Asleep on the john in shameless Saigon!

Trip Start Sep 28, 2009
Trip End Sep 09, 2010

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Saturday, October 31, 2009

A brief intro for those unfamiliar with Saigon – this place is basically a vast urban sprawl stretching from the coast in the south up towards the Cambodian border. It is home to around 7 million people and 3 million scooters and is split into 16 urban and 5 rural districts. Mainly it is centred around districts 1 and 3.

We arrived just after lunch time and quickly scoped a few dodgy hotels. Carrying big bags, overheating and feeling a bit narky it was decided our best plan of action was to leave Emma looking after the bags in a bar (for the sake of our marriage) while I went in search of something decent. In the end we settled for the Ngoc Minh Guesthouse which is based in a quiet lane in district 1, close to most of the action. Clean, WiFi, en-suite and breakfast for $20 seemed reasonable compared with some that we had seen.

That evening was Halloween and we had been invited by our Halong Bay mate Charlie to a gig that his band were playing over in district 2, just over the river. The music was great and the people really friendly, just about the entire teaching staff of the British School in Saigon had turned out. He done us proud!

Afterwards a few of us headed back into district 1 to go to a club called Apocalypse Now. Charlie had just managed to get in when they pulled the metal shutters down due to overcrowding, so we waited until he came back out to meet us. It looked mental, a collapsed girl was carried out just as Charlie emerged. Next stop was the Go Go bar, another club that was fairly mobbed. We were having a great time until I (JB) went up to the bar to get a few beers. There was a group of  local girls/hookers and an Aussie guy at the bar. On being served my beers I was in the process of putting my wallet in my bag when one of the girls made a grab for one of the beers.  As I stopped her taking the beer somebody else dipped their hand in the bag and snatched the wallet. Done over by a dirty gang robbery! It was immediately obvious that the group was working together and a decent verbal exchange followed. I didn't know that Emma had such a diverse vocabulary, regardless the wallet was long gone. I had to settle for spitting on the guy’s feet and reminding him of his social status. Funny how there were no protests of innocence...

Fortunately I had all the Dong in another pocket and only one cash card on me so they only got away with about 18 USD. Still, I felt violated and we had to call the night to a close and head back to get the card cancelled. Clearly we had a few drinks that night judging by the email below sent to cancel the card after a couple of failed attempts to get through on the phone.

Email from a slightly inebriated JB as follows...

Subject: Your servie is atrocious (despite asking em how to spell atrocious...)

I am furious, i called over two hours ago and still 3rd in the queue, cancel primary card holder, Mr Jonathan Bird, account ######## sort ##-##-##. Secondary card holder still valid, only source of money. Call my mobile if more details required. Will keep trying to call. Please confirm receipt of email. Currently in Vietnam.
Jonathan Bird

Second email ( I was growing impatient):

This is not good enough. Understandably I am concerned at fraudulent use of my caxton card, I am still trying to connect to the reporting helpline by mobile phone (over 60 so far spent doing this) and still 3rd in the cue after approx 50 minutes. I would never have signed up for a service that is not 24 hours. Should my card be used fraudulently i expect due measures to be taken. The last place I used my card was at a cashpoint near Apocalypse Now (2C Thi Sac Street, district 1), approximately 1 million dong. Anything over this transaction amount is fraudulent. I am hopeful I will be able to speak with a customer service advisor either tonight or first thing tomorrow.

Caxton response:

Dear Mr Bird,

First of all I’m sorry to hear of your difficulties.   

The lost and stolen service is 24/7.  I have just tried calling lost and stolen both from a mobile and a landline and I was able to get through to an operator in less than 1 minute on both occasions.  I have contacted the call centre and asked them to review their call logs.  I should have copies of these on Monday morning and I will look out for these extraordinarily long calls and let you know the result.

 I have closed down your primary GBP card as requested. 

Once again I’m sorry to hear of your difficulties and I just want to reassure you that we do take customer service and security very seriously.

Customer services

How this guy managed to keep a straight face......

Another shameless side of the city can be seen in the dodgy taxis which are tough to keep tabs on. Pleased to have found a reputable firm 'Vinasun’ I was shocked to see the 200,000 fare we had run up on the meter for a journey that should have cost no more than 25,000 dong. When I got out the taxi I noticed the firm was in fact called ‘Vinasiin’ but without the dots on the eyes. Swines! Therafter I also clocked ‘Vinasum’ and Vinameta’, all had exactly the same branding as the original Vinasun.

After an extended recovery period (lazy days walking around the city drinking iced vanilla coffees) and a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels we met up with Charlie once more. It was our final night in Saigon so met for a bite to eat. The restaurant our wise guide had chosen was called ‘Quan an Ngon’, having recently moved to its new location it was still based upon the concept of taking 20 of the best street food sellers in Saigon and placing their food on a single menu. The food was excellent and Emma even got her first taste of breadfruit outside of the Caribbean. Considering the swanky decor a bill of under 5 a head (including wine) was an absolute steal. For an after dinner drink we headed to the decadent 23rd floor bar at the Sheraton for a cocktail and beer whilst enjoying the stunning night time views over the city.

For all the robbery and rip offs we both had an excellent time, a big thanks to our top guide Charlie for showing us some of the places to go to and perhaps some that you shouldn’t go to! All the excitement of Saigon had clearly got the better of Jonti, Emma woke in the middle of the night to find him sound asleep on the toilet. And is still laughing!
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