I really did not want to get up so early on Wednesday 24th August but Captain Caveman had booked the Oxalis car pick up for 6.30am. I didn’t have to check-in for my domestic flight until 8.30am but we had decided that breakfast at Mr Bull’s would be a good way to send me off. Dung, our nice driver, was early and we got in the car. Captain Caveman had to carry my big suitcase as I couldn’t lift it. We had our usual Bo Ne at Mr Bull’s, mine without eggs, and I really enjoyed it. Captain Caveman had time for us to pop to the WinMart for him to pick up some essentials and I got some mints for the journey.
Captain Caveman came with me to Dong Hoi airport and we got checked in straight away for my 9.30am flight to Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon). I was flying with Vietnam Airlines, I had an aisle seat and was due to land at 11.10am. We said goodbye and I had a few tears, mainly through tiredness I suspect.
I was looking forward to landing as I would have time to check-in to the hotel and get ready to meet friends for dinner tonight. The flight went smoothly but I wasn’t prepared for the absolute fiasco that was about to happen once I arrived in Saigon!
I landed at the domestic terminal of Ho Chi Minh airport, before midday. There were no taxis outside so I decided to walk to the international terminal where I knew there would be. I’d already been forewarned to make sure I only get in to the My Linh or Vina Sun taxis as they are the official ones. I’d read on social media about the potential for scams so I was alert to making sure I didn’t fall foul of this. As I approached the taxi queue there were 2 women who were taking the locations and hailing the cabs for customers, they wore lanyards round there neck and one of them was very efficient in getting me a taxi. I checked the car that had pulled up and asked her how much it was to Thao Dien. She said it was metered but I should check with the driver, which I did and he said he didn’t know but it was metered . They put my 25kg suitcase in the boot as I took my hand luggage from the trolley and pushed it out of the way. What I hadn’t noticed was that the car I was about to get in was not a My Linh or Vina Sun. The car had pulled up alongside the taxi I thought I was getting in and the driver told me to get in the front seat. I declined and I got in the back where I noticed the car wasn’t as neat and tidy as it should have been.
The driver asked me for 10,000vnd (£) for the toll to get out of the airport, this is normal but I said I would pay at the end and took the ticket for 9,000vnd. I didn’t realise it at the time but it had his car registration number on it, which would prove to come in very handy.
The driver asked if he could take me to an ATM to get more money out, that’s when I noticed that the meter was reading higher than it should. As we drove the meter was whizzing round far too quickly so I decided to call Captain Caveman, he didn’t pick up. I called the hotel and asked them how much the fare should be and to advise I was on my way. The receptionist was very helpful and told me that it should be half what it was already and suggested I might want to get out. I couldn’t because I was on a multi lane dual carriageway, I decided to continue the remaining 16 minute journey but asked the receptionist to meet me outside the hotel when I arrived.
When we arrived there was a lot of discussion between the two in Vietnamese and the driver blocked me from getting my suitcases out of the boot. They had been put in very awkwardly with both handles away from the open area so I really had to push to get them out. The receptionist was confused and told the driver it should be a maximum of 250,000vnd but after more discussion he said he would accept 325,000vnd instead of the 2.6 million on the meter. By this point I already knew I would be reporting him to either the police or the airport so I paid with a 500,000vnd note which he only gave me 170,000vnd back because he said he had no 5,000vnd note. We got inside the hotel and I thanked the receptionist for coming to my aid, she was shocked at the driver’s behaviour. I checked in, went to my room and called Captain Caveman. That taxi driver had really cheesed me off by thinking he could take advantage of what looked like an older western woman who had, seemingly, just arrived in Vietnam. Captain Caveman has very good connections so I knew he would have the number of someone who would be able to do something to stop this driver ripping off tourists again!
My taxi incident had taken up so much of my time that I missed an important email inviting me to a meeting.
Instead, I got a snack from the bakery next door for lunch and then tried to have a nap and forget about the taxi fiasco.
That evening I had arranged to meet up with a few Saigon friends at a place called Eddie’s Diner, in District 1. It was a place that Annette had suggested because of her bad knee and it was all on the ground floor. Beth, was staying in Thao Dien, so she got the taxi to me and we were the first to arrive at Eddie’s. Annette came straight after work, Beth and I were already having a cocktail and thinking of sharing a main dish. Keith, from Grimsby, and the 2 Irish girls also joined us and more drinks were had. On a Wednesday Eddie’s has an offer on so 4 of us had the burger which was absolutely delicious. There was lots of chat and laughter but the Irish girls had to leave first because they had their flight home to catch tonight. We all wished them well and it was good to have seen them one last time in Vietnam. After goodbyes to Annette, the remaining 3 of us decided we might go for one more drink on the way home! At this point we were blissfully unaware of the saga that would finish off my evening!
Keith, Beth and I found ourselves in an area of bars somewhere between D1 and Thao Dien. The first bar we went to was Captain Phook, where Keith knew the owners and they had rosé wine on draft. Keith had a beer, Beth and I had the wine and we were chatting when my phone rang. The caller had some news on the taxi driver who had overcharged me earlier. He was being held at the airport and was calling me a liar so I explained my side of the story then went on with my evening. Next, we went to Khoi 89, another recommended one from Keith, where I was pleasantly surprised by their sparkling wine from Moldova. We had a wander down the street, checking out the numerous bars in the area, then walked back to the beginning of the bar street. We passed Truc Mai Music House where a young student was having a lesson on the bamboo xylophone. The 3 of us went closer to listen and ended up in there, having a go ourselves. It was brilliant, however, the highlight was having the teacher play us ‘Jingle Bells’ and she was very talented.
We were thinking about heading home when I got a WhatsApp message from the hotel receptionist to tell me that the taxi driver, and his 2 bosses, were at the hotel demanding to speak to me. Apparently, he had been fined 5 million dong (£185.50) for his greediness earlier and wanted to iron out our misunderstanding. I told Beth and Keith who suggested we go back to Khoi 89 and ponder my next move. I called Captain Caveman to let him know and he suggested I didn’t go back to meet them. Beth was all for coming with me and was even on the brink of asking her son to meet us there. I messaged the hotel and told them to inform the driver and his 2 colleagues that I would not be meeting with them. It was already 9.30pm and they were there to intimidate me and it wasn’t appropriate. They said they would wait until I returned because the driver had insisted he had not tried to overcharge me and couldn’t speak English. He was insisting there must be a misunderstanding and they only wanted to talk to me. I did not believe this and insisted the receptionist get rid of them, even tell them I wasn’t coming back if necessary. It took her a while but messaged me to tell me the coast was clear.
When I arrived at the hotel there was no sign of the taxi company waiting for me. I got to my room slightly relieved, and still sceptical of their motives for coming to see me, late in an evening. I let Captain Caveman know I was safe, as he had waited up to check I got back ok, and he said he would let his contact know. A less confident woman would have been more scared, I’m sure, so I was even more glad I’d reported him. I did notice that the driver who had tried to say I mistook 2,600,000vnd for 260,000vnd had not come to the hotel, with his colleagues to leave the 70,000vnd he overcharged me ‘by mistake’ and a sorry note!
I was very grateful for the support from friends and the hotel in what could have been a bad situation, luckily it all worked out ok in the end.