Sunday, January 08, 2006

SAIGON PART 2: How to get ripped off in Saigon - a lesson learned.

After yesterday's experience I'd probably say Rule 1 is: never pick up a cylo driver in the backpacker district. Subject to this rule is guideline 1a: never pick up a cyclo driver who has a laminated menu of his own personal 'tours' starting at US $7.

Given that the going rate for cylos is probably more like $3, I was already starting on the back foot when the friendly Mr Son convinced me (via an album of photos and testimonials by past clients along the lines of "Mr Son - g'day mate, you're awesome!") to ride with him to Cholon, HCM's Chinatown. He promised me pagodas, markets and more...

Little did I know that the "more" involved buying him three beers and a beef stirfry at his mate's cafe. This would have been fine if the prices corresponded to those on the actual menu.

I believe "surprised" is the correct word to describe my reaction to the 220,000 VND bill (around $22) when it finally came.

"Annoyance" is another good word to use here.

"Foreigner" is the word Mr Son chose to explain the more than slight price discrepancy.

"Different price because you foreign. More expensive."

You're god damn right Mr Son. $2.50 a beer and $6 for spring rolls is A LITTLE EXPENSIVE. (See how well I've adjusted to the Vietnamese mindset? I'd think that was a bloody bargain back home)

Before the bill arrived...

At any rate, I saw a funky Chinese temple where the monks were just sitting down to lunch, and the Hong Kong markets (it seems I can't leave that place, no matter how hard I try) which, it has to be said, was significantly cheaper than anywhere in HK and with MUCH better knock-offs of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada - brilliant.

Bought a few more handbags so clearly I'll be able to open a shop when I get home. Or perhaps I will become an Ebay mogul. Or a maven. I've always wanted to be a maven.

At the Chinese pagoda.

Anyway after a little mid-afternoon sleep (I know, what am I? 60?) I headed down to the Bin Thay market because I didn't think I had enough handbags yet.

Me, post-nap, at my mini hotel.

Must have been looking a bit dozy from my nap (see above), or maybe I just didn't look too smart to begin with, because on the way I was almost ripped off again by a guy on a motorbike who tried to tell me that the market had "moved" from its location of 100 years (I'm guessing at that figure, by the way) and was actually now down another street. Uh huh.

"You don't believe me? You get on bike and I show you."

Yeah. THAT works. If that happened in Australia you'd be looking around for the hidden cameras. ("The harbour bridge? Nahhh mate it's not over the harbour anymore, it's down this back alley. Come with me and I'll show you. Ooh, is that a digital camera you're carrying...?")

Unshaken in my resolve, I kept faith in the three maps that said the market was still in the same place it had always been, and lo and behold, it was. Quelle surprise.

Dozens of stalls all selling beautiful lacquer ware, carvings, silks and embroidery, and chintzy touristy things like crap buddha statues and crummy jade thingies to hang from your rear vision mirror. (NOTE: I have bought one of these for everyone)

A flower seller on a bike.

Had a coconut to refresh myself (again, it's FUCKING HOT here, especially in the crowded markets. I could feel the sweat trickling down my back as I wandered around - nice) and then set off down Le Loi, past the glorious French colonial Hotel de Ville, to the gorgeous Continental Hotel, home of Graham Greene's Quiet American, the book you cannot escape in HCM. For some reason, every street vendor has about 1000 copies of this bloody book, and they want you to buy all of them. It's bizarre.

Not sure if it's an everyday thing, but a whole heap of families were out enjoying the evening in the main square on Le Loi, near the Continental. Lots of little kids were out playing with balloons and toys - a very heartwarming sight.

I believe this qualifies for CUTEST PHOTO OF THE YEAR. I dare your heart to not be warmed.

For the second glorious time I enjoyed what must surely be the world's best margarita pizza at the hotel's Venezia restaurant, which was brilliant even if I did have to draw a picture of basil in my notepad to get them to put some on there. My Pictionary skills have clearly served me well.

Before the addition of Pictionary basil, and it STILL looks like the best pizza in the world. Candle lit, silver service, plus bread roll - all for $7. Bliss.

NOTE - I have updated my first post with accompanying photos, so check it out if you want to get the full picture.


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