Showing posts with label Vietnam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vietnam. Show all posts

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Thank you 2013! Where in the world was I last year?

Machu Picchu, Peru
It's fantastic thinking how much of the planet we've covered in the past twelve months. I've actually decided to slow it down a bit this year. But to welcome the New Year, here are highlights from international destinations I visited in 16 countries in 2013. It was quite difficult to remember every city I visited. But thanks to Instagram @ivanhenares, it's all there!

Hanoi, Vietnam: Huc Bridge, Ngoc Son Temple & Hoan Kiem Lake
In January, I led a tour group to Hanoi, Halong Bay and Tam Coc, Vietnam in pleasantly cool weather. Don't we all love that boat ride through the limestone karst formations of Halong Bay?

February saw me back in Thailand with my UP AIT students. We explored Bangkok and visited the ancient city of Ayutthaya.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC
I visited a new continent in the Summer of 2013 ― South America! My trip started in the US; stayed in Washington, DC for a week and visited a classmate in Baltimore, MD. Then I was off to Rio de Janeiro with tokayo Ivan Man Dy for our five-week South American adventure.

View of Sugarloaf Mountain & Rio de Janeiro from Cristo Redentor
Rio is a charming city! We made sure to visit its famed urban beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema, and took a tram ride up Cristo Redentor where we were afforded a spectacular view of the city, Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay.

Plaza Independencia in Montevideo, Uruguay
From Rio de Janeiro, we took a bus to São Paolo and then to Porto Alegre before crossing the border to Uruguay. Yes, it's the country famous for legalizing marijuana this year! In Uruguay, we walked the charming streets of Montevideo with its fantastic architecture, ate a sumptuous steak at the local market, and then visited old Colonia del Sacramento before taking a ferry to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Argentine tango in Barrio San Telmo, Buenos Aires
Of course, like every visitor to Buenos Aires, we payed our respects to Evita at the Recoleta Cemetery and enjoyed the street tango at San Telmo.

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús in Córdoba, Argentina
Estancia de Santa Catalina, Cordoba, Argentina
The next day, we took an overnight bus and visited the Jesuit Block of Cordoba and the estancias of Alta Gracia, Jesús María and Santa Catalina. We found out that Alta Gracia is where Che Guevara grew up. His family house has been converted into a museum.

Cerro Concepción, Valparaíso, Chile
From Cordoba, we took a bus to Mendoza, and from there took another bus that crossed the Andes and the border, and finally to Santiago, Chile. After spending a night in Santiago, we moved to neighboring Valparaiso and spent two nights there before taking a 24-hour bus to San Pedro de Atacama to experience nature at its finest.

Salar de Atacama, Antofagasta, Chile
We visited the altiplano of the Antofagasta Region at the heart of the Atacama Desert and its sites such as Los Flamencos National Reserve, Laguna Miscanti, Laguna Miñiques, Salar de Atacama, Valle de la Luna, Valle de la Muerte and the Géisers de Tatio.

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
After exploring the driest place on the planet, we hopped on another long bus ride to Arica, the border town of Chile, crossed the border by taxi to Tacna, Peru's border town, and took a bus to Arequipa from there.

Cuzco's Plaza de Armas from the Iglesia de San Cristobal
We had a few hours in charming Arequipa before taking off on another long bus ride to Cuzco. We spent several days there, highlighted by our visit to Machu Picchu. Cuzco is such a historic city with a colorful local culture.

Machu Picchiu, Peru
Casa de Pizarro, Palacio de Gobierno del Perú, Lima
So many long-distance bus rides in Peru! And we weren't done yet! From Cuzco, we traveled by bus for a day to the capital Lima. It's Plaza Mayor is stunning! Lest we forget, Lima was the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, which for a time covered most of South America. We also got to watch the changing of the guard at the Government Palace of Peru.

Uros Floating Islands in Puno, Peru
We then took a bus back to Arequipa (yes, another long bus ride) where we hopped on another bus to Puno, the gateway to Lake Titicaca.

Fraternidades Folklóricas de Copacabana in Copacabana, Bolivia to honor of the Señor de la Santa Cruz de Colquepata
From Puno, we crossed the border into Bolivia and stopped by Copacabana where we were lucky to witness the festivities of the Señor de la Santa Cruz de Colquepata. It wasn't easy finding a place to stay though because of the fiesta, and it wasn't cheap! But it was well worth it. We explored Lake Titicaca again the next day.

