The Table Mountain

I didn’t know what to expect weeks before my trip to Cape Town in South Africa.  I had mixed emotions and like what I normally do before traveling, I lower my expectations.

I did my research about South Africa. I looked at pictures, read its history and browsed some personal experiences of people who have been there in the internet.   With only a week to go around Cape Town, I did my usual top 10 list of  where to go, what to do and which ones must see.  Table Mountain ranked number 1 on my itinerary which I based on the many personal accounts of people from travel sites and blogs.  What I read excite me.  The Table Mountain grew on me as the day drew nearer to my trip to Cape Town.

The Table Mountain is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, I have been to the 2 others on the list (Underground River in Puerto Princessa in my country the Philippines and Halong Bay in Vietnam).  The Table Mountain definitely deserved its spot in this prestigious list though (I believe) there are just so many that should have been included or the list does not just consist of 7 (make it 12 or something!).

This captivating mountain which I found absolutely remarkable and nothing like I’ve seen before became the backdrop of my stay in Cape Town.

The Table Mountain as seen from my hotel room made my every morning in Cape Town truly awesome.
Table Mountain as seen from the Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is a prime tourist area in Cape Town. The Table Mountain makes the waterfront even more picturesque.
Table Mountain
One blogger wrote, “it is a mortal sin to miss the Table Mountain”.. I didn’t want to commit such sin, so off to the top I go.
On top of Table Mountain
On top of the world, I mean the Table Mountain overlooking the stunning Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean.
On top of the Table Mountain
On top of the Table Mountain overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
The Table Mountain
The Table Mountain as seen from my seat on board the Emirates Airlines. I surely left my heart in Cape Town.

Cape Town is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world and South Africa is on my top 7 list of the world’s most picturesque countries.

Ho Chi Minh Revisited

Indeed, Vietnam is sweeter the second time around.  Unlike last year when I traveled all by myself (Vietnam Adventure); I experienced many nuisances so noteworthy, I learned from it.

This trip is particularly special because I get to travel with my mom and friends after availing a 3-hour flight via Cebu Pacific Airlines from Manila.  Our intention was to travel through 5 countries of Indochina and the Malay PeninsulaWe entered Ho Chi Minh with the wish to go to Cambodia, then to Thailand, Malaysia and then exit Singapore to the Philippines.

Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) changed, it looks a lot better. I noticed that the city streets are well-lit (we arrived past 1AM)  and cleaner.  Obviously, Vietnam is developing in an unprecedented way and I am happy about it.  I can’t wait to explore other cities in the northern part of this country.

People driving the scooters and motorbikes are more careful now.  Traffic lights, signs and directions are clear everywhere. There is an observed speed limit but crossing the streets are still quite tricky.

Welcome to Ho Chi Min, the motorbike capital of the world.
The main mode of transportation here is a scooter or motorbikes. Be careful when crossing the streets or riding a bike especially for  first timers. There does not seem any strict rules on how to drive these things, pedestrians must take extra caution.

Ho Chi Minh in southern Vietnam is the destination when you want to explore the culture and heritage of the people.  The history behind the Vietnam-American War that took place here now plays a major role in their tourism industry.  A visit to this part of the country is incomplete without commemorating the sad and tragic story behind the war.  The Cu Chi Tunnels is a silent witness to what took place and the tourists can only imagine how it was like back then.

An old video presentation for visitors, it’s like an overview of the war. You’ll be lucky to have a guide like what we had, he claimed that he is a war veteran. Expect his story as personal as it can get.
The Tunnel System. Our guide shows us the map of the tunnels that were built during the war. The tunnels are unbelievably long.
It could be very hot or really wet when going to the woods to personally see the tunnels. At any case be ready, if you are a bit more participating, why not try to fit in this hole where the Vietnamese soldiers hid during the war.
The Vietnamese created a wide array of traps for the enemy to choose from. In this hut you will see just what they are.
Try not to fall in any one of those holes or else. Again, I can only imagine how it was like back then.
The Vietnamese soldiers create shrapnel, bombs and other weapons by hand as depicted in this life-sized diorama.

The tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels would normally take an entire morning depending on how the guide tells the story.  Make sure to bring enough drinking water for hydration.  Get ready with an extra shirt especially if you perspire a lot.  Now, be very careful not to take offers from anybody in the streets to take you around or bring you to the Cu Chi Tunnels.  You would not want to get robbed (ripped) just like what happened to me last year.  The best and cheapest way is by bus which you can book for $5 per head through the many travel agencies around District 1 of the city.  Prepare another $4-5 ($VND* 90,000) for the entrance fee.  The bus will do a short trip to a local factory that creates local handicrafts.

* Vietnamese Dong $VND20,000 = $US1

The local factory creates beautiful handicrafts. Most of the workers are people with disabilities, so I guess buying from this shop benefits them.
Since Vietnam is our first destination, we decided to buy only a small item that we can easily carry.

Ho Chi Min is also a bargain hunter’s paradise.  Visit the Ban Than Market in District 1 and see for yourself an astonishing array of anything and everything.  A word of advise though, if you are not sure to buy any, do not make an eye contact.  You would not want to piss them off. Generally, the vendors would quote high prices for their product as a buffer for the discount you wish to have.

The streets are still chaotic even at night. Again, observe precautionary measures even just crossing the streets.

Strolling at night is relatively safe but just make sure to cross the streets well and keep your personal belongings. Hold on to your cameras, wallets and electronic gadgets when near the roads, better keep them out of sight.  They can easily be snatched.

Parks are well-lit and there are many people doing their early evening walks, jogs and various exercises

Restaurants near Ban Than Market and the District 1 offers an array of authentic Vietnamese cuisine if you are up for it.  But one of the best ways to enjoy dinner especially if you are there only for a night is to try the Dinner Cruise along the Saigon River.  It’s fun, relaxing, the food is good and the cultural shows are really entertaining.  Dinner costs around $US 14.

On board the River Cruise
get on board one of this and have a fun night in Saigon.
Ho Chi Min glitters at night

Ho Chi Minh city is a tourist-friendly destination.  Approach the many travel agencies in the main tourist area for information; they communicate in English well.  Be wary and vigilant to people who offer just about anything.  There are many places to stay in Ho Chi Minh depending on your budget. You may get other information from your hotel’s concierge or the front desk.

To go to Cambodia, book either a night or a day bus for around $22-$24 depending on the company.  I highly recommend the Mekong Express.  A night bus saves you an overnight stay in a hotel while you’d definitely enjoy the country side on a day trip.  Either way is worth it.

I’ve crossed the Vietnam-Cambodian border on my next post.