We took the red-eye flight (and only flight) of Cebu Pacific to Ho Chi Minh and arrived at around 1am in Saigon. The good thing about Vietnam is that they do not require any immigration forms to be filled out, unlike the other countries I’ve been to (including the Philippines). Immigration was a breeze. No questions. Just stamped it, and off you go. Before we went out of the airport, we decided to exchange some dollars to their local currency, the Vietnamese dong. Note: Always make sure to count your money properly when you do this. It’s a little confusing since they have a whole lot of zeros on their bills. P200 is for 400,000 Dong! I was literally a millionnaire in Vietnam haha. At least they have commas to separate the figures (the Indonesian rupiah have no commas at all. Very much more confusing).
Our taxi was waiting for us outside and drove us to our hotel, which was closed! So our taxi driver rang the buzzer and the hotel receptionist opened it for us. It’s actually a rule for hotels in the backpackers area to close the hotel after 11pm at night. Bummer. I feel sorry for the guy who waited for us until 1am to open the hotel for us once we arrived. He was literally sleeping at the lobby that time. The hotel is not your usual hotel since it’s in the backpackers area, it only has a few rooms and it is actually being ran by the owners. We had to leave our shoes downstairs before we went up to our rooms (I was loving it already). Then we retreated to our beds since we only have a few hours to sleep and wake up for our Cu Chi Tunnel trip the next day, wait… the next 5 hours! Craaazy.
A few hours later, we all got ready for breakfast. The hotel was like a homestay, wherein the owners actually cooked for us and served us breakfast. I really love the homey feel of the hotel, unlike the other hotels I’ve been staying in Singapore and Hong Kong. Though it was small, it was really cozy and really relaxing. Definitely a change of atmosphere for me. A few minutes later, our tour bus finally arrived to bring us to Cao Dai Temple, it was a 3 hour bus ride to that place. Once we arrived there, I felt like I was in a cult. I guess Cao Dai is a new religion in Vietnam, I don’t know. I didn’t really like it. I just went inside, took some pictures of the ceremonies, I think they were having mass or something. Seriously, I felt like I was in a cult. And it was scorching hot as well. I shouldn’t have included this in the itinerary and should’ve gotten the Cu Chi Tunnel tour for half day instead. I don’t recommend this place. So if you are planning on a trip to Saigon, skip Cao Dai and do the half day Cu Chi Tour instead. We would’ve enough time to shop and roam around Saigon if we skipped that Cao Dai thing.
In the afternoon, we finally arrived at Cu Chi. And all the little frustrations I had with Cao Dai finally went away as I was really super excited with this tour! Our tour guide, who was actually a soldier during the Vietnam War, told us about some stories during that time and on how they defeated the Americans. He showed us some of the trapdoors, the entrance and the exits to the tunnels, their meeting areas, etc. The Cu Chi Tunnels were a big part to their victory since they actually created it as a hideout to surprise their enemies during the battle. We took some shots climbing up some tanks and also tried some firing shots as well. I would’ve loved to use the armalite but oh well haha. I did not! I do not even know how to use that rifle at first!
There were these little mini-exits scattered everywhere in the jungle that we decided to take turns jumping inside and to take shots of ourselves getting out from underneath. The most unforgettable part was when my friend, Desiree, tried to get in but when she was about to get out, she got stuck! It literally took us about 15 minutes to finally pull and drag her out of that tiny hole! That was probably the most stressful part of that trip. I was already thinking how can I explain to her parents that Des can’t go home coz she’s already overstaying in Vietnam stucked in one of those tunnels? LOL!
