“Xin Chào!” and my heart trembled to my excitement when the aircraft landed on the middle of the night at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Vietnam.
Just this year had my first international travel on May 15 because I have been a member of the first global mission exposure team of our church.
It was a great privilege for me though I believe I am not worthy of such commendation to be included in the said trip. But still, I am blessed to travel not just in Vietnam but also to neighboring countries like Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
As we reached and checked-in to Lien Thanh Hotel around one in the morning (already May 16), the group rested for just about four to five hours.
Well, I could give 4-star for this hotel since there is Wi-Fi access in all areas, accommodates express check-in/check-out, with free breakfast, and a very good 24-hour front desk, room and security service, and many other services.
Also, great with its location, Lien Thanh Hotel is just a 5.9Km away from the airport and a walking distance to the 23/9 Park which is best place for relaxation and exercise since they have utilities which are open for public use.
After we had fully gained some energy, woke up and prepared for the day’s itinerary, we took our free breakfast. The dining area has a little homey ambience since their staff were so accommodating. We took their local cuisine such as Pho noodles, dumplings and some usual breakfast food.
Almost past seven in the morning when we already hopped-in to our rented van as we were going to Cu Chi Tunnels Ben Dinh site, one of the two war memorial park known with its 75-mile connecting underground tunnels during the Vietnam War (or they call it as Vietnam Conflict since they do not like the word War) lying beneath almost the entire Ho Chi Minh City.
We had a hard time finding the site because our driver doesn’t know the way to Cu Chi Tunnel park. Yes, it’s kinda ironic that some locals do not know about the place.
Yet after almost 2-hour drive, we finally found the place. We only paid 20,000Dong for each person only for 2-hour tour around Cu Chi Tunnels.
A tour guide dressed in army suit (the uniform during the war) introduced to us those bombs and assault rifles they used during the conflict. Afterwards, we strolled down to every tunnel entrances and replicas of underground command center for the officials, hospital, kitchen, and more. He also showed to us some breathing or airholes and other hiding pit. Also, he educated us about their strategies and improvised equipments or different types of booby traps and punji stick pits used to outnumber the invaders.
Five of my colleagues and I tried to navigate the tunnel led by our tour guide. But we could hardly breathe beneath the ground where we ended the underground tour unfinished. It was also difficult to go inside without a light since we did not bring with us our phones that can be used as lamps.
As for me, I cannot totally lived there. But for the Viet Cong, they survived that gloomily somber life until 1975.
Afterwards, our tour guide treated us with a light snack of steamed root crop dipped with ground peanut and paired with pure jasmine tea. We left the park with so much amazement how Viet Cong made those immense network of tunnels.
In the afternoon, we went back to the centre and settled ourselves at 23/9 Park and found some University students to speak with in conversational English where we also shared about the Gospel as part of our missions itinerary.
The park is also best for sitting, recreation, people watching or strolling in a day. Past three in the afternoon and we went along the way to Ben Thanh Market where goods and souvenirs are much finds. And Filipinos, expect their locals would say “Kumusta!” and “Suki” when they sense that you are from Philippines. Yes, they know some Filipino words since many Filipino workers and even travellers come here for buying products.
We ended the one day group trip at Saigon Square, a little mall-type market where the said original The North Face backpacks are bestsellers. Yes, and I bought one which only cost 200,000Dong or just about 400 in Philippine peso.
After we bought some backpacks, we head-on back to the hotel around eight in the evening. Started to pack again, checked-out and had our dinner at McDonald’s near 23/9 Park until we departed Vietnam at 11:30pm for our second trip going to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
So the next trip welcomed us, “Chum reap sour!”