Palacio de Gobierno / Palacio Quemado in La Paz, Bolivia
Potosí, Bolivia
From Copacabana, we went to La Paz, explored the highest capital city in the world and shopped at the Witches Market before visiting Sucre and Potosi. We made an exciting border crossing into Argentina, a story we'll keep a secret!

Iguazu / Iguaçu Falls in Argentina & Brazil
In Argentina, we visited Salta and from there took a long-distance bus to Iguazu Falls, more than a day if I remember it right. It was raining really hard, but we got to ride a speed boat that took us under one of the falls. We crossed over to the Brazilian side where the better views are, before rushing back to Rio de Janeiro to catch our flight back to the US. I spent the next few days recuperating in DC, except for a one-day visit to the wineries around Aldie, Virginia where I got to enjoy basted pork ribs slow-grilled over hickory wood at a roadside grill. Yum!

Preah Vihear Temple, Cambodia
May ended with a tour to Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit the famed temples of Angkor. When the group left, I hired a car and visited Preah Vihear, a spectacular temple built on top of a mountain. Visit it while you can and before the crowds discover it!

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, Bali, Indonesia
In June, I was back in Bali leading a tour group. We visited its famed temples and experienced its colorful culture. After the tour, I visited the Jatiluwih Rice terraces.

Paragliding in Pokhara, Nepal
Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal
In August, we had another tour group, this time to Nepal. We stopped over at KL before flying to Kathmandu. We visited Nagarkot, Pokhara and Kathmandu Valley. Pokhara was an exciting destination with many activities. I went paragliding for the first time.

Durbar Square, Bhaktapur, Nepal
Aside from Kathmandu, I also got to visit Bhaktapur and Patan. Bhaktapur is my favorite!

Taj Mahal, Agra, India
The month ended with a trip to India hosted by Jet Airways. The group visited New Delhi, Agra and flew to Kashmir. Our itinerary included Srinagar, Gulmarg and Sonamarg. Indeed the place is Heaven on Earth!

Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, India
Sonamarg, Kashmir, India
I definitely enjoyed the pony ride to the Himalayan glaciers of Kashmir Valley, the great food and the colorful culture of the region. We also got to stay in the luxurious houseboats of Dal Lake.

Khoo Kongsi, Penang, Malaysia
In September, I led UP AIT students and staff to a food and heritage experience in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Everyone was still talking about the food when we got back!

Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand
We attended the 2013 Annual Meeting of the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee in Sukhothai and Chiang Mai, Thailand in October. As part of a workshop to help Sukhothai with its tourism master plan, I biked thirty kilometers through rural areas, to the Si Satchanalai Historical Park. I haven't biked in a long while, but I survived that one!

Luang Prabang, Laos
After the meeting, we explored Chiang Rai, crossed the river border at Chiang Kong, Thailand to Houai Xai. Laos. And from there, it was a grueling overnight bus to Luang Prabang, the old royal capital. Luang Prabang is still as charming as every with its colorful temples, colonial architecture and delicious street food!

Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos
I got explore Vientiane, met up with my SSEAYP friends and explored the city's temples, before going by land to Udon Thani for my flight back to Bangkok.

Sanam Chandra Palace, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand
I could not believe it, but I was back in Bangkok, and stranded for a week in November, experiencing my first flight cancelation ever! So I spent my time working (and eating). My only out of town trip was a visit to Nakhon Pathom's Phra Pathom Chedi and Sanam Chandra Palace.

Cishou Pagoda, Jinshan Temple, Zhenjiang, China
My last international trip for the year was to China to attend the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit in Zhenjiang. But because of the smog problem in Shanghai, I had to deal with two flight cancelations (I was on a roll), rerouting to Xiamen were I took a flight to Shanghai, and a bullet train to Zhenjiang before arriving at the summit.

The Bund, Shanghai, China
I went around Shanghai for a day (I was planning to see Suzhou but the smog was bad) before flying back to Manila.

So there! That was 2013! Happy New Year to all! Here are more photos from my 2013 trips. Next up is my post for Philippine destinations.

Do you want to see last year's? Now where in the world was I in 2012?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Join me on a tour to Hanoi & Halong Bay, Vietnam (January 15-20, 2013)

People have been asking if they could join me on one of my trips abroad. So I'm inviting to a 5 day, 4 night tour of Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam. I've made everything easy for all so the tour includes all meals, four nights accommodation in 3-star hotels (twin/triple sharing), tours and entrance fees, and transfers. Tour cost is US$387 + airfare.

