In hindsight, perhaps the evening of the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Vietnam wasn’t the best time for Mr LittleWelsh to arrive and begin our two week long adventure.
Our work conference over, I had eagerly jumped in a taxi to the airport to wait outside Arrivals. Overhead fireworks announced the celebrations nationwide and, I admit, I felt pretty celebratory too! I arrived in around 20 minutes and it cost 139,000 Vietnamese Dong. With this in mind, you can imagine my frustration when just an hour later we picked a return taxi from the airport rank and , after over an hour of driving noticeably in circles, our driver stopped approximately a mile from the hotel and demanded 1,400,000 VND. This equates to around £40 (GBP)- ten times the outbound fare- and I wasn’t having any of it.
He didn’t speak English, of course*, and couldn’t understand why we were being so unreasonable. He pointed to the metre repeatedly, as I used my own hand gestures to explain that we knew his game. At no point did we feel threatened, but this was the second time in a week this had happened to me, and I didn’t want to ruin the arrival of Mr LittleWelsh being held to ransom by this man who thought we had just arrived and had no concept yet of how much things cost in this part of the world. I could see the tension in Mr LW’s face as I called our hotel reception and told them to tell him I knew he was a crook and I refused to pay more than a tenth of what was on the metre. I mean, did he not see the elephant print harem pants I was wearing, purchased at the nearby Bin Thay market just days prior?!** I clearly knew what my dong were worth!
Mr LW had been on a plane for 14 hours, was wearing jeans and was now visibly pained by the situation, so I passed the man half a million (over three times my outbound fare) and, mysteriously the phone line to the hotel went dead! We were ushered out of the vehicle with a look of disdain and pointed in the general direction of the hotel (many of the roads in District 1 were closed to traffic due to the celebrations).
Traffic in Ho Chi Minh city is manic. Night time traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, in 38 degree heat when you are wearing jeans and exhausted from travel is not a pleasant experience. Reader, I can tell you: night time traffic in Ho Chi Minh City on the 40th Anniversay of the reunification of Vietnam, in 38 degree heat when you are wearing jeans and exhausted from travel and are carrying 22kg of luggage and have just had to battle your way out of a corrupt taxi situation has the power to bring a grown man to the verge of tears…
We waited on the side of the road for about 15 minutes, watching hundreds of thousands of mopeds swarm by, and things were getting pretty desperate! Then he appeared: a slight, elderly man with a long, thin white beard and a walking stick came up to us and smiled, knowingly:
“In Vietnam, you don’t wait for the traffic to stop; you make them stop. Follow me”
Out he strode with the agility of a young boy, tapping at the wheels of the oncoming mopeds with his walking stick to make them halt for us to pass.
He asked us where we were from, and then told us to have a lovely evening. Then he disappeared.
It wasn’t until the next day when we were looking at the wad of currency in our wallets that we noticed a familiar face smiling out at us. That same smiling face with the long, thin white beard bore more than a strong resemblance to the revered revolutionary leader- Ho Chi Minh.
Had the ghost of Uncle Ho appeared to guide us across the street in our time of distress? Probably not, but it makes a good story- don’t you think?
Top tip: The times I didn’t get scammed by taxi drivers, I was travelling in a green and white Vinasun taxi. They’re widely accepted as being among, if not the most reputable firm in Ho Chi Minh city !
*To avoid any misunderstanding , the “of course” was referring specifically to this man who was trying to take us for a ride. In general, I found the people of Vietnam spoke excellent English. This was lucky as I found out early on in the trip that when I tried to speak a few words of the local language, the variety in intonation meant that, often, instead of saying “Hello” and “Thank You” I was murmuring phrases that could have turned the air blue!
**Sarcasm, clearly. (Though I do love those trousers! ;p)