This extremely colorful Hindu temple is the only active one in Saigon and even amongst non-Hindu Vietnamese; it is revered as having miraculous powers. Built in the late 19th century and set just south of an area known as Little India, it is an interesting departure from the rest of Saigon. Once inside, you will soon feel worlds away from the modern city surrounding it. It is a very busy place of worship so please dress appropriately and keep your voice at a reasonable level. There is the familiar smell of joss sticks and lots of floral offerings. The figures adorning the top of the inner courtyard walls are particularly intriguing. It is easy to find 45 D Tuong Dinh, close to Ben Tanh Market and between the Pham Ngu Lao and Dong Khoi areas.
Followers of Buddhism anywhere in the world are bound by duty to save any animal in captivity . So it's no surprise to find out that the Chinese Vietnamese have adopted this practice of buying, then freeing fish, birds and turtles in the belief it can bring good fortune.
You can buy yourself some fortune in the Pagoda of the Jade Emperor. Rows of caged birds and turtles wait by the side of temple, waiting to be freed...
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This is the main backpacker area. If you are staying outside of Pham Ngu Lao, no harm strolling in to have a look at this buzzing place, with its many cafes, internet shops, souvenir and craft outlets, tour agencies, restaurants and shops and peddlars selling pirated DVDs and books and a place crawling with backpackers from all nations.
Experience a piece of everyday life by visiting the wet markets - Ben Thanh and Thai Binh for examples. You don't see this in the West. This is where folks get their groceries - fresh meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables and breakfast! Watch the ritual of the morning unfold before your eyes with cries of sales, stalls hawking weird and exciting food items and smell the aroma of the place, as long as you do not mind the chaos, the dirty water and the jostling crowd of ladies/mothers going about their shopping!
Yes, dog meat! Dog meat has been a staple for the Viets for thousands of years. (Before you start campaigning the Viets to stop eating dog, try convincing your folks back home to stop eating cow. They are both just as cruel) Get chummy with a Cyclo driver and he will most likely bring you to the haunts. Today, many of HCMC's dog meat stalls have been "exiled" to the local quarters of the City, hidden away from the eyesight of tsk-ing Westerners. Which honestly, is a shame!
There is this little discreet stall just across the War Remnant Museum, selling Viet Pho (glass noodles). Give it a try. A bowl of pork noodles, with yoghurt does not cost you more than 5000dongs (about US$0.40) Delicious!
Note: The stall owners do not really speak English, so try your luck! This is real Vietnamese street fare.
My cyclo driver took me here. This is the part of HCMC that the Vietnamese government does not want you to see. Hidden away at the local quarters, the Black River (and it is REALLY black) slums are a depressing sight to behold. This is a first for me, coming so close to one, and I must say, I am a little taken aback by the living conditions. People are actually living on those boats in those brackish smelly waters. This is real culture shock and really makes you appreciate the comforts you have. I took a reality check.
A fruit quite indigenous to Indochina, it's a green "hardy" looking fruit (kinda resembling a round guava or green apple) but when fully ripe, the flesh is soft, very sweet, tasting like condensed milk, and with the texture of chiku (sapodilla) and soursop (guanabana). It's quite a delight! Folks either sliced it as you would an orange or simply cut an opening and scoop out the content (kinda like how you would eat a grapefruit).
Note: The fruit should be in season during December and you should be able to see it in most fruit stalls/shops.
At Me Linh Square, by the river bank you will find this little nice bonsai garden. I found it by chance, was taking a walk along the river when I came across it. Not really outstanding, but nice and free!
U can't get lost, face the river as U are in the square and there U R!!
My Cyclo driver took me here. I am not so sure that it is such a good idea now with the Avian Flu going strong in Vietnam, but then it was really fun to see so many chicken cackling away in one spot. It is within Cholon, the traditional Chinese area in HCMC and you shouldn't miss it - you can smell chicken poo from miles away.
Part of our trip was to talk with students and faculty at various universities throughout SE Asia. This was the university we visited in Saigon. One of the things that emerged was that they would not have been able to meet with us without an official from Hanoi being present as recently as the previous year.
I wanted to get a nice oil painting and the ones at Dong Khoi Street was a tad bit expensive. Then I discovered the Nam Ky Khoi Ngia Street which "housed" a lot of painters and their paintings. The one I got (as per the photo) was from this shop along the road (photo - card). His place is near the pagoda in the map attached.
This guy COULD NOT speak english AT ALL! .... But the power of the calculator "speaks" a purchase for me. I won't say how much i got this oil painting but it was a bargain as compared to the paintings on Dong Khoi Street. His paintings are fantastic and the finishing is incredible.
You could get pictures with colored stones/seashells at Andong Market too.
His name is Tung (email him here). He's a himble 60-year old veteran of the American War and a native of Ho Chi Minh City who takes his job very seriously. We met him in the park along Le Lai Street near the Ben Thanh Market and the backpacker district. He carried a small journal full of testimonials and photos of many of his previous customers. They all wrote such great things about him and even included their contact info. Some of them were even repeat customers. His price was VERY reasonable and he helped us plan a 10-day itinerary throughout the south and central parts of the country.
His value as a translator (and a price negotiator) was often worth his fee for the day. He also suggested cheap places to stay in every town we visted, which also helped to cover the cost of hiring him!
U.S. Veterans of the Vietnam war wishing to return to Vietnam would especially benefit from Tung's knowledge since he fought along-side U.S. GI's for several years right up to the final U.S. evacuation.
Do yourself a favor and hire him, even for a day, a week or a month. You will see a part of Vietnam that you can't find in the guidebooks! We will definitely be hiring him again when we return to his beautiful country.
Opportunities for massage abound, but almost exclusively they involve pretty young girls in short skirts make a living on "tips". I dare to say that it is almost impossible for a male not to be groped during a massage.
Perhaps the only prefessional massage centre free of debauchery is at the Saigon Prince Hotel where the treatments are superb!
Foot massage is popular in the city and there are plenty of little lounges to sooth weary feet. There's little between them and they seem ver y friendly and welcoming. Comfort Foot Massage opposite the Saigon Prince Hotel is a friendly place to put your feet up!
Most tourists will cover Mekong Delta when they are visiting HCMC, but Da Lat is also a great getaway especially after some burning hot sun at HCMC.
Da Lat is my 2nd stop after Saigon. This is a highland town and slowly becoming a popular holiday destination for local, especially those from Saigon. The vegetations will be slightly different here as compare to Mekong Delta & HCMC, where casuarina trees are found abundantly. The sound of wind passing through those casuarina needles is something really welcoming & you can easily feel the zephyrs kissing on your cheeks.
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