He Delights in What He Does

He Does All That He Pleases – devotional by John Piper

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My prayer for all of us is that we rejoice with our rejoicing God. Whatever tough situation you are in right now, you can trust on his awesome and amazing grace to carry you through. Just fix your eyes on Jesus every step if the way. Our troubles are light and momentary and is nothing compared to the promise of living in complete and perfect joy of being united with Jesus. The joy of being united with Jesus in heaven. Know that no christian suffering is meaningless. All of these are accounted for for the glory and joy of the father. And for joy unspeakable for us. So do not grow weary in doing good for at the appointed time you will be richly rewarded. Everything happens for a reason and God has a plan for it. He is delighted in what he is doing in each of us right now. He examines it and sees the works of his hands and says ” it is good”. Praise your name Father!

Ho Chi Minh City

My trip to Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City was the third leg of my trip. A friend whom I met during my Thailand trip in 2011 lives there now so it was a great time to catch up with her while I was in the country. I also got to meet her Thai-Chinese friend who happens to be friends with the other people I met in Thailand. It’s really a small world!

Arrived to this side of the Saigon. District 7, HCMC.

Arrived to this side of the Saigon. District 7, HCMC.

I stayed at my friend’s apartment in District 7 of Ho Chi Minh City. It is about 30 to 45 minutes away from District 1, the main town of the city. HCMC is one of the busiest cities in South East Asia. It reminds me of Bangkok, it’s just that they have more trees. Staying in District 7 was an opportunity to enjoy some peace and quiet.

Woke up to the beautiful clear blue sky of South Vietnam.

Woke up to the beautiful clear blue sky of South Vietnam.

I have never seen so many motorbikes in my life! I thought Ive seen enough in Hanoi, but HCMC was mental! I learned one important tip from one of the western travelers Ive met in Cambodia about how to cross the streets in Vietnam, most especially in HCMC: Just be deliberate! Go straight, dont look back, and never fear! I think he’s right. The moment you slow down, the more chaos it creates. I still cannot figure out how that logic works, but surprisingly, things just fall into place if you keep this attitude in the streets of Vietnam.

A typical daily grind.

A typical daily grind.

HCMC is a small city. It is not very difficult to go around because most of the famous places that tourists visit are near each other.

It is very unlikely of me to join a tour because I like discovering places that are not in the guidebooks, but in Saigon, I joined a city tour for 9 dollars which I think was not so bad, considering the priceless opportunities of meeting new people, learning new things from the tour guides and enjoying the comforts of being in an air conditioned bus that I definitely needed on a very hot and humid Day. Well actually, the air conditioned bus was the take away.

War Museum

War Museum

Thien Hau Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City

Thien Hau Chinese Temple, Ho Chi Minh City

Donation receipts posted on the wall inside the temple. It gives the names of the donor and the amount he or she donated to the temple.

Donation receipts posted on the wall inside the temple. It gives the names of the donor and the amount he or she donated to the temple.

Inside the Chinese interiors of the temple.  This is also where I met Su, a Brazilian lady from Brasilia.

Inside the Chinese interiors of the temple. This is also where I met Su, a Brazilian lady from Brasilia.

I went to the usual places tourists go and spent the day taking photos of these places. The best part of this trip was meeting other travelers. Throughout my entire Vietnam trip, I only met Filipinos in Saigon. It seems like most Filipinos go to Saigon among the other places in Vietnam. I also met a mother and daughter pair from Brazil. They are very friendly and I felt like I just gained a sister and a mom. Her mom loved taking our photos and made us pose in front of St. Anthony inside the Notre Dame Cathedral. She said that he is the patron saint for single people wanting to get married. I love her mom’s cute sense of humor. Haha!

We visited a lacquer museum, one of the oldest industries in Vietnam.  The details and artistry are amazing.

We visited a lacquer museum, one of the oldest industries in Vietnam. The details and artistry are amazing.

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Ben Thanh Market, Saigon Post Office, Reunification Palace and Notre Dame Cathedral

Another highlight of my stay in HCMC was that I was able to get my guards down after traveling to North and Central Vietnam on my own. Being around friends and getting introduced to their other Filipino friends was a break from all the tight responsibilities of traveling alone. I also got to speak Filipino and eat Filipino food! I also took this opportunity to discover what can be seen in a typical Vietnamese supermarket, which I love to do every time I travel. There is so much to learn in a culture from those grocery stores!

