I flew in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon to most South Vietnamese..more on that soon) on the 18th of February, 2009. I booked my ticket online via Cebu Pacific Air website 2 weeks in advance so I was able to get a great deal! One way was just P2,200 (approximately US$46), but of course not including the horrendous P1,620 Philippine tax. What’s the score on this?? Almost the same price as the plane ticket!! I really don’t understand why every Filipino who leave the country for leisure have to pay an exorbitant fee. I don’t mind paying for Airport Security fee which is P550 (approximately US$12) because somehow you know where the money is used for. But the Philippine tax???!!! I guess the only time I won’t mind paying for that particular tax or any other tax for that matter is when the Philippines is out of the top 10 most corrupt countries in the whole world.
So I arrive Ho Chi Minh City, feeling hungry, tired and sleepy at an unholy hour.. at 2am. Yes.. with the cheap ticket comes some minor inconvenience. Good thing Ming, my travel partner and dive buddy, flew in Vietnam a week ahead so he fetched me from the airport. An important thing I learned the moment I arrive in Vietnam is that everything’s negotiable..bargain bargain bargain! From taxi to food to guesthouses.. everything! The taxi ride to the Pham Ngu Lao, Saigon’s backpackers area cost around 50,000 dong. Not bad.. since the airport is quite far from where the cheap guesthouses are and as far as I remember, the driver quoted 100,000 dong before agreeing to the amount we paid for. The exchange rate that time was US$1 = 17,500 Vietnam dong. We arrived Vinh Guesthouse, where Ming has been staying for US$4 shared dorm at 3 in the morning. The ground floor of the guesthouse is a travel agency so we have to knock and wake the caretaker to gain access. I want to have something to eat before sleeping so we told the caretaker that we’ll leave my bags first and be back in 30 minutes. The caretaker’s response left me speechless for a few seconds.. He said “Why eat??? Just sleep”. In my mind I was like “Huh??? I know I’m in a communist country but have I lost my freedom to eat when I want to??” But of course, I kept that to myself and told him in a friendly way that we’d be quick and we’ll lift the gate ourselves since it is really quite late anyways.
So we walked around Pham Ngu Lao, which is in District 1 of Saigon. I was surprised that Saigon is very vibrant and full of tourists! The smell of street food was so enticing.. Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup).. spring rolls, banh mi (Vietnam’s own version of baguette with pork/chicken filling, pâté, cilantro, chili peppers, pickled carrots and cucumber, mayonnaise..my ultimate favorite Vietnam food).. I find it hard to decide which one to try on my first night.. I end up eating pork chop rice instead. Yes, pork chop at 3 in the morning.. and it was great! Small tables and chairs were set up along the street. The chairs were so small, I feel like I was squatting which I find unusually comfortable. The vendor heat the pork chop in a small grill, served with warm rice and some fresh herbs and vegetables. Almost everywhere in Vietnam, I have found out on my 1st night and later on as we head up North,the Vietnamese would serve hot tea, fresh herbs and vegetables with whatever you’re eating. My love affair with Vietnamese food or should I say, street food started that night. And not a single day, from the two months we were in Vietnam, did I ever complain of travellers diarrhea. Or it must be my Asian stomach. Not as sensitive as the Westerners. I miss authentic Vietnamese street food. I would be writing more Vietnamese food on my future entries. This was just my first night in Vietnam!