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Vietnam: Dai Nam Park & Xin Chao Circus

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Vietnam-Cambodia Tour Itinerary

Of all the trips I had planned, the Vietnam-Cambodia one was the most stressful to date. Up until the last minute, I wasn't sure if we would even push through with it.

Our series of unfortunate events began as soon as I purchased the tickets.

1. I bought two tickets going to Vietnam instead of one going and the other returning back. Talk about carelessness.
2. Months after we already bought the ticket, two of my traveling companions backed out, leaving only me, my boyfriend, and one other friend left.
3. My card holder, along with my PASSPORT, was stolen a MONTH before the trip. I almost gave up hope that I would get my passport on time for our flight. Fortunately, I got it 2 days before the trip.
4. My boyfriend's cellphone got stolen the night before our trip.

It was almost as if someone didn't want us to go and I was beginning to worry that all the omens meant that something bad would happen to us while abroad.

However, like a shining sun, our third companion was so excited, constantly asking me what to bring, what to buy, where to go, even when I hadn't gotten my passport yet. If I couldn't go, there would be no trip since I planned everything.

Anyway, to make a long story short, we went ahead with the trip because we didn't want to disappoint my friend. My boyfriend still had doubts but kept them to himself.

I was still apprehensive even while we waited at the airport. I was thinking of all the things that could go wrong with the trip. My friend said that the worst thing he could think of that would happen to us was stay in the hotel the whole week because we had nowhere to go.On the other hand, I was thinking that we could get hostaged, kidnapped, scammed off all our money, get our cameras stolen, hospitalized, etc. Yes, as you can see, I am quite the pessimist.

My fears were not really that far off because the moment we left the Ho Chi Minh airport, we got scammed by the taxi driver. The fare to our hotel was supposed to be only $7. We paid $10 for a 30 minute drive and he even let us down on the wrong address and kept insisting that our guest house, which was printed on the paper I showed him, was in the street where we got off. Well, it wasn't. We walked two more blocks to find the guest house and I was so irritated with the taxi driver.

Vietnamese Pho
Since we arrived at midnight, there was nothing to do but check in and rest. Fortunately, the people from our guest house were very friendly and the room was clean and adequate. I thought I wouldn't get any sleep that night but was asleep almost as soon as I lay down.

The next day, we got up early to see if we could book a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels. We went to 7 tour agencies before giving up because all tours were full. So we went to Dai Nam Park instead.

To get to Dai Nam Park, we walked along Pham Ngu Lao street until we were in front of Ben Thanh market. The bus station should be there and we waited for bus 616 to arrive. People pushed and shoved each other when the bus finally arrived. Luckily, we all got seats.

I call this the Dragons of Hell. Lol. But I don't know the official name.
Travel time to Dai Nam Park took about 1.5 hours and the fare was 25,000 VND (around Php 50). Entrance to Dai Nam was 50,000 VND each but other attractions had separate entrance fees.

We passed by the go cart racing because no one was interested in it and went to visit the 5 Dragons of Hell. This was a kind of horror room where the 18 levels of hell were depicted. Entrance was 30,000 VND. It was very dark inside but I didn't find it scary at all.

One of the 18 levels of hell

Next we had our photoshoot at the center of the park. It had a lake and a great view of faraway temples. Mist was constantly sprayed to lessen the noonday heat.

A beautiful view

The Golden Temple with a huge Buddha in front
A closer look at the laughing Buddha

We visited the Golden Temple. Too bad picture taking wasn't allowed inside because the shrines to the gods and goddesses were really beautiful. Behind the Golden Temple was a man-made mountain that was very picturesque. We had several photos with this as the backdrop.

One mistake we made in Dai Nam was not taking a map of the park from the front gate so we basically just wandered around. However, when we decided to climb the 8 floors of the mountain temple, a kind park staff gave us a map when we asked for directions.

Charles wanted to visit the zoo so that's where we headed for next. I wasn't really impressed though. We had a better collection of animals at home in Avilon Zoo. However, they did have a rhino.

Yeah, rhino!

I wanted to try their version of a Snow World but sadly, we didn't have time as we had to leave at 2pm. The plan was to do a city tour of Ho Chi Minh.

Golden turtle

We got back to Pham Ngu Lao at around 4pm. Again, we revised the itinerary because all the city sights would be closed soon, anyway, and it looked like it was going to rain.

So we asked for directions where the Xin Chao circus was, instead. We finally found it and it was just walking distance from our guest house. We purchased tickets at $12.50 each and the show was scheduled to start at 6:30pm. We headed to a nearby vegetarian place to have dinner first.

Xin Chao Circus

The show's story featured Vietnamese folklore. The story goes that the sky goddess and the dragon god fell in love, married and had 50 children. But though they loved each other, they missed their homes and decided to separate, each taking 25 children with them. These 50 children became the 50 tribes of Vietnam.

Part two of  the show was a story about two sister queens who rose to power after one sister's husband was killed by invaders. When defeat became imminent, both sisters committed suicide to avoid capture.

A very flexible girl

The theater performance was a combination of dance, acrobatics and martial arts. All in all, I thought it was nice though our own Kaos at Resorts World was way, way better. To be fair, Kaos was performed by professional actors and entertainers and Resorts World is a luxury commercial establishment. The Xin Chao performers looked like young students from high school.

Intermission. A guy plays a local Vietnamese instrument.

The plan the next morning was to take the earliest bus to Siem Reap but that night, we decided to take the night bus instead so we would have more time to explore Cambodia.

So we bought tickets (at $18 each) from a nearby Tourist agency. I think its name was Hainh Express, near Phnom Penh Sorya. They were the only ones open when we got there. I specifically asked the lady if the bus went straight to Siem Reap without stopping at Phnom Penh. I even drew  two diagrams. One HCM to SR, and the other HCM to PP to SR and she pointed to the first diagram so I was confident that she understood.

The bus was comfortable. All the passengers were on the top level and I fell asleep during the ride. I woke up at 4am based on the bus's clock and found that we had stopped. I had no idea how long were just parked there, doing nothing. I fell asleep again and woke up at 6am. We were still not moving. When the bus staff asked for our passports and asked us to get off the bus, I realized that we were at the  Vietnam-Cambodia border, waiting for the immigration office to open. Apparently, they opened at 6:30am.

My friend used the restroom at the border without telling us but didn't know it was pay-to-use. He didn't have any Dong with him because I held the finances. So, he gave the lady $10! Whoa! He said that was his smallest bill. We kept teasing him about how rich he was, paying $10 to use the restroom.

After passing the border, we got back on the bus for another 6 hour ride, or so I thought. At 11am, the bus stopped and everyone got out. They informed us that we were going to change bus. I looked up and saw a sign that we were in Phnom Penh. What!? I thought we were heading straight to Siem Reap without passing through Phnom Penh! And if we were only in Phnom Penh, why'd it take us so long to get here? It was supposed to be only 6 hours from HCM to PP. How'd it take us 5 hours to reach it from the border!?

Pub Street is where all the action is
Sigh, however, we had no choice. So we had lunch at a nearby restaurant and waited for the new bus that would take us to Siem Reap. The new bus wasn't comfortable. It was hot and old. We arrived at our guest house in Siem Reap at 7pm. We had been traveling for almost 20 hours straight.

Khmer Family Restaurant
We went to Pub Street and had dinner at Khmer Family Restaurant. The food was really good. Try their "alok". We also met a Filipino couple also dining there.

Delicious alok.
The tuktuk that brought us to our guest house offered to tour us around the temples the next day for $15. We agreed that he would pick us up at 6am.


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