Sunday, March 6, 2011

Vietnam 101

Here is a detailed trip report for our vietnam trip.

We arrived Vietnam at past 12 midnight and we exchanged our money after retrieving our bags. we exchanged small amount since we were working on the assumption that the forex at airport was not the best deal but we were wrong. the rate for 1 PHP = 398 VND while at the Pham Ngu Lao, the forex was 1 PHP = 350 VND. The rate for 1 USD = 22000 VND while that of the hotel is only 1 USD = 21500 VND. Thus, it is recommended to exchange your money at the airport.

For transportation, always take Vinasun taxi or Mai Linh. They are the honest cabbies in Saigon so it is always worth taking their services than the others.

We checked in at Bich Duyen Hotel and checkin was a breeze. It was also very clean but the downside is that you gotta request for lower rooms since the stairs goin to your room can be steep.

The first mission, the following day, is to go to Dai Nam Park. We took Bus 616 across Ben Thanh Market. You wont miss this bus stop since there are many people waiting for their buses. The fare from Ben Thanh to Dai Nam is VND 20,000 and it is an aircon bus. Here is the picture of Bus 616:


This is what the bus looks like from afar:

You need not worry that you might miss your stop because Dai Nam Park is the last stop and it will take you almost 2 hours to get there. This is not because traffic is heavy BUT the reason is that the bus is a bit sluggish so you can take a nap on your way to Dai Nam Park.

There will be a lady conductor who will go around the bus to collect the fare and since they do not understand Dai Nam Park, it is best to show this picture to her:


Then hand over to her your fare and she will give your ticket in return. Also do not expect that she can communicate in English. Just show the picture above then give your fare. if you dont have exact fare, do not worry since they give change (just like our bus conductors here in Manila.

Here are some pics of Dai Nam Park:






This is the bus terminal of Dai Nam Park. This is also the place where you will get off Bus 616 and this is the same place where you will take the bus that goes back to Ben Thanh Market in Saigon:







Upon alighting, you will have to pay the entrance fee of VND 50,000 for adults and VND 25,000 for children.

Crossing the streets of Saigon, unlike what Mai Mislang tweeted when she was there, is not really that threatening, especially to us Pinoys. Unless you are so sheltered and you have never crossed the busy streets of Manila, then you are fine. Only note that most of them ignore the traffic lights so even if it;s a red light, they tend to also cross or do not be surprised that some motorbikes just popping out from the left or right or one-way streets. Ganun lang talaga sila BUT unlike pinoy drivers, they do NOT drive fast and true, these bikers will really make sure that they avoid pedestrian like a plague. sila na mismo ang iiwas sa inyo. When we were there, we were laughing at the caucasians who were terrified of crossing the busy streets but the way to go is to simply cross it and you will realize that they will simply avoid you=).

So much for the streets of Vietnam. The next mission is the mekong delta tour and the half day cu chi tunnel tour. we booked all our tours at Sinh Cafe (now Sinh Tourists) and paid like USD 8 for these two tours. The mekong delta one-day tour includes all meals, including vietnamese lunch so this is a steal. Just a disclaimer: you will be surprised at how the westerners are amazed with rice paddies that you will see along the way during the 2 hour bus ride from Saigon to ben tre province, where you will get to ride the boat. Translation: para ka lang traversing the NLEX route). The best part of the mekong tour is the boat ride itself especially along the inner canals. When we were there, I was thinking that it was JUST a boat ride but when we were actually traversing the canals, it has a weird but surreal feeling hehe.

Cu Chi tunnels can be boring but I guess it depends on you...if you can find something new in seemingly usual things, then that can make your trip something worth remembering.

The last day is spent on shopping. Go and buy northface and samsonite bags at Ben Thanh. Note that at Ben Thanh, it is divided into 2: the fixed price stalls (these are the ones near the entrances and the sellers there were ID and they placed tags all over their store that says FIXED PRICE SELLER, which means you cannot haggle here since the prices reflect the lower price. However, if you deeper inside ben thanh, you will see that those who are not fixed price tend to quote prices that are 200% higher than the prices in the fixed price. The idea here is you gotta haggle=). If you intend to buy in bulk, it would be best to buy them at the inner stalls where the price is not fixed so you can haggle. If just 3-5 pieces of souvenir items, then just go to the fixed price stalls to avoid being ripped off.

The last stop are the scenes in downtown saigon like the cathedral, ben thanh, reunification palace and war museum, which are all walking distance from Ben Thanh Market.

The fare from the airport to Pham Ngu Lao is about VND 120,000 if you take the metered Vinasun Taxi.

Overall, I enjoyed Vietnam far better than Bangkok (haha I know some people will react to this but hey, am not really a big fan of Bangkok) but Vietnam is MORE relaxing, laidback and waaaayyyy cheaper than Bangkok (haha oops...never really liked Bangkok). With Vietnam, I guess you either like it or you don't, especially if you are looking for glitzy skyscrapers and shopping malls left and right.
Here's a google earth image of the bus stop of 616 right across Ben Thanh Market:

    
  
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