Downward Dong

First full day in Saigon and it was…full!

Saigon and Ho Chi Minh are interchangeable as it turns out. “Same Same” as my taxi driver on the way in said.

Went for a walk this morning and went about 2 blocks and this guy pulls up on a motorbike next to me and starts asking me where I’m from, and says he’s moving to CA next year and does the whole rapport bulding thing. He was selling me on taking me around town and down the river and normally I just say no to all these guys but I was just in the right mood to do it. I said “What’s the price?” And he says “No price, nothing, you just pay at the end if you’re happy”. I knew of course this was a red flag but jumped on his bike anyway!

Independence Palace in the city center
My new shades I got for $5

He took me to a few spots, I got to get whizzed around the INSANE traffic here, and went through this tunnel and went on this little boat up the river and got some nice photos. So yeah the whole thing was kind of a scam and yep, I ended up paying the guy too much for it. I had to pay $25 for the boat and after the boat the guy wanted to negotiate our deal for his taking me around! We were in this remote spot so I was kinda screwed, couldn’t exactly walk away…so basically he wanted $90 from me and I was able to get him down to $25, and he looked so disappointed. I got a bit taken but at the same time it was a cool experience! Maybe the whole thing was worth $25 to me so I got out of it not too bad. When I get taken, it’s never the money I’m mad about it’s the fact that I lost the battle!

I’m on a boat!
The Saigon Tower from my boat

This getting screwed thing happens to me once on every trip I go on. I usually over-tip someone by a lot or do the currency math wrong and pay for it…it’s part of the deal!

Later, after chilling at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, I met up with my friend Elisa from the Dynamite Circle (DC) had lunch and then crashed another coffee shop (there are zillions of them here) and worked for a couple hours. Fun!

Jetlag kicked in at around 5p but I just pushed through it and ended up going to dinner with a bunch of the DC people here and went to a Brazillian steakhouse…..all you can eat meat! Not exactly Vietnamese cuisine! Not my choice but it was really good. There were 7 of us and pretty cool group. I went into a meat coma after that and had a meat hangover today!

So when I taxi’d home I thought I got completely jacked. By this point it was 10:30pm and my brain was in a fog from it feeling like I stayed up all night. Well I went to pay and the meter said “62” which is 62,000 Vietnamese Dong, which is like $3.20. I gave the guy what I thought was the right amount, and he starts speaking vietnamese really loudly and saying no. So I gave him more and he keeps pointing to the meter, and I opened my wallet and he pointed at the money and pointed at the meter and added it up as if it was the right amount. I thought I gave him too much but I was way too tired to understand what he was saying or how much it was. I was told there would be no math on this trip! Anyway it turned out to my relief that I did give him the right amount, figured this

Note to self: Never deal with numbers when jetlagged.

Some observations so far:

-Weather is PERFECT! It’s super sunny and a little breeze and only a little humid, not nearly as much as Bali or Thailand.

-There’s tons of modern buildings and modern restaurants here. Really surprising. I get the feeling there’s this huge middle class and upper class here mixed in with poverty and people scraping by.

-Traffic is INSANE! Constant almost accidents on motorbikes! Crossing the street is intimidating at first. There are very few rules here so everyone is on their own. It’s always a game of Frogger when you go to cross most streets here! I actually kind of enjoy it, although it will get old soon I’m sure. The key is to not hesitate ever, just go. It’s sort of a dance, where you just move on through and kind of keep a little hypervigilance as you go.

Cool video someone took of the traffic here. I love the first commment: “I was an atheist before I watched this video.”

-People are generally really nice. Better than Thailand! Many people speak English. Just not taxi drivers.

Staying at least 1 more night in my same hotel. It’s very comfortable and cheap, just $20/night with good wifi. My only issue is that it’s a little out of the way from where I would want to be, and I’m not ready to brave a motorbike at this point!

So I’m working on a project a lot the next couple days…planning to do some sight seeing after that. The nearby stuff I want to see is the Cu Chi tunnels, the Mekong Delta, and the War Remnants museum. Hopefully knock those things out next week and hit the far away stuff the following week.


  1. Jeff

    You could not pay me to drive in that traffic

  2. I love this: “I was an atheist before I watched this video.”

    Have fun Kev!

  3. Nice Kevin! I keep hearing the theme that you are overpaying….stop that! 😉 Here’s a few things I learned in Vietnam:

    1. The people are very friendly, but simultaneously very savvy, especially when it comes to business and negotiating. (More so than anywhere else I’ve been in Asia.) Unfortunately I also will found more people there who really try to take advantage of the fact that you are a tourist than anywhere else as well. This is especially true of the cab drivers. It is the culture, so accept that fact but have firm boundaries and enjoy the game with a constant smile. (BTW….$5 is too much for sunglasses. 😉 )

    2. Get used to all the honking. It’s how everyone there drives. I was in a cab where the guy literally was honking every 20 seconds. Like bats they use it as some sort of sonar to avoid traffic collisions. Being I saw 8 of them in a week and was in 1 it’s not that effective there because everyone else is honking at the same time! Note: Upon returning to the US I found myself using the horn very regularly and getting lots of dirty looks, but found it is a rather effective method here!

    3. Despite having to have constant awareness regarding prices and negotiating, I did find that Vietnam was much cheaper than most other Asian destinations. Bonus!

    4. When you go to the Cu Chi tunnels, DO NOT pass up the chance to get your Rambo on and fire the M-60 machine gun. DO however pass on the chance to use it on a live target. (Usually a goat or cow.)

    5. Definitely get out of the bigger towns and enjoy the beach and the mountains. The pace slows dramatically and Vietnam has some of the best of both!

    6. You are right about the street crossing. After watching a very elderly lady do it before attempting it, the secret is to go slow, steady and predictably. Magically and conveniently all the traffic will move around you.

    Here is a first person view video of myself and my friend Sarah crossing the busiest intersection in Hanoi diagonally for the sheer thrill of it. Sorry for the poor audio…not my camera.“>

    Enjoy Vietnam and all that it was to offer!

    1. Kevin

      Thanks Brandon! Awesome post, you should be a travel blogger! That video is insane.

      Yeah I think some of the rookie mistake stuff I do is due to being out of Asia for several months. First time back, you kind of let your guard down the first few days. Negotiating is always about the willingness to walk away. Being that this is a culture that doesn’t show a lot of emotion, many of them end up being pro’s at detecting even slight emotion on your face.

      BTW, what’s your opinion on Nha Trang? I’m going to Dalat in a few days, was thinking about heading over to the beach, but read mixed reviews on it.

      Unfortunately, I won’t be making it to the north this trip. I’m sort of 50/50 on doing work and being here to explore. Could be a lot worse!

  4. No worries Kevin. As for Nha Trang, I didn’t get the chance to go myself, but I’ve heard from everyone else that it was quite beautiful but more touristy than the rest of the country, and thus reflected in the prices. There are probably better beach towns to go to, but few with that kind of tourist infrastructure. If you want a more authentic cultural experience and not looking to simply check out I would probably skip it.

    As for the travel blogging, I in fact have done my share. You can check it out here:

    …but not until you get back!


  5. Hi Kevin! Nice video, a bit frightening I guess when you’re not used to it, but… efficient!

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