Stepped out of customs in Saigon and realised I’d left my wits behind me. I changed a couple of hundred AUD at the airport at their exorbitant rates (1 AUD = 11,083 DONG) and am now a millionaire at 21.
Elated with my entry into the millionaire club, I exit the airport and am offered a taxi to the city for 500k, I negotiate to 350k and hop in the taxi feeling like a master negotiator. Some Vietnamese is exchanged between driver (with no English) and agent (marginal English, though exceptional negotiation skills), I may not know much, but I can tell when someone calls me a sucker in another language.
On some roads, there is a lane for cars and a lane for bikes, on the way in to Saigon, a scooter was in the car lane approaching a red light, a traffic cop spotted him and much hilarity ensued as he chastised him in Vietnamese and hit him with his baton, repeatedly.
The “hostel” I’m driven to is a hotel that charges 35USD a night, the taxi driver insists it is the cheapest and best quality in Saigon. I get a room next door for 12USD (204kDONG) and still feel like I came out ripped off in this negotiation.
I drop my things, and, feeling rather peckish, I walk outside, turn right and start looking for food. Five steps later, I’m offered a Vietnamese girl by a man with missing teeth and holes in his shirt, tempting offer I tell him, but I’ll pass.
Date night in Vietnam consists of taking the girl to the nearest park (with concrete), sitting on the motorbike with her, and looking at a mound of dirt. This is very popular, one couple every 10m for a kilometre.
With no particular plan, except to walk around absorbing the atmosphere, I manage to eventually get lost. Even when lost, I am offered (in no particular order): cigarettes, beautiful girls, massa (Vietnamese broken English for massage), the ever humorous sucky sucky cheap ten dorrah, want it the white girl?, a couple of hits of heroin, motor bike rides and my favourite of all the “give you the special big sucky boom special real good one”.
I take a mental note to hire English speaking sales men/women of Vietnamese descent as they know how to steer each and every conversation to a sale. No thanks means try again, not interested means how much, no means, stand really close to me and tell me the offer again, I don’t want it means follow me and show me videos on your mobile phone of “the best one”.
Since I’m lost in a big city, where every street looks the same, I decide to ask random non-English speaking locals where the Canadian hotel is and show them the key. No one seems to know where it is except taxi drivers who wanted money for what would amount to 500m fare. At least they all knew where to get me a cheap special one massa just for you.
It wasn’t all bad though, one of the girls approached me offering some variant of sucky/massa/boom/special one. Thinking that her clientele would lead her to know where it was, I give her the key, asking her if she knows the location. She gives splendid directions, and even offers me a lift on her bike to the hotel. I thank her for the offer but decline, choosing to walk the couple of streets instead. Not finished at one good deed for the day, she decides on another and offers me half price on one hour massa. I laugh at the absurdity of the situation, thank her for the directions and walk towards the hotel.
The city also smells, a lot, and the weather is incredibly humid. All in all, a very interesting first night on my journey.