Big Question Marks

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Spending Like Millionaires.... of Dong

We've just woken up to our second morning in Vietnam a little fuzzy-- maybe from the 4 hour time difference from Melbourne, maybe from the million or so dong we spent on a big day of eating and drinking. EEK! OK, so a million dong (that's the Vietnamese currency) works out to be about $90AUD, and less than that in Canadian, but we've now learned it's still definitely possible to spend lots of money, even in a place with prices as cheap as Vietnam. So today we'll live frugally! Except for our "extravagant" hotel room, that is-- with TV, free internet, A/c, balcony, ornate sculptured ceilings, private bathroom, fridge, and enough room to fit two dressers and a desk-- for $15 USD. Sweet!

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at about 8pm on Feb 20, and were immediately awestruck by all of the people and the lights-- the neon light signs were visible even from the plane! After spending so much time in the vast empty parts of Oz, riding streets alongside hundreds of buzzing motorbikes was a trip! We checked into out guesthouse and hit the town with our friend Warren, who is teaching English here (Adrian used to work with him at ANZ bank). Good times on the tourist strip-- eating great noodles from a street vendor on child-size tables and plastic stools!-- for less than a $1 USD pp., drinking Tiger beers for next to nothing too, and people-watching... welcome to Asia! Warren's been enjoying the HCMC life for about 8 months now, and isn't at all ready to say goodbye to the city-- something we're starting to understand as we get into its energy, which is sort of laid-back but a little nuts at the same time. Got scared half to death by a giant rat scurrying through our laneway on the way back to our hotel (seriously bigger than the stray kittens hanging out on the street) and we were thankful to be staying on the 4th storey of our building.

Yesterday we woke up with that "Oh my god, where are we?" feeling that happens on the first morning of any trip and ventured out in the humid sunshine (29 degrees). I grabbed a Western breakfast and Adrian went straight for the pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and we took a walking tour of part of the city, marvelling at the scenery and practicing our street-crossings. First lesson: There are crosswalks painted on the roads, but it doesn't seem to make much of a difference where you cross. Lesson 2: Find a tiny gap in the constant barrage of cars, buses, and motorbikes, and start walking across very slowly... something that goes against all instinct when a speeding bike's coming at you, but if they'll steer around you with ease if they can tell where you're heading and how fast. Cars are another story-- GET OUT OF THE WAY! is about the best advice to follow.

We wandered through some street markets (vendors very grabby in parts) and managed to find the necessities-- a SIM card for our phone ($6 AUD!), a plug converter, and a bath pouffe-- which all took a bit of Charades and Pictionary, as we're finding Vietnamese is a very hard language to pick up quickly! But we've learned a few basics already and we're working on mastering the conversion math [11,000 Vietnamese dong equals $1 Aussie dollar; $1 USD equals 16,000 dong. We'd like to eliminate one currency, but our savings are in AUD and some of the prices here are in USD and some in VND.... and then there's all the bloody zeroes to deal with..... yarrrrrrrr!].

We met up with Warren in the late afternoon at Fanny, a great ice cream shop with delicious flavours and very artistic sundaes (I had a Canard, ice cream in a duck-shaped basket with wafer wings!) and the evening went on from there-- to gorgeously decorated, swanky coffee shops, a Pho restaurant, and a bar or two. But most memorable of the night was when I got entirely lost in the city on the back of a motorbike taxi-- it's scary enough being right in the thick of the traffic, but then my motorbike taxi driver lost Warren and Adrian, who were on Warren's bike and said "Follow us!" and zoomed off to disappear into the crowd. Everything looks mildly familiar in HCMC, but the street names are long and difficult to remember, and I have a terrible sense of direction without a map or the sun to guide me. So I spent about 45 minutes on the back of this old man's (who didn't speak a word of English) motorbike, reading street names aloud and hopelessly trying to communicate with him. Of course, Adrian had our phone, the hotel key, the backpack.... I was lucky we split up our money in the morning and had 500,000 dong in my pocket, as I'd left my wallet in the backpack on Adrian's back too! I also had our new phone number in my pocket but didn't know how to use a payphone, let alone speak the word "telephone" to the driver. Eventually he pulled over and had me speak with some other motorbike drivers, and I managed to write down our hotel's address, as I guess I'm hopeless at pronouncing it properly.... and then my driver couldn't find the street.... it went on and on.... finally in some miracle we came across it, and I had to run around trying to change this big VND bill to pay my 50,000 ($5) fare. Somehow Warren had a feeling to check our hotel, and I was just about to call the guys when he appeared on his bike to save me! We zoomed back to where he left Adrian, and who was Adrian hanging out with but the old motorbike taxi driver who didn't know his way around town! We decided to go to a bar close by, this time split up the mobile phones, and when Warren and I got to the bar, this time it was Adrian who had disappeared.... well, I guess we shouldn't have used that driver's services again, cuz he dropped Adrian right off at our hotel, despite the driver and Warren's agreements to meet on a certain street. At least Adrian's ride was a bit cheaper than mine.... needless to say a lot of beer was necessary after that.... and that's about all I can say about our second day in Vietnam!

PS. If you can figure out how to call/text Vietnam, we'll be reachable for the next month or two at +84 (that's the country code) 1265772662. Good luck & miss you all! xoxoxo Dayle & Adrian


Sean said...

there you go guys....the start of a new adventure, and back in southeast asia. Can't wait to hear all about your adventures! Keep us posted, and please try not to lose each other anymore.

Anonymous said...

I am about to head to Ho Chi Minh to stay for 5 nights (1st time to Asia)and I absolutely loved your kept me reading. Sounds like madness but I can't wait for my turn. Have kept mental notes (for sure) on your experiences and hope I don't go losing my hubby in the meantime!
Thanks for the good laugh!
K of Sydney