A Wonder Wander in HCMC

Ho Chi Minh City, December 27th, 2009

Our QZ7736 touched the ground of Tan Son Nhat Airport at 22:30. 3 hours late from the actual schedule. On my first trip to Vietnam, I was already in bed by this time. And this night apparently wasn’t going as smooth as that first one.

I guided my friends to a money changer inside the airport and while waiting for them I bought a SIM card which turned out to be Mobi Fone. My previous one was Viettel. During my 9 days trip in Vietnam later on I found out that my Mobi Fone often when out of signal although it wasn’t completely remote areas.

Then I proceeded to order for a taxi from the taxi booth inside the airport. I gave her a note with the address of our hotel, Ngoc Linh, 293/21 Pham Ngu Lao Ho Chi Minh City. I was charged 150.000 VND and a lady guided us to the parking area. A cold breeze swept my face.

Aha! I had already forgotten that in Vietnam they drive on the left side. Innocently I sat on the left front seat while wondering why the seat seemed so narrow. I struggled to get my camera backpack between my legs. There was a short silence before a big laughter I heard from the back seat. Again I wondered. What’s so funny? Aha!

Out of the airport we wandered off. Wiwik and Michelle, I bet, got their first culture shock of the vast busy crowded traffic of Vietnam. I myself realized how much I had missed this city: the motorcycles, the people, the scent… of Vietnam. Nevertheless Vietnam weren’t so kind to me that night. Vietnam, I have to say, made me embarrassed me in front of my friends.

Wiwik made an announcement that we were already on Pham Ngu Lao Street. Yeah! That’s right. We could see it through the billboards on the shops, hotels, restaurants along the street. We spotted number 270 something, and then 280 something, and then 297… and then a different street name. Our “Saigon Tourist Taxi” driver went on slowly, turned around, stopped by, went out of the taxi, and crossed the street. From inside we could see him talking to a local with my booking record paper from Innoviet in his hand. For me, their conversation seemed to go on and on like a TV show.

Our taxi driver turned around the park for the third time while shouting numbers in terrible broken English. None of us could get what he meant to say. I gave him a paper and a pen. He wrote “283”. I thought he was making up, because the address I got from Innoviet clearly said number 293. Meanwhile I tried to call Innoviet’s office: +84 8 6 291 5408, as stated as “Contact Information” on my booking record, but my phone was never answered.

I told Wiwik that Innoviet’s office was on the same street, number 203. Suddenly she shouted, “There’s Innoviet!”

I asked our driver to stop there. At first he hesitated, but I insisted. Off the taxi we got and an extra of 2 USD the driver required.

What?!! I got furious. I thought I had the hotel address printed very clear and it was his fault that he couldn’t find the way. I bargained for 1 USD, but he shook his head hard. “Because,” he said and made many circles with his finger.

I was a little relief to find that Innoviet’s office was still open. I talked to young man who could not speak English well. He said that the taxi driver should have understood the address.

I asked the Innoviet guy to usher us to the hotel as he said it was not too far away. I pleaded and he refused. Now, we wandered along the pavement block dragging our luggage following that Innoviet guy’s direction. We couldn’t find the lane he mentioned. So we stopped and asked a woman sitting on a doorstep under the sign “Vietnam Airlines” while showing her my booking record paper. She pointed with her hands and we spotted an alley we actually already passed by at least 3 times with the taxi. It clearly should have been number “283” as the taxi driver had written on my piece of paper.

Ngoc Linh Hotel turned out to be in an alley. To our surprise, the hotel was dark! We climbed up the steep stairs with our luggage only to be told that we had to move to another hotel a few doors away. Down again the stairs we went, and up again. It was Nguyen Khang Hotel.

While I proceeded with the check in, Wiwik and Gabriel went to our room on the 4th floor with no elevator. I wasn’t amazed at all as I had been in hotels like this while I was in Hanoi. I just regretted I never told Wiwik and Michelle that such a thing was not impossible. When I entered our room, Wiwik was sweating from shoulders to feet. It looked like she had splashed her face with water.

For the rest of the night, I wondered. How could Innoviet not rechecked the hotel address they gave to their customer? Don’t they understand how crucial that is? What if the hotel I booked happened to be far away from Innoviet’s office? Why didn’t the Innoviet guy we met tell us that we had a wrong address number? If the taxi driver knew it should be number “283” instead of “293”, why didn’t he bring us directly to this alley? I thought “Saigon Tourist Taxi” was a trusted taxi agent, but why this driver seemed not so? Finally, despite the long years under America’s occupation why do Vietnamese speak English so terribly bad?

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