5 REASONS WHY HO CHI MINH WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO SCREAM OUT IN ANGER
With the rain subsided and the two of us were well rested, we awoke to embrace our first day in Saigon. We started our day with a complementary breakfast buffet from our standard eggs and bacon was on the menu as well as fruit, juices and of course, out stomachs full, we set out on foot to explore the city where we learnt these five things that made our blood boil.
1. Hawkers do not understand the words ‘no’ or ‘not interested’.
But they do understand the words ‘yes’ and ‘you buy’ as we worked out when we walked out onto the main street and were bombarded with hawkers trying to sell fake glasses, fans, wristbands and cigarettes. While it’s tempting to lash out in anger and a rant of choice profanities, keep in mind they are probably just trying to make ends meet. We recommend not to talk to them, ignore them and keep walking. It is the fastest way to get them out of your face without actually having to buy anything, unless you want to of course.
2. Crossing the road is game in Ho Chi Minh, not unlike a casual round of Russian Roulette.
Crossing the roads can be a little intimidating given there are cars and bikes coming at you from every direction, just walk out slowly through the traffic once it dies down a little any other oncoming traffic will simply go around you. It sounds scary but they’re pretty damn used to it and running out suddenly will throw them and most likely end up with you being hit. Or pick someone who looks local and cross when they do. We found for big roads it was safer to cross half way, reassess your safety half way, say a little prayer and continue.
3. Buying something is a huge inconvenience to the seller.
We noticed a general vibe from the Vietnamese hawkers, especially around the market that they truly posses a different style of bargaining altogether. It’s like you’re personally pissing off people when you want to buy or haggle. They show absolutely zero interest in the sale and can be indifference or just down right rude. You’ll almost miss the ‘hello my friends’ of the Thai hawkers. Even in a street beer cafe we were told to leave because our friend didn’t want to order a drink, despite the fact we would of spent a nice amount, instead of pushing the point we left and took our business and cash somewhere else. We chose not to embark on bargaining either as we enjoy the banter and fun and frankly we’d rather give our money to business people who are nice and aren’t trying to rip you off which brings us to our next tip.
4. Ripping tourists off is like a National service to the country.
There is a general expectation that you will no doubt get ripped off anywhere in Asia, it’s part of the fun right? But Vietnam brings that into a new light. We and many others found that they will not hesitate to rip you off. We learnt the hard way when we got a dodgy cab driver (even though we were paying by the meter) who charged us more than what it cost from the airport (30 mins) for a 5 minute drive. We also potentially had notes swapped leaving us 200,000 VND down. Have a read of our article ‘How to catch a cab like a boss’. Always ask how much for food and beverage before you say you want one, my coconut although nice was not worth 100,000 VND, especially when they sell for 15,000 VND. It all comes with learning but hopefully it saves a few poor souls out there. Keep strong but don’t be an arsehole, you never know who is working with the Vietnamese Mafia or how sour things could turn. A simple no, several times usually works. Pork buns should cost about 15, 000 VND, pho between 30,000 and 50,000 depending where and Saigon beer 12,000-18,000. Check out this great guide for more info.
5. If you ever want to see your stuff again be street smart.
With more and more stories of girls having cameras and handbags stolen straight off them it’s important to pause for a minute and think about what you do with your possessions. It’s like holding out candy for a fat kid, leaving your things anywhere only encourages them to be taken. We had a good friend have her bag stolen right off her in broad daylight, including her new I phone, which naturally puts a downer on the day. If you have a bag on you, put it over your head and shoulder not just on your shoulder. Its a smart decision to keep cash in two places on you, no more than about $50 AUD in your wallet, just in case someone takes it or steals from your bare hands. Girls, your bra is now a secret storage device in which you can entrust your big notes. Everything else important should be left in a safe. Never leave phones or wallets on a table that a motorbike could drive past and never leave anything unattended. Sounds like common sense but you’d be surprised.
So Saigon, we’re onto you and your little tricksters. Although you made our blood boil with anger and disdain you were also an interesting adventure. A huge shout out to the hotel staff who didn’t try and rip us off once, we were happier to pay a slightly pricier rate for food and beer so we didn’t have to endure any local bs. Perhaps jaded by our negative experiences, we wouldn’t stay any longer than 2 nights in District 1. It’s a real shame as HCM has such potential to be such a great hub for travelers and really boost the tourism economy, it’s hostility is noted by many travelers and many Westerners appear annoyed or disappointed. Perhaps it’s the aftershock of the shadows from the Vietnam War, understandably but we hope the ambiance changes and more people feel inclined to return, rather than escape to different areas like we’re doing.