Day 1 (Reaching Saigon)
Our flight to ho chi Minh City was scheduled for 11.30 p.m. I was all ready by 7 p.m ; the airport being almost 1.5 hours away. Karthik though was late as uaual; he didn’t even have the print outs of the evisa, flights etc. My printer conked at the last minute and I was unable to take a printout at home. Murphy’s law in action ;(. Some how managed to locate a cyber cafe on the way and get a print for Karthik. All the confusion though led to delay in my departure and I ended up feeling that I would miss my flight. To make matters worse, my thug cab driver wanted the payment in cash and wasn’t ready to accept ola money (I had almost 2000 INR). I had no choice but to agree to his stupid demands. Luckily enough , managed to reach BLR international airport by 9.40 p.m. Karthik unsurprisingly was late as usual. Exhausted my 1 hour of free internet at the airport during the wait and Karthik managed to reach the airport an hour before departure. Since we had only cabin baggage, we zipped through the air Asia check in counter and onto immigration. 20 minutes from immigration , security and through to waiting area with half hour to spare !; and we hear that the flight was delayed for another hour. Sighs… The most hilarious thing we witnessed here is that we found guys playing DOTA , at the airport , …using the airport wifi! Such dedication to the game :).
So anyhow , by 12.30 am or so, we waved good bye to BLR to say hello to Bangkok. It was tiresome journey of ~3 Hours.
After a short breakfast stop at Bangkok for an hour or so, we finally reached ho chi Minh City at 9.30 a.m or so. First things first; getting a functional mobile connection. Two of the main Vietnamese operators, Mobiphone and vinaphone were right near the immigration entry location. We took our photocopies of pass ports out but surprise surprise; they gave away the SIMS without any proof whatsoever and it cost us only 100k VNDs. The pack gave us almost 10GB of data along with an hour of talk-time ; more than enough for 9 days. ATMs within the airport supplanted the need for US dollars and we withdrew about 100 dollars worth of VNDs. We would end up withdrawing again. 😦
The bus stop is located right outside the main exit and the vietnamese bus operators were very helpful.
A quick look at google maps and we were pointed to the right direction, handed over the tickets and asked to wait. The ticket from the airport to Dablend hostel cost us about 20K VNDs. Unfortunately at the time of the visit, we realized that cab drivers are not fluent in speaking English; so bus seemed like a good choice and proven true rest of the journey as well.
Dablend hostel (http://dablendhostel.com/) is located in central part of Ho-Chi-Minh; so easily accessible by bus. The traffic in vietnam is absolutely crazy; we have witnessed some pretty messed up driving in India but Vietnam took it to a whole new level. People criss-cross on the main roads like it is a norm and somehow no one was crashing into each other. In the bus, me and karthik had a quick discussion on crypto-currency since karthik was thinking on investing. 45 minutes just flew by.
We reached the hostel by 10.30 am ; unfortunate but known to us was that the check in time to the room was 1 p.m. Well, hostels are known to be pretty ‘chilled out’ stays; so that’s we did…for 3 hours or so.
We could have played snooker I suppose but we were simply too tired to do so. I finished Paulo cohelo’s “the alchemist” and karthik emptied the wifi bandwidth of dablend hostel. After checking in at 1.30 p.m or so, we had only about 3 hours in hand to make a quick tour of Ho chi minh city. The most famous sight of ho chi Minh City is the war museum and all the other sight seeing spots like the Jade pagoda, Independence palace etc are all near to it. We skipped lunch and caught the bus to Jade Pagoda; bus numbers courtesy Google maps. For 6k VNDs, it was a very economical way to reach the destination. Most bus conductors don’t understand English but can read; we just showed the destination on Gmaps and that sufficed. It is worth mentioning that they are very friendly to tourists.
Built in 1909 in honour of the supreme Taoist god (the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang), this is one of the most spectacularly atmospheric temples in Ho Chi Minh City, stuffed with statues of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes. The pungent smoke of incense (huong) fills the air, obscuring the exquisite woodcarvings. Its roof is encrusted with elaborate tile work, and the temple’s statues, depicting characters from both Buddhist and Taoist lore, are made from reinforced papier mâché.
The pagoda is located in the middle of a very busy colony and it is not maintained too well. Hell, the background of the pagoda are some modern apartments. There are a couple of ponds inside which are home to ornamental fishes and tortoises. We went inside, offered our prayers and were out in 15 minutes or so. We met another Indian family who were there for 2 days only touring Saigon ; we felt that it was such a waste to travel 12 hours across the ocean only to spend 2 days in a city with little to see. Ah well; we advised them to tour the mekong delta and chu chi tunnels at least which I think they were planning to visit.
The original plan was to visit the War memorial as well; communication proved to be the barrier. The war memorial is located about 2 Kms from the Jade pagoda and we booked a Taxi via Grab to journey the distance to save time. We tried to book at least 3 taxis but explaning the taxi driver to come to the pick up point using English proved to be a nightmare and we were ultimately unsuccessful in our endeavor. So we decided to head back to the Dablend directly with dinner on the way.
We decided to visit a Vegan restaurant for dinner; something which is quite difficult in primarily meat eating country like Vietnam. Took us about half hour to find it but we finally zeroed down on Tib restaurant. On the way , we experienced the vietnamese rain for the first time on the very first day and was it heavy !! . Drenched a bit but that did not dampen our hunger and urge to try authentic vegan vietnamese cuisine which is what Tib is famous for.
The ambience at Tib was pretty decent but it took us 15 minutes to decide on what to eat and another 15 minutes to explain what we wanted to eat. The most hilarious part of it was though this happened to be our first try with chop sticks !. We ordered dragon rolls and vegetable stew; and it was hard with the chop sticks. I think I saw folks at the next table laughing at us but the good part was that we were off to a good start. After almost an hour of eating and watching youtube videos , we were finally done and it cost us 250k VND for dinner; pretty good for an fairly upscale restaurants
A quick bus ride back to Dablend after dinner and plan was to hit the bed; but snooker table was wide open. It was my first game in many months but karthik seemed fairly good at it. While playing , we heard (and saw) some indians in the first floor talking loudly (in Hindi). So we decided to join them. All of them were from singapore, working in Finance Industry and flew over to Vietnam over the weekend. They were playing dumb charades ; we joined in. A beer and 10 movies later we were done.
In the merry group , we met Lucas, a french guy who was travelling SE asia for 4 months in a row. We spoke to him for almost an hour while getting our backs massaged by the massage chair in turns. He worked as an engineer at a firm for some time before quitting and following his travel dreams. Apparently the french govt pays an unemployed person 1200 dollars a month and traveled SE asia like a King with that money. Talk about good luck ! Regardless, we got a whole lot of travel tips from Lucas for our future travels.