Blessed to find friends and meet some new ones too.

Blessed to find friends and meet some new ones too.

I stayed in HCMC for 2 nights and 2 days which was really supposed to be shorter. Spending time with friends is priceless. It was a good way to end my Vietnam trip and it allowed me to prepare physically and mentally for my next and final leg: Cambodia.

The Old Town of Hoi An

Old Town Hoi An

Old Town Hoi An

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Hoi An is probably one of the most picturesque places in Vietnam.  Yet photos still do not give justice to the experience of seeing how Vietnam was like in its pre-colonial age.  It represents a well-preserved trading port in South East Asia and it is the only town in Vietnam that remained intact after the colonization of France and the war with the United States.   It’s original infrastructure before the French and American era, still stands thus earning a UNESCO World Heritage status.

It is located about 30-45 minutes away southwest of Da Nang city.  It is known for its custom-made clothing that can be ordered and picked-up in 24-48 hours. One of the Irish ladies I met there had her graduation dress done in one of the shops and it was also from her that I learned that top designer Jimmy Choo trained in Hoi An before he became an institutional name in the fashion industry.

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Apart from its popular tailoring industry, Hoi An is a gastronomical spot.  It is one of the best places to discover Vietnamese food, and a recommended place to learn Vietnamese Cuisine.  The cooking lessons do not require much, one just need to book a schedule with any of the restaurants found on any of the strips in the Old Town, or be a walk-in student.  The prices vary depending on the school and package, but the prices range from 25-50 USD.  Some come with a countryside bike tour where the vegetables are harvested, 2-3 dishes for you to learn, cook and eat.  Some give you one on one lessons, and others give you a group cooking class with other foreigners.  This was my initial plan in visiting Vietnam, but on the day I planned to join a class, my home stay family made special lunch for me, which turned out to be a personalized cooking class as well.

Food in Hoi An is considered one of the best in Vietnam.  It is flavorful and has more spices which people traveling from the West really love. It is a place that knows the ins and outs of tourism and staying true to their form when it comes to food among other aspects brings out the charm in this city.

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Apart from the history it carries in its infrastructure which can be enjoyed during the day, Hoi An’s beauty can also be seen at night when every establishment lights up their paper lanterns.   Most of the people I met say that going to Hoi An is like stepping into a movie set of a Vietnamese period film.  I think so too.  I remember gasping in awe the moment I entered the Old Town for the first time.  I saw brightly lit up lanterns, traditional souvenir shops, little kids in their Vietnamese costumes, traditional Vietnamese infrastructure.  They even have traditional Vietnamese music playing in the background, and if I remember it keenly, the music was consistent anywhere you go in the old town!  It was enchanting as is was also an excitingly surreal experience.  I heard some restaurants play Lady Gaga, though music which helped me snap to reality.

One interesting point was that despite it being traditional in form, it is forward in some aspects, like the whole Old Town has free wifi for everyone to use.  I even had a Facetime moment with my friend back in Manila and showed her around the restaurant I was having lunch at.

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The Old Town is small and if you’re a traveler, this place is probably your main reason for visiting.  There are interesting places to discover in this old town, and for a fee of 120,000 VND you already earn a pass to 5 different preserved tourist spots.  The passes are good for a day, so it would take one whole day to go see them, but everything is walking distance and whatever street you pass through are all discover worthy.  I would suggest that visitors rent a push bike to get to places in the Old Town faster.  It is easy to park your bike anywhere, so if you feel like stopping and enjoying looking around, or cooling down with some good Vietnamese ice cream, it would not be a problem.  My bike cost 2 USD for my entire 3 day stay.

Outlining an itinerary would help you maximize your trip as you have to factor in weather.  I made my trip in May and the weather could get really hot.  Always have a bottle of water handy.  It would also be helpful to note that the sun rises early in Vietnam.  In Hoi An, 6am was already very bright, like 8am in the Philippines.  It could get really hot during the day and humidity is quite high. The spots inclusive of your 120,000 VND pass close at 5pm, so it would be good to jump start your tour as early as 7am.

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The popular Japanese Covered bridge

Vietnamese people follow the Lunar calendar. Every 14th of the Lunar month, Hoi An celebrates this event by turning out all the city lights and leaves the city with paper lanterns on. They revived the use of paper lanterns in 1992.