Amsterdam view from Amsterdam Tower

Amsterdam view from Amsterdam Tower
The view from Amsterdam Tower

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mudik - Pulang Kampung - Going Back Home

After living in Saigon for one month and five days, I got the first chance to "mudik" or "pulang kampung" or "going back home" to my home town in Jakarta-the capital city of Indonesia.

"Monas" - Monument National, Jakarta
Reasons of going back home are to see my apartment after the renovation, and of course meet my family and friends.  Two special things happen during this visit are the fasting month (Ramadhan) and the Indonesian Independence Day of 17th August (17an).  Plans for breakfasting (buka puasa) with family and friends have been set! About the "17an", let’s check how my national sentiment is after living abroad for a short period.

Fatahillah Museum, Jakarta
I decided to take a direct flight to save time and to see how this airline is. It is a 3 hour 10 minute journey.  At the moment there is only one airline has such schedule.  Plus this airline flies in the evening from Ho Chi Minh City, so I still could attend my French and Vietnamese classes during the day.

Plane departed on time as per schedule.  So it was a good start.  Up in the air, I forced myself to listen to my ipod, instead of music, I had to listen to my Vietnamese language program!  Otherwise I’d had been clueless when I returned to class after being absent for four days.  Meanwhile, I have no worries about my French class, I knew I would be able to deal with it.  Thanks to CCF (Centre Culturel Français) Jakarta!

When I was closer to destination, I recalled a very old song by Koes Jakarta aku 'kan kembali....walaupun apa yang 'kan terjadi.... (to Jakarta I'll return, no matter of what'll happen). 
Koes Plus is an Indonesian musical group that enjoyed success in the 1970s:

Plane arrived on time. Jakarta..., as if I had never leave you. Things are still the same... The 'aura' of home could be felt... I am a bit too shy to admit that I almost cried alone in the plane.

Stasiun Kota - Train Station Kota - Jakarta
Siapa bilang Jakarta macet?  Who complains about the traffic in Jakarta?  It took me only one hour from when I landed in Soekarto-Hatta airport, passed immigration, got my luggage and took a taxi home.  No traffic.  It was midnight - by the way! LOL.

Day 1

How to overcome my guilty feeling for being away?  Spending quality time with the loved ones!

"Buka Puasa" with family was my priority.  I had to say that I enjoyed my mom driving me around!  The two year old nephew was already hungry before we arrived at the restaurant, but no way to speed up because traffic was not smooth so he was moody.  Then I stayed at home and watched CBeebies channel with a nephew and a niece until late at night.

Not only that I was happy to meet my family, I was also happy to see Mya again!  Please read it as Maya, it was my Yaris car!  Her new owner who is my sister allowed me to drive her around.  Was I lucky or what?  Thanks sis!

Mya is in the shower
Satisfying myself with Indonesian food?  Yes!  Thank God, I had chances to eat Sop Buntut (oxtail soup), Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Pisang Goreng Pasir (banana fritter), Sayur Daun Singkong (cassava leaves cooked with coconut milk), Ikan Teri Cabe Ijo (Teri fish cooked with green chili), Tahu Goreng Seafood (fried tofu with seafood) and Es Kelapa Muda (coconut ice).

Watching and listening to Indonesian TV channels were so enjoyable.  Because I understand what it is all about.  Opera Van Java is so funny.  News on SCTV was good.  By the way, when I found out that Vietnam also has SCTV, I thought it is the same one like Indonesia.  But it is not.

About the serious subject I had to do during this visit: my apartment has been renovated well. It is now available for rent.

Day 2

Dirgahayu Indonesia.  Happy Independence Day Indonesia…!  It is the 66th Anniversary of Indonesian Independence.

I watched my nephew and his two friends doing the Upacara Bendera (Flag Ceremony) on the Independence Day around the neighborhood.  When I was at the elementary school, also I had to do the flag ceremony every Monday at 7am.

When I was in Elementary School....
I listened to "Indonesia Raya" the national anthem.  Part of the refrain says “Indonesia Raya, Merdeka, Merdeka. Tanahku, negeriku, yang kucinta....”  - Great Indonesia, independent and sovereign.  My land, my country which I love….. #my tears almost dropped…
More info about Indonesia Raya the National Anthem of Republic Indonesia is in this link:

Years ago when I had to do flag ceremony at school, I did not feel as touched as that day I heard the national anthem while watching my nephew and his friends.  That is how I can say about my national sentiment.

