Exploring Vietnam’s Mekong Delta (GMA News Online)

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last August 19, 2012)

It was a predominant shade of ochre, and fringed with water lilies—I was up close with the wide river of the Mekong Delta.

Even though the sun was brightly shining, the sky blue and the air fresh, the Mekong river cruise was far from romantic. It had a more rustic appeal, highlighted by the evidence of livelihoods supported by this major waterway.

The Mekong Delta is a two-and-a-half hour bus journey from Ho Chi Minh City. We booked a day tour with other tourists from Asia and Europe. Like them, I looked forward to seeing Vietnam’s floating market with my own eyes.

Upon arrival at our destination, Cai Be, our group boarded a spacious motorboat and cruised along Vinh Long as we headed to the market area.

It was different from what I had pictured in my mind. I thought we would be navigating through numerous small boats filled with various produce. I wasn’t sure if it was because we arrived there late in the morning, but all we saw were houseboats with the produce displayed on top.

The boats were big enough to accommodate living quarters, and each sold a particular product — we saw pineapples, watermelons and sweet potatoes for sale. Our English-speaking tour guide, Mr. Nguyen (a common name in Vietnam), mentioned that the houseboats have addresses as well to identify what area they’re from.

Though I came prepared with my own eco-bag, we didn’t have a chance to go shopping in the floating market. Our guide said that the prices would be somewhat expensive as the people there knew that we were tourists.

So, instead of shopping, we just enjoyed sights. Along the way, Mr. Nguyen pointed out the different “san” houses or houses on stilts lining the river’s edge.

After a while, we stopped and got off the boat to explore the countryside.

<Read the rest of the article HERE.>

Shopping and food hopping in Ho Chi Minh City (GMA News Online)

(This feature was published in GMA News Online last August 12, 2012)

The hot and humid weather welcomed me as I stepped outside Tan Son Nhat International Aiport in Ho Chi Minh City. It was my first time in Vietnam and I felt like I had never left Manila.

The weather was basically the same. The city’s atmosphere and the traffic situation were similar too—well, minus a few hundred thousand motorbikes.

I found out through a local that Ho Chi Minh City is home to 10 million people and seven million motorcycles—the kings of the road, like jeepneys are in the Philippines. Pedestrians must really look both sides before crossing the streets, especially tourists who are not used to the place.

It was a challenge for me to go around Ho Chi Minh, but I learned to walk faster. I traveled with my mom, who had no trouble keeping up with my pace considering that she’s more than twice my age. We purposely booked a hotel in District 1, which is within walking distance of the shopping mecca known as Ben Thanh Market.

Shopping dos and don’ts

Located in the city’s downtown area, this large marketplace offers all kinds of merchandise—local produce, fruits, coffee, flowers, clothes, footwear, and anything else you can imagine. We were especially awed by the quality of their silk fabrics, one of the best buys there. This is the perfect place to buy souvenir items and more. It is basically a one-stop shop where you can—and must— practice your haggling skills (except in the stalls with fixed prices indicated).

Even with vendors who could hardly speak English, you could still bargain to get more value for your money with the use of a calculator.

<Read the rest of the article HERE.>