Make sure to book your flights on Cebu Pacific: January 15, 2013 (Tue), 5J744, Manila-Hanoi departing at 22:30 / return January 20, 2013 (Sun), 5J745, Hanoi-Manila departing at 01:00. E-mail to reserve a slot.

Itinerary is below. Hope you could join me!

Day 1: Late night arrival, check-in and overnight at hotel in Hanoi

Day 2: Visits to Ba Dinh Square, Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh's House, One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, Sword Lake, Ngoc Son Temple and Hanoi's old quarter. Water puppet show in the evening. Overnight in Hanoi

Day 3: Halong Bay cruise and visit to Surprise Cave. Overnight in Halong Bay (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Day 4: Free day in Hanoi. Overnight in Hanoi

Day 5: Visit to Hoa Lu, Dinh and Le Dynastic Temples, Van Lam Village and Tam Coc Caves. Depart for Manila after dinner

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Vietnam: Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

It seemed to me all drivers in Ho Chi Minh City had their hands on the horns most of the time. As I stood in front of Ben Thanh Market in the heart of this Vietnamese city, I could no longer determine who was honking at whom. It was a typical day in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Once called Saigon, I found myself lost in its cosmopolitan hustle and bustle, drowned by the incessant beeping and the noisy motors of the thousands of motorbikes, cars and buses that crowd its streets.

Ben Thanh Market is actually walking distance from Pham Ngu Lao. And to any visitor to HCMC, the street and surrounding areas is synonymous with backpackers, budget accommodation, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, affordable tours and land transportation to other parts of Vietnam and Cambodia. So if you're on a limited budget, Pham Ngu Lao is the place to be and it's the best place to find options for your stay in Saigon.

What's to do in Ho Chi Minh City anyway? Here's a list of things I did over several visits to Ho Chi Minh City. The list of course includes interesting trips close to HCMC:

1. Enjoy a Vietnamese food trip
What I like about Saigon is that food is everywhere from hawker stalls, local fast food to fancy restaurants. Food is good almost anywhere and I'd usually buy bánh mi from the street or find the nearest hole-in-the-wall for a cheap but authentic Vietnamese meal. In the evening, the streets around Ben Thanh are transformed into makeshift restaurants.

During my trip to Ho Chi Minh City this year, Viqui del Rosario sent me an interesting list of places to eat in Saigon. Here are some of her suggestions plus others I also got to try out:
Lemongrass Restaurant, 4 Nguyen Thiep Street - a good place to try authentic Vietnamese food
Brodard Bakery, 11 Nguyen Thiep Street - a small bakeshop just across Lemongrass that sell French pastries but only take out
Ngoc Suong (Le Marina), 19c Le Quy Don - a seafood restaurant, try their deep-fried crabs
Quan Nem, 15e Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street - a good place for spring rools
Wrap and Roll, 62 Hai Ba Trung Street - another good option for spring rolls
Pho 2000, 1-3 D Phan Chu Trinh Street (beside Ben Thanh Market) - while you can get phở almost anywhere, their claim to fame is that Bill Clinton ate here when he was in HCMC for an official visit
Nhu Lan, 50-64-68 Ham Nghi Street - try out their bánh mi or bánh cuốn
Nhà Hàng Ngon, 160 Pasteur Street - bánh hỏi thịt is recommended
Quan An Ngon, 138 Ky Khoi Nghia Street

2. Hire a xe om and explore HCMC like a local
If you're comfortable in the passenger seat for a motorcycle ride through the wild hustle and bustle of HCMC, then this is the best way to absorb the sites of the city. Best to ask your hostel to look for a xe om to take you around. The good thing about a xe om tour is that you decide where to go, what to see and how much time you spend at each attraction.

Make sure you drop by Saigon City Hall, Saigon Opera House, Saigon Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Reunification Palace among many other attractions.

3. Join an HCMC city tour
If motorcycle rides are not your thing, don't fret since it's easy and cheap to book on an HCMC guided bus tour. It's usually less than US$10 for a day tour. But note that it does not include ticket costs to museums and other attractions. And that lunch is really not included since they'll bring you to a restaurant and tell you that you have a US$1 budget and anything beyond that you pay for. But it's all good. These tours are value for money.

