14.04.2008 - 15.04.2008 85 °F
After visiting my friends in Singapore for 3 days, I headed over to SaiGon on JetStar Airlines. With all the new discount airlines, it is now pretty easy to get a decent airfare with advance purchase online. One hint on the lower baggage limits imposed by all the airlines. Have them weigh your checked bag and see if you are under their requirement, say 17 kilos. Put some items from your carry-on back into your checked bag if you are under their weight limit. Some airlines now only allows 5 kilos for carry-on bags. They weigh it as you check in, but don't re-weigh it when you arrive at the gate. I took my books & camera out and left them on the baggage trolly when having my carry-on bag weighed. I was now under the 5 kilo limit and just added them back to my bag before getting to the gate. This may save you some excess baggage charges.
I flew into Tan Son Nhat to meet up with my buddies. I arranged for a 'visa on arrival' before I left Vegas. Many companies offer this service, I used 'hotels-in-vietnam' and will use them again. The 'Landing Visa' desk is before the Immigration lines, on your left. I went up to the window, handed them my arrival letter, photo, filled out the arrival form and paid the $25 stamp fee. Took all of 5 minutes. The $17 for the arrival letter and the $25 (now $45) stamp fee is less than many countries charge for a VN visa if you want it quickly. I passed through Immigration, got my bag and chatted up some guys that were waiting for their bags. 2 others were heading for the De Tham St. area and agreed to share a taxi. 3 of us split the 100,000 fare, about $2 each. If you are the least bit outgoing, this is a good option. One guy was a regular visitor to VN and made sure we got a Vinasun taxi. They use the meter and don't overcharge. If you are on your own, there is a share taxi for $5 to your hotel.
My friends were waiting at Sinh Cafe on De Tham St., as planned. Thank goodness for e-mail. I missed my Canadian friend's wedding last year so I wanted to meet his bride before he took her to Canada. My long time Brit friend came over from Pattaya to join us in HCMC. (Since I doubt they want their names in my blog, I will refer to my large friend from Canada as "V". His new VN bride will be "H" and my beer loving Brit friend will be "R"). They had arrived earlier in the day and had already booked a hotel. Paying $15 for a room was more than I wanted to pay, so I went down mini hotel alley checking prices. Most HCM hotels have raised their prices from 2 years ago, but I did find one for $10/nite: air con, TV & hot water. Most places will bend a bit on prices if they are not full. My room was on the 5th floor, one reason for the lower price. I decided to store my bags behind the desk rather than slog up 5 floors and then back down. Most of the hotels in the alley are very narrow and tall. Expensive land results in going vertical. I took my money out of my bag and joined my friends for dinner. Plenty of decent choices in mini hotel alley. We picked 'La Cantina', next to their hotel. Decent menu and OK prices. They have sidewalk tables if you want to watch the passing parade go by. Dinner was 60,000VND, more than I usually pay, but when you are with others, you compromise. One downside to dining outside is the constant parade of people selling something. It can get tiresome, so stay inside if you want to dine in peace.
After dinner, I went to my room, showered, rested an hour and then downstairs at 9:00pm to join them for some drinks. I wanted to get caught up on what "R" & "V" have been doing since we were in SEA together. I also wanted to find out more about "H". After a few hours of catching up on each others lives, I said goodnight and headed for my hotel. 5 long flights up to my room, but I did get a cheaper rate! It was a long day but a good start to our time together in VN.
I have included photos of mini hotel alley, several hotels, plus Sinh Cafe office on De Tham St. There are at least 4 tour companies that offer the 'open tour' between HCMC-HaNoi. Sinh Cafe is more expensive, but have better buses IMO and fewer problems. You can ride with Sinh Cafe and stay at a diiferent hotel. There are always moto guys waiting when your bus arrives in each city. If you don't like the Sinh Cafe hotel choice, you can alway take a moto to a cheaper one.