“Sorry you can’t fly without a VISA,” “It’s ok I’m British”, “Sorry sir you still need a VISA”, “What? Wait till I tell my Queen!” Things only play out like this in my arrogant Brit mind. Apparently you need an advance tourist VISA before flying to Vietnam. Crazy I know. You never see James Bond queuing at immigration. He hops from one country to the next no problem. No filling in forms. No mooching Bics from the guy next to him. I slump back into a taxi and back to my bed in Bangkok. My weekend in Ho Chi Minh City Saigon would become two days in Ho Chi Minh City Saigon.
Luckily VISAs can be obtained online within 24 hours (link above). If only I knew this 24 hours earlier. The airline took pity on my stupidity. They offer a flight for the following day and all I need to do is pay the difference. Turned out the price difference was more than the original ticket. With my Thai VISA close to expiration I have no choice but to agree. I pay for my ignorance and fly the following morning to Ho Chi Minh City Saigon.
My short 2 days start well. I check in at the Thien Thai Hotel, get a free upgrade to a top floor suite and I take out millions of Vietnamese Dong from the nearest ATM. I was ready for my Ho Chi Minh City motorbike food tour. I phone the tour operators. “Sorry we are already on the road”. This proved to be a win for me. The tour was a group tour and to spend the night surrounded by travelling foodies sounded horrible. Having dodged a bullet I strut like a millionaire towards the city center.
My research for this trip was minimal. I grab a map from hotel reception and make for Ben Thanh and the central night market. Ho Chi Minh is a cool city nothing like I’ve seen before. Motorbikes everywhere. I learn to cross streets near soiling my drawers in the process. Fun. A block or so from Ho Chi Minh City centre I check directions with an elderly fellow on a cyclo. He volunteers to bring me to my location. I agree then he circles Ho Chi Minh city in the complete wrong direction. What should have been a 2 minute ride took 30 minutes and ended in an awkward back massage. Arriving at Ben Thanh Night Market he charges a hefty five dollars. Despite confusing my bearings I pay his dues. I have a soft spot for old people.
Ben Thanh night market is the typical traveller hangout. Stalls selling tourist junk, cheap food and beer. I get in on them all. I buy a bag of weasel coffee (synthetic Kopi Luwak), eat Vietnamese spring rolls and drink 333 beers. Surrounding footpaths have street food and fresh fruit sold by ladies wearing what look to be pyjamas.
My hotel was less than 20 minutes walk from the center. For me walking back takes around two hours. I get completely lost. On purpose as I do in every city. Wander down backstreets, snack and beer with locals, get scared. It only ever takes a taxi ride to find my hotel again. Arriving at the hotel I browse online networks pestering locals into showing me Ho Chi Minh city the following day. With Facebook and other social media blocked in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam I meet locals on Tagged.com. Using my British charm and boyish good looks I convince two local girls to show me the city the following day (both called Nguynen).