Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vinh Trang Pagoda & Ben Thanh Market

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The moment I’m about to reach the entrance of the Vinh Trang Pagoda, the tall standing white Buddha greeted me with a smile.

Vinh Trang Pagoda is the greatest pagoda of Tien Giang Province with many beautiful trees. It was built in 1849 in My Phong village, My Tho city. The beautiful structure features a mixture of Chinese, Vietnamese and Angkor (Cambodian) architectural styles.

There are three entrances to the pagoda. The central iron gate is always closed, while the two side gates are open to visitors. The side gates are adorned with colorful porcelain mosaics featuring Buddhist folktales and natural scenery.

Inside the pagoda

The side building of the pagoda

It was already 1pm++, we headed to the local Mekong Restop restaurant to taste some variety of typical Mekong Delta dishes. The cone shape roof top from inside the restaurant

Beautiful landscape at the vicinity of the restaurant

While heading to the dining table, there were souvenirs sold on the displayed long wooden table.

One of the huts used to prepare dishes.

The famous dish here was the deep fried Elephant Ear Fish, standing straight up in the wooden holders. I have been observing which part of the fish looked like elephant ear. The waitress showed us how to eat this dish, by fish meat were rolled into rice paper with fresh mint and other type of veggies, and then dipped into the bowl of fish sauce. It’s very nice and tasty.

As for dessert besides platter of fruits, we also were served a sticky rice fried ball. It tasted a bit sweet and I liked it.

After a hearty meal, we took a 2++ hours bus ride back to Ben Thanh Market at HCMC. Ben Thanh market is one of HCMC most famous icon landmark and has been in existence since the French occupation. Food, t-shirts, cloth and material, souvenirs, kitchenware, spices, fruit, flowers, watches, jewellery offered at Ben Thanh market where you'll find everything you need under one roof. The quality of goods varies, and you must bargain bargain bargain!!! The traders will mark up the price 2-3 times what it should be. It’s very easy to find the market; it located in the center of the city, just opposite the city bus terminal and huge roundabout. Cho means market. Try to avoid going there on Friday and Saturday where the crowd is incredible. Make sure dress lightly, as it’s quite humid inside the market. They have only fans.

View at the market entrance

Vast selection of shoes




Caps & hats

And silks

General Tran Nguyen Han statue on his horse standing tall on the roundabout, opposite the market. General Tran Nguyen Han was a 15th-century warrior served under King Le Loi.

Panoramic view of Ben Thanh Market with the statue on the left hand side.

The market closes around 6.30pm and some of these traders will open their stalls next to the market to extend their business. An amazing sight, you will see them pushing their stalls through the busy streets.

Le Loi - Tran Hung Dao Roundabout is where Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao and Le Lai Streets in District 1 intersects. The traffic is coming from all directions non-stop and you have to forcefully cross the road if you have the opportunity. Most of the bikes will slow down or either horn at you, but you can still safely cross the road like what I did.

Cyclo is a 1-2 seaters tricycle taxi and still be able to find in HCMC. It is a fun and adventurous way to tour the city especially with the busy traffic. Thus, before you get on a cyclo, make sure you and the cyclo driver agree on the same price. No matter what you pay, you will always pay more than locals. It is the price you have to pay for being a foreigner. Do not worry, cyclo prices are really low. Hold on to your belongings when travelling in a cyclo as passing motorists and the like have been known to grab these as they pass.

After all the shopping and unleashed our bargaining skills at the market, it time we head for dinner at the local Chinese seafood restaurant nearby. We had like an 8 meals courses (with suckling piglet) and the total cost around USD12 per person.

After backed to hotel, my wife and I packed our luggage as we both need to travel 5 hours by bus the next day to Mui Ne.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mekong Delta Boat Trip

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The tour bus left at 7.30am for a 3 hours ride to My Tho town in Tien Giang Province for Mekong Delta boat trip for a close up view of local life. Tien Giang Province is the closest Mekong Delta province to Saigon and is a very popular destination for organised tours out of Saigon. Most tours throughout Tien Giang Province run in boats that seat 20-plus people and while such numbers bring costs down to a more reasonable level. During the journey, we could see many street vendors selling bread loaf on the dusty road side.

The bus passed by many fertile paddy fields on the way to My Tho town. Luckily, the bus stopped halfway at the rest-stop for a toilet break and I quickly ran down the road into the paddy field trying to snap some refreshing green scenery.

On the way to the restroom, passing by the green pond, this was an open lotus flower. Isn’t this beautiful?

I saw few liquor bottles where snakes were soaked into it as a traditional medicine at the local souvenir shop. Vietnamese said it has aphrodisiac effect. However, these claims should not all be taken literally as many are likely exaggerated to attract buyers. I did not ask about the price. Do you think I really need this stuff?!!! LOL.

Our local tour guide plucked a type of flower and when he plucked the entire petal it will show a rabbit shape. How interesting.

We reached at the Mekong river bank before the blue boat departed at 10.30am. The boat ride to Thoi Son Island took around 40 minutes.

When we boarded the 20-30 seated tour boat, we saw this kid with his parent.

My Tho town along the Mekong River

Fishing boats along Mekong River

Few tour boats cruising along the Mekong River

At the island, we could observe the way of making coconut candy at the workshop ad enjoyed the coconut candy. There were souvenirs made of coconut trees for sale. However, I would suggest you buy it at HCMC supermarkets as the prices are much cheaper. It cost 20,000 VND for a 200 gram pack of coconut candy there (if you buy 5 pack, you get 1 pack free) while in HCMC supermarkets, a 450 gram pack costs around 12,000 VND!

A pair of pomeloes. Yeah, you do not need to have that size for me to love you…haha

Then we visited the bee farm nearby and enjoyed the honey tea with added bee pollen. A pack of bee pollen cost 100,000 VND and a 500ml bottle of honey cost 70,000 VND. If you buy 5 items, you will get one free but it also depends on your bartering skills if you want cheaper price. Bee pollen is a natural food and have many medical benefits like improve overall strength, muscle mass, endurance and sexual potency.

From the bee farm, we walked for another 5 minutes to the fruit orchards to taste an enormous platter of assorted fresh tropical fruits like papaya, pineapples, watermelon, longan, dragon fruit, pomelo and jackfruit at the garden house. We were also served with a cup tea and listening to Vietnam folk music. It’s a great experience if you can enjoy all these luxury while you are on the hammock.

On the other side, there were many sampans that transport us through the mangrove swamps up to the main part of Mekong Delta or to our tour boat.

Two elderly (front and back) men steered their paddles gliding almost silently through the brown water. The scenery throughout our sampan ride was beautiful, with lush greenery all around us.

The sampan reached to the Mekong Delta

This elderly man was all sweat when he stopped at our tour boat. Without any hesitation, I gave him a 10,000 VND tips. Hope that’s not too little apart the sampan fare was paid by our tour guide.

Once we were back to the pier, there were few stalls selling souvenirs like handicrafts, t-shirts, famous Vietnam hat and etc.

Our tour guide rushed us back to the bus, else we will have less time at our next tourist spot, Vinh Trang Pagoda.