On the 4th day of Eid, my family and I flew to Vietnam; an unlikely vacation destination as before this, we opted for temperate-weather countries. This was hatched spontaneously 2 weeks prior to Eid as Kakak and I had conversation that we just need some wanderlust escapades – economical and yet provided new fresh air – so, naturally Ho Chi Minh, an ASEAN capital came into the picture! Initially I was not really that keen on Ho Chi Minh as I’ve never ventured to the Indochina region and I had that pessimistic prejudice to those countries (weak security and “sleeping dictionaries” a.k.a. sex tourism!) but you know what they said, “First Impression Does Not Always Right” and that is absolutely right to the core!
The Than Son Nhat International Airport, Vietnam.
While waiting for the van.
On 3rd day of Eid, Kakak, Abang Zam, Rifqi, Raess and I made our way back to Putrajaya from Jitra, battling the immense traffic congestion! It took us more than 10 hours to reach Putrajaya and coincidentally, both of my nephew were down with fever – Rifqi and Raess threw up countless of times and both Kakak and Abang Zam were having heated conversations; and naturally I was positioned in an awkward position! I thought there was no way that we would make it to Ho Chi Minh the next day as both of my nephews were seemingly unfit to travel; but despite the helter-skelter, we flew to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam on the very next day circa 3.30 p.m. after 30 minutes of delay.
The shock of our lives having to deal with the daredevil motorcyclists! They ain’t gonna stop, you’ve got to brave your way across the stream of vehicles!!!
The journey took around 1 hour and 15 minutes. Vietnam differs one hour time zone from Malaysia. Once we arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, we chartered a van from a counter we saw at the entrance. It costs us around 200, 000 dong. As it was already around 5.00 p.m., the traffic in Ho Chi Minh was so ever congested with vehicles (especially with daredevil motorbikes! I’ve got the shock of my life seeing their antics on the street!) and it took us around 30 minutes to reach our lodging at Diamond Luxury Ben Thanh which was located at 100/6 Le Thi Hong Gham Street at District 1. The street wasn’t that far from Ben Thanh Market and a very strategic location. As usual, Kakak did her wanderlust skill in finding us comfortable place with strategic location! Our lodging was an apartment with two separate rooms – one for Kakak, Abang Zam and Raess and the other one was for Rifqi and I; each room was equipped with its own bed, kitchen, bathrooms and the most important thing was that the WIFI absolutely of high speed (Rifqi and I could even watch online movies with the Internet speed!). For 4 nights, we were charged 5,724,240 dong or equivalent to RM1082. Our caretaker named Bobby who had been corresponding with Kakak was definitely a friendly lad. You guys can check the place at https://www.agoda.com/en-sg/diamond-luxury-ben-thanh/hotel/ho-chi-minh-city-vn.html?cid=-218 and the email at email@example.com!
The restaurant was OK but in comparison to the other Halal restaurants we have discovered in Ho Chi Minh, this was the most expensive.
The Benh Tanh Market which was not far from our lodging and Bitexco Tower. We didn’t venture both due to time-constraint.
We rested for 2 hours and then we made our way to find Halal food. It was really SHOCKING seeing the aggressive Vietnam vehicles! Immense honking! And they could even do a “cross-section” U-Turn without paying much heed on the laws of driving! Haha! We also got the shock of our lives when we were about to cross the street. YOU HAVE TO BE A CONFIDENT DAREDEVIL when you are to cross the Vietnamese streets as no vehicles would stop to give you the way (unless in Congxa Paris quarter!) despite there were visible zebra crossing lines painted on the street! You would simply have to cross and braved the fast and furious vehicles (they would slow down once they reached close proximity)! Our first Halal dinner was at The Daun Restaurant which happened to be a Singaporean-owned restaurant. The foods were OK but quite expensive in comparison to the Halal restaurants we discovered later on. You guys can check the restaurant at http://thedaun.com/.
The front facade of The Golden Puppet Theatre.
I was intrigued by the cultural dress that the ticket lady was wearing. The similarity was uncanny to the one donned by Deepika Padukone in “Bajirao Mastani” when she was portraying the role of Mastani, the half-Muslim Rajput princess. Could it be that there was cultural hybrid between these two geographies vast apart?!
My 11 years old nephew, Rifqi Naufal is becoming cheekier than ever! Haha!
