Vietnam – Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City

After some much-needed sleep I woke up at around 5:00am. The hotel I was staying at provided a complimentary set breakfast, which started at 7:00am. I hung out in the hotel room until it was time for breakfast. For breakfast I had some Pho. After breakfast I started my adventure around the city.

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The first stop was Ben Thanh Market, a massive market that’s been around since the early 17th century. The market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and was rebuilt to become Saigon’s largest market. The market was moved in 1912 and renamed to it’s current name, and the building was renovated in 1985.

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The second stop was the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, also known as Gia Long Palace. This building has a very rich history dating back to 1885.Construction of Gia Long Palace was constructed between 1885 and 1890. Gia Long Palace was designed by the French architect Alfred Foulhoux. The palace spans two floors and was building using classical Baroque architecture with a blend of European and Oriental influences. The building was essentially symmetrical with a winding staircase in the middle of the building. Interestingly the building was built with three deep underground tunnels which lead from the palace to other parts of the city so that government officials could escape in the event of a coup. The building was intended to house the Museum of Commercial Trade, which showcased products and goods of Southern Vietnam, but it was not used as intended and was instead used as the residence of the Governor of Cochinchina. In 1945, control of the palace changed hands many times. It started on March 9th when French governor Ernest Hoeffel was arrested, and the Japanese took over the palace and used it for the residence of Japanese Governor Yoshio Minoda. On August 14th the Japanese handed over the palace to its puppet Empire of Vietnam government to be used as a residence. A mere 11 days later on August 25th the Viet Minh seized the property. The building then became the headquarters of the Provisional Administrative Committee of Southern Vietnam, which was later renamed the “People’s Committee of Southern Vietnam”. On September 10th the British occupied the palace and made it the Allied Mission headquarters, thus evicting the “People’s Committee”. About a month later on October 5th the building was then again occupied by the French; first as a temporary headquarters of the High Commission for the French Republic in Indochina, then as the official headquarters of the Commissioner of the French Republic in Southern Vietnam.

On June 2nd 1948 the French handed control of the building to the Provisional Government of the State of Vietnam, which established its headquarters there. It was later on used as the Palace of the Premier. On January 9th 1950 a massive protest with over 6000 students and teachers demanding the release of students arrested for advocating Vietnamese independence occurred in front of the building. Over 150 people were arrested, 30 injured, and 1 killed. From 1954 to 1966 the palace was used as a residence for numerous government officials, and was renamed to Gia Long Palace by Bao Dai. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Vietnam utilized the palace from October 31st 1966 to April 30th 1975, when the Fall of Saigon occurred, ending the Vietnam War. On August 12th 1978 the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee ordered that the building be used as the Ho Chi Minh City Revolutionary Museum, a propaganda museum, later being renamed on December 13th 1999 to its current name of Ho Chi Minh City Museum.

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The third stop was the People’s Committee Building, also known as Ho Chi Minh City Hall. The building was built between 1902 and 1908 in a French colonial style. It was renamed in 1975 to Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. While I was there a group a graduating school children were getting their group photo taken.

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The fourth stop was the City Opera House. I just took a photo of the outside, as the inside was being used for graduating children. The building was opened in 1900 and shaped very similar to the Opera Garnier in Paris, with 800 seats to entertain the French. The Opera House was damaged during World War 2, and because of the criticism of the fascade and high costs of organizing performances the government tried to turn the theatre into a concert hall. Decorations, engravings, and statues were removed, and the building wasn’t restored until 1955. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the building was restored again to its original function as a theatre, and the façade wasn’t restored until 1998, on the 300th anniversary of the founding of Saigon.

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I then stopped by the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre to purchase a ticket for the 5:00pm showing; more on that later. The cost of the ticket was 200000 dong ($11.40 CDN).

After purchasing my ticket, I went to the War Remnants Museum. On my way to the museum I met a couple that was also from Canada and we chatted on the way to the museum. The girl had just had her phone stolen out of her hands while she was sitting for dinner the previous evening, so she warned me to be a bit vigilant. The War Remnants museum was built in 1975 and contains exhibits related to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French. Just a word of warning that some of the following images may be disturbing to some viewers.

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I was starting to get hungry so I searched out some food on Google Maps. I settled for Saigon Sakura Japanese Restaurant. On my way to the restaurant I snapped a few quick photographs of Independence Palace. Independence Palace, also known as Reunification Place, was built between 1962 and 1966. It was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the gates.

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For lunch I had some sushi rolls, but not too many as they were phenomenally expensive; even more expensive than at home. After enjoying the delicious lunch, I walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and the Saigon Central Post Office. Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon was built between 1863 and 1880 by the French in a Romanesque style. The Saigon Central Post Office was built between 1886 and 1891 in Gothic, Renaissance and French style. Inside the Saigon Central Post office there are two painted maps that were created just after the post office was built. One is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia titled “Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892”, which roughly translates to “Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”. The second map of greater Saigon is titled “Saigon et ses environs 1892”, which roughly translates to “Saigon and its surroundings 1892”.

