Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Weekend Rendezvous with Lady Saigon [Day 1 - Cu Chi Tunnel Tour, War Remnants Museum, Ben Thanh Night Market]

It was my first time flying off alone for a leisure trip.

I wouldn't say that it was spontaneous in a #yolo style,
and it wasn't really a solo trip also because i took the chance to visit one of my bestie from secondary school who is currently working there.
I wish I could romanticise it to say that it was a soul-searching trip,
but it was not.


It was really just a fantastic time spent catching up with a dear friend,
over a span of 2 short precious days.
We talked about the ephemeral nature of love and life,
learnt and discussed about the history of Vietnam at the Cu Chi Tunnel Tour and War Remnant Museum,
and had many heart-to-heart talks over rice-flour dishes and Vietnamese coffee.


Cu Chi Tunnel Tour

Day 1,
we set out early morning for a half-day tour hosted by The Sinh Tourist.

Upon getting the tickets from the office, we waited to set off on our tour bus.
The Cu Chi Tunnel is about 1.5 hrs away from District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. 

The tour was pretty well-organized, 
with a Vietnamese guide who speaks Vietnamese English lol. 
We couldn't really understand him for he had a really thick accent, 
but he was very earnest in sharing the history of Cu Chi Tunnel and the Vietnam War. 

It took a little too much brain power for us to concentrate on what he was saying, 
so we spent majority of the time on the bus finding out about the war from google instead hurhur. 

In a nutshell, 
the Cu Chi Tunnel was a system of deep underground tunnels with connecting alleys and branches that spanned more than 250km long. 
It was a base for the Viet Congs (Vietnamese communists) and was used as a battle deployment ground during the resistance against the Americans.
These hiding grounds also became living spaces, containing food, medical supplies and even weapons.

The Viet Congs were creative in their killing methods, one of which was to construct traps on ground that open up to sharp spikes underneath. 
These traps were typically covered with shrubs and leaves so that the enemies would fall to their death when they step on them.  
#Brutal.

#iamatourist #ihavetotrythis

Sports Shooting Range! 
Ain't nothing sporty about shooting in the past.

It ain't cheap but hell, 
i haven't tried shooting before so there goes.

The dude at the counter was looking like a total VietCong badass. 
I had to sneak a shot of him. 

Definitely a M16 virgin.
And the boys be like "Where's your trigger discipline?!?!"


At the entrance of the Cuchi Tunnel.
We had a chance to crawl through the tunnels and experience the claustrophobic conditions within.


I was feeling pretty cosy inside but that's cos i'm small, trust me. 
Some people were struggling to exit as the tunnel got narrower the deeper we went.
It is definitely not for the claustrophobic! 



A taste of War-time cuisine. 
We were served sliced sweet potatoes with salt/chilli powder seasoning the moment we exited the tunnels. 


It was pretty yummy!


War Remnants Museum

Our history crash-course continued at the War Remnants Museum.
It was a really interesting experience for me,
because facts are presented in an extremely biased manner against the Americans.

I didn't take any photographs within the museum itself.
Most of the exhibits are tragic personal accounts of the victims of war,
 intended to pull at the heartstrings of museum goers.
Many facts and figures presented also point towards the Americans for having launched a war of destruction that was unnecessary and brutal.

Apart from using conventional bombs and armaments,
the Americans also utilized chemical weapons to wipe out Vietnam's natural resources and to prevent the forward march of the Liberation Army.
Over a period of 10 years, the US Air Force sprayed 72 million litres of toxic chemicals all over Central and South Vietnam, causing approx. 4.8 million Vietnamese to suffer from its impact.
Pictures of deformed babies/adults due to mutated genes are all on display to show the aftermath of the chemical warfare.

It was heartbreaking to read,
and skin-crawling to see pictures of inhumane wartime abuse,
but I can't help but wonder the other side of the story.

"History is after all only a pack of tricks we play on the dead." - Voltaire.

Victims of war in the past are like characters of a storybook,
portrayed to give light and a peace of mind in the present.
 Is there even a point in finding out the truth of history?
Or is the truth even significant, if the truth never hurts the teller and sits upon the lips of dying men?