I am proud to be Indonesian.  Even though in Ho Chi Minh City, some people - sometimes - somewhere - think I am Vietnamese and they talk to me in Vietnamese... After having attended French class for a month, some of my classmates were not aware that I am Indonesian.  During my trip to Singapore, sometimes - some people talks Chinese/Mandarin to me.  In Bali, some Balinese thinks I am Japanese.

Day 3

So many things to do in so little time.  I had to squeeze two "Buka Puasa" on the same day.  There are some friends I have not gotten a chance to meet when I moved to Saigon, I wish to meet them during this trip.  Still I could not accommodate them all.

Elementary School friends... some of them is even friends since Kindergarten!!!

It was a good coincidence that my elementary school friends were coming from UK and Thailand.  It was unfortunate that one of them was sick but the rest still come.  The show went on.  Ayam Goreng @ Blok M was waiting for everyone.  We did not want to leave soon and moved to a coffee place @ Anomali.
We have been friends since High School, soooo long time ago we graduated...!
Coincidentally, my high school friends also organized another "Buka Puasa" @ Plaza Senayan.  First, I went there because location wise it was better for me.  Also I had to do my last minute shopping for my stock in Saigon: teh Tong Tji (Tong Tji tea), bumbu nasi goring (fried rice seasoning), bumbu rendang (rendang seasoning), bumbu gado-gado (peanut sauce for gado-gado seasoning), kecap manis/asin (soy sauce: sweet/salty), not to mention Panadol, Norit, Mylanta, Salonpas, LOL.

Shopping list
Day 4

Meeting friends is always good.  Even though, it was for a short time.  No worries at all as I will go back again once in a while.  Sampai ketemu lagi….

I was too tired the next day and almost could not wake up to catch up my morning flight from Jakarta - transit in Singapore - Ho Chi Minh City.  However, I came back to Saigon with full battery recharged!

PS: After being away for four days:
  • My French teacher was happy to see me again.
  • My Vietnamese teacher thought I gave up the class and did not want to come back! LOL, no way...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh Market is one of the “places” to be visited in Saigon. Especially for the ladies, it is a place for shopping for Vietnamese “oleh-oleh” (souvenir). Somehow this market reminds me of Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok, Thailand.

Market is located in downtown District 1. Ten minutes by taxi from the Notre Dame Catheral, with around 40,000VND taxi fare.  There is a square opposite the market with a statue of General Tran Nguyen Han who was a 15th-century warrior served under King Le Loi. 

Market has four gates so it is convenient for the shoppers to get in and out.  Within the market, the shops are well organized according to the types of products.

If we enter from the gate opposite the square, we will see shops selling textiles, clothes, beautiful material for áo dài (Vietnamese national costume, now most commonly for women), t-shirts, sunglasses, etc.   

Also we could find souvenirs, handy craft, chinaware (ceramics), lacquer boxes (kotak souvenir dengan coating pernis/lacquer), sandals, ladies bags/wallets, jewelries, etc. This part reminds me of Mangga Dua in Jakarta, Indonesia. The difference is that Ben Thanh is a one big storey building covered with high ceiling. Meanwhile Mangga Dua is a few storey building.

My three favorite things to buy are all cute girlie stuff:
  • Miniature mannequin dressing up in cute áo dài or cheongsam dresses. It has four hangers on top and two arms-hangers to display light weight jewelries i.e. rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, etc.... One funny story.… I bought one for my girlfriend as her birthday gimmick. Not only that she likes it, but her husband uses it too to hang his watches! Happy to hear that boys like it too! Unfortunately, in my last visit, there was not any shop selling this.
  • Girl sandals decorated with beads. Preferably for indoor use. They are so cute and available in many colors: black, white, navy blue, pink, yellow, gold, green, etc.  By the way, mine is white!
  • Bag/pocket made from colorful fabrics with nice embroidery. I normally use it for traveling, to wrap my personal belongings before I put them in the luggage. Some fabrics are embroidered with shoes or underwear. So can you guess what the content is? Smile -:)

In the center of the market, there are food stalls selling food and drinks. Each stall has few chairs for customers. Passing these stalls, we can smell variety of food they are serving. Mostly is the local food. Wet market is at the back, selling fresh vegetables, fishes, meats, flowers, etc.

