Today I went from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City which is also known as HCMC and, of course, Saigon which was it’s name forever and what the locals still refer to the city as.
Anna and I left Hoi An this morning on a shuttle van taking us for an hour ride to the Da Nang Airport. The shuttle was $2 less than what we paid for our hostel’s door to door service.
Of course for that $2 we could have slept in another two hours. You see, the shuttle we took only left at certain times through the day and we had to take the one that got us to the airport at 9:30am for a 12:20pm flight.
Da Nang airport is tiny and we really didn’t have much to do. Anna bought some dessert that basically bought us entry to a couple of comfortable chairs to sit in while we waited.
After another lost water bottle thanks to ridiculous security measures we were finally boarding our flight just after noon.
The biggest adjustment over the last couple of weeks has been to the weather. After having 30C weather for most of the month I was in the Philippines I had to adjust drastically to the 15C grey and damp weather in Hanoi and Hue.
In Hoi An the last few days it was back to shorts weather at around 28C but here in Ho Chi Minh City it’s a balmy 34C.
What this all means I’ve had a runny nose the last few days which has been driving me crazy but now that it’s pretty much hot and humid weather the rest of the way it should be all good.
On a side note, I left that warm jacket I bought in Hanoi just over a week ago with the front desk this morning in Hoi An. I told them if someone is going up to Hanoi to just give it to them. Hopefully I make someone’s day.
We arrived in HCMC just before 2pm and instead of dealing with a metered taxi I thought it would be better to just get the flat rate fare offered at the little booth in the airport for 200,000 dong ($10).
After the harrowing taxi experience I had last time in Da Nang I was alright with the $5 we paid for our split taxi.
And then he gouged us for another 100,000 dong ($5) as we paid an exit fee at the ticket booth on our way out of the airport.
I had distinctly read online that we didn’t have to pay any tolls but he showed us a receipt for 100,000 and pointed to the sticker in his cab which said passengers are responsible for tolls and fees.
Even though I knew we were blatantly getting ripped off I didn’t know how to fight against the almighty sticker.
We ended up paying the 100,000 but, man, did it leave a really sour taste in my mouth. To make matters worse, afterwards Anna told me she saw the guy only pay a 10,000 fee at the booth.
Argh! Gotta shrug it off. Bottom line – getting ripped off is part of travelling in Vietnam. It sucks but if you let it fester in you then it just ruins the rest of the trip.
So, shrug it off…
On our ride to the hostel I saw the most amazing sight…
A Jollibee restaurant!
Here, in Vietnam! Oh. My. God.
I knew what I was having for lunch!
After all the healthy and small Vietnamese meals of noodles and vegetables and scant pieces of meat, I wanted me some fried chicken and spaghetti.
When we arrived at our hostel the first thing I asked was where was the nearest Jollibee. I wasn’t even dismayed when she said it was far away. I didn’t care – I’d go on the back of a motorbike to one.
We hiked (literally hiked) up to our room on the 5th floor. It’s a 5 bed dorm room and there’s no bunk beds. Nice setup except for that walk up the stairs.
Anna and I were the only ones in the room and it wasn’t until much later in the night that 3 other people joined us.
For a bit there I actually thought we’d each have our private bathroom as the room has two of them.
I’ll get to those other 3 people in a bit because they may have just changed my trip dramatically…
So, where was I? Oh yeah – Jollibee…
After looking up on Google Maps where the Jollibees were here in HCMC I found the closest one about a half hour walk away.
I headed out into the hot, muggy weather determined to find that Jollibee. With a little map the hostel gave me and my GPS on my phone in hand, I finally walked up to the mighty bee half an hour later.
It was a tough walk as HCMC is all big city. Every road is a major road with lots of traffic. At least in Hanoi there was the Old Quarter which had a small city feel to it. Here I haven’t seen that yet and maybe it’s just all one big city.
Either way on first impressions I definitely prefer Hanoi over HCMC.
I ordered 2 pieces of chicken and a spaghetti and noticed two differences instantly from the Philippines.
One – I was so used to walking into Jollibee and seeing an English menu board and being greeted in English. Here, like everywhere else in Vietnam it was all Vietnamese. I guess that shouldn’t really surprise me but it just felt different.
The second thing was the prices. What cost me $1.50 in the Philippines cost me $5 here. For me, most of the charm of Jollibee was that I could get a full meal for a dollar and here that part was taken away from me.
Don’t get me wrong – I still love Jollibee but I probably won’t be visiting it again here in Vietnam.
I walked back to the hostel and got there around 5:30. There was an Opera House on the map we were given so I thought I’d head out to it around 7pm to see if there was something (concert, ballet, opera) to see at 8:00.
For the next hour and a half we both just kind of lazily hung out on our beds clattering away at our mobile devices.
Anna has made the decision to go to Da Lat tomorrow on an overnight bus while I’ll be staying here. So, the great Anna/Todd travel adventure is coming to an end.
We didn’t even get a real last night together as she wanted to pack and go to bed crazy early instead of going out.
So, at 7pm I headed out alone. I hired a motorbike driver to drive me the couple of kilometers to the Opera House for 30,000 dong ($1.50).
When I arrived it was apparent I was out of place. Everyone on the steps outside was dressed really nice and looked substantially older (and richer) than I did.
As I glanced around the area I could see fancy, expensive hotels and a Louis Vuitton store. The show for tonight was sold out and the cheap seats for tomorrow’s show were going for $40.
Um, think I’ll pass.
I decided to walk back just to see the city a little closer. Once again, just a big city feel. Lots of traffic, lots of stores and not much in between.
When I got back to the hostel I was surprised to find 3 more people in our room. I guess because it was night time I just wasn’t expecting anyone else to check in.
A pleasant surprise as it turns out…
Lee, Laura and Emma are all from the UK and had just come in from Chaing Mai in the north of Thailand.
The told me of their week there volunteering at an Elephant Nature Park. They stayed there with about 20 other people waking up early, taking care of the elephants and just bascially all hanging out together. It sounded like bliss!
I balked a little at the price tag for the “volunteering” as it’s $400 for a week. It does include your accommodation and meals for the week but still a tad pricey considering it’s in South East Asia.
In the end though I just think it’s an opportunity I just don’t want to miss out on.
I went on their website only to find the next available dates aren’t until May. The way my schedule is working right now I should be there at the end of March or early April.
So, the question is – how do I readjust my trip so I’m in Chiang Mai a month later than when this itinerary is bringing me there?
Good question indeed…
I’ll have to look into it very soon as obviously the slots get filled up quickly.
I’ll either add some countries like Burma and, well, I don’t know or I can change the route I take so I’m arriving in Thailand a month later.
Anyway – stay tuned! I may be flipping it all around again!