Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ho Chi Minh City Tour, Continued (HCMC Trip Day 1)

From Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, we continued our city tour to the Independence Palace and War Remnant Museum. We took 10 minutes to walk from Saigon Cathedral to the Independence Palace. Independance Palace is a beautiful building with well preserved interior. It was the office and residence of the president of South Vietnam. 

According to the local, the palace was built according to fengshui- with the main building located on the head of a dragon. However, the good location was not good enough to stop the advancement of North Vietnamese Army into the palace, and marked the end of Vietnam War in 1975. Although the palace was the place where the rulers resided for hundreds of years, the current structure that we visited was built in 1966.

The entrance fee for foreigner was VD 30,000 per person, opened from 7 - 11 am, 1 - 4 pm daily. The palace is located at Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Road. Too difficult to remember? Well, if you are standing in front of the cathedral, facing the entrance, you just need to turn left, cross the road, walk through 200-meter long garden, and you will find the palace right in front of you.

The 200-meter long garden ensures a comfortable walk from the cathedral to Independence Palace.

The Independence Palace is a white building with a fountain in front of it.

The ticketing counter is located at a side of the palace's compound (upper row). The interior of the palace was well preserved. The function room (lower right) and meeting room were located on the ground floor.

The president's office at the first floor.

The helipad on the top of the palace (upper left), the president's car (upper right) and residence (lower right), and the underground bunker were some of the interesting sites that we could see around the palace. The president's residence was decent, but still considered luxury compared to where Uncle Ho Chi Minh stayed in Hanoi.

 Don't forget to stop at the balcony of the palace to take a look on the busy street in front of the palace.

We left the palace through another entrance at 11 am, and walked to War Remnants Museum. The museum located at Le Quu Don, some 10 minutes away from the palace. The entrance fee was VND 15,000 per person, and the opening hours were from 7:30 to 12:00 noon, then from 1:30 to 5:00 pm daily. 

We roamed around the museum till 12 noon (yes, we left after the last call for lunch break). The real "hardwares" of the remnants are on the outside of the museum building, while the inside are mainly photo galleries. We couldn't deny that the photo galleries were shocking, but well, we expected to see other types of "remnants" other than the photos.

We left the Independence Palace through the back door. How to go to War Remnants Museum from there? Once you are out of the gate, turn right and walk till the end of the street (as shown in this photo). Then, turn right, walk, and take your first left turn. The museum is some 100 meters away on your left. So, it's as simple as "right-right-left-left".
The museum is a modern 3-storey building.

 The compound of the museum was not big, arranged with many old U.S. war machines.

Tank and helicopter.

The ground floor of the museum consisted of several souvenir shops (upper left), while the upper levels highlighted a few photo galleries (upper right). The walkway on the higher levels were blue due to the lighting effect (lower right). Several types of bullets and guns were exhibited in the museum as well.

The orange gallery showed the effect of the dioxane to the local communities. Dioxane was the orange powder dispersed by U.S. army to clear the forest.

We went through all the photo galleries, but not in detail. We skipped most of the captions, as it was too much for us to read. Well, the photos collected all around Vietnam during the war could be the best way to show the "remnants" of the war across the whole country. But frankly, we were expecting more "physical" remnants rather than the photos, meaning, we hoped to see more on the things that we could touch with our hands, rather than with our heart.

Unless you like to see endless sad photos of the war, or else the museum is not a good place to stay for long. We left War Remnants Museum for our lunch at somewhere near our hotel by taxi. The taxi service was good- metered, cooling air conditioner, polite and professional driver. He couldn't speak English, but well, we managed to communicate with him with simple body language, and the destination "Saigon Square"- a landmark nearby our hotel. We took banh me (bun) and fruit juice as our lunch at Hoppy.