At the other side of the market, we can see shops selling Vietnamese cà phê (coffee) and (trà) tea. It is recommended to buy Vietnamese coffee with its coffee filter for “oleh-oleh” (souvenir)! We can enjoy it with condensed milk at home.

Vietnamese Coffee & Tea. See coffee filter on right bottom corner?
Can we bargain in this market?  There are specific sections with “fixed price” signs, but others do not. Questions and Answers with the shop owners are often done through a calculator. LOL… Numbers talk! 

During the chats, the shop owners often touch our hands, with no meaning, it is just their habit, with no harm intention. Sometimes they just touch shopper hands when they try to offer their products. They offer their small stool (read ‘dingklik’ in Bahasa Jawa) to seat and see their products.

Bringing “oleh-oleh” (souvenir) for family/friends from the most attractive place in Saigon such as Ben Thanh market is fun. It is more fun to squeeze everything in the luggage and try not to be overweight. Finally, it is such a happy feeling to see happy faces of our family/friends when they receive it. My pleasure of giving and sharing…

Tintin went to Saigon too....!!!

More info about Ben Thanh Market: Wikipedia:

Notre Dame, Saigon

One of my best sunset experiences in Saigon is to be around the Notre Dame. I could sit outdoor in one of the coffee shops across. Ideally, I am accompanied by a cup of coffee…and a slice of apple crumble or chocolate banana cake….with beautiful cathedral view… the pigeons flying around the cathedral….people voluntarily feeding the pigeons and doves… sitting there enjoying the sunset with our loved one... What else in the world could be better than this?

If I bow my back a little bit, I could position my eyes as high as the table, I could see the Cathedral in between my coffee and cake..

The Virgin Mary Statue

There is a small park with Virgin Mary statue in front of the Cathedral.  I like standing there in the park and look above to the sky to see the pigeons flying around. Doves are there at the side of the street too, but they do not fly around. They just enjoy the free feed from the people.  At one time, coincidentally, I managed to take a pic of a pigeon which landed just right on top of the head of the statue…-:)

See top of the head of the statue. Can you tell the difference?
Notes from Wikipedia: During October 2005, the statue was reported to have shed tears, attracting thousands of people and forcing authorities to stop traffic around the Cathedral. However, the top clergy of the Catholic Church in Vietnam confirmed that the Virgin Mary statue in front of a Cathedral did not shed tears, which nevertheless failed to disperse the crowd flocking to the statue days after the incident. The reported 'tear' flowed down the right cheek of the face of the statue. Source:

Inside The Cathedral

The first time I went there it was in the morning and the Cathedral was open. I think it was after the mass. I could come inside and see the beautiful ornaments. 

To be honest I am not an expert in Cathedral history. Therefore, the word of Cathedral gives me such feeling that I felt so strong when I walked inside… The feeling that the word of Cathedral is so spiritual and full of magical aura. It is hard for me to explain it, it is indescribable.

Cathedral tiles have been carved with the words Guichard Carvin, Marseille St André France (perhaps stating the locality where the tiles were produced). This is a family name, so this is certainly the name of the company producing the tiles. Some tiles are carved with the words "Wang-Tai Saigon". Many tiles have since been made in Ho Chi Minh City to replace the tiles that were damaged by the war. There are 56 glass squares supplied by the Lorin firm of Chartres province in France. The Cathedral foundation was designed to bear ten times the weight of the Cathedral. Sources are and

The parts that attract me more are the walls on the left and right sides. They are not so far from the entrance. Walls are decorated with many tiles saying Merci, Cảm ơn, Reconnaissance. I understand that these are called “ex-voto”.  

An ex-voto is a votive offering to a saint or divinity. It is given in fulfillment of a vow (hence the Latin term, short for ex voto suscepto, "from the vow made") or in gratitude or devotion. Ex-votos are placed in a church or chapel where the worshipper seeks grace or wishes to give thanks. The destinations of pilgrimages often include shrines decorated with ex-votos. Source:

As I live not far from the Cathedral, I could hear the bell rung at 5.00 a.m. At one morning, I intentionally woke up when I heard it. I opened my curtain, looked toward the Cathedral, listened to the bell carefully…. Then I closed my eyes and tried to feel the aura. Indescribable.

