Day 1: Melbourne to Saigon

May 14th 2013, 9:05:00 am

I spent my entire last night in Melbourne with my mind racing, completely unable to sleep. I think I nearly feel asleep for a bit at around 5am, and then was woken not long after by a notification on my phone lighting up the room.

By 6:30am when I planned to get up I'd completely given up hope of getting any sleep and got up and made myself a coffee, then zipped up my bag fully packed.

I decided at the last minute, that rather than throw out a bunch of socks and underwear that I didn't have room to bring, I'd take a throwaway back and my second piece of carry-on luggage filled with them, and then throw them out as I use them to ease into this having to do super regular washing.

James generously offered to come and pick me up and drive me to the airport and even parked so he could come in to see me off through customs. What a champ!

In the midst of all the excitement I completely forgot about applying for the Tourist tax refund thingy until I was already through customs and had already checked in most of the stuff I was going to claim back. It was only going to be $50, but I'm still disappointed that I didn't think to go and get the reciept stamped while I had possession of the stuff so I could have got the money.

I bought 2 bottles of no-name brand water on the way through the airport, a bargain at $5. I'd already split my credit card and debit card into being stored in two separate places and only had my credit card in my wallet, and for the privilege of paying by credit card they gave me a sweet 10% surcharge, obviously because the profit margin on those 25c bottles of water was no where near enough to cover credit card fees.

I got put in the very middle seat on the plane between two women, which meant both no view, and having to ask to get up every time I needed to go to the toilet. Still, it was better being between two small women that two large men as the arm rests were shared fairly rather than as some bullshit attempt to show who's got the biggest cock.

I took with me one of those neck pillow thingies, which I'm sure I'd used in the past and not found to be particularly great. I'd taken it because I figured it might be ok for one flight and I'd have no attachment getting rid of it as soon as needed. But it turned out the thing is amazing. Earlier in the year just on a flight to Wellington I'd gotten an incredibly sore neck trying to sleep on that short flight, but on the ~8 hours to Singapore I managed to sleep and sit lazily for the whole flight with my neck feeling great. So the pillow may not get turfed quite so early.

The stopover in Singapore was brief, only about 1 hour, so I didn't really get to look around, but they had free wifi so I checked the internets and filled in time. For a massive airport like that, the place felt like their aircon was hardly working. I reckon it must have been nearly 30ºC inside.

The flight to Ho Chi Minh City was uneventful, although arriving was a bit of a debacle. I (and what seemed like every other non-Vietnamese person in the airport) had organised a pre-approved visa on arrival. I lined up for 10 minutes to submit the letter and paperwork and sat and waited. and waited. and waited. After about 40 minutes, there were no seats left and new-commers started lining up at the collection window as though that was going to get theirs processed faster.

After just over an hour they finally called my name and gave me my passport back, with which I could go through immigration and finally collect my bag, which had long since been pulled off the baggage collection belt and was sitting unattended with loads of other peoples stuff. It'd be a prime opportunity for someone dodgy to go through any bag they liked, but then I guess the only way to get to that part of the airport without being an official would be to take an international flight, so I guess that's a reasonable bar to stop it from happening often.

I'd read about dodgy taxi's at the airport and had the name of a reputable company and an idea what the trip should cost. A guy approached me and I told him I wasn't interested and kept walking towards where the company had a person who did the booking. The guy pulled out some ID that claimed he was a driver for the same company I was looking for, so I asked if he'd use a meter. He said yes, but then as soon as I showed him where I wanted to go he told me 600,000 Dong, or more than 3x the cost of a fixed-rate taxi to anywhere in the city, so I told him again nope, I'll get a proper one thanks.

My taxi driver took me to the hostel I'd booked, and pointed me down a little lane way to it; Lucky too because without him I doubt I would have found the place. It was certainly tucked away.

The owner of the hostel sat me down and ran me through a map of everything there is to do nearby, and told me a good place to go and try pho bo (noodle soup). I went up to my room and had a quick shower to freshen up. First thing I did was brush my teeth with the tap water, right afterwards realising that pretty much everyone recommends against that. Oh well!

I went and got some dinner from the pho bo place, and quickly realised I have no idea how to eat noodle soup. It came out as a bowl of noodle soup (duh!) and about 5-6 plates with various different things on them. I watched some Vietnamese people who I was sharing the table with and tried to copy them, chopsticks in my right hand and spoon in my left, but funnily enough found my left hand is way to unco for that so I ended up alternating between just the spoon and just the chopsticks. The soup was ok, but I think I'll stick to the non-soup dishes for the rest of my stay unless I can get someone to show me how it's done.

Not a bad first day.