The museum left me with a bad taste in the mouth,
and i couldn't quite figure out why.







Ben Thanh Market 

Our stomachs were growling by the time we were done with the museum, 
so we headed straight for the most popular market in Saigon! 

You can't possibly miss Ben Thanh Market when in Saigon for 
it's one of the earliest surviving structure in Ho Chi Minh City
that originated since the French Colonial times. 
It has been through a fire, got rebuilt and later relocated and was renovated to what it is today; 
a tourist destination with tourist price tags!

There's food, souvenirs, daily necessities, clothes, handicrafts, coffee, tea, snacks etc.
Everything you need to buy to show that you've been to Saigon can be found there.
I was brought to this Banh Beo stall for my first meal in Vietnam :)

Banh Beo (Water Fern Cake) - 
Small steamed rice pancakes filled with either chopped dried shrimps or mung bean paste, 
topped with crispy fried shallots, fish sauce, rice vinegar and oil. 
It reminds me of soon kueh except that it is much smaller in size and more chewy. 
The dish is said to be more typical in Hue, the ancient royal capital located in Central Vietnam.

We then proceeded to another random stall and ordered an assortment (L to R) - 
Cha Gio (fried spring roll), 
Chao Tom (Shrimp paste on bamboo),
Thit Nuong (grilled pork on lemongrass skewers),
Goi Cuon (fresh spring roll).

Reaaally yummy Banh Xeo (literally means sizzling crepes) -
Egg & rice pancake wrapped with tau gay, shrimp & pork! 
It comes with a generous bowl of basil leaves, lettuce and to wrap your pancake with!!

I gotta say this was one of the best dish i've had on the trip!!

Shups then brought me to the snacks store she always patronises at Ben Thanh. 
She knew the stall owner from recommendations, 
and it helps that the stall owner speaks mandarin!
In fact, she has picked up many other different languages just through conversing with tourists! 
What a smart lady.

Nuts galore!
I eventually went home with bags of raisins and garlic chilli cashew nuts.

I wasn't intending on getting any coffee powder since i'm not much of a black coffee drinker,
but one smell of the coffee beans and i was sold. 
Now i have a bag of Trung Nguyen Coffee Powder that comes along with a Vietnamese filter. 
#instantconvert

Ben Thanh Night Market 
The indoor Ben Thanh Market closes at around 6pm everyday, 
but the haggling and commotion continues afterwards on the roads outdoor just beside the market. 
I was pretty excited about having my plate of Bot Chien (pan-fried flour cakes with eggs) like a true-blue local by the road side...
Until auntie gave me those doubtful eyes. 
HAHA.




It was surreal sitting there on the low stool watching the transformation of Ben Thanh Night Market, 
from an empty street into a bustling stretch filled with seafood restaurants and stalls selling touristy trinkets etc. 
The Night Market is basically a scaled down version of the day market with more seafood meal options. 

I wouldn't recommend you to have seafood there though, 
unless you are willing to pay more for the night market vibe.
Having a seafood feast here is easily 3x more expensive than having it elsewhere, 
and i'm not even sure of its quality. 
I was kinda glad i have my friend to guide me along, giving me all these cost-saving tips.



Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

My knowledge of this church can be summarized in a sentence; 
It is a Roman Catholic church built for the French Colonialists. 
Period. 


It was nice stroll towards the church, but the church itself is really nothing spectacular. 
I thought it was interesting though to observe how the locals enjoy sitting around the park, 
having their Banh Xeo and milk coffee. 
Vietnamese "Chilling-Out" is indeed very laid back and simple.

The church front was completely infested with street peddlers preying on tourists.




Saigon Central Post Office 

Just across the church was the Saigon Central Post Office, 
constructed when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina.
Once again, nothing much, touristy!




That sums up my Day 1 in Ho Chi Minh! 
I was dead beat by the end of the day, 
so the next day was less intensed and spent Cafe-Hopping/food-hunting! 

More about it in my next blogpost! 

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