05 February 2010

ho hO HO HO Chi Minh City!

I started off with my trip to Vietnam by getting on an early flight from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur's LCCT.
Then I had at least 4 hours to kill before my next flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Luckily for me, there was Starbucks.
But I had to keep up with a very bad Wi-Fi connection and these little creatures hovering over my coffee mug.
When it was finally time to check in, I boarded another flight where I had this kid scratching on my head the whole trip.
2 hours or so later, I got my very first glimpse of Ho Chi Minh City – a sprawling city blanketed in thick cloud and haze.
Converting some of my dollars to dongs, I became an instant millionaire for the first time in my life.
I’ve seen welcoming crowds at many airports before but at the HCMC airport, they seem to come in big numbers, almost like welcoming a superstar. Even the crowd at the KLIA wasn’t any close to that big when the whole team of Manchester Booooo United came to play in Malaysia last year.
My first day in Saigon didn’t go off quite well. Sharing a taxi with a Russian couple, we had almost become another victims of the infamous Saigon fraudulent cabbies.
Mind to tell you that taking a taxi in HCMC is not that easy. They would make at least ONE attempt to get some extra bucks out of your pocket. The standard taxi fare from Tan Son Nhat International Airport to the City Center is around 110,000 to 150,000 dongs (6-8 USD). Anything beyond that is considered CHEAT.
The first cabbie that approached me offered 500,000 dongs. He actually had grabbed my luggage away and put it into his trunk that I had to take it back and rush away. Then I met this Russian couple, and we managed to get a taxi who HAS AGREED to 110,000 dongs. The cabbie had asked to be paid BEFORE entering the taxi so we did. Later we were on road, heading off to the city center with a BIG SMILE on our faces. We thought we were spared of a fraud.
But were we? Upon dropping us off, he asked for another 80,000 dongs and insisted that we had only given him 20,000 dongs! SHIThead. But then, he was dealing with people who had travelled half around the world. The Russian couple seemed to keep track of every penny that they spent away. ‘I think we have a little bit of problem here. I think there is a fraud”. Then he talked to the cabbie, showing his hand phone to him and said “You want to cheat us. I have a hand phone here and I am going to call the POLICE”. The mention of POLICE had seemed to send the chills up the cabbie’s spines. He pressed on the paddle and began to drive again. He began to shout and yell in Vietnamese and he wouldn’t stop even when we tried to ask him to. When he finally stopped, we took our luggage and said good-bye to each other and simply walked away. Phew. Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City Jipp!
Alternatively, you can INSIST on using the meter.
The story with the taxi did not stop there. Upon checking in, I casually told the receptionist that I was ASKED to pay 500,000 dongs to the taxi driver. How I forgot I was in a communist territory where rules were imposed almost like in the military. Before I knew, I got called down to the lobby because the cabbie was coming over. The receptionist somehow managed to track him down and complaint to the taxi’s company. He later turned up with an ashen face as if he was ready to swallow the receptionist ALIVE. Whoa!

Well, since the taxi driver had actually TRIED to cheat me earlier, he didn’t even dare to look at me directly. He was more on the receptionist. The Hotel Manager was all out to calm him down. While it was so strange that something like that could cause such a magnified furor, I later learnt that a simple complaint like that could actually cost the cabbie his job. In a country like Vietnam, losing a job is like being put on a death row!
It was January 26th and I had just got my salary. I had too much money to spend so I checked myself into this 5-Star Hotel located right in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City.
Kidding. I am a budget aka poor traveler. I couldn’t afford that. This is actually the hotel that I stayed in.
And this is the room that I was placed in.
Quite too small for the price I paid. And this is the toilet or bathroom or whatever you like to call it.
Mind to tell you that there are dozens of budget hotels within the area alone. Take some time to browse around. Some of them could be as cheap as USD10 and still the rooms are OK.
Later, I was out on the streets, looking for something to eat.
I stayed in District 1, which is a VERY touristy area in HCMC.
Its streets are lively with pubs, cafes and restaurants – offering nightlife in the Viet way.
And I wasn’t sure if GO GO means the same thing it does in Thailand. I didn’t check. Quite out of the agenda this time. :-P
I had my very first encounter of the famous Snake Wine – The real specialty of Vietnam. I later found out that they can actually be found everywhere in HCMC, and Vietnam as a whole. Said to be good to boost your errrrr, performance in bed. Oh well, WTVR. :=D
Out of so many eating places around, I decided to take a seat at a restaurant overlooking an extremely busy cross junction. Oh well, talking about TAKING IN THE FEEL of Saigon.
I chose to order this from the menu – Fried Rice with Ham, Chicken, Carrot, Peas, Onion and Pineapple. With a name like that, I was expecting a variety on my plate. Instead, they sent me a Pine apple.
I actually waited for at least 10 minutes for them to bring the rest to me and was getting impatient. I later realized they were never gonna send anything because everything was already there. Gosh. Tricky food for my first dinner in Vietnam.
And it actually tasted sooooooooooooo good.
I even ordered the Saigon’s pride Bia Saigon to come with it - my very first alcoholic drink of the year. *clapping sound
It was just so cool to sit back and relax and watch the world revolve around me. It was just a perfect time to cuci mata.
And there were street performances including one by this little boy who likes to lick fire. 
And this mobile peddler here seemed to turn up every 15 minutes.
By then, it was beginning to get too late. My body clock was still registering Malaysian time which was ahead of the Vietnamese time by more than an hour. I headed back to my hotel. But still, I was still aware of certain things.
I know what’s in your head. While the streets of HCMC continued to roar sleeplessly, I retreated to my room to get what I was in a dire need of - A good decent sleep. One day was over. I had more days to come. ZZZZZZZZZZ.


kenwooi said...

haha.. you know what's in my head.. FUKI! =P

anyway, the taxi story is kinda scary.. i dont like being cheated, it sucks! but i guess it's karma.. he tried to cheat, and he got caught! in his face! haha..


wenn said...

interesting story of your trip.

aud said...

From the pictures, the room looks okay; how much did you pay? And that Sleep Well pillow/cushion was a nice touch :) Share more, please..

JIPP said...

Yeah, the room was OK for a 20USD per night. :-) Kenwooi, I knew. I had the same in my head. LOL! Taxis there are so dodgy actually. We gotta be smarter than they are. Wenn, sorry for tha little MU part. It is a good team :-)

Anonymous said...

Following your nice blog since Melbourne's posting.I can't get enough to read your upcoming travel story ( the one which is like Palestin's trip ). Any plan to go to Armenia, Georgia or Azerbaijan ( or Caucasus they said )?


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