Saturday, November 7, 2009

Taxis in Saigon

Since our days on the road are so filled with adventure and emotions, I have decided to break apart the blogging into possibly useful bits of info and intelligence.

While our first day in Saigon began with perfection-- warm croissants from the oven, the best breakfast buffet of my life (we're at InterConti's new Asiana Saigon hotel which just opened), our day fell into abyss shortly thereafter as we ventured forth.

We have been to Saigon before; we somewhat know our way around least, around District 1 and the main downtown areas. Therefore we met with the Chief Concierge for some In the Know insider's shopping tips (an InterConti specialty) and got the addresses of some tailors and fabric shops behind the famed Ben Tranh Market in the heart of District 1, downtown Saigon. The hotel got us a taxi and went over the directions in local speak and with map in hand.

In short order I spied the Saigon River (not a good sign) and admitted to the rest of the girls that I was lost. Sarah announced that we were driving in circles and waved the map in front of our driver. He attempted intellectual conversation with us in Viet Namese. My V-N vocab is fewer words than my usual ten words in ten languages motto (i'm still on a word a day program here) so we could only shrug. In desperation we began to shout Ben Tranh to the driver, just to get to the market and be somewhere.

We arrived, shoved $5 USD in his hand and took off, wondering what the hell he was thinking-- was it a cheat or did he truly not understand where we were going? We shopped, we bought, we calmed down.

Back at the hotel, I reported the incident to the concierge. In no time at all, he had found the errant driver, the driver had returned to the hotel with a refund of basically half of our money and his deepest apologies. Seems it was his first day on the job and he has just arrived in town from the provinces. Badda bing.

The hotel's location is so central that we walked to most other destinations. At one point, the Chief Concierge even walked us to the famous Pho 24 cafe for lunch (merchandise on sale there includes baseball cap with the words 'magnif-pho-cent') and we were out and about discovering all the changes in town on foot. We collpased for a quick late-afternoon nap and then went back to Ben Tranh Market around 5pm.

This time, the hotel car dropped us and our chauffeur of perfect English told us to only take a M-Taxi back home, or someone else would cheat us. The market closed at 5:30PM and we went into the twilight and the stream of outward bound moto traffic to find a cab. The last M-Taxi pulled off as we arrived at the taxi stand; there were no more in sight. It was rush hour. We figured how seriously could we get cheated by another taxi, an extra dollar or two?

And so we stepped onboard the no-name taxi with the meter running and our taxi card in hand, the driver pulled up to another taxi to ask where the Asiana is located. This hotel is so new that many drivers don't know it... or they think it is the Continental, a totally different hotel in the heart of town. At least someone knew where to go (we could have told them by then) and we arrived at the hotel.

The meter read 92 and therein begins the problems. 9200? 920.000? How about three bucks US, which is totally fair-- this was a short distance and totally walkable. I hand over thre dollars. The driver insisted on dong. Uhph.

I will not draw out the story since no one comes off as too bright. Sarah had her cheat sheet and we knew sort of what we were dealing with, but the driver screamed and insisted and plucked bills from our hands to the point of having a total equal to almost $14.

We were chagrined to admit any of this, as we felt a lot of the problem was our fault for not understanding how many zeroes go into the money and for not speaking Viet Namese. Finally we confessed it to KVF, our travelling companion. She admitted the same thing had happened to her.

May it not happen to you because for $14 you can buy dinner for two.

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