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It was getting quite hot out at this point in time and I was still a bit jet lagged, so I walked back to the hotel to rest for a few hours. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a Circle K convenience store to get a few beers to enjoy in the hotel room later on. By the time I got back to the hotel it was about 2:30pm. I relaxed until roughly 4:30pm and then walked to the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The show was extremely well done and in Vietnamese, but I didn’t need to understand Vietnamese to understand what was going on.

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After the show I walked to Nha Hang Dong Pho, and had a Hue style clear both with pork knuckle. It was honestly not very good, despite the good reviews online. I was getting tired so I walked back to the hotel. On the way back it started raining, but not too hard.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ho Chi Minh City, and explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, before jet setting off to Hoi An / Da Nang.

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August 5th 2016 – Blue Mountains, Sydney, and Koop Kooper

I started out today by heading to the Blue Mountains. I left my hotel at 3:30am and walked fourty minutes to Central Station, because the other stations don’t open until around 4:00am. It was raining lightly on my walk to the train station so I didn’t wear a rain jacket. I did have a slip and fall on the way because of the markers that are placed at crosswalks for blind people. I scraped a few knuckles on my right hand but rinsed it off with water and some toilet paper, which I had handy in my backpack. I made it to Central Station with ten minutes to spare and boarded the 4:20am train to Katoomba.
The Train ride to Katoomba, where the Blue Mountains are, took about two hours. The train was comfortable, smooth, fairly quick, and even had a plum interior to boot! When I arrived in Katoomba I noticed that the temperature was way cooler, around 2 degrees Celsius. I put on my rain jacket, as that is all I brought with me, and headed up the stairs of Katoomba station. There was a cute little coffee kiosk there, where I grabbed a Tall black coffee. I was talking with the Barista a bit, and she was saying that this was unusual weather for this time of the season.
I walked about half an hour from Katoomba station to Echo Point, a lookout from which you can see The Three Sisters and miles upon miles of beautiful dense rainforest. I was the only person there since it was barely 7:00am. I even caught the last few minutes of sunrise! When I was leaving Echo Point to walk towards a scenic lookout of Katoomba Falls. The view was spectacular. There was a 3000 step decent towards the bottom of the falls, but due to it raining so much and my slip and fall earlier I opted out.
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I then walked to Scenic World, which was not open for the day yet, and took some photos. They have one the worlds steepest Cable Way down to the bottom, the world’s steepest train (you can even adjust your seating position to lay flat if the angle is too much for you), and a very tall 360 degree glass Cable Car that spans across Katoomba Falls.
After taking photos at Scenic World I headed back towards the train station, but stopped at Aldi’s (one of Australia’s grocery chains) for a banana and Subway for a ham sub. I boarded the 9:10 am train back towards Sydney. The train arrived in Sydney at 11:20 am, and I then boarded the T4 line towards Kings Cross, where I walked back to my hotel. I downloaded my photo’s, relaxed for a bit, and talked with my friend Barry about a very old mall in Sydney called the Queen Victoria Building. I Naturally I had to go see it, so I packed up my gear and started walking towards it, while getting very distracted by other architecture along the way. I came across another old mall called The Strand, which was built in 1891. In a way I preferred The Strand over the Queen Victoria Building, because I felt it had more character.
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After visiting both buildings I walked towards Darling Habour, where I walked around for a bit, as well as got told off by an official for being too close to the water (even though I was definitely more than a meter away…). The sun was going to set soon, so I walked quickly to Sydney Harbour area so I could catch the sunset. I took some photos of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge while the sun was setting, as well as after the sun had set. This city has quite the impressive night life and really seems to come to life when the sun goes down.
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After taking in all the beauty of the Harbour I had to head back to my hotel room so that I could get ready to meet a gentleman named Koop Kooper. I’ve been listening to his Podcast called the Cocktail Nation for the past four or five years (I actually need to look back and see how long it’s been, but that’s a rough guess). I was always fascinated by his Podcast and the work that he does, so when I knew I was heading to Australia about a month ago I reached out to him and told him I was coming. He said that was great and that we should meet up for coffee. I was thrilled so I said yes.
I head down to my hotel lobby at around 7:50pm to wait for Koop. I got talking with an older lady from Melbourne, who was dressed up very nicely in furs, and jewelry. She came right up to me and just started talking with me, telling me about her younger years, air travel, living in the states, and what she used to do for work. This goes hand in hand with the era Koop and I like, which is the mid 20th century, so of course I was quite fascinated with the conversation.
Koop showed up so I had to say bye to the elderly lady. Koop was dressed in his vintage wear and had his hair slicked back, living the mid 20th century lifestyle like he does every day. We went in search of a coffee shop, which was actually rather difficult to find. The area my hotel is located in is more of a party area, with a darker past. Koop was telling me that this area is way nicer than it used to be, and was more of a red light district back in its days. Eventually we found a place that served coffee called Pie Face. I ordered a tall back coffee, and Koop ordered a tall latte. We continued walking through the area, talked about a variety of subjects such as his career, politics, and cars. His career is fascinating; progressing from tennis to eventually radio. He started out at a small radio station in western Australia, working his way up to voice overs all over Australia, as well as his Podcast. He has travelled the world and experienced such a variety of different experiences. He’s owned quite a few beautiful vintage cars in his years as well, my favorite being his 1965 Chrysler Valiant Signet. Classic Cars sometimes have a few quirks, such as the Chrysler, which ended up needing two engine rebuilds in less than a two year period. We spent about an hour together, before Koop had to go, and I was ready for bed, so we said bye. Koop gave me a signed book that he wrote called Koop Kooper’s Cocktail Nation: The Interviews 2. I’m going to read this book when I get some downtime on my trip. We didn’t end up taking a photo together unfortunately, but here’s a picture of Koop in his typical attire.
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If you like Jazz and Lounge Exotica music, then I highly recommend the Cocktail Nation Podcast. You can visit Koop’s website at https://cocktailnation.net/.
It was around 10:00pm when my eyes could not stay open any longer, so I went to bed. Tomorrow I’ll be travelling to Melbourne. Check back tomorrow for my latest blog!
If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.

