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 Ho Chi Minh City part 3

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Bài gửiTiêu đề: Ho Chi Minh City part 3   Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:49 pm

21. Saigon, Chua Giac Ngo Pagoda
Giac Ngo Pagoda is another small pagoda in Saigon. In this smaller temples is where you can see how Vietnamese live their faith. Almost no tourists get here. If you have more time, you may even find a monk that wants to talk to you!
There is one thing that I wanted to tell you, when you visit the temples and Pagodas in Vietnam you have to be respectful. Many people take their religious faith very seriously here. Even people who are not officially Buddhists, will pray and burn an incense stick when they visit a pagoda. Talking aloud, taking photos and walking too fast should be avoided. If you want to take a picture, wait till there is no one praying. And, of course, flash should be turned off.

22. Saigon, inside Chua An Quang Pagoda
Although many of the Vietnamese people I met told me they were not Buddhists, most of them followed the Buddhist traditions.
Vietnamese show a lot of respect to their dead ones. Most houses have an altar where pictures of the ancestors are kept. This altar is usually in a special place in the house. Incense sticks are burned often, and prayers are said on a daily basis. Food, drinks and even cigarettes are offered to the dead relatives before been consumed. The older son has the obligation to take care of his parents. When they die, he has to keep a picture of them in one of this altars.
A visit to the cemetery is also done, at least, once every year. Most of the times, during the lunar new year.

23. Saigon, Tran Hung Dao Memorial
Tran Hung Dao (1213-1300) was a general that defeated the Mongols twice in the 13th century. When the king told him to surrender, Tran Hung Dao answered him that he would prefer to die before handing his ancestor lands and temples over to the invader. Nowadays he is a cultural hero in Vietnam, and a symbol of resistance.
The Tran Hung Dao Memorial sits in a Square close to the Saigon River. It is here that you can take the fast ferry to Vung Tau. There are also some boat tours to visit the Saigon River.

24. Saigon, fruit vendor
One of the things you will appreciate more when traveling around Vietnam are the local fruits. They are always so fresh! You will find them in markets, shops and in the streets.
The list of Vietnamese fruits is almost endless: Custard-apple, Durian, Green-dragon, Guava, Litchi, Longan, Mango, Papaya, Rambutan, Sapodilla, Star-fruit, Water-apple, ... Should I go on? Some of them are available in our home countries, but nowhere do they taste as good as in Vietnam. Specially recommended is the Green dragon fruit.
Fruit juices should not be missed either. If you want to be safe, ask the clerk to remove the ice (most of the times it comes from tap water).

25. Saigon, Dong Khoi Street
One of the biggest avenues in Saigon's center is Dong Khoi. It goes from river Saigon to the People Committee Hall (or City Hall). Dong khoi is perpendicular to Le Loi. Le Loi is the main avenue in downtown Saigon. It is a broad avenue that goes from the Ben Thanh Market to the Opera house. In this avenue you will find many souvenir shops, bars and some restaurants. Another big street in this part of District 1 is Hai Ba Trung. In Hai Ba Trung you will find many fashion and souvenir shops. This is the posh area of the city. Some of the best hotels in Saigon are located in this part of the city.
Vietnamese economy is growing fast. If I am not wrong Vietnam has the second fastest growing economy is Southeast Asia, after China. This economic growth is visible everywhere in Vietnam, but it is more evident here in Saigon. New companies and foreign investments are bringing huge amounts of money to this economy. New high scrapers, new hotels and new tourist facilities are being built in this part of the city.

26. Saigon, Town Hall by night
Saigon is a city that can be enjoyed during day time, but that it has to be visited after dark, too. During the hot season, you will find it hard to walk around the city, for this reason I recommend doing as locals do. Wake up early, and when I say early I mean it -- 6 am? --, have a good breakfast and visit the city till 11-12 am. Have lunch, go back to your hotel and sleep or rest till 3-4 pm. Visit the city during the afternoon, have dinner, and walk around the city afterwards. The city is pretty safe. Unless you go to the darkest and smallest streets in an unknown district, you should not be afraid. Most monuments are illuminated by night. A great opportunity for photography enthusiasts.

27. Saigon, Opera House
The Saigon Opera House or Ho Chi Minh Municipal Theater is one of the city's landmarks. It sits at the end of Le Loi street.
The building was originally built by the French to host Opera shows. In 1955 it was transformed into the South Vietnam's Assembly House. After the nation's reunification the building remained unused. Not long ago it was refurbished. It currently hosts vietnamese theatre and traditional music shows.
In front of the theater there is a square where locals gather to spend the hot evenings.

28. Saigon, Cyclos
As I told you before, the best way to move around the city of Ho Chi Minh is by taxi. Another way to visit the town is by Cyclo. This option is recommended for shorter distances. You can also rent one of this cyclos and ask him to take you on a city tour. Note that cyclo drivers come from the countryside. Do not expect them to speak perfect English. Some of them will be able to tell you some things about the visited places, but some others will only take you around.
When hiring one of this guys, take some time to bargain the 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.

29. Saigon, Cholon - Binh Tay Market
Binh Tay market is the biggest market in Saigon. It is located in the city's Chinatown, Cholon. Although this is mainly a wholesale market, it is a visit you should not miss. A walk inside the market will be a pleasure for your senses. The market is quite far from the city center. If you do not want to take a taxi, there is a bus that will take you here. Ask your hotel.
Currently several hundred thousand Chinese origin citizens live in Saigon. If you have some time left, take a walk around the streets in Cholon. You will see a clear Chinese influence in this district. Most shop signs are written in Chinese Characters. Remember that Vietnamese is the only Southeast Asian language that uses the Latin Characters.

30. Saigon, Cao Dai Temple
Cao Dai is a new religion born in Vietnam in the 1920's. It is a synthesis of Western and Eastern religions. Christian, Buddhist, Islam, Confucianist, Hinduist, Geniist, and Taoist ideas are mixed to fulfill the desire to achieve the spiritual growth.
The followers of this religion are expected to renounce materialism. They also believe in Karma. They worship God, the superior spirits, and the ancestors.
Cao Dai temples are everywhere in South Vietnam. It is easy to spot them. They all follow the same patterns.
Cao Dai followers are strict Vegetarians. They believe meat pollutes the body and the brain.
Entrance to the Cao Dai's temples is free, but only followers of this religion are allowed to take part in the ceremonies. During the mass, visitors have to see everything from balconies on a second floor.
Women and men are separated during the ritual. Men on the right and women on the left.
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