Dec 29, 2013

How I Survived 3 Nights in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

After all the hustle and bustle and endless warnings to be careful, spending 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City's Backpacker's District was a breeze, just like any walk in the park but with little twists. I survived Vietnam without a scratch and had fun. My friend though had a different opinion and said would not return to Vietnam. Well, I'll go back any chance I get :-).
Ho Chi Minh Musuem, Vietnam

To sum up, here are my reasons why:

  • Food is healthy, delicious and cheap. Anybody who wants to explore the sensory organs of their taste buds will have a great time in Vietnam. Worthy of mention is their rice, I can actually eat it alone. :)
Kim Cafe, Vietnam



Seafood galore at the streets of District 1

  • Vietnamese Coffee!!! Need I say more? ;-)
Vietnam Coffee at Ben Thanh Market

  • Shopping!!! You'll see authentic Kiplings, Fitflops and North Face sold at almost factory prices.You can check these out at Saigon Square while at Ben Thanh Market for souvenir items. There are lots of imitations too but anyone with a good eye for authentic stuffs can spot the difference. Also souvenir items are a  lot cheaper here than in Cambodia or Thailand, which are basically similar in make and design. Some if not most of the vendors at Ben Thanh market can be very persistent and at times irritating grabbing you by the hand. Don't haggle for prices if you have no intention of buying.
Vietnam's Kipling, Northface, Fitflops

  • Street crossing is already one kind of an adventure you can have for free. Motorcycles are the kings of the road and they are quite an attraction seeing them occupy the road in full force. Just be cautious always and signal your hands to alert the drivers of your intention to cross and remember they can appear from any direction. But then, after a while, you'll get the hang of it and become confident enough to cross streets like any local.
hordes of motorcycles in Vietnam


  • Cuchi Tunnels and the horrors of war and the resilient Vietnamese on how they manage to survive despite all the odds.

CuChi Tunnel Tour

  • CULTURE! It's always interesting to experience the cultural differences and similarities we have with our neighboring ASEAN brothers. One particular souvenir shirt in Vietnam, saw it in Cambodia and Thailand as well, suggests this, "same same, but different"! The almost similar built and features but distinct difference, similar food but with unique twists and cultural traditions of similar origin but with subtle nuances. Our tour guide for CuChi Trip mentioned the Vietnamese' penchant to drink, eat and be merry, doing it in-front of their homes on small tables and chairs as cultural tradition which explains their need to feel like a king but they act like a peasant ( well, I can relate this as our version for "tambays"). Photo below explains how tourists adopted to this tradition and enjoyed this form of entertainment.

  • It felt home staying at Hong Han Guesthouse and I sure miss the warmth and cheerfulness of the sibling tandem, Nhung and Ahn who are managing the place and of course the nice breakfast served at the 2nd floor terrace of the guesthouse. That's the pretty Nhung in cheongsam dress.
Hong Han Hotel, Vietnam

  • CYCLO CITY TOUR! I had the best view touring Ho Chi Minh/Saigon City on board a cyclo, checking out famous landmarks and crossing major intersections at slow speed while feeling excited and anxious at the close encounters with buses and motorbikes running at high speeds. Although we had a not so nice experience with our cyclo drivers trying to extort a big sum from us , in the end our fierceness ruled over. My cyclo driver is actually nice so I went easy on him and gave him his day's worth, the other guy who drove my friend is someone you'd like to punch in the face. A word of advice, ask your hotel's assistance for booking any tour you wish to experience. Our cyclo tour was not planned since we only wanted to do a city tour on foot. We were actually devising a plan on how to cross this major roundabout road when these guys appeared and sweet talked us to avail their cheap offer. Lesson learned: when an offer is to good to be true, there's definitely a catch at the end.
Cyclo City Tour, Vietnam

Also read :

I survived Vietnam without a scratch and had a worthy experience and so should you! ;-)


Dec 21, 2013

The 100USD INDOCHINA Backpacking Challenge

The challenge was to limit our individual expenses to 100USD each on Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand without skimping on basic comforts like nice and clean accommodation with ensuite bathrooms, good food and a little bit of shopping. Airfare is not included in the 100USD budget.

And now that we're back home and doing our actual accounting, I'd say, yeah it's really doable. Though we exceeded a few dollars more, we're successful in keeping it to a minimum without any regrets.

How I fared with the Indochina backpacking challenge? Just read on and find out! :-)

Also read my INDOCHINA Itinerary

Here's a breakdown of how I spent the budget. Apparently, if I forgo shopping I'd stay on track but that's just not possible for me since bringing home souvenirs and homecoming gifts are traditions and part of the essence of sharing your travels.


INDOCHINA Expenses
click here for a bigger view


The accommodations I booked all exceeded my expectations as far as service, cleanliness, strategic location and value for money are concerned. Our bookings were all reserved through email correspondence without any need to shell out cash deposits or online booking payments. I will make a detailed review of each accommodation later.

