Day 1: Half Day Saigon Tour and Half Day Cu Chi Tunnels
After searching for a trustworthy guide all over the net, I finally settled on hiring Vietnam Impressive. They are more expensive than others, which actually comforted me, and yet they are not the most expensive. Touring the city with a guide was something we could actually do by ourselves, but we were lured by the comforts and promises that tours could offer.
Mr. Vinh fetched us at eight in the morning with a cheery smile. He was our guide for the entire day. We were happy to listen to his good Australian English. The plan was to first go to Cu Chi Tunnels, then City Tour in the afternoon. However, he mentioned that with the daytime traffic, we would reach Cu Chi by 11am. I told him to rearrange our itinerary in whatever way he thinks that should maximize our time.
Riding a very comfortable Mercedes Sprinter, we felt like VIPs. There are more bikes on the streets than cars, and it is understood that cars as big as what we rode are tour vehicles. Vietnam Impressive provided us with wet towels and seemingly unending cold water bottles.
Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum. Mr. Vinh didn’t go in with us, and gave us one hour to explore this place. Off we go on our separate ways. Fil to take pictures (that’s why I have such nice photos); Elaine to wander off by herself; George and Mama with me to start from top all the way down. The museum was depressing. It was not a very comfortable place to be. You cannot say that you enjoyed it. Coming from the Philippines, a culture that is pro-Americans, your eyes will be clearer. If you stay here long enough, maybe you will eventually lose your rose-colored-glasses. I will only post some of the pictures that Fil took, and let them speak for themselves.
Thien Hau Pagoda was our next stop. It was their oldest Chinese temple. We only took a short time here, but it was nevertheless nice to see how people from other religions worship.
Afterwards, Mr. Vinh took us to a side trip: a Lacquer Workshop and showroom! Minh Phuong Art is pretty high-end. The excellence in craftsmanship is quite obvious. This was not part of our itinerary, and smelled like a tourist trap to me, but we were nevertheless enthralled. Lacquer-making is part of Vietnamese culture and we were happy to learn about it.
Then Mr. Vinh brought us to an eatery called Com7. This is located in La Lai St. It was full of people – mostly office workers having their lunch break. No English on their menu, and the place appeared to be not-so-clean, typical Vietnamese. We contributed $25 in all to feed 7 of us. The food was good. It was our first official Vietnamese meal and Mr. Vinh showed us how to eat the stuff. At first, my mom requested for serving spoons for all the available dishes, by they didn’t use them. Ha! When in Rome… :), I said to her.
After filling our stomach with good food, we were on our way to Cu Chi Tunnels. We stopped by another lacquer workshop and showroom that employed handicapped workers. The goods here were cheaper compared to the first one, but the craftsmanship is different. I bought a small plate to show my support to their industry.
The Cu Chi Tunnels is a must visit site for everyone. The place was well-preserved, and you will be amazed with the things you see there. Going there in the afternoon is best, because it is an outdoor experience, and the sun won’t be too harsh. I will put my Cu Chi pictures in a separate blog. They are too nice to leave out. Check them out here!
We headed 70kilometers back to Ho Chi Minh center, and by that time it was around 5pm already. A quick trip to Notre Dame Cathedral and Post Office – which were really more impressive at night, with their lights turned on.
Then, we invited Mr. Vinh for dinner, at his recommended Restaurant. He brought us to Nha Hang Ngon. It’s a casual dining restaurant filled with both local and foreign customers. He recommended several dishes for us to order, and said that we ordered too much. But, we gobbled them all up. It was the best meal we ever had in Vietnam. The pictures from this restaurant were taken by George – Fil’s camera battery drained up.
After eating, Mr. Vinh brought us back to our hotel with Cab – and paid for it too. He really gave us a good service and the extra mile. Our first day of tour was really fun!
We didn’t follow our itinerary strictly: we were supposed to visit the Former Presidential Palace and Ben Thanh Market as well, but too many potty breaks slowed our group down. We didn’t mind at all, because the friendliness and the skill of our guide made all the difference. He’s so outgoing and fun to be with. I would really say that we gained a friend in Vietnam J
Overall, we were extremely satisfied with the service of Vietnam Impressive. This company is not based in Ho Chi Minh, and yet, we weren’t neglected in any way. We paid them online with minimal charge (very few travel companies in Ho Chi Minh do that), and they really extended their service beyond the tour. We realized that Fil lost his tripod some time that day. When they found out about it the next day, they pulled Mr. Vinh out from his other tour, replaced their group with another guide, and asked Mr. Vinh to trace where the tripod went – cab, restaurant, car, etc. Sad to say, it was never to be found again. Nevertheless, Mr. Vinh even went personally to our hotel to apologize and give a report. My contact likewise emailed me about this. Truly impressive service!
For your touring needs:
- Vietnam Impressive Travel and Events: firstname.lastname@example.org www.vietnamimpressive.com tel. no. +84.4.39747543
- Mr. Vinh, a freelance tour guide: +84.9.37038807
- War Remnants Museum: 28 Vo Van Tan, in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Open daily from 8am to 11:45am and 1:30pm to 4:45pm. Bring a pocket fan!
- Minh Phuong Art Co. 09 Mac Dinh Chi St., District 1, Ho Chi Minh City www.minhphuongart.com
- Cu Chi Tunnels Phu Hiep Hamlet, Phu My Hung Commune, Cu Chi, Ho Chi Minh http://www.cuchitunnel.org.vn/ Read my blog about it here.
- Nha Hang Ngon 160 Pasteur, p. Ben Nghe, Quan 1, TP. Ho Chi Minh City email@example.com
- Bich Duyen Hotel - read my blog here.