I've been in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam for a day and a half now. I'm taking some time out from my day to rest and get out of the sun and pollution for a bit.
Saigon is a fun city and there truly are a bajillion (work with me) tourists. There are also a million bajillion motorbikes. People here do ride scooters but there are more actual motorbikes with gears and such.
When I arrived in the Saigon airport I had to go through the hassle of the visa process. I had arranged my visa approval ahead of time, but it was still chaos and completely frustrating. This is mostly because everyone is trying to do the same thing and there is no real order or method to how it's done.
There's no sign telling you to get a form, fill it out, put your picture on it, turn in your passport with this form and then wait quietly off to the side while they process your forms and put a stamp in your passport. Maybe I could sell this idea to them. Maybe I'll just make a sign and send it to the immigration office.
Instead people crowd around the window and everyone maneuvers for attention from the one guy behind the counter. No one knows who is next and it's an absolutely frustrating experience. Not the best introduction to Vietnam ever, but it has gotten better.
It particularly got better when I exchanged my money. I gave the man $100USD and he instantly made me a millionaire. It was pretty sweet.
$100USD gets you about $1,840,000 Dong.
Then he was even nice enough to tell me to give the bus driver 5000Dong and that will get me all the way to where I wanted to go (the backpackers' district). 5000Dong is something like 27 cents. I could seriously get used to this sort of pricing, though I'm not sure that I can get used to counting in multiples of 18.
Remember, I'm not very good at math.
On the bus I met a German girl about my age. She and I ended up walking down the street together chatting and looking for a hotel room. In the end, we decided to share a 2-bed room for two nights at $14USD per night ($7 per person, hello!). She's a very nice girl.
We got in, got showered (oh my goodness, so humid and disgustingly sweaty!) and then we went walking about trying to find touristy things to look at. It took us a while but we eventually found the Reunification Palace. That place is big and every room is ridiculously color themed.
I then retired back to the hotel because after "sleeping" in the Bangkok airport I was having a rough time.
Then I went and found some noodles with chicken and vegetables and a beer for a mere 50,000Dong (ahem, $2.70USD). I also made some new friends.
The guys sitting at the table next to me were being harrassed by an adorably small and sassy little girl to "buy from me something." One doesn't know how to say no to children (or rather he feels guilty about it) and so he bought some gum from her. He also handed her a 100NTD bill. Recognizing the currency I struck up a conversation.
It turns out one is Canadian and the other is British and they both teach English in Kaosiung. Small world.
We ended up spending the rest of the night hanging out and having a couple of beers and basically just joking around a lot and swapping stories. They were really fun guys to hang out with.
The not so fun part, though, was when I lost my camera.
We were goofing off taking pictures at our table. I put it down on the table instead of back in my purse (like I had been all night) when we were done and then promptly left it there. I went back to the bar this morning and they haven't seen it, of course.
It sucks and I kind of wanted to cry but there's really not much I can do about it. No use in stewing about it and just making myself angry and ruining my whole trip. I'm glad it happened at the beginning of my trip though. It a) reminds me to be more careful, b) is a lot easier to replace in the city, and c) I only lost one day's worth of pictures (but there were some pretty good ones).
Who knows, maybe when I go to buy another one I'll just be able to buy my own camera back at an exorbitant price.
Oh, by the way, almost everyone is Vietnam is trying to rip you off, or at the very least tryng to get you to spend money on something they have be it men leaning on motorbies of cyclos on the side of the road trying to take you somewhere, people carrying around stacks of (photocopied) books (Lonely Planet guide for $2USD anyone?) or children roaming around with baskets full of gum, fans, lighters, cigarettes, etc.
The kids are tough to bargain with too. They know they're cute and you simply feel guilty. We took to teaching them to say things in Chinese.
Today I slept in (something I haven't done in awhile) and then I randomly ran across the guys again. We went and got coffee and breakfast together and then gave our farewells. They're flying back to Taiwan this evening.
I plan to go see a few more of the sights (buy a new camera...) and then go find a coffee shop where I can just sit, read and watch the chaos that is Saigon.
I managed to get a set of open bus tickets to take me to the Mekong Delta, Nha Trang, Hoi An and Hue for only $735,000Dong ($41USD). They're all night buses so I really made out considering that's travel through half the country as well as somewhere to sleep for three different nights.
Bright and early tomorrow morning I'm heading to the Mekong Delta for a quick day trip to Cai Be where the floating markets are. Then tomorrow night, when I get back from the Delta, I'm getting on a sleeping bus headed for Nha Trang.
Hopefully I'll get to do some diving (or at least snorkeling) in Nha Trang. I'll update about the Delta and Nha Trang before I leave for Hoi An and hopefully I'll have a new camera with lovely pictures to show you all.