Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ho-ax Chi Minh City

I suppose I shouldn’t just single out Ho Chi Minh, because wherever there are hoards of tourists in big cities, there are bound to be scams. And, to be honest, some of the practices back in Australia regarding foreign tourists leave a lot to be desired. But, this time, Ho Chi Minh took the cake.

It started at the airport. Generally taxi coupon services are there to save you from being taken advantage of. In fact Saigon Air Taxi’s motto is ‘Safety - Save’. Upon arriving we asked the price to be taken to a particular area. US$8 the young female attendant quoted. Without raving on too much, dealing in U.S. dollars in Vietnam is one of my pet peeves.
We’re not American, nor are we in America, “So, how much in Vietnamese Dong (VND)?”

“190,000” she says. Stray does a quick conversion and tells her it should be 160,000 VND and confirms it with two guys from the U.S., standing next to us.

“OK, 170,000 then.” she says, "You can go outside and check the other prices for yourself". After a bit of umming and arring, we agree, but we’re not happy because of the unprofessional behaviour. There shouldn't be any bargaining at this type of facility and whose exchange rate was she using anyway?
Mariamman Hindu Temple
Long story the cab we discover that the receipt is only written out for the lower amount of 160,000. I’m sure she pocketed the rest, which potentially could have been an extra 30,000 VND. Pittance, only about $1.50, but not the point.

The metre clocked up 118,000 once we had reached Purgatory Hotel, I mean Thien Ha Hotel, a hotel the driver organised for us while in transit and was closer to the airport than our original destination. No problem, our decision. We did mention the *incident* to the him, which he completely understood, but just smiled. I hope he got his cut!
The view of the kitchen down below, from our internal window.
..I'm kind of glad breakfast isn't included.
Wait a minute, that's not our soap.
I’d already reserved our Vina Express hydrofoil tickets out to Vung Tau for the following day, via the internet while still in Da Lat. I did think it a little odd at the time, when the booking process didn't request payment, only stating that it had been 'confirmed'.
Sunny Vung Tau
Hence, we found a taxi and asked to go to the pier...just to make sure. The cab rank supervisor hands me a pen and paper “Where you go?”, so I write down ‘Vina Express’, but he and the driver don’t understand and we know jack all Vietnamese. However, they did get this...
...and we were on our way.

...“Hello, I’d like to confirm my internet booking for tomorrow’s return trip to Vung Tau”.

The ticket attendant turned to her colleague and said “@#!$%^&*()_&*$*&# Internet (!@$%&)”.

“You can go in the morning, but ALL the return seats are full”. Great! We book a one way ticket and decide to figure out how we’ll get back, later. Worse comes to worst, we’ll stay over night if we can’t bus it. After all, we have three days up our sleeves.
A familiar looking roof top amongst Vung Tau houses.
Not a scam, but don’t ever rely on the Vina Express online booking system. Other than that, they provide a good service.
Intersection in the swisher part of District 1 - HCMC
On exiting the building our taxi driver is nowhere to be found. We’d only paid him some waiting around money, which did cover our fare so doubt one the regular drivers in that area had shooed him away, perhaps the young bloke who kept buzzing around us, insisting that we'd been abandoned?

Stray jumps into the front seat of pesty guy's cab, as he always does, and after short distance questions him about the speed of the metre. 500 metres does not 1 km make. A bit of an argument breaks out (I’m busy texting in the back seat) and next thing I know, we’re all out on the footpath. We were happy to pay him what was owed but he drove away fled the scene in a hurry.

Only use Vinasun and Mai Linh taxis. They’re plentiful, reliable, honest and even the locals will tell you the same.

After a latte and about an hour later...

Across from Ben Thanh markets and the park, we seat ourselves alfresco at a half decent looking restaurant. Bun Bo Hue, one in a chain.
The smiley young waiter delivers a plate of small banana leaf wrapped fermented sausage and two cloth refresher towels. I notice that they're also sitting on the table next to us. A welcome gift, like peanuts and much appreciated, thank you! We order our meals and wash them down with an ale, enjoying the scenery passing us by.
Park 23 Thang 9
Our bill arrives and is noticeably more than anticipated. Seven extra items are listed in Vietnamese and when we question the charges with the manageress, the first thing she does is look on the ground under our table.