August 4th 2016 – First Day In Sydney

After arriving at Sydney I was greeted by a very long customs lineup. It took about an hour to get through and then you have to wait in another lineup after the baggage collection area, even if you only have carry on like I did. This lineup was to check randomly to see if you are bringing anything into the country you shouldn’t be, such as food.
After that I went to purchase an OPAL card and boarded a train to Sydney Central Station. The train was nice, clean, and looked fairly new. When I got off the train at Central Station it had started to rain a bit so I put on my rain jacket. I had some time to kill before I could check into my hotel, so I went and walked through Hyde Park, to the Quay area, and The Rocks District. I saw the Sidney Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, tons of beautiful buildings, and lots of beautiful art.
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At 10:30am I was getting fairly hungry so I walked to a mall near the Quay. I was in search of a sandwich, but the first place that caught my eye was of course Vietnamese, which is my favorite food. The Pho soup was okay, but far from my favorite. At $7.50 AUD it was a good deal considering how expensive it is in Australia.
After lunch I went and walked on the Harbor bridge and took a beautiful photo of the Opera House. This was such a spectacular view.
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After walking across the bridge I decided I would start making my way towards my hotel and see if my room was ready. During my walk it started to downpour. An off duty bus pulled up next to me and a woman named Jenny asked where I was going. I told her I was going to the Devere Hotel in Potts Point. She said “come on in. I’ll take you”. The bus ride was a short ten minute ride. She told me all about the harbor area, and where I was staying. I learned a bit about her and her family and how expensive housing here is. She dropped me right off at the front door to my hotel. I couldn’t thank her enough!
It was noon but my room was ready. I settled in and had a shower and relaxed for a bit. In a matter of only fourty minutes the weather cleared up and the sun was shining again. I decided I wanted to go to Bondi Beach. I walked to Kings Cross station and took the train two stops to Bondi station, where I caught the 333 bus right to the beach. This is a very beautiful and long beach that stretches in a nice arc around a little bay.
I took some photos and then started to do the Bondi Beach Pathway but a lot of the pathway was destroyed a few weeks earlier due to a pretty substantial storm. There was a detour through a posh neighbourhood. 8 caught a glimpse of some very nice multi million dollar flats before being returned to the pathway. The views from the pathway were spectacular.
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I took the 333 bus back to Bondi station, and then took the train back to Kings Cross Station. Outside of Kings Cross station there is a liquor store where I picked up a half dozen Australian beers to try. I walked back to my hotel, and began to write my blog, while enjoying two of the beers. I had a Victoria Bitters (bold and a bit bitter) and XXXX Gold (similar to Kokanee gold).
I was feeling a bit tired and was fighting a cold I’ve had for the past few days so I decided to have a nap. I set an alarm for 5:00pm so I could do a night walk tour, but I shut it off. I woke up at 1:00am. I guess I needed some sleep…
I checked my Apple Watch and noticed I had walked more than 25km and 240 minutes today! I went and grabbed some McDonalds because I was starving. The Big Mac’s here don’t taste as good as home. There really is a difference when it comes to Alberta beef. Nothing really compares in my opinion.
My next adventure is the Blue Mountains, but you’ll have to check back for the next blog post for that one.
If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards my travel, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.