Went back to hotel to rest for a while. Afternoon, we walked to Saigon Square and Ben Thanh Market. The sun was stinging hot. Saigon Square was air conditioned, but the hot weather turned the shopping mall into a big stuffy box. Bien Thanh Market was even worse, but we managed to stay at the food and beverage section for a while, and took several local delicacies- shredded pork spring roll, shrimp and pork spring roll, and beef noodle. The food tasted good with reasonable price. Unbearable heat drove us from the market and we decided to visit the market some other time. We took a walk down Le Loi Road, shopped around at Parkson and Vincom Center till 7 pm (first visit). On our way back to our hotel, we stopped and joined the congregation of night strollers at Nguyen Hue Road. We will share more about shopping and food in Ho Chi Minh City soon.

 Nguyen Hue Road looks different at night.


Vivid city hall at night.

Night strollers at Nguyen Hue Road.

Although none of the attractions were as stunning like the Thang Long Citidel in Hanoi, The Imperial City of Hue or the old relics at My Son, the city stroll was a great experience for us. Well, the experience would be a better one without hot weather.
We rested around 11 pm. Next day, Our itinerary- Cu Chi Tunnel. Stay with us. More about our experiences in Vietnam are available at:

Ho Chi Minh City Tour (HCMC Trip Day 1)

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. Visiting the city means- we have flown to Vietnam for the third time. In our first trip to Vietnam- we visited Hanoi and Halong Bay. Then City of Hue via Hai Van Pass, Danang, Hoi An, and My Son in second visit, and then the third- Ho Chi Minh City. This was our first time to travel with two of our friends- Chuah and Chong.

Middle of the year, HCMC was very warm, humid and with almost no wind at all. Well, the weather was a bit unbearable even for those who come from long-warm-and-humid tropical country, like us. According to one local, this is just the beginning of long hot summer. Despite hot weather, the city was overall clean, filled with some modern sky scrapers, and full with motorists. The people were polite, like to hang around the street at night, and compared to our country, moving around with slower pace. Air-conditioned malls and eateries were limited, with the food and souvenirs sold with higher prices compared to places like Bangkok or Phnom Penh.

We took a night flight to Ho Chi Minh City. We had a night rest at Saigon Pink 3 Hotel. The hotel was located nearby Nguyen Hue Road, in proximity with some historical monuments of the city. Early first day morning, we started to explore the city by foot. Starting from Nguyen Hue Road, we visited the Saigon Opera House, Ho Chi Minh City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, Central Post Office, the Independence Palace, and the War Museum. In the afternoon, we roamed around Saigon Square, Ben Thanh Market and along Le Loi Road till Wincom Center. We walked around Nguyen Hue Road again at night, before going back to hotel. We would like to bring you around with our photos.

8 am. Still consider early for metropolitan in Ho Chi Minh City. Most of the shops were still closed. There were not many people around Nguyen Hue- one of the most happening place in Ho Chi Minh City during night time.



Bitexco Tower with Saigon Skydeck on the top of it, is located beside Nguyen Hue Road. It was the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City.

Our breakfast- Vietnamese pho at Bun Bo Hue 44, located just a block away from our hotel (upper left). It was a simple small eatery, mostly visited by the locals (upper right). The beef noodle was nice, with a bit more sour and spicy compared to the pho in Hanoi. Free flow fresh vegetable was provided when we ordered local pho. 

The first building we went after our breakfast- Saigon Opera House, by foot, 5 minutes away from our hotel. Built in 1898 by the French architect- Eugene Ferret, it was an old building with strong influence of European design. The opera house is located beside Nguyen Hue Road, 100 meters away from Ho Chi Minh City Hall. If you are not a big fan of opera, a touch-and-go visit is recommended. Please be noted that there are two nude sculptures at the main entrance. Well, keeping the sculptures untouched demonstrates the acceptance of the local community to the Western culture. The construction of mass-transit station was ongoing during our visit, so the surrounding area was blocked by blue construction walls. More information about the opera house can be obtained from Lune website

Ho Chi Minh City Hall is another French Colonial style structure built in 1908, with elaborative sculptures outside the building. A bronze statue of Uncle Ho greeting his followers is placed in 2015 in front of the building. Although not open to the public, the city hall is still a very popular photo taking spot for tourists. The city hall is located at the end of Nguyen Hue Road.

