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Friday, January 20, 2012

Tour at the Reunification Palace

I had the opportunity to visit one of the most important landmarks in Vietnam this week. The Reunification Palace, formerly known as the Independence Palace, is said to be important because of its historical value... it is the very place where Vietnam war ended on April 1975. The place is located at the center of the city @ 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghiad Street, District 1. It is very near Saigon Notre Dame Basilica, in fact it is just a 5-minute walk from the cathedral. 

The palace opens from 7:30 am to 12 noon and 1:00 to 5pm from Monday to Sunday. Yes! It is open all the days of the week and open to both tourists and locals alike. Before you can get inside the place, an entrance ticket worth 30 thousand VND is a requirement. You can buy the ticket inside the souvenir shop at the left-most side of the main gate. FYI, you need to keep your ticket with you while you are inside the place because there are security personnel on bicycle who randomly checks if you really paid the entrance fee or not. The ticket is inclusive of guided tours in different languages such as English, French, Chinese or Japanese; a film viewing on  “Independence Palace – Witness to History” and an access to the garden. Truly, the money that you pay is really worth it because you actually get more than what you paid for.

From the outside of the main building, you can see the water fountain (in front of the palace), the F5E fighter plane, which bomb the palace in 1975 and the 843 and 390 tanks, which led the final assault to the palace gate in the same year (in the right-most side of the palace).

In the first floor you can see the meeting room, dining room (somewhat), social hall and the elegant stairway to the second floor. According to the tour guide, some of the rooms here are for rent to be used in special occasions such as meetings and banquets. Furthermore, the palace also has facilities for celebrations such as weddings and birthday parties. The stairway is just for viewing purpose only. You cannot use it to go to the other floors, instead you can take the elevator or the other stairs on the side. 

The former president's office, a room filled with maps, a small garden with some antique collections on the side, a beautiful room covered with laquer paint, the majestic carpet and an outside view from the veranda are only some of the interesting sights that you can find in the second floor.

In the next floor, you can see the theater room, the projector room (you can see this on your way to the 4th floor), the palace library and yet another collection of fine furnitures. 

Finally, you will have a glimpse of a piano, an open area with some bonsai plant on both opposite sides and a humongous helicopter in the last floor. 

There are only four floors in the palace excluding the basement, which I never bother to see. I was in the place for almost 3 hours and to tell you honestly I really enjoyed the different views that I saw there. Indeed, this tour was definitely fun-filled and educational. 


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Saigon : World's Motorcycle Capital

I could still remember the first time I laid eyes on Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. We were inside the taxi with my other Filipino lecturer and academic head while on our way to Cach Mang Tam 8 Street, where FPT Greenwich Centre is located, from the airport. I could not believe what my eyes were seeing that time.  With my jaw dropped & my eyes popped out, I was so overwhelmed with the street scenery.

motorcycles on a stop
Arguably, I think 90% of all the vehicles that occupy and use the roads in this city are motorcycle. There are some four-wheeled vehicles such as bus, car and truck on the road but these are no match to the number of motorcycles. According to one of my Vietnamese friends, a brand new motorcycle costs, more or less, 25 million Vietnam dong or 1200 US dollar. If you think about the one time price, you could probably say that it is expensive. However, many locals can still get one because motorcycles can be owned through different installment plans/schemes. On the other hand, owning a car here in Vietnam is said to be very luxurious. Aside from the price of the car perse, which is clearly costly already, car owner “wanna be” also need to pay the 200% tax. The flexibility of motorcycle's purchase option and the expensiveness of the cars  probably explain why there is such a big difference in their numbers.

Aside from their personal use of their motorcycles, some Vietnamese have made business out of it too. “Xe Om” or motorcycle taxi is truly one of its kinds. There is no fixed price to this type of transportation. The amount that you will pay really depends on the distance and the type of passenger that you are. For the locals, xe om drivers ask a minimum of only 10 thousand VND but for foreigners like me the asking price falls between the range of 20 to 50 thousand VND or even higher.

xe om driver looking for a passenger
The roads here are not that broad. It is quite similar to the one we have back home, commonly four lanes.  The traffic situation can be really terrible at times especially during peak hours  considering the size of the road and the multitude number of scooters. With some four-wheeled vehicles plus tons of motorcycles, you could simply imagine the result. 

four-lane road
Even though wandering around Ho Chi Minh City can be accident prone sometimes, it is still okay in general. For your safety and protection, just remember the following as they are very important:

 ü  Crossing the street can be very dangerous and scary. Motorcycles virtually come everywhere; even along the pavements so you need to be very careful.

 ü  Riding or driving without a helmet here in Saigon is strictly not allowed. So if ever you made that bold decision to ride the motorcycle taxi at your own risk, you should always ask for a helmet.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

People's Committee Building

The French colonists who occupied Vietnam many years ago have imported their architectural styles in the city. The People’s Committee Building, formerly known as the Ho Chi Minh City Hall or Hotel de Ville de Saigon, is truly one of the living heritages of the past colonization era. Built between 1901 to 1908, this landmark is situated at the northwestern end of DL Nguyen Hue. In front of this building is a park where you can see the statue of Ho Chi Minh. Unfortunately, the building is not opened to either the public or tourists but people can still take photos of it from the outside. 


Monday, January 2, 2012

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

This is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in Saigon. The cathedral was constructed with red bricks imported from France in the 19th century between 1863 and 1880 by the French people. It is situated right at the center of Ho Chi Minh City at Dong Khoi Street, District 1. Despite its old age, it has still remained beautiful on the outside. This landmark is considered as one of the most famous tourist destinations by many travelers in the city. 


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