Vietnam Adventures: Hit or Miss Saigon

Okay, so “Lunch” turned into “the rest of the Saigon leg”. Funny how “blah” turns into busy.

Anyway, I left off with a plan, baggage and a well-prepared immune system.

I started my trip with a weekend in Melbourne. As is often the case, timing issues meant I didn’t get to do as much catching up as I wanted, but I turned out to need that time for repacking, reorganising and emergency Vietnamese cramming anyway.

I’ll elide Melbourne details, except to say thankyou to all involved, and that I was fed lots of tasty food, priming the pump so-to-speak.

I flew out of Melbourne Airport with Malay Airlines. Due to having done the web-checking, and being relatively early, I arrived at the airport at 10pm and was through checkin, security, border control and duty free by 11pm. I figured I’d upload some photos but the 3G connection in the terminal was awful. Given they charge for Wifi there, I suspect this was not a coincidence… I spent the entire wait trying to upload photos and update my voicemail message.

The flight was pleasant. I managed to get dairy-free meals and slept most of the way. My DS game was “Hotel Dusk”, which is quite good and fairly interesting story-wise. It’ll last me the rest of the trip, I reckon. And if not, Professor Layton awaits. ^_^

Kuala Lumpar airport was an airport like any other, I guess. (In my limited experience) I’ll gloss over that and my connecting flight too. (I managed to sleep for most of the domestic flight too, so I’m not glossing over a lot…)

So I emerged from Vietnam Customs at 10am or so, somewat concerned that I couldn’t see the promised airport transfer from inside the terminal. Turns out most transfers wait where the fencing ends, which was out of sight of the glass doors.

Along with me on the transfer bus, a lady named Helen arrived on the same flight and was on the same tour as me. Her friend Lorraine was also on the schedule, but had been too ill to fly out.

Sadly, the transfer bus took us to the wrong Hai Ha Hotel. Once we established this, the hotel flagged us a taxi to the correct hotel, which is no longer named the Hai Ha. (The tour guide told us today it’s now under new management)

Safely arrived, showered and feeling the heat less than I feared, I ventured out for a brief walkabout to locate food and drink. Herein I discovered probably my least favourite thing about Saigon (and probably travelling in general) — people who won’t let me be. My first trip out had me followed for a fair distance by two different cyclos, telling me how cheap it would be to go with them, and showing me recommendations from other Australians.

I don’t mind being asked (well, I don’t _like_ it, but it’s the way of street markets in tourist areas, it seems) but I really don’t being followed and reasked after I’ve said no. >_<

I think it’s one of the reasons I don’t really travel much; I really hate feeling like a tourist, that everyone is looking at you as a transient potential income source. It’s easier in groups, but I find it a little soul-wearing alone.

Anyway, despite (or because) of the above, I ended up back in my hotel room with a Viettel SIM and a bag of bread rolls.

At this point, a note on Facebook filtering in Vietnam, learnt through much more effort than I expected…

The ADSL hotel connection (and hence the free wifi I discover later in the story) simply blocks Facebook using DNS, and only blocks, leaving and whatever the Facebook Android App uses operative. This is trivially bypassed by using the Google Public DNS service. On android, in a root shell:

setprop net.dns1

setprop net.dns1

However, the Viettel 3G connection is much more thorough. All the subdomains are blocked in DNS, the IP adresses I found are blocked in port 80, SSH is blocked and it appears they have a transparent DNS lookup proxy as requests to the Google Public DNS servers above reacted exactly like the Viettel DNS servers. I was able to get to Facebook using Orbot, a Tor client for Android.

Anyway, by the time I finished all this, night had fallen, so I thought I’d give Saigon another chance.

This went much better. I didn’t go very far, but I did enjoy where I went more, as there was a distinct lack of cyclos, or in fact anyone paying me more than passing attention. ^_^

Anyway, that evening I retired to my room to enjoy my further spoils (iced tea drinks) and bánh đậu xanh for dinner, and spend some time trying to tune my ear with the magic of television.

Side note: I’m writing this in my room in Hoi An (spoiler: I don’t get mugged and killed in Saigon) and a live commercial has come on, with Mr T dubbed into Vietnamese. It’s fascinating.

I found what appears to be a highschool drama I’ll probably write more about in a separate post.

And I slept well that evening, which was a relief.

On the second day, I rose again (having gotten up early to use the toilet and gone back to bed) sometime before lunch. I was feeling rather demoralised, and wrote the first part of this series.

Just as I was weighing up whether I could hide in my room all day, I got an unexpected phonecall, and was told in no uncertain terms that I should be out exploring the city.

I took the wave of confidence this brought and walked over to the Revolutionary Museum. I didn’t go in, but I did talk to a nice pair of young people who wanted me to take a five minute taxi to meet their sister who was a nurse wanting to move to Austeralia. I declined, and did a lap around the Museum instead. I exchanged a wave with the same pair during the lap, and ended up buying expensive water from a guy carrying a styrofoam box.

I looked at a barbecue place across the road from the Museum, and was pleased that my nativisation had reached the point where I looked at the 100,000 dong price (about AU$5.30) and thought “too expensive”.

So I went to the bakery on the way back, and scored three bready treats for under 50,000 dong instead. I also borrowed a power adapter from the front desk, and saw the free wifi sign around this point, having just bought another 200,000 dong Viettel topup since I’d burnt through 30,000 dong using 3G already.

It was around this point that I realised I have no idea how to entertain myself when visiting a big city, and I don’t remember what I did between this and the initial tour group meeting at 6pm.

At some point during the morning I had been to the ATM for my first million dong, and met a gentleman named Tri who will appear again next episode.

And speaking of the next episode: I meet my tour group, get down and dirty in the Cu Chi tunnels and all dressed up on the Saigon River, and eventually bid Saigon farewell in a blaze of jet fuel.

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