On the next day, Abang Zam my brother-in-law was feeling unwell right after our luncheon at The Daun. It was probably due to the scorching Vietnam heat and the fact that my younger nephew, Raess suddenly decided to be that Little Prince (Haha!) by refusing to walk and kept clinging to his father! So you could imagine carrying a toddler in that scorching heat crossing the congested Vietnamese street while walking 900 meter from our lodging! So, we had decided to split – Abang Zam would be taking Raess back to our lodging whereas Kakak, Rifqi and I would continue our walk towards The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre which was located circa 1 km from The Daun Restaurant! We definitely burned the fats a lot! We arrived there around 3.20 p.m. but the show was at 5.00 p.m. As we didn’t want to take the risk of getting lost while finding way to another unknown destination and couldn’t make it at 5.00 p.m., we decided to just loaf around at the nearby cafe for 2 hours while sipping the Vietnamese coffee.
The performances were done on stage with a pool. The lighting played pivotal role in accentuating the nuance of the stage props and settings.
The entrance fee per person was 230,000 dong. Initially, we thought there would no be many people but as the time drew near to 5.00 p.m., we could see entourages flocked in. Kakak said probably the tour agents already booked tickets for these people. The play was segregated into 16 segments :-
- Raising the Festival Flag;
- The Narrator;
- Dragon Dance;
- On a Buffalo with a Flute;
- Catching Frogs;
- Rearing Ducks and Catching Foxes;
- Lion Dance;
- Phoenix Dance;
- King Le Loi on Boat Tour / Legend of Restored Sword;
- Children Playing in the Water;
- Boat Racing;
- Unicorns Play with Ball;
- Fairy Dance;
- Dance of Four Holy Animals
Kudos to the voice-over actors who have been doing multitasking jobs – providing dialogues, singing their lungs out and playing the musical percussion!
Thumbs up to the puppeteers!
Although the play was all in Vietnamese but the audiences were able to feel the euphoria and understood the narrations. I guess that was the power of arts, no? Transcending barriers of language and borders! At the end of the play, we were introduced to the ensemble of the puppeteers who were actually controlling these puppets from the curtain behind, in the form of a temple setting on the stage. Credits also should be given to the multitasking 6 voice-over actors who were sitting on the planks of both sides of the stage – while providing voices for the characters, they were also singing and playing the percussion as well! Hats off! You guys can check their website at http://www.goldendragonwaterpuppet.com. We ended our day with dinner at Kampung Melayu Halal Restaurant which was not far from Ben Thanh Market area. Now this restaurant is recommended to y’all Malaysians out there. Affordable pricing and delicious food! Check the place at https://www.tripadvisor.com.my/ShowUserReviews-g293925-d7971897-r328904891-Kampung_Melayu_Halal_Restaurant-Ho_Chi_Minh_City.html.
The Nusantara street (Nguyen An Nihn Street) which was not that far Ben Thanh Market. You could find Kampung Melayu Restaurant, Hjh Basiroh Restaurant, and Amin Halal Restaurant; with a few other Halal restaurants but they closed when we were there; perhaps due to Eid. AND, couldn’t resist the Vietnamese Coffee! Addictive y’all! It was Caffeine Felony syndrome (only RM3 per cup).
Travelling does me good in shrinking the body size as it forces me to walk! But once back to Malaysia especially Batang Kali and Jitra with delicious Malay foods, I am ballooning! Haha!
Delicious Kuey Teow Hor Fun and Vietnamese Coffee. And my cheeky nephew, Rifqi Naufal (I don’t know what’s up with teenage boy and that V-shaped fingers to the cheeks? I found that my pupils did that as well. LOL!
This trip was more of a casual and relaxing to bond with family members as we had Rifqi and Raess with us. So naturally, we were not into covering all the tourist attractions. Furthermore, the weather was really hot and the kids’ health weren’t in full scale. So, my nephew and I had been killing our time by watching online old movies together such as the classic horror Malay film “Misteri Rumah Tua” (The Mysterious Old House) starring Noorkumalasari as the spirit who sought revenge towards her rapists; and “Fenomena” (Phenomenon) starring Ramona Rahman as Malay-English lady who travelled to South East Asia to cure AIDS with traditional way as opposed to the Western medical approaches in London. It is sad to see Malaysian producers had stopped making movies like these 90’s gems!
Great Malay 90’s films – “Fenomena” (Phenomenon) and “Misteri Rumah Tua” (The Mysterious Old House). Too bad they cut the scene where the spirit gave birth to her unborn baby via the mouth! Damn! I remember that Kakak and I used to be so scared watching the film when we were kids. But now, watching it with my nephew was quite a laughable stock to see the amateurish CGIs! Haha!
