza’s friend, K Kiah picked us up at the airport, and whisked us straight to her apartment – the posh Sommerset (equivalent to The Ascott in M’sia). Oh, without us knowing, another of K Kiah’s friend – Cikgu Aishah is also arriving via the same flight, with her daughter, Riz. And what a coincidence that they are also flying back to KUL on the same flight as ours ! (It was the school holidays, so probably that explains it). Cikgu Aishah & Riz are staying at a hotel though, but they did have dinner together at the apartment, before they were sent to their hotel.

Sommerset Apartment

Day 2 @ Ben Thant Day
Ben Thant who ? No, it’s not a special person, or a special day, but a shopping market! A shopper’s haven! Imagine the Filipino Market at Kota Kinabalu, but 4 times bigger ! They sell cloths, clothes, bags, food items, souvenirs etc
Go to Azni’s blog on her Vietnam shopping tips entry

Serious shopper

Manicure & pedicure at Ben Thant
We were brought to K Kiah’s regular shops, so we received royal treatment! The sellers gave us chairs to sit, and heck, we were even given air kelapa muda for drinks ! Nice one ;-) We were introduced as K Kiah’s “sisters”. So K Kiah now has 4 sisters, and she promised to bring more later ! Sisters of regular customers get discounted prices ! Cool eh. But sometimes you wonder, just how much these people make a day for a living, doing it everyday. You sympathize for them, but at the same time, you want discounted prices. So try to buy just enough for what you want (not need, because you don’t really need to buy anything, you just want them because they are dirt cheap)

Our routine at Ben Thant is entering the market at Gate 4, and exiting at Gate 11 all the 3 days that we were there. 3 days ?!!!?? That’s right. Ben Thant everyday. I even decreed to K Liza that she is banned from entering Ben Thant after the 2nd day. But did she adhere to my decree ? Of course not, nothing would stop her from entering Ben Thant! Unless the market is closed of course ;-p

More shopping at Hon Anh & the mall. So Day 2 is filled with shopping. We even ate lunch very late that day, due to shopping. Eating can wait :-p

Day 3 – Cu Chi tunnel (pronounced Ku Chi )
I had a bit of detour today. I bought a half day trip to Cu Chi tunnel at a travel café (travel agent cum café – a popular concept here ) Sinhcafe. Link here : www.sinchafevn.com
Sinh Cafe

It’s a very affordable tour, costed me VND 90,000 (or RM 18), plus the entrance fee to the tunnel at another VND 90,000. So the total cost of the tour is RM 36. Not bad. The journey takes almost 2 hours from the city. It’s not very far, but due to the poor road condition and havoc traffic, it took longer than it should. The bus is new and comfy. We were also given mineral water & a snack – which to my surprise, is halal (peanuts, with halal logo, locally made). There are local Muslim Vietnamese, of the Cham origin. Find out more of it here : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Vietnam
Speaking of Cham people, I missed a Cham wedding ( a staff of K Kiah’s husband) while I was on the trip. K Liza attended, so I asked her to take some pictures.
Cable wires criss-crossing

I’m not so good in detailing of sites that I visit, so check this link
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cu_Chi_tunnels for more insights on the Cu Chi tunnel. We were shown a video of how the Vietnamese people fought the Americans, and how they used the underground tunnel system to dodge the Americans and ambush them. The Americans were unable to trace the tunnel until satellite tracking was used. Clever Vietnamese.
Video show before going into tunnel

Tis how you hide, kids
Staircase leading to the labyrinthine tunnels

Tis how narrow the tunnel is ~crawling on all fours. Btw, that's the friendly Aussie pakcik whom I befriended ;-)

Booby traps
Tip # 2:
If you are planning to go to Ho Chi Minh, I suggest you to do excursion to Cambodia as well (2-in-1), saves money and you get to visit 2 countries ! Sinhcafe (I’m not sure other travel agents in Ho Chi Minh, but I’m sure they have) offers a few packages to Cambodia, and also Laos. Phnom Penh is about 6 hours by bus from Ho Chi Minh, and add another 6 hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Spending a week is enough (8D7N):
Day 1 : Arrive Ho Chi Minh
Day 2 : Ho Chi Minh – Phnom Penh
Day 3 : Phnom Penh – Siem Reap
Day 4 : Siem Reap (spend more time in Siem Reap as the Angkor Wat is a world heritage classified site under UNESCO, and it’s huge – perhaps you can rent a bike, or hire a tuk tuk)
Day 5 : Siem Reap – Phnom Penh (Phnom Penh must visit : Toul Sleng Genocide Museum – very disturbing though, go if you can stand seeing skulls & bones)
Day 6 : Phnom Penh – Ho Chi Minh
Day 7 : Ho Chi Minh – go to Cu Chi Tunnel (half day tour) or Mekong Delta (full day tour)
Day 8 : Shopping, then head back

Sorry, back to the travel: The Cu Chi tunnel trip ended at 2pm. We were back at Sinhcafe in Ho Chi Minh.