It was still dawn and the sun had not risen yet…. I could see some lights from the surrounding office buildings, street lights and few motorbikes which were already in the streets…  Such scenery was a mix color between yellowish and orange… It was a beautiful dawn. Minute by minute the scenery changes color, brighter, and brighter and the sun comes up. Another day, another challenge.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Post Office Saigon

I was astonished by the post office in Saigon. I think this is the most beautiful post office I have ever seen!

First catch is the building. It is one of the old buildings from the French colonialism era; European style, high ceiling, beautiful world map paintings in the side wall. As soon as we enter the building, we can see the photo of Mr. Ho Chi Minh who was the key figure in the formation the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945.

Second is the ATM machines on the left and right sides. Again, I think it is the most beautiful ATM machines I have ever seen... beautiful wooden ATM boxes with clocks showing different time zones. Dear bankers whose ATM is not here yet, mmm... better be here, smile...

Third thing catches my attention is the post services counters. Different service for each counter. They are busy but neat, clean and organized.

I normally go to the counter selling stamp for overseas mails. The lady wearing áo dài (Vietnamese national costume) is always helpful asking destination of my postcards, telling me how much I should pay and giving me the necessary stamps. When I said Cảm Ơn (thank you) she was smiling, perhaps she couldn't catch my strange accent. The glue is available in front of her, just stick the stamp and return postcards to her. She has a box near her for overseas mails. Do not throw our mails to the box. People might throw them to the wrong box...

When I miss home... I walk to this post office... (#sad tones mode). I buy a set of 10 postcards with Saigon view, sit on the benches where people can write. Mostly I spend more time to write addresses than the message itself! The message can be short, as the postcard pic talks... I often say that Saigon is more modern than the pic! Plus a little bit of 'poison' to encourage them to visit visit me...

Result of sending postcard with VND10500 stamp to Indonesia normally comes in a week. Once friends receive my postcard, they text me or put comments on Facebook and telling me how happy they are.

When did the last time we receive bbm/sms/text/email? A few seconds ago? When did the last time we receive letter/postcard with stamp from family/friend?...

When I sit on the post office bench writing my postcards, I sometimes closed my eyes and listened to all the voices around me. I could hear Vietnamese, English, French, others and words I do not understand and buzzing like bees... but it is fun to listen. People from many nations in one place, at the post office, just writing notes to their loved ones at home...

What also fun is when I make conversation with other visitors who are also writing letters; May I see which postcard you choose? Oh it is nice. What? You buy a set of 10 postcards? So lazy to write the addresses! Oooo you are from Indonesia? Where is it? Oooo Bali, yes I know Bali!.... or when I help the lady at stamp corner to repeat her answer: it is one hundred and sixteen thousand - one six....

During my almost one month stay in Saigon, I had visited the post office three times, and for sure many more to come...

Post Office View in the Evening, it looks romantic

Monday, August 1, 2011

Penerbangan (Flight Schedule) Jakarta - Ho Chi Minh City

This is a revision made on April 2013 as a revision to the previous posting on August 2011. The main news is that Air Asia will cancel flight QZ 8234 from Jakarta (CGK) to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) effective 15 April 2013. 

The only direct flight from Jakarta to Ho Chi Minh City is operated by Vietnam Air; four flights a week. See below details.

Versi Bahasa Indonesia

Informasi ini dibuat per April 2013 dan merupakan revisi dari posting terdahulu (Agustus 2011), dengan kabar utama mengenai "Air Asia yang membatalkan rute langsung Jakarta – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) mulai tanggal 15 April 2013".
Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City
Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City
Karena blog ini terutama ditujukan untuk rekan-rekan di Indonesia, daftar penerbangan yang disusun dibawah ini adalah sebagai referensi untuk rute penerbangan Jakarta -  Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) dengan menggunakan maskapai penerbangan Indonesia atau asing.

Ha Long Bay, north Vietnam
Air Asia

Sumber: Air Asia Notification - Indonesia Pre-Flight, PT Indonesia AirAsia (dated 11 March 2013)
Official announcement was made that flight QZ 8234 from Jakarta (CGK) to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) has been cancelled effective 15 April 2013. 
To mitigate the inconveniences, we offer you the below-mentioned available options: 
  1. Move your flight to an earlier date (before 15th April 2013) without any extra charges and subject to availability.
  2. A credit shell for the value that of your ticket with a validity of 180 days.
  3. Cancel your reservation and option for Refund.

