Monday, August 4, 2014
Ho Chi Minh City with VietJet Air Day 3: Jade Emperor Pagoda, Independence Palace, Notre Dame, Saigon Post Office, Vietnamese Coffee
After a day of slow-paced tranquility in Da Lat, we headed back to Ho Chi Minh City where we had more sights to see. Like this amazing scene at Jade Emperor Pagoda which has chambers with different deities to pray to - this one is Kim Hua, the Goddess of Fertility. The light coming through the roof is perhaps a good omen for many women who come here to pray for pregnancy and smooth deliveries.
Our VietJet flight was smooth from Da Lat in the central highlands. It takes only 25 mins to get to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
When we landed, we saw this Malaysian Airlines plane with classic livery. I had not seen this old logo in a long time - what memories. Sadly it was also the morning of 17 July 2014...we did not know a major disaster would happen to them just a few hours later.
This is the Jade Emperor Pagoda or Chùa Ngọc Hoàng at 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, District 1. Originally a Taoist temple (the Jade Emperor is the ruler of the heavens in Taoism), it has been renamed Phước Hải Tự (福海寺, "Luck Sea Temple") since 1984 when it came under Buddhist management. Yes, try finding it on FourSquare and you'll see so many names.
It's a small and rundown temple, but with lots to see. Devotees will release turtles into the pond for good karma. Inside are various altars, statues and figurines from both Taoist and Buddhist lore. The air is dense with the smoke of incense. A lot of punters also come here to pray for good luck.
You can buy candles and incense to offer to your deity of choice. I love these translucent red ones stamped with gold lettering.
There are several small chambers that are quite intriguing. This one to the left of the main sanctuary is dedicated to Thanh Hoang, the King of Hell. It has a mystical and otherworldly feel. His red horse is by the right and he is flanked by strangely Puritan-looking black figures. The rest of the eerily dark chamber - the Hall of Ten Hells - is filled with wood panels depicting punishments awaiting those in the netherworld.
Buddhism has had a profound effect on Vietnam's 20th century history. It is still one of the most visible religions in Vietnam.
Street life outside the temple. Some vendors sell birds and tortoises for Buddhists to release.
Lunch was at Viet Village, which was a pretty elegant dining space.
These are "Incubating cranes in the nest" - something like scotch eggs. Adorable.
The food is generally safe, and well presented. Expat prices but may be worth it if you want that nice atmosphere and comfort.
Cafe next to Viet Village. Don't let it be said that entrepreneurship is dead. Creativity is another matter, however.
After that we visited the Independence Palace, also known as the Reunification Palace or Dinh Doc Lap. This building witnessed every historical event in the Saigon government until the regime finally fell in 1975.
A North Vietnamese tank famously crashed through the gates on 30 April 1975. This effectively ended the Vietnam War and caused the Fall of Saigon or Reunification Day, depending on who you speak to.
Replica of stolen F-5E jet that was used for a bomb raid on the palace.
Inside you'll see the various meeting rooms and ceremonial halls.
The rooftop of the palace. Nguyễn Thanh Trung, a pilot of the Vietnam Air Force and an undercover communist spy, flew an F-5E aircraft from Biên Hòa Air Base to bomb the palace. The red circles mark where the bombs landed.
A short walk away from the palace is the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, built around 1880. The statue of the Virgin Mary stands before it.
It is of course much smaller than the Notre Dame in Paris. But it's still quite impressive. All the original building materials were imported from France.
Just across from the Notre Dame is the Saigon Central Post Office designed by Gustav Eiffel. Yes, the man who lent his name to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. This was built when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina in the early 20th century.
The neo-classical architecture inside is so stunning, you sometimes forget this is an actual working post office. But it's such a tourist attraction these days. You'll see tourist shops to the left and right of this main hall.
Next up - a coffee break!
We went for a quick workshop on how to brew Vietnamese coffee.
The Vietnamese filter is like a coffee pot for one. First you fill the top part with three rounded teaspoons of freshly ground coffee. Place the metal screen onto the coffee (you can press it to compact the coffee - this apparently makes it stronger). Pour the boiling hot water onto the coffee, using a spoon to gently break the flow of water. Fill it to about a quarter.
Put the lid on and let the coffee steep and drip to the bottom. This should take about 3-5 minutes, so having a friend around to chit chat with helps.
Remove the whole filter and strainer on top and enjoy your coffee (you can add condensed milk or sugar). The lid makes a convenient saucer.
Back to the hotel to freshen up. We stayed at the Royal Lotus Saigon which is in a row of hotels.
Some of the rooms have been refurbished. I got a really nice corner room which was extra spacious.
Yes, much more spacious. But my bathroom did not have see-through windows like in the neighbouring room.
We were really craving some street food and begged our tour guide for some recommendations. He told us about this Banh Mi stall that he goes to every morning. It was near our hotel.
Two streets down to the left and a short walk later, we found the stall. We ask for Banh Mi Thit (the works). It was 15,000VND - less than US$1! The lady works fast, and we soon carried our precious packages back to the hotel to shoot and eat.
It was good. The fillings looked a little skimpy to our gluttonous eyes but the taste was just right. Nicely crisp bread that was soft on the inside. Hey, that sounds just like a Po'Boy. Except no way you'd get a Po'Boy for less than a dollar.
So that capped our short trip to Ho Chi Minh City.
Day 1: HCMC Pho, Thien Hau Temple, Cyclo Ride, Water Puppet Show, Saigon River Cruise
Day 2: Excursion to Da Lat the City of Love and Flowers, Bao Dai's Summer Palace, Railway Station, Night Market
Day 3: this post
VietJet offers daily flights between Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City with duration per section of 1 hour and 50 minutes. The flight departs Tan Son Nhat International Airport at 8.50am (local time) and Changi International Airport at 12.40pm (local time) daily. VietJet is looking to increase the flight frequency for this route to 14 round trip flights weekly to meet increasing demand.
Psst...VietJet is now having a sale! If you book before 31 August, you might be able to get fares for as low as S$0.50 - less than the price of this banh mi! Of course, that's before the airport taxes and surcharges.
Buy your tickets online between 1pm and 3pm
at their website - http://www.vietjetair.com/Sites/Web/en-US/Home
or the booking tab on their Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/VietjetSingapore
Many thanks to VietJet for the media familiarisation trip, and to Canon Singapore for loaning me the 5D MkIII for the photos.
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