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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Saigon - Cao Dai Temple Tour

On the moving bus, the tour guide made an announcement “Ok, now…we will continue…our journey…to…Cao Dai Temple…in one and half hour later…” (Later? Main petik je!) We laughed and acted like we were well understood on the funny part that we had to go through another back and waist pain on the bus (by the way, we were forced to do our “business” before we hopped back onto the bus. Nature’s calllllll!)

We stopped at one small café by the road side, that fulled with construction mud. The tour guide told us that we will have lunch here at this place, before we continue the journey to Cao Dai Temple. Hmm…definitely non-halal café la ni kan! The problem that we faced was all the foods served were non-halal. When I said non-halal, pork comes in the picture. But guess what, not even pork, you can find snake and frog in the menu! Haaaa even non-exotic restaurant pun bleh served snake meat tau!
We just had our canned drinks and sat on the same table that eating porks. But lucky us, the Malaysian Chinese, Singaporean Chinese, pure Indian from India and a Korean, were well-understood of our religion. They even say “sorry” before eating. Get used to this situation, we asked them to go ahead and ignored us. Haha! We then started to chat about the comparison between Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam…even Thailand got into the picture. (Note that the Korean guy just remained silent and finished his pork soup. Haha…lost in translation.)

After one and half hour journey with scenic paddy fields on both sides of the road, we at last, saw the gate to Cao Dai Temple. There were temple, houses, schools, clinics, it was a town by itself I must said. We saw few people in white outfits and more walking forwards, when we approached the one and the only great divine big colorful temple.
The bus was parked, and the tour guide has again, made an announcement “Now, we go inside, you can take their picture, with the temple, but you cannot take picture, with the temple…” (I hardly understand his Viet-English but I guessed, I got him). “Take as many picture, as you want, but never make noise…they will pray 4 times a day, and if you a believer, you have to pray, at least once a day…” “Ooooo…” I dropped my jaw.

He later explained that this religion is called Cao Dai and was introduced by a China-man who came to Vietnam. He started to improvise the belief and combined 3 kinds of faiths, that are Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism (perghhhh! Sukati je!)

Actually, the reason why hubby wore long pants was because, in the Internet, it was told that you can not wear short pants or sleeveless. Addressing the rule, I, myself did spare a long skirt in the bagpack. But approaching the main entrance of the temple, I saw almost all tourists (the whites) wore short pants and sleeveless. Come to think of it, yeah, how to enforce the rules to the whites, for that’s how they wear they life, kan?

Wasting no more time, we took off our shoes (stupid me, I took off my socks as well!) I stepped on the mosaic-steps, along with other tourists, and suddenly “Hey you…” (Huh? Who? Me?) “You…” (Shit! It’s me!) I looked at him. He wore white outfits with some kind of weird holy white hat, with serious-statement on his face. “Take off your turban.” (Huh? Did I forget that I was wearing turban this morning?) “This?” I pointed to my camo-U.S-army scarf. “Yes.” He pointed to the same thing. “Owh ok…” I took it off. (Setan!)

Inside, we were ushered to the first floor, where we can observed the ground floor that full of the believers, sitting on the floor, at the main entrance of the temple. Women and men, both genders wore white outfits (more or less look like “ao dai”, the national outfit). Only few had in blue, red and yellow (follow top ranks).From the upper corridor, waiting for them to perform the prayer at 12.30pm, all tourists looked around the temple, noiseless, like a ghost. The pillars were coated with colorful dragons, the ceiling was sketched with stars and clouds, the floor was decorated with checkered and circled mosaics, while the shocking part of the temple, the windows were crafted with one eye! The Eye! The Divine Eye that symbolized The God! ILLUMINATI! (The only person that appeared in my mind was Adib, who obviously annoyed with this secret-society.)“Panggggggggggggggg” “Oo mak hang!” English-man besides me giggled. Hehe! Why? Coz one of the red-wearing old man beat the huge holy bronze bell! Ye la, out of sudden, there was a loud sound that broke the silent, sape tak terkejut! It was the time to perform the prayer. The musicians started to take out their traditional musical instruments and play opera-notes, while a group of 8 young ladies in see-through white “ao dai” started to sing and hit high notes. Non-stop!An old couple in red and white outfit with hood on, walked slowly to the center of the temple, followed by several men in yellow, blue, and red outfit. They were identified as the high ranked people. The rest of the believers who in white outfit, will follow behind them, row by row in 2 separated sections. And last but not least, few men stood still next to the pillars, as well as behind the believers (must be the guard, I guess…orang lain sedap duduk, diorang berdiri, dah la tua…and we were informed that a session of prayer will last up to an hour!).Closed eyes, palm to palm, bow, we still heard the mantra. Standing at the corridor that full or tourists gave us the limitation to see what the thing that they worshiped was. But looking at The Eye, I bet, it’s The Eye that they praised for.

