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Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City – Country’s Hectic Entrance – VIDEO
Upon an hour of waiting for a visa I was free to explore the capital of the country I really looked forward to exploring. First of all, I somehow let a cab driver to make a 300 crown rip off. Sometimes things like this happen. But honestly – this happens in Prague as well. Aboard the airplane I could see streets where millions of bikes stream in all directions. And “down” here the traffic is even more crazy. If I compare Ho Chi Minh city to Bangkok, a city of comparable size, in the former there are much less traffic jams. One must add that there is no subway, or rail that would go above the ground. It seems that high taxes on car is working.
Ho Chi Minh City – the biggest city of Vietnam – many Vietnamese simply call by its former name Saigon (Sài Gòn). However, many think these are two separate cities. Well, they aren’t. The principle is same as in the case of Gottwaldov. The communists renamed it in 1976 after their leader. People didn’t care.
I make the first exploration round in the city. I know very well the traps on tourists in the District 1 area. However, it would be a pity to not to explore it once I live there. There is no better place to start than at Phuc Long café. A perfect advice from my friend revealed to me where finicky Vietnamese like to have their coffee. He was right. Ca Phe Sua Da – strong iced coffee with condensed milk – is far better than its European imitations. Give it a chance! Coffee is an integral part of Vietnamese culture. It is also an important social habit.
Zatím největším zážitkem je tu asi přecházení silnice. Žádné čekání až nic nepojede, to bych čekal do skonání světa. Prostě musím do silnice vlézt a pomalu ji přejít. Jediné štěstí, že už mám trénink z Thajska, jinak bych se odhodlával hodně dlouho.
Actually, all “important” sights were matter of two hours. And this is enough for me. It is very difficult to stay on the street in this heat. Everyone gladly gets in an air-conditioned cafe.
So where to? start at the town hall which was built in the colonial style. In front of it, the bigger-than-life “leader’s” statue, Ho Chi Minh, stands tall. Down from there goes the wide boulevard of Nguyen Hue. Many modern buildings line this street. Near the town hall there is even a little building of opera (made by French as well). Better go to the other side toward the old post office and Notre-Dame cathedral. Actually it is not much of a cathedral than a small church. And the noise over at the post office is worth seeing.
Any guide recommends you Ben Thanh market. In my opinion, you should skip it. There is the highest probability to get robbed or be ripped off. If you want to see how a nice local marketplace looks rather visit another place in Vietnam. Isntead go to the Independence Palace. There are some artifacts of the Vietnam War including an American copter laying on the roof or simply go to War Remnants Museum. There is truly powerful exhibition about the war.
I am amused to observe the mix of Asian and Western culture in the city – many modern glass skyscrapers (including Bitexco Financial Tower which is 262 meters high) meet, not seldomly, chickens on the street. On the streets of Vietnam, usually there are many Pho Bo soup stands, Bahn Mi baguettes, coffee, fruits… Saigon is no exception to this rule. Dotn worry about “street food”. You will taste the best of Asian cuisine.
Bahn Mi baguettes are just the perfect invention which should be in Europe as well. Fortunately, the Vietnamese in Prague finally came to realization that their cuisine is much better than Chinese. So you can buy your baguettes there! Great!
There are surprisingly many beautiful parks in Saigon. Locals usually gather there early in the morning or in the evening to do physical exercises, sit on benches and talk. Be sure to see one. We should take an example from them.
And now let leave the park for the “true” Asia! This probably is the way how many of us imagine it. Narrow streets, many cables, lots of food on the streets and people as well, a family of five on one bike, sweet-like smell (well, I am still not sure whether I like it or not)… Once I crosse a large street to the District 3 the atmosphere completely changed. Now they were smiling, nobody tries to sell me stuff, nobody tries to rip me off. It is just like in Bangkok - don’t worry about leaving tourist areas for exploration.
Today we are about to enjoy our last amazing trip in Vietnam, we originally intended to visit the Ba Vi National Park, but for time constraints we had to change our program because we need to reserve at least two days for this park. So we had a hotel counseling and planned a trip to a place that was not even mentioned in our book guide, although it is very popular for tourists (even for local people). Today, we go to visit the largest Vietnamese pagoda Bai Dinh and then explore the beautiful complex Trang An.
In the evening we arrive at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). We are already busy only to lodge for a quick dinner in the busy streets of this largest Vietnamese city and sleep. The next day a very exciting war trip is waiting for us - we go to the Cu Chi tunnels.
After a tough night-train trip, we arrive early in the morning to Da Nang City, where we do not stay very much. First we head to perhaps the most beautiful Vietnamese city - the Hoi An lantern, from which we go for a trip to the Marble Mountains, Vietnamese Ngũ Hành Sơn.
Omnipresent honking, grandmas pulling bikes with flowers, Vietnamese sitting on small chairs, food, bikes, wires, bikes, French cafes, bikes with food, bikes with chairs, bike transporting part of another bike… Welcome to Hanoi! It is a city crazy beyond believe. You either love it or you hate it eternally.
Da Nang (a city almost in the geographic center of Vietnam) is largely unknown. Which is unfortunate. An average tourist usually passes by there in a taxi on his way from the airport to his favorite Hoi An hotel…. I spent three weeks in Da Nang. And the city got on the list of my favorite places in Southeast Asia (right next to Chiang Mai). In Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson called the old road to Hue as the “abandoned fragment of perfection.” I absolutely agree.
