Conrad got his first taste of a third-world country frequented by tourists at the Ho Chi Minh international airport. We had the address of our hotel so all we needed to do is take a cab. Inside I asked the info booth where the metered taxi station was, and they pointed outside. After walking through the reception area (quite crowded and Conrad said it made him feel like we were famous and they were the paparazzi), we walked toward taxis signs. Before we made it 10 m, we were approached by maybe 3 private taxi drivers offering to drive us or far more than we were told to pay by Project Vietnam. We kept walking toward the signs, and one driver kept following us reducing his rate. As I was talking to the metered taxi agent he named a price that was what we were told to pay, so we stopped to talk to him. I just wanted to pay the metered rate (since I am very familiar with taxi drivers exploiting tourists at airports in SE asia), and Conrad just wanted to get out of there. We agreed to pay the taxi driver $10 and went into his cab. Once we got in and paid him, he said he wanted $10 from each of us, although before he said $10 total for us both. We reminded him what he told us before, and he said ok. Then as we left the aiport, there is a toll to get out. The cab driver told us we had to pay 100.000 Vietnam Dong to get out plus the $10, so we did (i did read in one of our guide books that some cab drivers make you pay this to get out); however when we went out he paid the toll far less than what we paid him...and so Conrad learned what it felt like to be had by a cab driver. Live and learn. The cab driver was nice and spoke english with us until he knew no more.
So we made it safely to our hotel. Cute place in an alley off one of the major touristy street. It's great because the reception people speak English quite nicely, its centrally located, there are lots of food options around us (both vietnamese and this tourist menu-vietnamese fusion), there is free internet, and Project Vietnam arranged it for us ;-) Our room wasnt ready, so we showered in their kitchen bathroom. basically a toilet room with a shower nozzle on the wall - alas we were clean!
We started walking to Dong Khoi, one of the major tourist areas in Ho Chi Minh. We stopped in for some Hue Noodle soup and crab spring rolls. I learned HUe noodles are thicker and more slippery than regular Vietnamese vermicelli noodles, and I ended up wearing most of my soup broth on my tank top. Food was excellent though.
We wandered through the Ben Thanh Market - a very crazy place. Filled with tourists and Vietnamese alike. Super busy, kinda like the Weekend Market in Bangkok. There were tons of Vietnamese goods (laquerware, buddha heads, chop sticks, silk products) and hundreds of food stalls filled with Vietnamese. The seafood section was fun to wander through.
We walked and took pictures with all of the nice buildings. We changed some money and felt like millionnaires (We walked out of the bank with over 5 million Vietnam DOng = ~$300 US). We bought a cell phone for our parents to phone us in emergencies. We saw the Reunification Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral and visited the Vietnam War Remnants museum. And we were spent...after this long walk and the multiple trips up to our 5th floor hotel room, my calves surely got a good work out. We ended the day with some Vietnamese tofu coconut curry and chicken-veggie-chili dish.
All in all, we had a great day wandering around. This morning we are going to meet Dr. Quy, one of our project coordinators, to get briefed on everything. Then we fly to Vinh.
For people wondering about the city, It feels very Bangkok-esque with only a few skysrcrapers but tons of close-knit 5 story buildings. It's smoggy, humid, with fewer stray dogs and hundreds of motorbikes (far more than BKK).