On the 2nd day which was Friday, Abang Zam, Rifqi and I decided to perform Friday Prayer at one of the Vietnamese mosques and I personally was really excited as I am always fascinated with mosques facades and with the recent #ShahrillsJejakMasjid, the excitement blossomed even more! So according to the map, we should be walking towards Highland Coffee House and then turned right and finally would be seeing the mosque. As Abang Zam and Rifqi were following my lead and I didn’t have the map; simply memorizing the direction in my head; I actually took them the route that was the coffee house (when actually I was supposed to take them the route AFTER the coffee house). So we were walking and lingering around aimlessly for about 30 minutes (after asking a few Vietnamese who don’t speak English!) and finally came back to Highland Coffee House. We already came to a point of deciding to go back to our lodging when I decided to give another route a try. After 15 minutes, I saw the dome-like structures, the Islamic facade which was quite hidden though it was situated aligned with the other shop lots row. It was the Al-Rahim Mosque!
The facade of the mosque. And the interior design. It is nice to see the mosque which was a joint-venture project from Muslim communities in Malaysia and Indonesia for the Vietnamese.
Circumambulating for Salam.
It was therapeutic to assemble with the Vietnamese Muslim community. Mosque has always been somewhat a sense of familiarity for me. So whenever I travel, I would very much like to visit a mosque or a musolla to connect with that sense of familiarity. The sermons were delivered in Vietnamese and at the end of the prayers, all of us greeted and shook hands in one circumambulation while chanting the Salawah of Prophet Muhammad SAW. Such a brotherhood and brethren feeling.
Majestic facade, the remnant of legacy left by the French Indochina reign.
The ladies were praying with candles lighted in front of Blessed Mary statue.
That night after dinner, we planned to do another touring as nighttime would be more suitable for the kids as it was less hot. As I am a historical and theology fanatic, I yearned to see the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon which is situated at Congxa Paris. It was located 1.9 km from Kampung Melayu Halal Restaurant (yeah, burned the fats!). Since I didn’t have the opportunity to visit Notre Dame at Paris due to the transportation mishaps (REFER to https://undomiel84.wordpress.com/2016/07/15/the-ramli-siblings-conquering-europe-part-4-part-5-paris-france-interlaken-switzerland-the-epitome-of-joie-de-vivre-romanticism-holy-grail-of-mother-earth/) but now at least I’ve visited the ASEAN “twin”. Haha! Now, the term ‘Notre-Dame’ is actually the french terms to describe Blessed Mary and it is also interesting to note that the church was elevated into a basilica status by the Pope. The church was dedicated to Blessed Mary as Our Lady of Peace (Regina Pacis). We could see a few elderly-looking ladies sitting cross-legged praying and chanting with candlelights burned. The church compound also served at a place for Vietnamese to hang around with their loved ones for the night’s cooler fresh air.
Selfie after having a night walk! I should buy i-phone! The pictures produced are nice. Haha!
So nice these spring rolls, or transparent “popiah”! Very healthy diet at Hjh Basiroh Halal Restaurant.
On Saturday albeit it was hot, Kakak and I planned to do a bit of touring. Initially the idea was only for the two of us but I pitied my older nephew, Rifqi. I felt that he is always the one who has to back off whenever he has arguments with Raess my younger nephew and constantly sidelined. But of course, his boisterous antics are not helping much! Haha! So, I thought this would be a prime time for him to be pampered by his mother by getting that “Me and My Mom” moment. After deliberately tricked that Little Prince Raess (Haha!), I asked Rifqi to join us. Our first stop was the Saigon Post Office which is located merely opposite the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. The Saigon Post Office boasts extraordinary French Indochina architecture and was said to be inspired by the works of the architect who designed the Eifel Tower. It is interesting to note that although the Saigon Post Office serves as a tourism attraction spot, the place still functions as a legit post office! Amazing!
The Saigon Post Office – the facade, night and day.
The inner decoration. The Vietnamese revere Ho Chi Minh, their leader in Independence. At the right is the old map of Saigon, probably drawn from the era of French Indochina.
By this time, the weather was becoming very hot and Rifqi was starting to feel feverish again. I myself could feel the pang of hotness on my face! Nevertheless, we continued our walk 1.1 km towards The War Remnants Museum, a place dedicated to commemorate the wrath of the US government towards the Vietnamese. The entrance fee was 15,000 dong per person. The 3 storeys building enshrined various remnants related to the American-Vietnam War such as propaganda posters (very Public Relation stuffs! I learned this during my Master’s Degree!), ammunition used in the wars, the graphic photographs depicting the wrath of war (the famous “Napalm Girl” image included!) and many more. Both Kakak and I were enraged by the graphics that we saw – an old man who was about to be shot seemed to plead for mercy; the deformed babies ala Quasimodo born due to exposure from dioxin and Agent Orange (a defoliating chemical); the types of bombs used to exterminate the Vietnamese, and many more! Of course in the hindsight, some pro-US parties would claim that these ‘necessary actions’ were done in order to combat the communism in Vietnam as it was for “greater good”; furthermore, the Vietnam Communists weren’t saints, either as they also shared their own ruthless actions against the innocent civilians. Hence, it is not far-fetched for the Americans scholars to cry out that the museum is bias and “one-sided” on the reflection of the war. Nevertheless from the point of humanity, all I can say is that the impacts were severely damaging and innocents souls were ripped off. Such a tragic event in the history of modern civilization.