For further information and assistance, you may contact AirAsia at the following: Airasia - e-form

Sekedar info, berikut jadwal penerbangan Air Asia sebelumnya dibatalkan:

Dengan demikian, hanya ada satu penerbangan yang melayani rute langsung Jakarta – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Vietnam Air baru melayani rute penerbangan sejak akhir 2012 atau awal 2013 lalu.
Hoi An, old town, central Vietnam
Vietnam Air

Penerbangan langsung, direct flight tanpa transit dengan lama penerbangan tiga jam.  

Jadwal penerbangan 5 x seminggu setiap Selasa, Rabu, Jumat, Sabtu dan Minggu. 
Jakarta - Ho Chi Minh City  (VN 630) 
- Berangkat 13.45 tiba 16.45

Ho Chi Minh City - Jakarta  (VN 631) 
- Berangkat 10.00 tiba 13.00

Informasi lebih lanjut mengenai Vietnam Air dapat dilihat di:
Lion Air

Daily flight. Transit di Singapore.

Semua penumpang diminta keluar pesawat dan membawa tas. Keluar pintu boarding dan masuk ke pintu boarding selanjutnya. Kurang lebih diberikan waktu 5-10 menit untuk keluar masuk. Boarding gate di Changi Airport Singapore cukup ketat mengenai waktu, jadi jangan sampai ketinggalan. 
Lion Air @ Tan Son Nhat Airport, Ho Chi Minh City
Jakarta - Ho Chi Minh City  (JT150)  - berangkat 8.20 tiba 13.00
Ho Chi Minh City - Jakarta  (JT 157)  - berangkat 13.40 tiba 18.05

Informasi lebih lanjut dapat dilihat di:

Hue, Citadel, central Vietnam

Selain Lion Air, tentunya ada beberapa lagi maskapai penerbangan yang melayani rute Jakarta – Ho Chi Minh City via Singapore, misalnya Singapore Airlines, Tiger Air, Jetstar, dan mungkin ada beberapa lainnya. Kalau mau transit di kota lain tentunya juga bisa, Air Asia melayani rute tersebut via Kuala Lumpur. 

Demikian breaking news... Selamat jalan-jalan!
PS: I miss Vietnam and my friends...
Notre Dame, Ho Chi Minh City
Highlights of Vietnam:
Sapa, north Vietnam, near border to China

Sapa, north Vietnam

Saigon, here I come...

Minggu, 10 July 2011 (This is the time…)

I choose afternoon flight because I knew I would have difficult time to wake up after friend’s wedding a day before. 
Close friend's wedding 9 July 2011
Why 10 July? Because the next day is a special day of a special person and I want to be with that person in Saigon.

At 9.30 am my 2 year old nephew arrived, he and his parents are the new owner of Mya (read Maya, my Yaris car). So they came to say good bye to me and to drive her.

At 10.00 am representing GG (Group nGumpul my best friends), Gustaf, Anto and Niq arrived to say hi to my Mom, drive me to the airport and helped me with my 40 kg luggage!!!

At 18.40 local time, Saigon here I come…. I was welcomed with a flower bouquet.

Flashback, First Visit to Saigon

My first visit to Saigon was in February 2009. As soon as I arrived, I was given a city map and brief info where to go to enjoy fresh Vietnamese coffee. I was introduced to Highlands Coffee.

Purpose of my first trip was just to see how the city looks life. My soul mate had been flying back and forth to this city for business.

I was warned that Saigon is not as modern as Jakarta. However I did not mind, as I have seen how Jakarta grew up all my life... I was told that Saigon looks like Jakarta tempo doeloe in the years of 70's. Is it really?.... 

Nope... It looks life 80's probably... I thought many people is still riding bicycles. It was not the fact. In Saigon, there are millions of motorbikes in the streets... But they do not go fast for two reasons: 1) the traffic and 2) government limits the bikes max to 150 cc only (?).

Parking lots for motorbikes is pretty organized. Some places i.e. restaurants provide parking areas and "tukang parkir" - free for customers. Meanwhile... there is no free parking in Jakarta!

In some other places, we have to pay fee of VND 2000-5000. Fee includes "tukang parkir" services - what I mean is that the "tukang parkir" will park the bikes among many other bikes. When we are done, we give him the parking ticket and he will get our bike. If it is free parking, then it is free... This does not happen in Jakarta.

What's next? Coming up....