The city tour I took this year included stops at the War Remnants Museum (which tells the Vietnamese version of the atrocities done during the Vietnam War), Thiên Hậu Temple and Bình Tây Market in Chợ Lớn or Chinatown (the market is their version of Divisoria, it's very interesting to Westerners who are amazed with the cheap goods, but maybe not to Filipinos who see this kind of market quite regularly), lunch at Pham Ngu Lao Street, a visit to a lacquer factory (which is staple in almost all tours for you to shop so that they could earn commissions), and the Reunification Palace (the former residence of the president of South Vietnam).

4. Watch a water puppet show
This is one craft that is uniquely Vietnamese. If you like watching cultural stuff, then you might want to reserve a night for a Vietnamese water puppet (múa rối nước) show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre, 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (beside the Reunification Palace). Shows are 50 minutes long and show times are 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

5. Hop on a Mekong Delta day-tour
There are actually a lot of options for Mekong Delta tours. There are day-trips to My Tho and Ben Tre, and other areas on the Mekong River. During my tour of My Tho and Ben Tre, we visited a coconut candy factory, a bee-keeping farm, got to bike around rural Vietnam, were given a shot of snake liquor, and ate local fruits while being serenaded with Vietnamese folk songs. You'd realize that this is very much like rural Philippines and ask yourself why we aren't bringing foreigners to the countryside since many Westerners like these countryside tours that they don't experience everyday.

You can actually opt for overnight or multi-day tours which will bring you to other attractions including some of the Mekong Delta's famous floating markets. The Cai Be Floating Market seems to be one of the most famous. And most of the activity happens between 6 to 8 a.m. So it's best to be in the area the night before.

6. Visit the Củ Chi Tunnels and Cao Đài Holy See in Tây Ninh
The Củ Chi Tunnels in HCMC (the Viet Cong's base of operations for the Tết Offensive in 1968) and the Cao Đài Holy See in Tây Ninh are two popular attractions. There are half-day tours to Củ Chi Tunnels (but note that they get you back in HCMC at about 4 p.m.) and whole day tours that include witnessing the noon ceremonies at the Cao Đài Temple.

For the Củ Chi Tunnels tour, you actually have a land or river option (the river option is thrice more expensive) to get there. But the travel time is just the same. For the river option, you take a boat on the Saigon River going there and take a van going back. I spent US$18 for that trip. While the land trip was just US$6 (price varies depending on agent). Note that there is a VND80,000 entrance fees to the tunnels that are not included in the tour price.

If you hate tour groups, there is a public bus option. Take Bus 13 to Cu Chi (VND5,000) from District 1; and Bus 79 from Cu Chi to the tunnels (VND4,000).

7. Shop at Ben Thanh Market
If you're looking for that souvenir or want to take home an export overrun or an expert fake, then shopping Ben Thanh Market is for you. Make sure you keep your valuables out of sight though if you don't want them to go missing. The market also has some interesting food stalls you might want to try out if adventurous.

8. Walk around Saigon's historic center at night
If you've seen many of Saigon's iconic buildings during the day time, you must see them at night! They are elegantly lit early in the evening. So walking around HCMC's historic center at night is worth your time.

9. Beach bum at Mui Ne
Mui Ne is a popular beach resort town of Vietnam, four hours from HCMC. It's best to stay there for a night or two to enjoy not only the beaches, but the town's famous sand dunes, with colors that range from pure white to gold in Bau Trang (White Lake), to a fiery red in other areas. If you don't have that much time, there are sunrise day-tours to Mui Ne which leave early in the morning and give you time to enjoy the beach before returning to HCMC.

Transportation to/from Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Tan Son Nhat is the airport of Ho Chi Minh City. It's about seven kilometers from Pham Ngu Lao and the city center of HCMC. There are regular buses during the day time (Bus152). But in the evening, you will have to take a taxi to get into town. Note that there are safety and honesty issues with taxis (beware of the flying meters that charge low flag down rates but fly while the taxis move). To be safe, limit yourself to the SASCO Taxi inside the airport, or the regular Mai Linh, Vina or Vina Sun Taxis (between US$5 to 10 depending on your haggling skills). Make sure to agree on the price before hopping in. You can also as your hostel to pick you up (this will cost more but it's safer and you won't have problems with directions).
Related Posts with Thumbnails