The 100USD Indochina Backpacking Budget is really possible if the budget is really tight and you've set what your priorities are. Food is relatively cheap in Vietnam and you can have a healthy and delicious meal for about a dollar or two. There are a few times we splurge on our meals but prices are still very reasonable and affordable. For tours and transport needs, it's better to avail your hotel's services to avoid getting scammed and end up paying more. We learned our lesson in Vietnam and we already charged it to experience but on a positive note, that episode was really fun. :)

Related Stories:
OUR INDOCHINA ITINERARY
HOW MUCH I SPENT IN MY INDOCHINA TRIP
HOW I SURVIVED 3 NIGHTS IN HO CHI MINH CITY
OUR HO CHI MINH ACCOMMODATION : HONG HAN HOTEL
CROSSING BORDERS : VIETNAM TO CAMBODIA
CAMBODIA : CHARMED BY THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR (Part1)
CAMBODIA : CHARMED BY THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR (Part2)
CROSSING BORDERS : CAMBODIA TO THAILAND 

SIEM REAP ACCOMMODATION : MOTHERHOME GUESTHOUSE

Dec 2, 2013

Good Deal Finds Only in QUIAPO, Manila

Photography gadgets, affordable eyeglasses, beads and accessories, vintage items, electronic and hardware supplies and fresh lumpia are the main reasons you'll see me roaming the streets of Quiapo, scouring for good finds while making it a point to visit Quiapo church to say a little prayer afterwards.


Here's a small map to guide you where to locate the good finds I've mentioned above.

QUIAPO MAP

1.) CAMERAS and PHOTOGRAPHY GADGETS

This is no secret to most photographers and  photography enthusiasts and you'll see them converged on the streets of R. Hidalgo, P. Gomez and the corner of Carlos Palanca St. looking for the most up to date DSLRs, Point and Shoots, camera lenses and gadgets and anything photography related, even the vintage kinds. My usual routine when looking for something camera related is to canvas all the camera shops starting with Henry's at P. Gomez St and then a final stop at Mayer Photo located at the corner of Carlos Palanca St and more often than not Mayer Photo usually gave the best value for money, well, that's if you're dealing with Mang Ramon himself, the owner :) You can always haggle for the best offer and you'll get more discounts when you buy in cash. Prices here are usually 20 to 30% cheaper than mall prices.
Photography shops in Quiapo
This is Hidalgo St corner P.Gomez St

2.) WELLMANSON for your ACCESSORY NEEDS

At VILLALOBOS St, you can find stores selling beads and accessories for either wholesale and retail purchase. WELLMANSON is where I usually go when I find the need to update my accessories. The place has expanded quite a number of times and they've added more sections such as a kiosk where you can order something to eat while sitting comfortably and surfing the internet using their free wifi connection. It is well organized, with air conditioning and lots of presentable sales staff manning every nook and cranny. They are now open daily and that means even on Sundays :).

Wellmanson, Quiapo

Wellmanson, Quiapo

3.)  OPTICAL SHOPS/DENTAL SUPPLIES SHOPS along PATERNO ST.

If you can brave the crowd in Quiapo, you'll save a lot on eyeglasses. You can scour the optical shops lining the street of  PATERNO  for the cheapest offer. What usually would cost 2,000 TO 3,000 pesos at the malls, you'll only get it here at more or less a thousand pesos. Alongside, you'll find dental supplies shops as well.
Optical Shops along Paterno St, Quiapo


4.) EXCELENTE, Chinese Cooked Ham

Excelente is located along Carlos Palanca St and this place gets full packed a few days before Christmas and New Year. So if you're planning to purchase in bulk as part of your Christmas giveaways or just for your family's celebration, it's still best to plan ahead to avoid the crowd. 
Excellente, Chinese Cooked ham

5.) GLOBE LUMPIA HOUSE

It's a small hole in the wall with only a few seats available, no airconditioning and nothing fancy but people even of A-list status flock to the place because of the yummy fresh lumpia that only costs 16 pesos a piece. I think the price has not changed for a long time and the taste is still how it used to be. You're lucky to be able to find a seat if you go there on a weekend and if you're planning to take out some, ready yourself for the long wait. The place is located along RAON St near Quezon Blvd. Look for the sign GLOBE and it's fronting the electronics and appliance store DEECO.
GLOBE Lumpia House

6.) RAON SHOPPING CENTER/ BIKE SHOPS 

Along RAON St you'll see stores selling the cheapest electronic appliances, sound systems, karaoke/videoke players and the likes. Hardware stores also ply the street of RAON. When you cross Quezon Blvd using the overpass, you'll find bike shops like Cycle Art along that stretch. 
Raon Shopping Center

7.) SM CLEARANCE OUTLET QUIAPO

This is where the first ever Shoe Mart was built. It used to be just a small shoe store before but now everyone knows how huge and powerful SM has become. Today, SM Carriedo or SM Quiapo is more popularly known as SM Clearance Outlet Store where items are sold at a discount. This is where I usually buy Christmas gifts for the kids.
SM Clearance Outlet, Quiapo

8.) MANILA CITY PLAZA

2 level building with most stores selling accessories for cell phones of all kinds and of the cheapest kinds are available here. Take your pick and just be wary of the pickpockets.

QUIAPO just like DIVISORIA shares the tag as a bargain shopper's paradise but each one has their own unique characteristics that separates one from the other. What I listed above are just some of the major good deals you can find around Quiapo. You can also read my Divisoria shopping guide for more tips on how to stay away from pickpockets, on how to snag the best deals and where to find them.

ALSO Read :

Divisoria Guide Series : Do's and Dont's
Divisoria Guide Series : Find The Items Here (Part2)
10 Ways To Enjoy a Weekend While in Manila

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