Date I was there: 28-30 June 2010
Upon arrival at our hotel, it didn’t look like much but then a busboy rushed through the doors to get our bags out of the taxi and take them up the stairs onto a trolley. This was quite a change from the hostels we had stayed in earlier on our Gap Year Adventure. We were staying in an actual hotel, complete with air-conditioning, room service and a TV that came with many broadcasts of American sitcoms. Admittedly, we should have had other priorities upon arriving for the first time in Vietnam.
After collapsing in front of the telly, we were forced out by our stomachs and we went to find some food. We found a restaurant down the street had a quick dinner before resuming our positions in bed with the TV on. It had been a long day.
The next day, after a nice lie, in we wandered down to Ben Thanh market. This place was packed full of all the cultural souvenirs you could possibly want, so we did a bit of bargain shopping. We also grabbed a bite to eat from one of the stalls but were limited to picking the place which had the menu translated into English. In hindsight, maybe a phrasebook would have been a good idea. We paid 50,000 dong for lunch, which sounds expensive, right? Wrong! The exchange rate is about 28,000 dong to the pound, so we got lunch for less than £2- doesn’t that sound better?
After a bit of a wander round, we headed back to our air-conditioned room. The heat was stifling so we used it as an excuse to go back and relax. We had good intentions to go back out but we were feeling lazy and ordered room service instead. It was no more expensive than getting food out in the city and it was just such a novelty to be able to afford it.
The next day we headed off to a spot on our map that seemed to have quite a bit in the surrounding area. We walked through a pretty park and had a very cultural lunch of a panini in a coffee shop. We then wandered and found a cathedral, close to which was supposed to be a post office which we needed to find to see how much it would be to send stuff home. After yesterday’s market excursion, we realised that we were going to be doing a lot of shopping, so we needed to free up some space and weight in our luggage.
For some reason we just couldn’t find the place, even after my travel buddy expertly mimed the action of writing a letter and posting it into a postbox, to a security guard who we were trying to get directions from. We finally got directions from two guys who rode cyclos around the city. They were trying to persuade us to take a ride and followed us around. We were planning on taking a ride anyway so we eventually said okay after being told that it was only 150,000 dong and they had helped us out. They took us to the post office which it turned out to be exactly where we had been wandering all along. It had just looked far too impressive to be a post office.
We then headed off to some temples and down to the waterfront, we rode past city hall and some pretty looking buildings and to a place where they made pictures and jewellery boxes out of things like egg shell and mother of pearl. It was interesting but we didn’t really have a choice but to buy something. It was the kind of thing you could buy cheap in the markets but at the shop it was all in American dollars so we had to pay real money for it. However, you could tell the work that goes into making such items and my picture made an excellent present for my mum. Four years later and it is still hanging in the kitchen, so it was worth the price tag.
Finally they took us back to our hotel and we asked how much we owed them. One of the guys pulled out a piece of paper with the route and price per hour typed onto it. It turned out to be 700,000 dong per hour and the guy said we’d been gone 3 hours. Apparently the first price we were quoted wasn’t quite accurate. We managed to get them to knock off a couple of hundred thousand but that made very little difference. It was still cheap in comparison to anything you’d get at home but in Vietnam that’s a lot of money. Especially, as I worked out later, as we were actually only gone for 2 hours. In hindsight, we should have got it in writing. On the other hand, we had got to see places we wouldn’t have known to go to if we hadn’t taken the trip and we had wanted a cyclo ride so we didn’t feel too cheated.