Unlike other hotel that usually has their kitchen, chef, and dining hall, Ipeace hotel offered their guests breakfast on the next-door restaurant. Luckily, along the alley, café, restaurant, and hotel were huddled, with the structure almost the same with those in Hanoi; 3 meters width, and 3-5 story building. We were told go to the restaurant stood exactly next to our hotel, a new way of having breakfast in a Hotel.
The breakfast was pretty delicious, and like the other breakfast menu, they had French bread and noodle. The noodle was surprisingly delicious; they put extra vegetable on it *yippie….*
Exactly at 8 o clock, the pick-up car arrived in our Hotel. It was a 4 seated sedan, filled with 5 people; the driver and me seated in front, while the rest of the space was occupied by Mr. S, Mr. P, and Mr.Rooney (our beloved tour guideJ). To tell a story about Rooney itself may take another blog, he’s such a very boisterous, funny, cheerful, crazy, fast-talking, yet humble, friendly, fussy, and fun guy.
The first place we visited was Chu Chi Tunnel, the 250km-long tunnel (from Saigon to Cambodian border), one of the most popular battlegrounds of the Vietnam War. It was almost 2 hours to go in there, because it’s located far away from the center of the city.
When we got there, so many tourists had already filled the entrance, where we bought a 75,000 VND entrance ticket per person. As far as I could notice, none of them were Asian *wonder where those asian tourists* except us. We went down a descend entrance heading to the “area”. It was a huge park/jungle where the tunnel lies underneath. Only a few of a 40×40-square manhole were opened. And it was such an object for taking a picture on; go inside the manhole (1 meters depth) with your chest to the top out of it, pose a “peace” finger and strike a big smile. I was kind of using wrong clothes, a shirt and a frilly dress, not knowing we were going to penetrate the tunnel T_T. Anyhow, that was my first instinct on a travelling day; interesting outfit to make an interesting picture =P.
The park was set up so that tourist can embrace the life at the tunnel back then. A small manhole was just an opening. We then guided to watch the war movie in a room made from clay (perhaps) and a thatched roof.
Then we passed by the trap collection, where the trap they used during the war was still in place, inclosed, and there was 1 or 2 people work for the park demonstrating how the trap works. It was kind of scary, imagining a person would be tricked and fell to the trap. A soldier-like-sculpture using a traditional Vietnam uniform was also set like they were having an activity/ chat, making the tour trip brought us back to 1960s.
In some spot, were set up a daily activity they had in the tunnel & its surroundings during the war, and there were several demonstration of how do they it. There was a Vietnam lady demonstrating the process of making food-wrapper-skin-like from bulled rice. There was also a man with soldier uniform demonstrating the making of the shoes for the soldiers. They made it using rubber tires, then shaping & cutting using traditional tools. Many others activities were demonstrated on spot, made us understand, and embrace the culture, the social & the life experience during the war.
Beside all that, you can also see the bomb crater in several places, completed with information of its diameter. But most of the crater already full with dried leaves falling from the tree. Make it just like a land dredging. I wouldn’t have known that it was a bomb crater if Rooney didn’t tell me so.
The park has also a shooting range, where you can really grab & have a shot session using a real gun (AK 47 or M16) with additional cost of around 100,000 VND. Close to it is a small store selling merchandise and drink. We stopped by and tried to take a picture by pretending to have shot the gun. And it wasn’t an easy picture. The sound produced from the shot was very loud & shocking. You have to wear an earplug to resist it. We just use our hand to cover our ears while waiting the shooter took a rest (so we could strike a post without being disturbed by the shooting sound, voila!).
Our tour closed by entering a café-like in the wood, where tourists were free to taste Casava (ubi kayu in Bahasa Indonesia) and a green tea, served in a wood table. This is also a good stop/rest to continue the journey. What a historically interesting tour. I did not remember where was the last time I followed a tour in historical place, high school, junior high school?
Although the complete history or the chronology wasn’t told really detail in the trip, at least I could capture & imagine what it was like the situation during the war, though I was sure, knowing & imagining it were nothing compare to the real life experience of the devastating & destroying war.
Second destination of the day was handicraft center. This was an unusual fine artwork, because it was done by handicapped/disabled people who were injured during the Vietnam War. And all I do in this place was just amazed by the art they made. The main attraction was the egg-shell lacquer ware. They use the egg-shell, glued on the design pattern, crack it softly, and color it. Just imagining how they make it made me absorbed to the process and wanting to try (perhaps somedayJ). The finishing of it is comprised of several steps, and it can be made a soft finishing or rough finishing (you can feel the rough surface of the cracked egg-shell, but still enjoy its harmony).