Bored with the same long no-action activity, hubby and I made a move out from the upper corridor. We walked through the aisle and moved to the musicians’ area. From there, I finally saw a very huge metal sphere depicting The Eye, right in front of those believers! Haaaaaa! Tu la dia! But why left eye? It was specifically chose the left eye because Yang is the left side and God is the master of Yang, and it is aligned with the heart. (Owh mannnn…sampai camtu skali ke?)
Without waiting the session to come to an end (we were given 25minutes to watch all that), we walked back to the bus. Sigh…Illuminati, Illuminati…Perfectibilist konon!

Saigon - Handicapped Handicraft Tour

“Wake up…wake up…”We took our bath and get ready for today’s tour, Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnel, which we booked directly from the hotel reception. The price was more or less the same as Internet charges (always do comparison, check tour itinerary and rate before you confirmed any tour package). We paid 12USD=444,000VND=RM88 for two, which considered the cheapest of all. It was a group tour (cheaper than private tour that offered private car and tour guide) and we were transported by an air-conditioned medium-sized tour bus.We waited for more than 20minutes from the arranged time, but the bus arrived just before the hotel reception made a call. With camo scarf and short pants (but hubby wore long pants coz he said, we need to crawl inside the tunnel and prepared to get dirty…hmmm, I don’t bring any long pants la ayang…hehe…) we hopped onto the bus.

There were 8 tourists who already occupied the front and the middle seats. Hubby and I, both sat separately (left and right), for we wanted to ‘cover’ (photo hunting) on both sides of the Saigon roads.
On the way, we saw Saigon River that was not up to our expectation (it wasn’t Mekong River anyway, so never expect much). Full of construction materials and improper drainage, it was not look great to our eyes. Alongside of the roads, there were shops and hawkers, but having motorcycles blocking almost 90% of your view, you couldn’t see what behind them. Haha! Lucky they nowadays use alphabets compared to what they have back then, where all wordings were written in characters.About an hour, we came to this one un-tarred road, filled with mud and holes, and covered with water. The tour guide informed that we have reached at one medium-sized industrial unit, where we can shop for souvenirs. Yeay! Right after we jumped off from the bus, we saw a signboard stated “Handicapped Handicraft”. Oooo…this is the place where government employs the handicapped to do crafting. Hmm…at least, Vietnam government did something for them to survive kan?There were also other tourists from other package tours, so we have to walk along with them, for we were only allowed to have a one way in and a one way out. Not to worry of the room to walk and browse, as the place can cater enough tourists at one time.
As I walked from one to another disabled people, I felt sympathy…with no feet or no hands, and hardly performed their duty, they still did it for a bowl of rice. But believe me, the outcomes were marvelous and beyond description! Fantastic! From egg shells, oyster shells, I-don’t-know-what shells, they made almost all goods looked pretty damn good! Some did the gluing, some did the carving, some did the polishing, some did the cleaning, everyone has his/her own specialty.The price? Don’t ever dream to get one (not even a piece of bowl or lagi kejam, not even a piece of pebble!) Drop dead expensive! (Aren’t factory supposed to sell cheaper???) Come to think of it, well, it was made by disabled people…so it should be special and unique la kot. We didn’t get anything except for few pictures with the goods. Hehe!Suddenly we didn’t see any tour members left. On the way out, our tour guide came to approach us and asked “Anything that you would like to buy?” and we replied “No…” with displeased-smile (mahal kan…) He later escorted us to the bus and at that point of time, we noticed that everyone was waiting for us. Hehe! Sorry ar kan…gua pun bayar gak…kihkih!

Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City Tour

“Deb, hang dah bangun ka?” “Gila hang, aku dah bangun la…”

We fetched her up and leaved Puncak Jalil at 5.20am. Our flight departed at 7.20am. Thank god Deb willing to send us this time, as we couldn’t bear enough to pay the parking fee at LCCT. (Luv u Gorgeous!)
Leaving her with my Black Pearl, we get ourselves checked in. We looked around, and there we sat in the middle, as the only non-Vietnamese-speaking who were on board. Hmm…nice! Just like our trip to Samui, Thailand. We later had our in flight breakfast with Ramadhan’s Special-Chairman’s Choice, Nasik Lemak Sotong. Yummy!

We touched down at Tan Son Nhat Airport 8.10am, local time (one hour late than M’sia.) We didn’t pre-chartered any taxi, and no airport transfer provided by the hotel (we took GO Holiday Air Asia that offered flight and hotel in a package). As per advised in most of Saigon forums, we chartered a well-known taxi, Vinasun, right in front of the air terminal (never take unknown non-metered taxi!)

Oh ya, it’s a must for you to get a metered taxi! Along with the complete hotel address ya! Then let the driver do the driving. Hehe…(too bad if he drove you around when your hotel is just a few blocks away). But, it didn’t happen to us lah coz we had a map to refer to! (Yup, do your homework moron!)
We reached City Star Hotel in 30minutes and paid 150,000VND=RM30. Traffic? Tell me bout it! 5mill motorcycles for 9 mill people! With left hand drive cars, busses, with wrong directions, u-turns, and such, you can never get across the road! Haha! (The only country that we never wanted to drive on our own. Peace ya’ll.)After checked in, we went out for HCMC Tour. We took neither tour guide nor tour package, seeing that we able to do it all on our own hands and feet. Since the hotel reception told us that all places of interest that we wanted to go can be reached within walking distance, we started to walk to Ben Than Market. Similar to Beringharjo Market in Jogja, Philippine Market in Sabah, Chaweng in Samui, Fish Market in Medan, Central Market in KL, this market sells foods, textiles, accessories, shoes, hats, souvenirs and many more. Awesome! Get anything you want and start to do the bargain (but I didn’t…not yet). Always start with half of the price offered, and end it up with a win-win situation, comprehende?Out from Ben Than Market, we thought of renting a one seater cyclo (a.k.a beca, but smaller). It was described as the cheapest transportation in town and can take you around HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City). These cyclos were proclaimed as ex-army, well spoken, and able to introduce to you of those noted places in town. We agreed to take one (but not really well spoken, anyhow, still understandable la), that brought us to Notre Dame and Post Office for 20,000VND=RM4.Never took the money, the cyclo agreed to wait while we took our own sweet time capturing photos of Notre Dame and Post Office. These structures are still fine-looking and stunning, even they have gone through a rough time during Vietnam War.Strong wind has forced us to get inside the post office and believe me, interior is nevertheless healthier than exterior. Beautiful. With Uncle Ho’s portrait hung in the middle, high ceiling, huge wall map, wooden carved counter, felt like in the 40’s. Not able to snap any good pictures or ourselves due to strong wind that messed up our hair, we walked back to the cyclo.We gave him a pat and asked him to cycle us to another two locations, War Remnant Museum and President Palace. He agreed with 50,000VND=RM10. I sat in between of hubby’s leg and he cycled us off to War Remnant Museum.

Beforehand, we stopped at one halal resto, Bombay Indian Restaurant in District 1 (why always Indians who serve halal food outside M’sia huh?). The waitress came and spoke Bahasa with us! (How did she know? Oh well, situated in front of Sheraton Hotel, she must have listened to Bahasa everyday la kot…and of course I spoke Bahasa with hubby in front of her.) Two plain rice, one chicken curry and free vege, cost us around 103,000VND=RM20. So damn costly kan???!!! Urgh!
Rain started to drizzle. The cyclo had no cover and luckily, we reached War Remnant Museum in 30minutes. Again, the cyclo gave us a thumb up and asked us to enjoy the visit while he waiting outside. “Go, go…very good…you should go, go…”. Hmm…good service huh! Paid 150,000=RM30 for two, and inside, we went (Yoda style).

Visiting this museum has made me traumatized. The pictures, I must say. Disturbing. This was what human did to human. How this could be allowed. Yeah, I love technology, I love war making (game la, dush!), I love military thingy, but…if it used for killing innocent women and children, it has to be stop! If you want to do war, do it the right way. Go to one open empty space, and start shooting! Not dropping that biological weapon that you called the “Agent Orange” and distorted all God creatures! Stupid! And you know what, the bombing activities in Vietnam War were much bigger than WW2!
A bit of the real history. French invaded Vietnam and Vietnamese fought their best to defend their ground. Anyhow U.S, THE SELF-CLAIMED WORLD ARMY that always interfere other’s fight, has came to help the French. The war only stopped in the year of 1975 (31 years, damn long, man!) And that is why Vietnam is still, being declared as the third world country, coz they are recovering from the massive war and need to build up, while others (Asia countries), have moved to the second and first world status. Pity them.Enough with empty bullets and bombs, guns and riffles, pictures and facts, tankers and air-forces, we walked out and looked for the cyclo. We asked him for the last favor, to bring us to the President Palace.

When we reached there, we stood outside the gate for a while and discussed. Whether we should or should not enter this palace. It is big and beautiful, but we would prefer to watch the water puppet show (hubby said, it is not complete if we don’t go to this show) at the park, situated opposite the palace. But when the cyclo, again, advised us to go into the palace and told us “Good, good…President Palace…go, go…”, we decided to get inside the palace (charges for water puppet was 75,000VND=RM15, while the palace was only 30,000VND=RM6. Plus, the water puppet show will only starts at 6.30pm.)
We walked quickly to the entrance and looked around the palace. The building was big and rectangular. Situated in front of the palace, there was a huge compound with clean and nice-cut green carpet-grass. You can find a beautiful and gigantic fountain in the middle of it! Red flags with yellow star, stood still around it, telling us that it is still a republic country.Inside, we sneaked a quick look in the conference room, meeting room, war plan room, Uncle Ho’s room (pic below), dining hall, bedroom, and few other I-don’t-remember-what rooms. This palace was used to govern the communist and lead by Ho Chi Minh (a.k.a Uncle Ho), as the true and dedicated warrior. He started when he still young and fought to death to get the freedom for Vietnam (actually he survived from war la, and died old). No wonder you can see his pictures, portraits, banners, statues, all over HCMC (formerly know as Saigon). People worship him!With the help from local women who happened to lend a hand to us, we got few pictures in front of the fountain. We later met the cyclo and asked for the total charges, as we need to go back to the hotel. “500,000VND (RM100)…for two…4 hours…” and we were like “HUHHHH??? NO! NO! Just now you said 50,000VND, plus 20,000VND earlier, NO! NO!” No wonder he willing to wait and asked us to go in! He charged by hour! By this time, we started to quarrel with him and he insisted to get his 500,000VND. Then, he started to reduce to 400,000VND, and later, 300,000VND. (Well, the internet has said, confirm the rate BEFOREHAND! And yes, we DID, but yet he twisted it!)

After a few minutes of bargaining, we concluded and paid him 200,000VND=RM40. (Still pricey ok!!! What to do…wherever we go, we must get ripped off at least once to get the true experience…hehe!)

And so we walked back to the hotel, and guess what, it’s not that far (yeah rite! I lied!) At least we had all the main roads between our legs la kan…hehe! We walked like itik pulang petang, we crossed the road like ayam berak kapur, we laughed out loud like dubuk gile kuasa, and reached hotel before day's end.
We get ourselves cleaned and snoozed for almost 2 hours. Then we went out for dinner and this time, it’s a no-no to cyclo! We must get a metered taxi. And guess what, taxi was damn cheaper! 25,000VND=RM5 to go to Bon Muar Four Season Halal Resto (M’sian) which situated in the heart of the city! Hampeh! We ate nasik goreng and nasik goreng ikan masin and it cost us around 163,000VND=RM34. Arghhh! Yes, halal food was expensive tau tak! Dah la pasang lagu Spoon ke Scoin ke apatah! So outdated! Didn’t they know that the singer tu pun dah arwah!Right after dinner, we took another cab (make sure its Vinasun or Mai Linh ya) and drove us to Ben Than Night Market. Just 15,000VND=RM3! Memang celaka la cyclo tadi kannnn! Haha! The shocking thing here in Saigon, all good and popular places closed as early as 6.00pm, including famous street market. Benci kan? Anyway, they still have night market, but mostly selling branded shirts, shoes, made in Vietnam.

Planning to get an “ao dai” (pronounced as “ao nyai”) since beginning, I managed to buy one at the price of 300,000VND=RM60. You can actually pick your own fabric and they can sew one for you in 24 hours! But there’s a price to pay, of course. So I just get a ready-made for me. Maybe next year (that’s for sure! Kain diorang cantik gile sial! Hanoi, here I comeeeeee!)
I bought a Lacoste polo-T and a Vietnam t-shirt for me, magnets for my magnet-mates (quite pricey) and bookmarks for souvenirs. Hubby didn’t get anything (yet) for himself. Memilih la tu. We later took a cab again, and paid 13,000VND=RM2.50 to go back to our hotel (see, how cheap! We took 3 cabs and yet, still cheaper than the cyclo charges! Crazy!)

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