We Made It! First Impressions of Saigon

We finally arrived at our destination at about 3:15 pm. I had needed a rest stop for the past hour and a half so was anxious to get off the bus at the bus terminal and find the women’s toilet. For some reason, but bus did not drop us off at the terminal; we were dropped off in front of some hotel. Taxi drivers were lined up to greet us. One offered me a ride as I exited the bus; I told him I really needed a toilet. He led me down the street to one. Let’s just say it was really nasty. The door wouldn’t close because a motorbike was parked right in front of it (inside a store). But, beggars can’t be choosers!

I quickly walked back to where the bus had left us off and found that my husband was MIA. I looked all around and couldn’t find him. Great. No phone service in Vietnam, either (at least not cheap service like elsewhere in Asia – T-Mobile’s international plan doesn’t work here). I looked down the block and the taxi driver that had led me to the toilet was waving at me. He had already loaded our suitcases and Clayton was waiting for me in the taxi. Whew!

Before heading to the hotel we needed to get some money so we could pay the driver so he waited while we accessed an ATM. We took out 2,000,000 Dong, which sounds like a lot of money but in reality is less than $90 US. We had read that the taxi ride should cost us around $10 US (about 228,000 Dong) since we were only 5 miles from the hotel.

All I can say is that it was a long 5 miles. And, cost us over 600,000 Dong. Yes, we were ripped off. The helpful, friendly guy that met us at the bus station was a scam artist. This apparently is a common problem here. When we finally reached our hotel we asked the receptionist how much we should’ve paid. She confirmed that we had been “had”. She also told us that we should stick with Vinasun or Mai Lhin taxi companies; they are the reputable ones. She also said she would try to track down the cab that dropped us off (video surveillance) and report him.

We are staying at Saigon Domaine Residence Hotel which is an absolutely beautiful hotel. We were welcomed with cold juice at check-in. The hotel is located along the river and there is a shuttle bus and shuttle boat provided to take residents to district 1 which is where most of the touristy things are located. We had a reserved a one-bedroom suite; this is a hotel that only rents apartments. We were taken up to our room and can I just say, “holy cow!!!!”. This is definitely a full apartment. There is a kitchen, living room, dining room, balcony (with view of the river), two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a washer/dryer. The décor is incredible. It has every amenity you could want. We were completely blown away. We hadn’t paid for a two-bedroom suite but were given one. Sweet!

We had already decided to stay in for the evening. Two long days on the road had taken its toll on this old lady; I was tired and so was Clayton. We figured we could eat at the restaurant and do some planning for the following couple of days. That way, we’d be fresh when we hit the town.

We took the elevator down to the lobby to ask about where we could eat dinner on the premises. She pointed us down to the river where we saw some tables set up. We walked there and an employee was sitting at one of the tables. He immediately got up and left. Hmmm. Hard to order a meal when there is not one around. Also no kitchen. Strange, very strange.

We headed back to the reception desk and asked again. I guess we asked the wrong question the first time. She was literally correct; we could indeed eat anywhere we wanted. However, what we really needed to ask was, “Where is the restaurant?”. Because the answer is, “There is no restaurant on the premises.” In order to eat, you must order room service. From there, you can eat in your room or take the food down by the river. So, we headed back to our room to order room service.

Our food was delivered promptly and set up on our dining room table. We opted for eating in our room rather than taking the food out. The view from our room is really beautiful, with the added advantage of being air conditioned and no bugs (as opposed to dining by the river). We spent the evening investigating taxi scams in Saigon (plentiful) and picking out a few places to visit the next day.