Usually when we travel I have a general idea about it. Going to Vietnam I really had no sense of where to go or what to do. I just knew I wanted to eat a lot of food and partake in a lot of services (get your mind out of the gutter!). Su planned the itinerary and we went all in, since we thought this would be our only trip to Vietnam.
The first thing we really had to learn was the money. The approximate conversion rate is 20,000 dong to $1. That means we’re dealing in the thousands and millions of dong which gets pretty overwhelming. 2 million dong is $100. Because Su, Nancy and I have similar tastes in food (pretty much anything but aubergine salad) when we travel we pool our money together and call it a kitty, that way we don’t have to spend every meal, cab ride, hotel, etc dividing things up. We start with $100 each and add more money as needed.
When we landed in Nha Trang we had no idea how much a cab ride would be to our hotel and didn’t want to get ripped off so we looked up what we should pay on tripadvisor. The last post was about 3 or 4 year old but we decided to make that the highest amount we would pay. Knowledge is power. The cab ride was about $15 for a 40 minute ride. Pretty amazing. We had to negotiate but Su is a hard ass.
Our cab driver couldn’t find our hotel, The Golden Moon. Turns out it was down an alley and wasn’t really a hotel, more of a homestay, which basically means it’s more a B&B, minus the breakfast, LOL. One of the reasons I picked this place was because we could check in at 9am. It was probably 8am when we got there. As we were dragging our bags down the alleyway (since we planned on ditching the suitcases, one was a cheapo from goodwill and one was missing a wheel, we weren’t graceful) Nancy commented on the fact that everyone was looking at her. I laughed and said get used to it white girl!
The Golden Moon’s gates were locked, so much for getting in early. Luckily there was a restaurant next door. The choices weren’t that great so we went with a banh mi which is a Vietnamese sub. You can usually buy one in the states for between $3-$5. If you’re paying more than that you’re getting ripped off. In the Nam, they are half that price and amazing! The bread is fantastic. I’m salivating as I write about it. Usually bread is a vehicle to get butter or oil to my mouth. The bread in the Nam reflects its history with France. As good as any bakery in Paris. I had a banh mi last week here in the states. I used to love it. Nowhere near as good as the ones I ate in Vietnam and it’s because the bread was so fantastic!
Sitting next to the gals are the empty glasses of Vietnamese ice coffee. Coffee is Vietnam’s second largest export after rice. It’s a way of life in Vietnam, maybe even more so than in Seattle, which is hard to believe. Su and Nancy sucked their drinks down like it was a glass of water in the Sahara. They’ll have to extoll its virtues to you. They normally drank 2 at every meal. 1 to devour, 1 to savor.
Our vacation is off to a wonderful start! After luxuriating by the pool we went back to our hotel to relax some more and gear up for dinner. Vacation for me is about getting from one meal to the next. I wanted to eat somewhere with lots of seafood where the locals ate. We asked the guy who owned the homestay and he suggested going down to a market. We asked him how much a cab ride would be, it would have been around a dollar. Once we got into a cab we started talking him up and he suggested some other place that he loved that was 3 kilometers away. We love local suggestions so we were in. It was a huge place, since it was outdoor. I got out and left Nancy to pay since she had the kitty. After 5 minutes Su and Nancy were still in the car so I went to check on them. The cab driver did something funky with the meter because he was trying to charge us 900,000 dong. We paid 300,000 for a ride from the airport. We paid 200,000 to go the mud baths. There was no way we were paying 900,000. The problem was Nancy had handed him the money before they caught the gouging. When I went to check on them the owner or manager of the restaurant came to see what was happening. Su and Nancy weren’t leaving the cab until he paid back the money and I crawled in too and jumped into the argument. He crumbled under the pressure and changed the bill to 200,000 which is about $10. We still way overpaid but it was better than what he wanted.
Speaking of learning from our mistakes, we asked the cab driver what the cost would be back to the hotel (we snagged a card so we can flash them the address). He held up his hand to say 5. We thought he meant 500,000 dong and got offended. He meant 5,000 dong! Hello, that’s how much we overpaid! He took a different road but we figured we were on the other side of the hotel when he dropped us off so we would just walk there. Well, the reason our ride was so cheap was he took us about half the distance we needed to go, we were still a mile away from our hotel! I was bummed I gave him such a huge tip for being so honest. We started to walk but we haven’t mastered the art of crossing the street yet. Scooters are driven by the majority of the population and crosswalks are few and far between. We basically crossed the street praying for our lives and not looking left or right and screaming the entire time. All you hear is honking scooters! We made it across, whew! We could have made the walk back but I had to go to the bathroom so we took a cab the rest of the way.
It wasn’t late but we hadn’t slept in 2 days so we relaxed in our room. It was an exciting and adventurous first day and hey, we learned these lessons so you don’t have to. 🙂