The sculptures here are more elaborative than the Saigon Opera House.

From the city hall, we walked down Dong Khoi Road and passed by Vincom Center before reaching Notre Dame Cathedral. Vincom Center is a popular full air-conditioned shopping mall. We did not stop at the shopping mall in the morning, but after that visited the mall for a few times, for shopping, food, and enjoying the cooling air. Vincom Center is on the east side of city hall (if you are facing the city mall, Vincom Center is on your right).
 
Notre Dame Cathedral is located 150 meters away from Ho Chi Minh City Hall, along Dong Khoi Road. Built in 1880, two bell towers were raised 58 meters from the ground. The most unique feature of this building is- all the materials used in the construction were originally brought from France. However, many was replaced by locally made materials during the maintenance works thereafter. From what we can see, the cathedral is in fact in the middle of big traffic circle.

A closer look on the cathedral. The St. Marry statue in front of the cathedral was installed in 1959, replacing the statue of Pigneau de Behaine, which was removed in 1945. The cathedral is indeed a unique building in downtown. Diamond Plaza is located behind the cathedral.

We stopped at the main entrance to the cathedral and looked back, we could see the Vincom Center on our left.


Side view of the cathedral.

Interior of the cathedral with very high ceilings. It was cooling inside, even without air conditioner.

There is a bright yellow building next to the cathedral that catches every one's attention- Saigon Central Post Office. It was built in 1891. Some sources claimed that the post office shared the same designer with Eiffel Tower- Gustave Eiffel, but in fact, it was a work shared by Auguste Henri Vildieu and Alfred Foulhoux. Inconvenient truth? For us, it was lucky to know that Gustave Eiffel had nothing to do with that building. Why? You can find the answer inside.

There are some sculptures on the building.

Saigon Central Post Office building is small, stuffy, and flooded by visitors. The design was simple and neat, but not impressive. Designed by Gustave Eiffel? No way!

The free postcard rack was empty (upper left). However, the souvenirs and postcards on sales were piled up on the stall at the middle of the post office (upper right). There are two old maps showcasing the area around Saigon in late 19 century (lower right), with old fashioned phone booths located right below the maps. There are two wings on each side of the building squeezed by souvenir vendors. We found that most of the souvenirs were overpriced, compared to what we could get from Ben Thanh or along Le Loi Road.

The scene from the main entrance of the post office- Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral, with many visitors gathered in between these two buildings.


A photo with our friends in front of the most unique building in Ho Chi Minh City- Saigon Notre Dame, before we continued our trip to the Independence Palace (or Reunification Palace in some maps) and the War Museum.

We had visited a few historical buildings in Ho Chi Minh City- Saigon Opera House, City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Saigon Central Post Office. Unlike Yangon, where most of the colonial buildings were abandoned, the French-built structures in Ho Chi Minh City have been transformed into tourist's attractions. By far, the most attractive building we found was the cathedral. Next, the Independence Palace and the War Museum.

More of our experiences in Vietnam are available too at:


Danang, City of Hue, Hoi An, & My Son

Hanoi & Halong Bay

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Staying Around Longshan MRT Area, Taipei

Longshan Temple (龙山寺) and its surrounding area, according to some tourism websites, was dull, not lively, lack of night life, and full with older citizens. Well, we found a more appropriate description- it was more traditional and peaceful. And, we couldn't deny an important fact- it is still in the heart of Taipei. 

We stayed in Longshan Hotel (龙山商旅) located right behind Longshan Temple. It was small, but clean, tidy and nicely decorated room, filled with enough amenity for a comfortable stay. The staff were friendly, talkative, and indeed resourceful. Their information were very useful, from food to weather.