Amazed maybe poor to describe how I felt back then. Let me try this one: surprised, by the organized, fine art work they had, I saw couples of time the lacquer ware sold by local people in my country, but once never crossed my mind what is it made from or how they do it; fascinated, by the assiduity they put on the artwork, and how punctilious the egg-shells are compiled, colored, forming artistically systematic & unsystematic at the same time (I’m talking about those egg on an abstract pattern. Too bad I didn’t capture it on my camera, busy being mesmerized); at the same time I felt jealous for the skill they had.
Those are separated room between the workshop where they do all the stuff, and showroom, where tourists can enjoy and shop the artwork they made. Thousands of lacquer ware, with various designs, finishing, size and pattern were displayed. Drag me more to remarkable work of art. Me, Mr.P and Mr.S were busy having a notion of which one is best put in our cribs (Without imagining go to the cashier and carry one of those thru the airport). We ended up our chit and chat concluding that having one of those is just solitary presence of an art, losing a harmony thru its surrounding, but buying several might caught us burdened, both in the airplane and in our pocket J. Not a very match ending with the upheaval experience I had in the first place.
Anyhow, lunch couldn’t wait for us. We stopped by the Diamond mall, the biggest shopping center in HCMC, and we eat pizza (not that I complained, but I hoped to eat a more-Vietnam dishes for the lunch). But I enjoyed it, and couldn’t wait to continue the journey.
If Hanoi and Catba Island provide us much nature scenery, HCMC provide us with a combination of historically, modern, traditional & artistic tourism of a city forward (CMIIW). We stopped at the Independence Palace (which is also known as reunification palace; Mr. S: you’re also right), the presidential residence during the Vietnam War. It was like a museum, of what is the president cribs looks like. Really, I didn’t feel well informed of the historical story of the place itself, coz it was just sightseeing. The real historical experiences take place during post-holiday, where I google places I visited. So another tip for travel: best knowing places you’ll visit prior to the trip.
Since the objects were close to each other, we moved from one place to another by walking around the city. It was an old church, really beautiful one, in the middle of the city. Notre dame Basilica church was established by French during his occupation in Vietnam back in 1800s. That was the first time for me entering church with such an interior, though I believe, there are many more look alike.
Center Post Office Building was our next destination. Looking at the design, you would’ve noticed that the building was also built by French and it stood right next to Notre dame Cathedral. Inside you can find that the roof was half-cylindrical curved, same with the cathedral. There were many phone booths, a locket for posting mail and a stand for merchandize. We were only like 10 minutes over there, considering our tour should be closed at 5 pm (and it was 3:30 already).
We then ran to war museum, the only place where I really feel & embrace the history of the Vietnam War. It was like 3 stories building, with the yard are placed by tanks and US Air Force One warplanes, and it’s quite crowded by tourists back then. Inside the building are so many pictures of events, people, or writings, numbered sequentially & put in order to narrate & explore what the war has caused the Vietnam a sorrowful & years of misery. I can tell that this was narrated on the Vietnam‘s eyes. But it doesn’t matter on what eyes; war is always resulting in physical and mental unbearable suffering. Thus, it was quiet a blue afternoon for me, having that knowledge of what impacted Vietnam, the land where I stood, to have some fun, kind of contrast. My admiration is for them, who defensively and vigorously stand up for their freedom.
I spent like –24 hrs in the 1st floor, didn’t have chance to explore the other stories of the building, and time was quite close to the 1-day-trip end. We then headed to Ben Thanh market, popular with tourists seeking local handicrafts, textiles, souvenirs and local cuisine. We bought some souvenir with reasonable price. Best place for tourist to corner the market.
Ended the trip wasn’t that easy, remember me of the more close we are to back to reality (and it wasn’t quite like one). We said goodbye to our tour guide, Rooney, and went to our Hotel. It was time for dinner!!
That night we spent our time travelling near the center of the city, took pictures anywhere we could, and dropped some money in some stores (Mr. S and Mr. P did), best way to spend the last night in Ho Chi Minh, especially when city was gracefully decorated with sparkling Christmas tree and light all over the place, bringing you away, like the night was never about to end.
~ Journey to the Past ~
To the days or weeks ago during my trip to Vietnam, as I’m pouring these words, string back all the began-to-disappear memories.
Travelling was never felt that enchanting & moved like that, especially when you are defenseless, and open your every sense to grasp the people, the culture, and beat & wave it draws you in. and I think the art of travelling, is about taking everything the yet-uncovered journey to reveal, never judge on them of the bad and good, keep your eyes & camera open, never hope for anything too much, put a smile in your heart and in your face, and most importantly; live the present to the fullest, your future is now.
“I hoped that the trip would be the best of all journeys: a journey into ourselves” – Shirley MacLaine
Note: “Sun’s Day”, Day of the sun, where Sunday came from.