backpacking to Ho chi minh city, Vietnam

Ho chi minh city, december 23 2009


Mussa and i planned to take DAMRI to the airport. But unfortunately she was late (the blame was on Deborah). When the bus finally appeared at Lebak Bulus, the DAMRI had already left for the airport. So we took Express taxi instead, taking the route through BSD. I thought it was quite faster than taking the inner city ringroad through grogol. We got there on time, and it costed us Rp. 125,000. The toll fee was Rp. 19,000.

The flight had actually already delayed 1 hour from the original time. I got the confirmation early in the morning via sms. But eventually it was delayed 1 more hour. So we took off at around 6.30 pm. Before aboarding, i sent sms to Cuong about our coming. And she said she and her boy friend were picking us up at the airport.

Ho chi minh city:

We finally arrived at 9.20 pm. Cuong who was supposed to pick us up did not appear. And it took us awhile to realize that our sim cards didn’t work in vietnam. So there we were, confused. We got no Dong at all, a piece of $100 was all we got. So we decided to wait for the taxi. From the information we got in the internet, the trustable taxis were only Vinasun and Mai Linh. We saw some taxi queues but didn’t know how the queue worked. Vinasun taxi was actually a sort of minivan (like innova, or so) and the sedan Mai Linh rarely appeared. On that moment, a young man asked me in bahasa indonesia. He said, “Mau ke mana, Mbak?” i was suprised and relieved in the same time. So i said i needed to go to Pham Ngu Lao. We found out that he was picking his girl friend who was coming from indonesia as well, and they offered us a lift on their taxi. He said he could help us find another Mai linh taxi from out side the airport because that taxi rarely entered the airport because of the tax. So mussa and i took his offer.

His name was Jimmy and even though he didn’t really say it clearly, he worked in ho chi minh. He told us that we better buy the local sim card, it’s quite cheap. Other that local simcards didn’t work here, he said. And he asked us what currency we were bringing along with us. We said only dollar. Then he told us that our ATM card actually worked here and it’s alot easier, as long as it’s a Visa or Mastercard.

Then we got our own taxi. Jimmy gave us his number before we splitted, he said just in case we needed his help in emergency.  Too bad our driver knew nothing at all about English. So we just showed him the address of  our destination. On our way to the hotel, we decided to withdraw some money from an ATM. I tried my best to tell the driver, in a very simple english, that we need to stop at the nearby ATM first. I said “ATM”, he was still in silence. I said “money”, he stiil made no response. I said “stop at the ATM”, he just kept driving. Until we saw an ATM from a distance and we pointed at it, then he said, “Ah, Sacombank!” Mussa and i cheered, “Yeah, yeah Sacombank!” together.

I made such a stupidity by withdrawing only 10,000 dong. Mussa told me it wasn’t enough. Even though the metre in the taxi showed only 2 digits, she said it meant in thousands. So i withdrew another 150,000 dong.

Out side on the street we found out that the city was still alive even though it was nearly 11 pm. Young people, boys and girls, were still riding on their motorbike. The street vendors occupying the pedestrian path was a very familiar sight, just like in jakarta.

At around 11pm we arrived at 219 Pham Ngu Lao. It was actually a small alley way. The taxi costed us 86,000 dong, but the driver didn’t give us the change when we gave him 100,000 dong. He gave us a little direction about 219/26 Pham Ngu Lao, our hostel address. Although we didn’t really get it, we just moved across the street. Here the traffic use the right-hand-side system.

So there we were, in the branches of small alleys within that small alley way o f 219 Pham Ngu Lao. We searched the area to find Thuan Duc hotel, made some turns and asked for directions to people we met. Unfortunately, they had poor english and seemed to point at different directions all the time. We found out that the alley had many of backpacker hostels. The names were those we saw in the internet. After making so many turns and back and forths, we finally found the Thuan Duc hotel!

The staff was friendly and the land lady was nice. We didn’t have to pay the rent immidiately. She also gave us some brief introduction about the area and gave us a map of Saigon. Our room was on the 3rd floor, room number 303. The room was actually very luxurious in comparison with the fee, $10 per night per person. The room had 2 single beds, a TV, an AC, a fridge, 2 fans, and the most important thing was an ensuit clean bathroom.

Then we went out for dinner. On our way finding the hotel, we had pointed a halal restaurant somewhere within the alleys. The Taj Mahal. So we decided to go there, with only 60,000 dong in our pocket. The pakistani’s restaurant had the range of prices of 40,000-60,000 dong for food. And the cheapest for drinks was 6,000. We ordered a curry and a plate of rice. The curry was so overspiced that it my empty stomach couldn’t handle it. So i just ate a little of it with more rice. We paid 57,000 dong including 2 bottles of mineral water and the rice was still half of the plate.


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