Friday, March 9, 2007

Fall of Saigon

The last part of the Vietnam series involves some misadventures we had in Saigon.

We arrived at our hostel in Saigon at 1am after flying in from Hue where we had a good time seeing temples, tombs and the old Vietnamese imperial palace.

We had parted ways with the Spaniard's friend in Hue since she was interested in seeing more of the center of the country, and had little interest in visiting another big Vietnamese city after living in Hanoi.

Before we left Hue, we had booked a ticket for a Cu Chi Tunnel tour from a travel agent recommended by our guidebook. The agent told us that we needed to be at the pick-up site by 7:30am. Given our late arrival into Saigon we weren't too happy about the timing, but we were willing to do what was required in order to see the tunnels.

Like dutiful tourists we arrived at the preordained time to catch the tour. Imagine, our anger when we found that the 7:30 time was only to pick up our tickets and not for the tour, which actually left at 8:30. We were pissed off about losing an hour of sleep, but what could we do but wait an hour?
We walked around the area to kill some time, and returned to the pick-up site (the Sinh Cafe) to find a scene that can only be described as the fall of Saigon (I hate to use that cliche but seems highly appropriate no?)
Turns out there were like 20 tours leaving from this 1 block stretch of sidewalk and there was no organization to the madness at all. 8:30 passes, then 9 with no tour but continued promises of only 10 minutes more from the staff in the ticket office.
I start talking, no really I was bitching, about the situation with a family of 6 from England who are living in Beijing but vacationing in SE Asia who were on our tour. We decide to abort and take a taxi together to the tunnels (which given 8 people would only be slightly more expensive than the tour). The family is able to get their money back easily,but for some reason the staff resists my efforts to get back our US$10. It was also amazing how quickly their english deteriorated in the face of an unhappy customer. Sleepy, undercaffenated Sloop is pissed and busts out the "Ugly American" in all of us against the managers of this sorry excuse of an operation:
Despite the guidebooks warning against losing your cool (and thus your face), the managers relented and I got our money back. They did curse at me in Vietnamese, which I of course couldn't understand (my guess is "I hope your sorry mother^%$&^% ass falls in some of those traps at Cu Chi), but I got my money back and couldn't care what they thought.
I've already covered the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants museum, so no need to rehash old news.
The rest of our time in Saigon was fun, reflecting the rest of our time in the country. However, the trip ended on one big sour note. As we were leaving the Nga Hoang (I put the name in so that people googling it might be able to find this post) hostel in Saigon (where we had a private room) I looked in my backpack to make sure I packed my camera. I quickly noticed that the iPod nano I got for Christmas was missing, which was odd since I hadn't taken it out of the backpack my entire time in Vietnam. My mind immediately went "Oh Shit" I was robbed, and instinctively looked through my neck wallet which had been packed in the same backpack during our time in Saigon. Sure enough the HK$500(US$65) I had stored there was missing as well.
I run back to our room, which we left 2 minutes before, to find the maid already "cleaning up." I start scouring the room in search of my missing possessions. I of course couldn't find the $500, but somehow the maid did underneath the mattress. I of course didn't put it there, and my guess is that whoever rifled through my stuff hid it there hoping I would check-out without noticing my loss until I was well out of the area.
Why wouldn't they just outright steal it you ask? Well, my hypothesis is a HK$500 bill is easily transported, untraceable, and unlikely to be noticed until I got back to HK and needed some local currency. However, my iPod might be traceable or identifiable and might be noticed before my departure, in which case she could get caught. Better just to hide it in my room in order to mitigate this risk.
Anyways, at least I got back my iPod, which was much more valuable, but losing the equivilent of US$65 still stings. Though what bothered me more is that somebody actually went through my stuff to rob me as none of this was laying out in the room.
So, if you ever have a chance to go to Saigon, be very careful with what you buy and where you put your stuff. . .

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