The post where Sam babbles about scams, buses and sights in Vietnam
2/22/12 - 3/7/12 65 °F
Ah, here I am again, being force fed terrible Asian pop music as the headphone jack on this computer does not work. Oh, now the guy at the desk is singing along. Do the Vietnamese think foreigners love their renditions of love songs sang by teens who are in desperate need of a bang trimming? I'll never know. I do know that this is going to be a terrible post because not only do they force every one to listen to their favorite songs, they force it at the highest level. Subwoofers in my ear. What? You want to hear an example of the teenage love songs that bring me to my knees (and not in a fit of passion either)? Okay, you asked for it.
OH MY GOD. HE IS REPEATING THE SONG. Please. Stop. Singing. Ah, the treble...the treble is so terrible. I apologize for how bad this post is going to be. I can't even hear myself think.
So where did I leave off? Oh yes, in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as everyone but the city's officials call it. When we arrived in Saigon, we liked it. It's a nice city. The traffic is terrible with scooters and taxis and people buzzing about like worker drones in a bee hive. But it's still (relatively) clean and well laid-out. It's hot and slightly smelly, but still nice. Or so we thought.
Our first night there, we got in a cab. Our hotel receptionist had warned us before leaving, "Be very careful if you are taking a taxi. Just be VERY CAREFUL." It was a little nervewracking. She didn't care to explain what to be wary of, just to be wary. Err? So we got into the cab we thought the hotel had called. After about one kilometer, we noticed the meter was high, okay incredibly higher, and ticking higher and higher with every block. It was a rigged meter. Obviously, most people would say something like stop, we can get out here. But it was our first night in Saigon! We were lost, confused, maybe even a little hurt by this scammery. We didn't get out of the cab until the meter reached over 200,000 VND ($10). It should have been a $2 ride at the MOST. We kept asking, "That's a lot of dong. Is your meter broken?" And he kept pointing and yelling "METER! METER!" I just kept saying, "Wow, that is very expensive. Lots of dong." And then he started yelling in Vietnamese and shouting, "METER." If you've never been shouted at by someone speaking Vietnamese, let me tell you -- it is not pleasant. We should have paid the $2 and left, but hey, we are new to this scam business. So we paid the inflated fare and pouted. We had been had. Turns out, there are fake taxis that copy the logos of the reputable companies. If you're in Vietnam, watch out for the fake cabs. Only take Ma Linh and Vina Sun. And make sure the logos are not copies. Also check for the drivers' IDs and rates on the cab's dash. At that moment, it was like a giant banner was rolled out, "WELCOME TO VIETNAM SAM AND AVERY! HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR STAAAY." It was just a sampling of things to come.
So here's the deal: All throughout our travels, we were warned by other travellers about Vietnam. They told us about the scams, the rip-offs, the negative attitude toward travellers. Remember the French dude in Bangkok -- "They (the VN) treat you like dogs!" So we thought we were prepared for it. Nope, two months in SE Asia did not give us the knowledge to travel through Vietnam without being ripped off.
Anyway, we couldn't find the restaurant. So we negotiated with a motorbike driver, who asked me if I "had baby inside" of me, to take us to a second place. Uh? Motorbike drivers have no tact. I knew that dress made me look fat. He brought us to the wrong place, asked for 20,000 more dong to take us to the right place then wouldn't give us our change. I was lucky to have enough in small bills to pay him his stupid 30,000 VND.
After those experiences, we walked. We walked all over sweaty, humid Saigon, feeling more than a bit slighted by the transportation system there. We went to the War Remnants Museum, which was both sad and interesting. What I know of the Vietnam war I learned through American movies, a couple books and my father. So it was interesting to learn about the war through the stories of survivors, photos and artifacts. The Agent Orange exhibit was disturbing. Babies are still being born with birth defects. I had no idea the destruction of the chemicals were so recent. I nearly cried during that exhibit. They spare no gorey details in the photos, which they shouldn't. We also visited The Reunification Palace and an art museum. Both interesting.
(He is still singing.)
A big thing in Saigon's backpacker district is drinking ridiculously cheap beer (50 cents for a bottle) on the street. Yes, on the street. Foreigners pay to drink beerand sit on child-sized plastic stools in the sidewalks and streets. It's funny to see so many large Westerners nearly breaking the tiny hot pink and bright red stools beneath them. For a 1.50, I had some decent local beer and some great people watching. Best part? When the police drove up to make sure no one was sitting in the road. Of course, everyone was sitting in the road. So the husky Vietnamese shop owners began throwing the pink and red stools onto the sidewalk as the confused and slightly frightened tourists stared. I've never seen women of that size move so quickly. When the police left, everyone moved back into the streets. Too funny. I didn't get a great photo, so http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-photo/haz14/1/1261578939/more-street-drinking-it-s-the-vietnam-way.jpg/tpod.html) (< ERROR: the link title is too long!) is someone else's! Ha.
One morning in Saigon, I decided it was way too hot for sight-seeing. So I hauled Avery and I onto a local bus (ticket price: 25 cents) to the waterpark! For five bucks, we spent the afternoon going down slides, intimidating children, floating down the lazy river and whatnot. Good fun. We went down this slide with a Vietnamese guy, and I think my screams of horror/delight terrified him. Poor guy. That slide was the boooommbbb.
We went to the big market in Saigon as well. There, we were blown away by the prices. In Cambodia, vendors start at $3 for a t-shirt. We usually paid $1-2. In Vietnam, vendors start at $15 for a shirt that is only worth $2-3! It's ridiculous how much they go up. It takes about 10 minutes to negotiate them down, all the while they are trying to make you feel guilty. As one lady told Avery, "Just buy the shirt! We are tired and want to go hoooome!" :p I've just stopped buying things in Vietnam because the negotiation process is just so grueling. So everyone, you'll be getting your souvenirs from Laos!
A nice demonstration of weasel coffee in a Saigon market. Did I try it you ask?! MAIS BIEN SUR! It was okay. Kind of sweet.
After this photo was taken, we were forced to buy a coconut.
After the heat, scams and pollution (enough that my throat started to ache), we went north to Dalat in the central highlands of Vietnam. There we met up with two great guys from the Easy Riders, a motorcycle club that shows tourists around that part of Vietnam. But this is for another post, as there is so much to say. Avery will be writing that one.
After Dalat, we ended up in Nha Trang, the big tourist resort in Vietnam. It was full of Russians. So many that the restaurants print their menus in Russian! Avery got a sunburn; I got owned by a massive wave.
Then we got on a night bus to Hoi An.
Oooh the dreaded night bus. I had refused to take them in Vietnam, as I'm already terrified of the Vietnameses' driving practices during the day. I was sure I would never wake up from a night bus. NIGHT BUS STRAIGHT TO HEEELLL.
Okay, I exaggerate. We may not have departed in hell, but the bus ride was straight from the bowels of hell itself. I do not exaggerate here -- I will probably be needing chiropractic services in my old age from that ride. It was that bad. On these buses, you're forced to lie at a terribly awkward 45 degree angle on a foam pad. A human's back is not built for this. There are three rows of beds, stacked two high. There are no emergency exits; there are two doors, but one is blocked by luggage. Are you hyperventilating yet? No? I'll keep trying. So you and 29 other people have only one exit to all fight for if your bus driver: falls asleep during the 16 hour ride, goes off a cliff, runs into a tree, runs over a biker/pedestrian/chicken/cow/all of the above,etc. It's terrible. And the roads! I rode a country bus for nine years. Those roads were like gliding on ice compared to what my poor spine experienced during those 16 hours of lying in something akin to a coffin. I digress. It was terrible.
We arrived in Hoi An, slightly shaken and quite bruised but gloriously alive. Hoi An is a cute city in the middle of the Vietnam coast. It's so cute that UNESCO named it a world heritage sight! Other than get a suit made and see "the countryside," there isn't much to do. Well, after three days on a motorcycle, we were all countrysided out. So, we went shopping! I had a dress and a coat made. Avery had a suit made. He looked damn fine. Even the seamstress thought so, as she kept stroking his butt and saying, "These pants make your bum look so nice." Then the seamstress and I would high-five, and I'd be like yeaah, that's mine. Okay, not really. But she did say that, and I did smile and nod at her when she asked if I thought his "bum" looked good in those pants. She was like 8 1/2 months pregnant, so she could grab his butt all day for all I cared. Haha. Some quality work! We went to Kimmy's by the way, if you're reading this and wondering how long it will take for me to get to the point.
After Hoi An, I said NO MORE NIGHT BUSES AVERY. And we took the train to Hanoi. It was pretty expensive, but my claustrophobia has been so exacerbated by this trip. I don't even care if I have to pay $20 more to avoid having a panic attack.
The train is much more comfortable, unless you have noisy cabin mates...
My discussion of the train and the finer points of Vietnam are for another post. There is no heat our current location, the misty mountain of Sapa, and I can't feel my fingers anymore. Oy. This tropical weather has really made me into a cold-weather-fearing pansy.
Tomorrow, we take the night train to Hanoi then fly to Vientienne, the capital of Laos! How excited am I to go to Laos? Well, I am so excited that I called Laos Airlines today and said, "Get me out of here! Can I switch my flight date?!" And now we leave on the 15th. Caaan't wait. Why am I so excited to get to Laos? Well, you'll have to read the next post.
P.S. Can you believe we'll be back in less than a month?! Crazy.
P.P.S. Are you still reading? Your reward is a photo. I found the photos of stuck van in Cambodia. So good. Also, check out the views behind Avery. Ah, so pretty.