As much as I hate to travel by bus, I would repeat the ride from Nha Trang and Da Lat. The former is the city of two hundred thousand. It is the most popular spot to spend honeymoon at in Vietnam. It is situated at 1500 meters in the Central Highlands. You can enjoy a number of great views while on the road. And it gets even better on bike …
Someone loves it. Someone swears to not to come again. There is nothing in between. I am with the first group. From the first day on in Saigon, a hectic city, and I turned into a side street. We are about to introduce you to a new series where we tell you about interesting places in the city and the country. First of all, let’s talk some important facts about the country.
We reached Hanoi (Hà Nội in Vietnamese) by train, again. Friends had been waiting for us at the train station already. Hospitable as they were they took us on their bikes to their place. Founded in the 11th century, Hanoi’s original name was Thăng Long – Soaring Dragon. The legend says the emperor saw a dragon soaring at this place so he founded the city there.
The very first day in Asia went very quickly, and in the evening we moved to a cozy family hotel. The environment is friendly, staff gives advice with a smile, they recommend you meals, trips, help with transportation or you can buy the fruit you want. At least first, before you get by, you will certainly appreciate the help.
Cat Ba is an island southeast of Vietnam. It was very difficult to get there until recently. In September, a new road featuring a bridge made it easier to travel to the island. Hence, Cat Ba is a popular tourist resort. You may buy a ticket to Cat Ba town in Hanoi and Ninh Binhu zakoupit. It takes 4 hours to get there from Ninh Binhu and 3 hours from Hanoi.
When visiting south Vietnam, go to the Mekong river delta. The river originates in China and runs across five countries. It is however in Vietnam where it enters the sea. The area lures in tourists who may experience boat rides here, a floating market, or see interesting life of the locals on the riverbank. Its brown color is not appealing for locals use it to their everyday activities – washing, cleaning etc. There are no dangerous animals in the river so you can swim in it.
Phu Quoc is the name of the largest Vietnamese island situated in the Gulf of Thailand close to Cambodia. Islands in the Gulf of Thailand are beautiful this one is no difference. The island is mere 50 kilometers long (from north to south). In the north the island is wide and it narrows down towards the south. Majority of the island is covered in green but this will not be the case in the future. The island features beautiful sand and palms. Who would love this?
Do you think which destination is the right one for you? Where is something interesting and unusual? Where you can find beautiful landscape, excellent cuisine, and pleasant locals? Well, I know where to go. My favorite place is... Vietnam and I will try to convince you in the next few articles that even for you this is the right choice.
We imagined the visit to the lake as relaxing time after quite a busy day. The reality was seriously different from our expectations. I have remembered the first impression until today. With my daughter and son, we dodged through the local traffic and it was not really easy. The flood of motorcycles was not to stop. We naively thought that someone might slow down or even stop. Don't expect that. Just walk to the other end of the road. And be brave.
One day trip to the Bach Ma National Park, approximately 40 kilometers from Hue, was one of our best days in Vietnam. The park was founded in 1991 and its name means a white horse. It covers an area of 220 square kilometers.
Nha Trang is practically the most famous tourist resort in Vietnam, not so much for some landmarks, this coastal city of Khanh Hoa province is famous for its seven kilometers long sandy beach with adjacent islands. The city of approximately 392,000 inhabitants and this number is growing steadily.
The end of my stay in Vietnam was neigh. There was one more place to see, a must-see place. The Caodaistic temple. Caodaismus (Đạo Cao Đài) is a young, syncretic religion established by a bureaucrat from South Vietnam in the 1920s.
I have always longed to see a large desert with sand dunes. However, neither in Europe nor in Southeast Asia (the places where I spend most of my time) is one. Once I first saw pictures of Mui Ne, Vietnam I knew for sure that I want to go there. Okay, it is not a desert per se but sand dunes there are huge.
In the region of Sa Pa, northwestern Vietnam, the best means of transport is a bike. You don’t have to worry about missing your bus, of taxi not coming, or that your taxi cab driver would be someone who drives illegally. Therefore, we rented us a bike in Sa Pa. It cost only a few crowns. Then we planned our trip.
When someone in Prague says “Sapa” everybody recalls the famous marketplace in Prague. However, once you dig into where the name originates you soon find the mysterious area of Sa Pa in Vietnam’s northwest (near the borderline with China).
The last day was before us in Hue, the picturesque imperial city. In the early morning we hit the streets and just roamed around in the city. Indeed, we saw one of the most distinctive sights in the city - the Trường Tiền bridge across the Perfume River.
Even though the title suggest some offensive connotations we were did not intend to disgrace royal tombs as if we were in an action movie. A rented bike, however, solved our problems. The tombs around Hue are scattered along vast area. Before relying on public transportation it is better to pay couple of crowns to rent a bike.
On the following day we set off to Hoi An (Hội An . It was during the daylight and also it didn’t rain. The sun was pleasantly shining and warm. We reached the historical center by foot and were ready for some great sightseeing (even the one in the night had its atmosphere).
Every time I have the feeling I know something more about something I come to realization which tells me the opposite. I spent one year of studying and travelling in China. Bit arrogantly I had felt Asia couldn’t surprise me much more. Fortunately, I hadn’t boarded a plane to the Czech Republic, instead I boarded a plane to Vietnam.