After a whirlwind many hours, my traveling companion Ellen and I are in Saigon. And, as luck would have it, leaving tomorrow after two nights here. We made it to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC – same thing as Saigon; Ho Chi Minh is kind of a big deal here) with only two hitches.
1. Our relatively insane flight schedule took us from Washington to Newark to Tokyo to Hong Kong to HCMC. The final three flights – Newark to Ho Chi Minh – were nominally the same flight number on the same airline, though we had to disembark at each stop. Because we booked our tickets late by international travel standards, our seats were originally apart, and after some wrangling we got seated together (Ellen slept for the vast majority of the trip, so this turned out to be a nonfactor anyway). The unintended consequence of this was we only got 1 boarding pass for the double leg of Tokyo to Hong Kong to Saigon. Upon re-boarding our flight in Tokyo, they tore our ticket stub.
This was bad. We landed in Hong Kong a few hours later and tried to clear security with a boarding pass stub. This did not go over well. After standing off to the side of the security line for about 20 minutes after repeated assurances of “only 5 minute more! only five minute!” we were finally approached by a United Airlines representative who told us that we had to walk all the way to the opposite end of the airport to get a new boarding pass. Then come back.
This was a minor issue, considering the round trip would have taken us about thirty minutes, which was about ten minutes too long since our flight took off in twenty. Rut roh. Ellen and I set off at a powerwalking pace. After we had gone only about ten steps from the security line, a bizarrely silent Chinese man carrying an overstuffed manila envelope and what looked like a stamp motioned us over with a fixed austere expression. Unsure, we ventured over.
Without looking at us, he wordlessly stamped both our stubs with some sort of free pass – “UNITED AIRLINES TRANSIT” and a couple of numbers. He then – still wordlessly – copied down our passport and ticket information, then walked away.
Bewildered, Ellen and I looked at each other and went, “does this mean we can go through security now?” Apparently, the answer was yes – because we were waved through without any more trouble. Whew.
The rest of our travels went uneventfully, which is an anticlimactically strange outcome for any prolonged flight on United. They didn’t even lose my bag, which is doubly amazing. Ellen and I got ripped off by a fake taxi going from the airport to the hostel where we were registered to stay – welcome to Vietnam, weary traveler! – and upon arriving to the hostel the taxi driver calmly unloaded our bags and drove off with his six-times-the-going-rate fee. Thanks, buddy.
2. One small problem – the hostel was closed. Like, the giant metal gate that stores have in the city? Down and locked. We banged and rang the bell to no avail – Anh, the hostel manager, didn’t arrive. This was partially my own fault for listing our arrival date as 2:00 AM on Friday, when it turns out he thought that meant I was getting in Friday NIGHT, not “technically Friday but really Thursday night.”
So we had to wander down the street to find another hostel, which ended up being perfectly fine. The following morning we switched our bags and patronage over to the affable Anh at the original hostel.
Fairly jet-lagged, Ellen and I managed to “do” Saigon all in one day, walking from the Reunification Palace (formerly Independence Palace, thank you dictator Diem) to a market to a war museum to a few parks to all the other main sights. We finished our day with a trip to the opera house, where the bimonthly “soul of Vietnam” show was playing. When we got out around 7 at night, we decided to take a quick nap.
Note to self: Do not take a jetlagged nap at 7pm. Because when you wake up your travel buddy for dinner, she will a) not be happy with you and b) still be tired and jetlagged.
Lesson learned. After forcing down some food, Ellen and I passed out for the night. Great success.
The next day, today, we went to the Cu Chi tunnels. I will not comment much on them here besides to say that I have awesome pictures of Sweaty Ellen and Sweaty Nate looking extremely cramped in a tunnel, which I will post later.
Tomorrow morning we will head to the Mekong Delta region. Normally, you’re supposed to do this with a tour group, but I think both of us got our fill of the tourist traps these last couple days. So we’ll go it alone, along with my outdated 2007 Lonely Planet guide, and hope to figure something out along the way.
…I mean, like I said before: this is the best way to travel, right?
PS: Pho is awesome. And I can’t pronounce ANYTHING in Vietnamese.