Then the most awaited part finally arrived. After walking around that mini-jungle, we were now about to get inside and crawl the Cu Chi Tunnels! Naina decided to pass since she already did this before and it’s her second time in Saigon, while Desiree decided she’ve had enough of these tunnels after her traumatizing experience being stucked in one of them a few minutes ago. So me, Audrey and Jeany decided to do it. I was the most determined one since this is the only reason why I even booked a flight to Saigon in the first place. So down we crawled inside and it was seriously hot! If you have claustrophobia, I suggest you skip this. I was sweating so hard, I felt like I was playing a championship game for basketball. Good thing about the tunnels is that, though there is only one way for you to crawl straight at towards the main exit, you can always exit from the sides as well. There were also torches there to give you some lighting in case you cannot see due to the darkness below. It was definitely one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had even though I was literally showering with sweat! The tunnels are also not of the same size. It gets bigger but most of the time, it was getting smaller and smaller. They were basically made for the built of the Vietnamese soldiers that time. Thank God I am short, it was very easy for me to fit in and crawl inside there. After a few minutes of crawling, Audrey and Jeany had to exit because they needed to catch their breath and they cannot tolerate the heat anymore. I was a little disappointed coz I wanted to finish crawling the entire tunnels with them, which I actually did, together with a few other foreigners. Once I arrived at the exit, I was relieved to feel the actual air around me and I was able to breathe a little better. To be honest, I was a little disappointed, coz I wanted the tunnel to be a little longer! I love crawling down there, I felt like a kid exploring a new playground, irregardless of the sweat, the dirt and the little insects I’ve seen inside. I also had an extra shirt since I know I would definitely need it after all that crawling. So after I changed my shirts and got freshened up somehow, we all went back to the bus to be brought back to our hotel in Saigon.
We decided to have the driver drop us at the Ben Tanh Market area. We decided to grab a bite to eat since we were so hungry from all that driving and crawling. We had dinner at Pho 2000, a restaurant that became very popular as the only restaurant in Vietnam that comes highly recommended by former US President Bill Clinton. I’ve heard about it from the net, and now that I was here, I was pretty excited to taste their popular pho noodles. The restaurant was okay. It has this canteen-feel to it, it was like you were just eating from the office pantry. Pictures of Bill Clinton, together with the restaurant crew, were everywhere as well. The noodles were not that special, in my opinion. I guess living in an Asian country myself, I’ve tasted way too many noodles from other countries that this one doesn’t seem to be any different from our local Philippine miswa, or the Thai and Korean noodles we eat at the convenient stores.
After dinner, we decided to shop a little at the nearby Ben Tanh Market. Unfortunately, it was already around 9pm and the actual market was closed, so we had to do our shopping at the street night markets outside Ben Tanh. It was our very first shopping experience in Saigon and I was amazed with the stuff that they were selling. From their very famous Vietnamese coffee (I got a pack for myself), to the popular Vietcong hats, to cobra wines. Yes, they were selling cobra wines. With the actual snakes and cobras inside the bottle. I separated myself from the other guys so that I can focus with my own shopping. Shopping and haggling on these street markets has always been a favorite thing for me when I travel. I got myself some t-shirts priced at around 50,000 Dong (that’s around P100 each). The red Vietnam shirt with the star in the middle is a must-buy since it actually is the flag of Vietnam. After an hour of shopping, we got ourselves into a taxi to bring us back to our hotel at the backpacker’s area.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we all took a quick shower and decided to explore Saigon one last time. We strolled down the streets and came to this popular hangout (which I forgot the name), and was actually just the street itself. There were small tables everywhere and everyone was seated together side by side. The next table was actually placed a step from the next one. So you would probably end up sitting to somebody that you do not know from the next table. We decided to take a spot from one corner of the street, ordered some Saigon beer and ate some dried squid. The ambiance was crazy. It was very noisy and very fun! The way the people were seated, all the lights, all the noise, the sound of so many foreigh languages everywhere gave me such an euphoric high that made me enjoy that moment. One thing I really like about these locals was about how frank they were. When my friends decided to change tables since another group in front of us left, the owner, who was this middle-aged woman, probably in her 40s, said NO. I guess she was not in the mood to clean up our table again in case we decide to move to another one. I had to laugh inside while my friends, especially Audrey was mumbling her little complaints when that lady did not allow us to move to another table.
After a few minutes, we decided to call it a night since the hotels at the backpackers area have a curfew at around 11pm. We have to go back to the hotel to repack and prepare everything for our flight the next morning to Hanoi.Follow @iamthegarysia