The propaganda posters.
Writing was an essential valve in expressing the feeling of being oppressed.
These American killed themselves in front of Pentagon in the hope to protest the US occupation in Vietnam! Amazing!
Moments before these Vietnamese were shot/ killed by the US army.
The well where a family was found to be hiding and then killed. The other picture depicted a man tortured before shot to death.
The new generations who have been suffering from the exposure to dioxine and Agent Orange (physical deformation due to genetic mutation), chemical substances used by the American Government.
Mutation caused deformation.
The ammunition used in the war.
The woman cried and pleaded to be released; moment later, she was shot along the others. Look at the children.
The most chilling sight of a mummified matter. The glass cubicle isn’t labeled in English, but I thought it was the preserved unborn mutated babies.
I thought Rifqi looked a bit “Rasta” here, like Che Guevara. Haha!
After seeing the remnants of the war caused by American soldiers, I couldn’t help but to ponder the rationale of the classic play “Madame Butterfly” to be given an American flavour, renamed as “Miss Saigon” where a Vietnamese lady was abandoned by his American soldier lover – this role catapulted Lea Salonga to stardom. I was wondering about the undocumented sexual liaisons between US soldiers and the Vietnamese women – whether consensual or rapes! God bless them. Sigh.
We called the day off by feasting on the famous Vietnamese cuisine called “Pho” at Amin Halal Restaurant, adjacent to Kampung Melayu Halal Restaurant. Again, with affordable pricing and delicious in comparison to The Daun (sorry!), this spot is a must for all Halal travellers! Now, “Pho” (pronounced as “Fer”; not “Fow!) is the pride of Vienamese; I could say that it is equivalent to the Malaysian’s “Nasi Lemak”. Now, “Pho” is more or less like our own Malaysian’s Kuey Teow Sup – and the recipe differs from the Northern Vietnam to the Southern Vietnam. For Non-Muslim travellers, you may want to experiment the exotic food by eating at the stalls erected at the side of streets – probably much cheaper!
Vietnamese pride, it is “Pho”.
I thought that on Sunday morning, I wanted to explore The Reunification Palace and Bitexco Tower but I myself was feeling a little bit feverish so finally I resorted to wake up late and that eased my throbbing head. Well, since this was a casual and layback trip; I wasn’t in my Kiasu element. Haha! At 12.00 p.m. we checked-out from our lodging and Bobby called a van with 6 seats for us. On the way to Tan Son Nhat International Airport, I saw another a mosque by the name of Jamiul Muslimin Mosque. It was quite far for all of us to walk from Le Thi Hong Gham! At least, I could see the facade, no? I also saw Doanh Trại Quân Đội Nhân Dân Việt Nam – I reckoned it must be some sort of a military camp. We arrived 3 hours prior to our departure; after settling our stuffs, we hanged around the airport. Took another sip of Vietnam Coffee (haha!) and at 5.00 p.m with 15 minutes delay, we then set off for Malaysia.
On the way to airport. Vietnam is very proud with its agricultural background – the cultural emblem of this paddy-field hat says it all.
Can’t resist the caffeine – Vietnamese Coffee, again! According to the documentary I saw on Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese probably developed strong coffee culture due to the influence of French Indochina era. You could see coffee houses mushrooming across the city! And what’s more interesting is that Vietnamese really uphold their own coffee and it was reported that Starbucks, Coffee Beans need to localize their coffees to the Vietnamese’s flavour! Amazing sense of self-identification that we Malaysians could learn, no?
On whole, this Vietnam trip has changed my perception towards the Indochina region (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, etc). Initially, I wasn’t keen on the trip as I do have pre-conceived pessimism but I’ve learned that never underestimate any places for each trip will give you new lesson and unique experiences! Certainly, I am looking forward to discover these hidden ASEAN gems such as in Thailand and many more. AND, it is also worth to note that wherever we go, we would always find a mosque or a musolla that are familiar to our hearts and faith. God bless!
The 7.2 meters bronze statue of Ho Chi Minh in front of Ho Chi Minh City Hall.