8 – 12 May, 2010
Past experience dictates that taxi drivers waiting outside an airport’s arrival terminal will inevitably try to rip us off and Vietnam was no exception. We arrived in Saigon late due to a delayed departure from Kuala Lumpur. Initially excited to find a taxi driver willing to use their meter, a couple miles from the airport we realized that he expected us to pay an additional surcharge. An argument ensued and after realizing we probably weren’t going to win we finally gave up, deciding our $3 loss wasn’t worth a shouting match. This incident served as a reminder of an important lesson learned during our previous trip to Vietnam; never agree to anything until all parties involved are aware of the final price.
We typically prefer to make an advanced hotel reservation for our first night in a new country but we didn’t bother this time. Finding a room was easy as the taxi driver dropped us off in the heart of Saigon’s backpacker district. Our backpacks served as an indication we had just arrived in town and within seconds we were greeted by Kim, the manager of a hotel looking for someone to fill his vacant room. We agreed to have a look and were immediately satisfied. The large, clean, air conditioned room felt luxurious for the price. After settling in and indulging in delicious food, we felt confident in our decision to include Vietnam on our around the world itinerary. We enjoyed our time in Vietnam during a previous visit in 2006 and it looked like we were in for another wonderful experience.
Since we saw many of Saigon’s tourist sites during our previous trip, there was little pressure to spend time sightseeing. This was a relief as our schedule in New Zealand and the Philippines allowed for very little down time and our bodies were screaming for a break. Besides, we made the mistake of visiting when the heat and humidity were at their peak and stepping outside felt a bit like walking into a sauna. Fortunately, sampling delicious food can be done in any climate and Saigon’s restaurants and food stalls didn’t disappoint.
On May 10, to mark Jason’s 31st birthday, we disregarded our budget and celebrated at a French restaurant where meals cost about four times more than any other restaurant we visited. After dinner, we made our way to two of the city’s microbreweries to sample some of Vietnam’s tasty beer. As we entered the beer gardens and took a look at the architecture and décor, we felt as though we had been transported to Europe. The only indication we were still in Saigon were the throngs of well dressed young Vietnamese professionals. A glance at the food menu confirmed our assumption that the average Vietnamese person would never spend so much on a meal.
Despite our desire to take it easy in Vietnam’s largest city, we couldn’t resist a visit to The Reunification Palace, former home of the South Vietnamese President and site of the end of the Vietnam War, or American War as it is referred to in Vietnam. During our last visit, we were fascinated by the building’s underground bunkers and the way it looks as though it was preserved in time. Almost nothing has changed since it was abandoned just before the North Vietnamese Army came crashing through the Palace’s front gates in 1975. To our knowledge, the only new addition since our last visit was a propaganda video documenting how the heroic North Vietnamese Army saved the South Vietnamese from the “American oppressors”. Witnessing the government propaganda firsthand was pure entertainment.
It felt good to take it easy in Saigon but after a few days we were anxious to head north to Dalat, the City of Eternal Spring. Located in the mountains of Central Vietnam, Dalat is famous for its mild temperatures and a group of motorcycle guides called the Easy Riders. Unsure of the bus station’s location, we purchased tickets to Dalat from one of the many travel agents near our hotel. As one of their staff walked us from our hotel to the bus station, we began to suspect we should have taken the time to find the bus station and purchase tickets ourselves. Our suspicions were confirmed when we reached the bus station and saw the prices clearly displayed. We had paid an additional fee at the travel agency and all we got in return was a guided walk to the bus station and time to relax as the travel agency representative went to the ticket counter and purchased our tickets. Despite our best attempts at avoiding these types of mistakes, we clearly still have a lot to learn. I personally can’t think of any better way than another nine to ten months of hands-on travel experience.