I will continue to have backdated posts on my previous travels in New Zealand and Hong Kong. I figure that shouldn’t stop me from blogging on my current whereabouts.
After traveling for almost four months, my solo journey begins now. In the past, I have been so used to traveling by myself I never thought I would grow a dependency over traveling with someone. This is my first solo adventure in a long time and it is also the first developing nation that does not speak a language I am familiar with.
I was nervous about getting my visa since I am not 100% sure I found a reliable online visa on arrival agency. At the SGN airport, it took roughly an hour to process my visa and finally go through customs. Above all worries, no one stole my luggage during the wait. I had read about the taxi scams at the airport and told myself to only look for My Linh or Vinasun taxis. Once I got outside the terminal, these random people approached me for taxi service, similar in New York, I ignore them. Then, these people in green uniforms whom look like taxi dispatchers approached me. Once they gave me a quote for the price to the address I showed them, I knew they were unreliable. I was told that the legitimate taxi companies are metered and there are no flat rate services. I walked until the very end and finally found some familiar taxi company names. I took a cab with Vinasun. At first, I was misinterpreting the meter and thought I was going to get ripped off. Thankfully that was not the case. Since I withdrew VND from the ATM, they only gave me $500,000 VND bills which locals dread. I rounded my taxi fare up so the poor driver did not have to shovel out the exact change.
The second challenge arose when I was dropped off at the address provided. Interpreting the Vietnamese address was a challenge. While the street and first door number matches the address my host gave me, I did not know where to find him or how to confirm that it was the right place. Dragging my luggage around in the rather calm streets of Ho Chi Minh City, I took out my phone to see if I can score some free wifi and find a coffee shop that I can use the wifi from. Luckily, I found this girl (grade 9) who knew a bit of English and was not trying to rip me off. She was so sweet. She did not know how to find the address I gave her either, but she was nice enough to walk with me to help me find a potential café with wifi. Unfortunately, most of the coffee shops are still closed due to the lunar new year (or Tết ). Since her home was close by, she offered me her WiFi which I can access outside her house. She also warned me that there are lots of thieves in Vietnam and that I should be careful of my belonging. Initially, I thought she was referring to my luggage (so I grasped onto the handle tighter), but I later learned from my host that one should not hold out their mobile phone in the streets for long. Only take your phone out in safe public areas such as a café. The girl was so nice, she even asked her family to help me find the address and she then offered to walk me to where my host said to meet me. I wanted to ask for her name or maybe even add her on Facebook. I was impressed with her English and especially at her age; I wanted to offer some quick English tutoring to repay her, but she left after I found my host. Maybe she was eager to help me to practice her English and that I looked harmless. I guess I was pretty lucky to find a genuine local to help me out.
My host took me to his apartment. I would have never found his place on my own. It was in the backstreets of the main road. I also later found out that his apartment was one of the ten oldest buildings in Ho Chi Minh City. Even though his place is in District 1 (the center neighborhood of all the action), it is still a substantial walk to the touristy areas. I don’t plan to dwell in strictly touristy activities, but for starters it feels more comforting, especially to get my SIM card and all. That night my host took me to a nearby restaurant to have this noodle dish called, mì quảng. The noodles are thick and they are served with rice crackers. He told me that phở is normally consumed when you are sick.
I underestimated how hard it was to cross streets in Vietnam. There are barely any pedestrians since everyone is on a motorbike. Ho Chi Minh City is very big and spread out. Unless if you stick to a confined area, you cannot walk it all. I was introduced to this app called Grab which is similar to Uber. Both Uber and Grab are commonly used in Vietnam. You can order a motorbike taxi instead of a taxi; it is faster via motorbike. The only caveat is that these apps do not give the driver an exact address of your location so they always call for confirmation of your location. Unless if you get lucky to get a driver who knows a bit of English, the call ends up with mumbles. I was walking for the most part after installing the local SIM. I visited the Central Post Office, Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Bến Thành Market, and the Vietnam History Museum all by foot.