Monday, August 16, 2010

Saigon...adventuring on a motorbike.

These images are from the Saigon Tourist Map sponsored by the Kimdo
Royal City Hotel.
The top picture is the external facade of the Hotel.

Map of Saigon showing locations of our hotel and other
tourist attractions in the heart of downtown city.

The superb facilities at this hotel. The room above with a lighted TV
screen resembles our actual room.

[ This is Ah freelance guide on motorbike ]
My fellow travellers who are GROs from Serangoon held their official Retreat
Conference/Workshop on Sunday 12 June 2010. It took the whole morning after
breakfast till nearly 1 pm. I was not involved in it so rather than taking a longer nap
especially after watching the previous night W Cup games, I opted for some adventure.
I saw this friendly local guy outside the hotel the first night.
He was leaning on his red motorbike and spoke to me in passable English. He asked
if I would like to go anywhere in the city..he'll be able to transport me on his bike.
He reminded me of the bygone days when such chaps offered visitors and tourists their
"personal" guided tours, including to places not mentioned in official brochures for obvious
I declined his night tours but told him I can use his services the next morning provided
he can convince me, right there and then, that he is legitimate and above board. Pulling
out his wallet, he showed me 2 kinds of riding licence he was holding...all valid, without
demerits. His photo and name confirmed who he was. 1st test passed.
" How do I know I can trust you? "...I asked him directly. He was a total stranger to me.
Again out came the wallet and he pulled out a stack of business/personal name cards of
visitors who had given them to him.
He told me to read behind each card.
Every card had a very positive praise or recommendation written by the card's owner....
about the reliability, honesty and dependability of "Ah Sup". Some were his regular clients.
They are from all over including Singapore.
Test 2...passed. My instinct tells me so too. My instinct is seldom ever wrong.
Meet me here tomorrow at 10 am. I will need you for 2 hours... "I said to him.
He was delighted.

The next day, before 10 am, Ah Sup was waiting for me with an extra helmet.
We agreed on the price for a 2 hour city tour at my directions and choice of place.
If you want to save a lot of precious time for sight-seeing in the city, nothing beats the motorbike.
The traffic is very heavy and chaotic in Vietnam. No one seems to be obeying any traffic rules while on the road. Pedestrians are at the greatest risk. Everywhere and almost everyone rides a two -wheeler. The roads belong to motorbikes rather than 4 wheel vehicles. Taxis are hard to
find. Parking space for cars even harder to find in this complex city of Saigon.

[ The former Presidential Palace ]
With a helmet strapped on my head, I climbed astride the bike and my city adventure began. Almost immediately, we were weaving in and out of a maze of traffic which became mind-boggling when we came to an intersection of 5 or 6 roads. There were vehicles coming at us from all directions, some within inches of us and yet somehow I noticed that within this chaotic system of seeming disorder and confusion...there exists some form of acquired " order". The thing is that nobody should stop suddenly at any point for this to work. Just keep moving at whatever speed, to and fro, in and out...while on the road. The few near accidents or collision I saw were almost because someone stopped abruptly.

This was the former Presidential Palace of the last president of South Vietnam Nguyen Van Thieu who lived here until its fall on 30 April 1975. The 2 NVA tanks that broke through the palace gates can be seen on the grounds today. One is Tank 843 - T54 supplied by Russia while the other is Tank 390 - T59 supplied by China. Today, the Palace has been renamed the Saigon reunification Palace.

Everything inside the Palace have been left as they were in the 70's. You can see the phones, radios, maps, communication equipment etc..the most advanced then ( but over 3 decades old now! )...all untouched.

The scene outside the front entrance of the Palace.

[ The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral ]
Built by the French colonalists between 1863 and 1880, this was and is the most important Roman Catholic church in Vietnam. The church is mostly made of materials imported from France. Special bricks came from Marseille while glass for the stained windows came from other parts of France.Services are still held every week especially on Sundays.

[ Statue of the Virgin Mary or madonna ]

This area in Vietnamese is known as the Paris Square.

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