The hotel is just 5 minutes away from Longshan MRT Station by foot, and 10 minutes away from Wanhua Train Station. Plus, 3 minutes away from night markets at Mengxia area, one MRT station away from Ximending, it is indeed a good place to stay. By the way, there is a small garden in front of Longshan Temple where senior citizens gather to play chess, drink tea, chit chat, and sometimes, to take a nap. We had been staying in the same hotel for 6 days and 5 nights.

We visited Mengxia Night Market and Huaxi Night Market nearby our hotel on the first day. Day 2, we visited Taipei Zoo, Maokong Mountain via Maokong Gondola, and Rauhe Night Market . Day 3, Yehliu Geopark, Sun-Yatsen Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, and Ximending. Day 4, Yangming Shan National Park, Shilin Night Market and National Palace Museum. Day 5, Jinguashi, Jiufen, and Zhongzheng Memorial Hall, and Day 6, we strolled around Longshan area before we departed to Taoyuan International Airport.

Longshan Hotel can be reached through the alley between Longshan Temple (wall on the right) and shop lot.

The entrance of Longshan Hotel (upper left) leads to the small lobby (upper right). The room is small with comfortable bed, kettle, complementary coffee and tea, hair drier (lower right), LCD flatscreen, mini fridge, and water heater in the bathroom.

This is what we can see from our window.

Longshan Temple is the center of the area. It is an old temple built around 270 years ago by settlers from China. It is a very popular place of worship in that area, but for us, it is just an old temple, without much significant attraction.
 
Longshan Temple attracts many visitors, but the night markets beside Longshan Temple are stronger tourist magnets. Mengxia Night Market and Huaxi Night Market are just at the opposite site of the road, left to the temple (if you are facing the temple).

Facing the temple, turn right and walk for 100 meters along Guangzhou Street, we will see a few rows of old shop lots, named Bo-Pi-Liao (剥皮僚) (Upper row). These are the old buildings built in Qing Dynasty. The area around Longshan Temple are peaceful (lower row). 

Food, souvenirs, clothes, local delicacies are the main items sold at the pedestrian streets around the area.

For food, we have plenty of choices- from giant international fast food chain (upper left), hundreds of choices along the pedestrian streets and night markets (upper right and lower right), to the delicacies available in convenient shops and supermarkets. We really need not worry about what or where to eat. By the way, we bought some local delicacies with really bargained price at Carrefour Hypermarket, which by foot, just 15 minutes away from our hotel. For the market and stalls, the food were mostly sold at NTD 50 - 150 per portion, while the food sold in the shops were more expensive (could up to NTD 300 per portion). 

 Nice street food are aplenty during the day time, but we need to get them in the street away from the main roads.

Another advantage of staying in Longshan area- less people in MRT station. This photo was taken at rush hour, and we can see the station was quite empty. Longshan MRT Station is located on Blue Line.

Staying at Longshan MRT area doesn't mean we are staying at old men's land in Taipei. Instead, it is a nice place to stay if we don't really wish to feel the hustle-bustle of this metropolitan right outside of our hotel. With MRT, it is indeed easy for us to travel around Taipei. Located on Blue Line, the interchange stations to Green Line (Taipei Main Station) and Brown Line (Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station) are just a few stations away. The fare for the public transportation in Taipei was cheap, while taxi charge was reasonable as well. However, due to the good coverage and high frequency, we used the public transports all the time in Taipei (even to Yehliu Geopark, Yangmingshan National Park, and Ruifang).

6-day-5-night trip to Taipei promises great experiences. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our friends and family, including our parents, Chin Yee, Boon Ling, Lian Huai, Livien, Bryant, Katty, Jenny, Kelly, LS's colleagues Dr. Chong, Ms. Chong, and many more who had shared their precious experience with us. We would like to thank Hui Hwa for bringing us for a night of food hunting in Taipei. Last but not least, all the good staff at Longshan Hotel for their advices from locals' perspective. You all had made our trip a wonderful and memorable one.

More about our experience in Taipei, please read out posts: