The next day was packed with activities that would introduce us further to Vietnam’s people, culture and history. We woke up early to leave for the Cu Chi Tunnels tour. Together with other travelers of different nationalities, we journeyed for a couple of hours to the historical place of Cu Chi. Our guide toured us around the area, showing the strategic and well-built 'booboo' traps the Viet Cong used during the war. And then there's the tunnel which might send off a claustrophobic feel to some people. The tunnel is long and extends deep into the grounds, forming several branches of passageways that might get someone lost. I'm an Asian so it was a bit easy for me to crawl my way into the end of the tunnel without having to squeeze myself into nooks and curves. Exploring the place will leave one the impression of the Vietnamese’s tenacious spirit. I was really impressed with how resourceful and clever they are.
We were asked by the very accommodating staff member of Phan Lan if we’d like to get any of their travel packages. There were several to choose from, and he enthusiastically explained the activities of each package. Giving in to his persistence, we decided to get the night life city package for around $32 per person.
This includes a Vietnamese water puppet show, transportation to and from the hotel (car and cyclo ride), and a cruise dinner. We’re not the type to splurge on trips, but made an exemption this time. Going for something you don’t usually do can be a good thing, right? The trip began with a cultural water puppet show at the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre.
The show is entirely in Vietnamese so we relied to the pamphlet handed earlier as guide. But then it can be hard to follow too, so all we did was to just enjoy the show. I’m the type of person who likes to see and appreciate simple things, so the show didn’t really come off as boring for me as what it did with other travelers (I read some reviews). After the puppet show, we boarded this unique ride they call ‘cyclo’ which will take us to the dock of Saigon River.
It somehow resembles a bicycle with a side car, only the carriage is located in front and not by the side. I’m not sure if it’s just me but I had an amusing time riding the cyclo while traversing the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh. Take note that the drivers ask for a compulsory tip. A dollar will do.
Last stop for the day (err, night) was the dinner cruise onboard a wooden ship. “Oh, fancy,” I thought. We were served a 7-course meal of Vietnamese cuisine while being entertained by local dancers and performers. I actually don’t picture myself in settings like this, but hey, trying something new once in a while adds to the totality of the travel experience. After a full dinner, we went to the ship’s deck to enjoy the cool breeze while watching the city lights depicting the varied lifestyles of the city. It was a good way to cap off a short yet fun stay in Ho Chi Minh.
Those two days of exploring and experiencing what Saigon has to offer was really short. There are still lots of things to discover, experience and learn. But during those couple of days, my impression on Vietnam totally changed. I got to appreciate the locals more, especially after our wonderful experience with the people in our hostel. It was a bit hard to communicate considering the language barrier, but their efforts to reach out and help were incomparable. I started this trip with mixed emotions, and I left in the same state – only this time it’s not apprehension nor doubt, but a sense of fulfillment and yearning to come back soon.
Phan Lan Hotel makes a traveler-friendly hostel located in the heart of the backpacker's area in Ho Chi Minh. It's a few minutes walk to Ben Thanh market, some convenience stores, banks and parks, thus making it an ideal place to stay at for budget-conscious travelers.