My first thought was ‘no, we haven’t hidden any empty dishes down there’, but she’s counting banana leaves. We point out that ours are on top of the table (not being accustomed to throwing food scraps on the floor) and she tallies up four wrappers, and runs off. But, but, but...that’s not the issue. She returns with the bill, less one item.
Not THE culprits, but they looked just like them.
We confirm that the now amended six extra items are infact, what we thought to be complimentary (I hope that puppy loitering around our table enjoyed his), sausage parcels and towels. After we spend a few minutes expressing that we didn't order them, that this is not an honest practice and bad business, and she, blaming the waiter’s poor communication, we pay the damage.

It really does leave a bad taste in your mouth.

I always feel extremely petty, pulling out my glasses and scrutinising a bill, but do it, even the Vietnamese do it. Two days later we’re at a different restaurant, where we were double charged for each meal. Next day, same place, charged for a more expensive dish. Both times it was happily rectified quickly.

In the change we had owing I asked Stray to keep the 500 VND note for a souvenir, because I haven’t seen one and I want it :). However, our change is short by that amount. The staff hand it over when we ask for it and we leave a tip. Oh, and there's always the extra 10% tax, that may or may not be already included in the menu price.

Again, we’re not talking big bucks here, it’s just the principle...and frankly, you start feeling a bit paronoid.
On the way to the markets a talkative street vendor tries to sell us a drink, but we politely refuse. I think she just wanted a good old chin wag...however, she did point to my small handbag slung diagonally across my shoulders and said "Madam, be carefull. A motor bike will come past and take you away".

"They'll take meeee away?"

"No, no" she laughs, "your bag."

I know, but smile and I thank her anyway. That's why I wear a light shirt over the whole ensemble. At least the bag strap is less visible and accessable, especially from behind.
At Ben Thanh market, which is not unlike Warorot market in Chiang Mai. You can bargain, or you can buy from the Government controlled ‘Fixed Price’ stores...and I do love price tags.

I look for an outfit for our grandpumpkin, she’s about a size 2, but can only find a size 1 for 88,000 VND. The store assistant hands me the correct size for 108,000 VND. Huh? I locate a size 3, which is priced at a lower 97,000. I point to the three different prices for exactly the same garment (she’s on the phone) and she says “Yes” if it’s perfectly logical! Luckily Stray calls me from the opposite side of the store, he’s found the perfect dress and has saved me from trying to rationalise whatever method of madness they’ve applied.

Back at our hotel for want of a better word the jack hammering that bid us farewell that morning, continued. Housekeeping hadn’t made up our room as yet, so we took the opportunity to escape relocate a few doors down the road. Just before checking out, Stray discovered that another guest at the hotel was only paying 300,000 VND per night, us, 380,000 VND per night...I guess that included a taxi driver surcharge?

We moved to one of the My Ngan sister hotels for a little more and it was nice, with breakfast included. Although they did want to charge us and extra 75 cents each for a spoon full of condensed milk in our morning coffee, when we were squaring up the hotel that's why the cook was making such a kafuffle and tap, tap, tapping at the word 'Coffee' on the menu. One of the managers was called and had it quickly struck off.
It's not all bad news, HCMC has some great sites to see and lovely people. A nice cafe (and I'm sure there a plenty of them) with fair transparent prices, helpful waiters who were good at math, is the Hai Vuong, just around the corner from KFC (yes, KFC) on 2 Nguyen Thi Nghia Street. Also, in between the two hotels we stayed at, on Ly Tu Trong Street, we had an excellent hassle free breakfast at La Doree Patisserie...not the cheapest, but it was a huge work of art, accompanied by a generous basket of breads/croissants, that unfortunately we had to rush through.

None of the street cafes presented any problems and were inexpensive and welcoming.
Pork & shrimp with lotus at Hai Vuong
I don’t want to leave you with a totally negative impression, (that’s why I’ve included some pretty pictures), we’ve had wonderful experiences there, but you do have to keep your wits about you.
After most of the English speaking students had dispursed
from around Stray and I, in the park.
*Hint – remember it’s mandatory to hand over your passport when staying at a Vietnamese hotel, so always make sure it’s in you hand before upsetting any apple carts addressing any issues.
Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai


Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Is that pic of the electricity cables taken for me - l0l - are they like this all over asia?

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

@jj Yes, just for you and that's not a particularly interesting one. I haven't been to all of Asia, but Vietnam is notorious for its nests of wires...oh, to be an electrician there! :(

Cheap Flights to Ho Chi Minh City said... Best Blogger Tips

Travellers never think that THEY are the foreigners.

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

@Cheap Flights to Ho Chi Minh City THEY don't?