I texted K Liza that I’ve arrived, and guess where she said she was at ? That’s right – Ben Thant ! She asked me to meet them there at Gate 4. Since it was near to Sinhcafe, I decided to walk. I walked through the park, and it was just after the drizzle, so the weather was nice & fresh for a walk. I took pictures of myself again ;-p

The park
I stumbled upon a rickshaw driver, no I didn’t, he came to me, and told me that there’s a cheaper market than Ben Thant and he could bring me there. I declined his offer as I thought Ben Thant is already cheap enough, I didn’t really need things cheaper than cheap.

The seller who gave us air kelapa muda saw me, so I asked her if she saw my “sisters”? She said no, but she offered me a seat while I waited for K Kiah (I messaged K Liza that I was at kelapa air muda shop, she replied K Kiah will come there – ahem, because she was busy choosing cloths)

I didn’t have lunch that day, because we were out at the market all day (no halal food nearby). But fortunately, K Kiah packed some sandwiches for me that morning. I told her I wanted to buy bread, but in the end, I forgot. She was kind enough to supply me with food. Later we detoured to Cikgu Aishah’s hotel (because it was nearer than Sommerset) to have a bit of rest. And again I received kindness, this time from Cikgu Aishah. Maggi mee have never tasted better than this !

That night we went to the night market outside Ben Thant. (since Ben Thant is already closed!) Some Pocho Pocho dancing (courtesy of Riz. Btw, you can contact her to learn it!), then it’s sleeping time. Not for K Liza though, she continued chatting with her since singlehood friend K Kiah until the wee hours of the morning, and they even managed to squeeze in chocolate moist cake baking in between !

Pasar malam

Day 4 – Massage & balik kampung

I woke up in the morning wondering where K Liza was. Went to the kitchen and saw a glorious chocolate moist cake. It’s really good ! You can order from K Liza, H/P no 019 – 2105033 for RM 45 (for the standard size cake, err I think it’s 2 kg)

After all the shopping, K Kiah brought us to her massage parlour, which is a bit further from the city, but worth the trip because it offers body massage for only RM 16 for one hour !

Massage parlour

After the massage, we picked up Cikgu Aishah & Riz from the hotel and went back to Sommerset before being sent back to the airport by the ever reliable Mr Adam. Actually, he’s name is not Adam, but I called him so because I misheard K Kiah saying to him “Adau?” It sounded like Adam to me. She was actually asking him Where are you ? Oh well, at least he has a nickname now ;-)
The ladies ~ L-R: Riz, K Kiah comel, K Liza, Cikgu Aishah
Ho Chi Minh Masjid Jamia

Gerai masjid ~ had lunch there, thanks K Kiah!
Our flight back to KUL was scheduled at 1900, but there was a 20 minute delay. By the time we boarded the plane, we were all very hungry (it’s dinner time anyway). Unfortunately though, somehow, all the people from the incoming flight from KUL were probably hungrier, that by the time the food cart reached to me, (we were seated quite in the front, seat no. 10 maybe), all that is left is cup noodle and roti jala.

Tip # 3:
Always pack some food with you. (I know they don’t allow you, but there isn’t enough food unless you pre-order).

AA doesn’t allocate food according to the number of passengers. It is based on first come, first served, literally. And they do not replenish the food. Meaning if you are on the outgoing flight, like us, chances are, people from the incoming flight have walloped everything & leave us with nothing much. Or pre book your meals together with your flight booking.



Blogger chinta said...

bestnye jalan2!!!..nak pegi jugak!..Ben Thant shopping heaven...best nye tengok kain2 tuh....

10:17 PM  
Blogger chinta said...

good tips!

10:19 PM  
Blogger leeza said...

tq aida promote moist chocolate cake :)

2:17 PM  
Blogger IZWAN SHAHMIN said...

Font makin mengecil hehe

2:18 PM  

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