Like any good international adventure my arrival in Vietnam began rather ominously. In the course of thirty hours I had flown from Boston to Detroit to Tokyo to Manila and finally Ho Chi Minh. By the time my Cebu Air flight landed in Ho Chi Minh it was 12:30 pm. It had been about a year since I had been in a developing country and my haggling skills were seriously rusty, so on the intermittent airport wifi I googled which taxi services were reliable and metered. The internet quickly taught me that the Ho Chi Minh taxi stand is a prime place to get ripped off. There are only two reliable taxi companies and you should never pay for than 150,000 dong ($6 USD) for a cab.
I exchanged my US dollars for Dong and walked confidently out the doors into an onslaught of young men waving taxi signs. My confidence started to dissipate when I walked towards the taxi stand and realized that neither of the two pre approved companies were an option. I was “good” offered prices ranging from 350,000 to 200,000 dong. I stood my ground and negotiated a ride into town with the ever-questionable “Happy Puppy Taxi Company” for 150,000.
The cab pulled out of the queue giving me a full view of the airport arrival area. It turns out I had exited the side door. A sharp turn to the right would have revealed a second well organized and metered cab queue which was exclusively populated by the two reliable companies. As if to mock me cab driver left the meter on during our ride. The first things I noticed about Ho Chi Minh is that it is extremely clean and a larger population than I expected, but there is also a large homeless population.
After about fifteen minutes the cab pulled to a stop on a small street. The bright neon signs advertising cheap beer, western food, and illicit nighttime activities told me that I was in the backpacker district. The meter on the cab read 120,000 dong, so that’s what I tried to pay. The driver in broken English explained that I had agreed to pay 150,000 so that’s what I would pay. You got me there Happy Puppy Taxi, you got me there.
I retrieved my bags from the back of the cab and the driver pointed down a darkened alley and kept saying “Luan Vu” the name of our hostel. I stood there and shook my head, trying to communicate “Dude, its 1am and I am a single female traveler and your asking me to go down a dark alley? Hell no.” I knew for a fact that gullible attitudes and dark alleys is always how the first girl dies in horror movies, but due to the language barrier I didn’t have many other options. I started walked and much to my surprise after half a block a bright yellow neon sign reading “Luan Vu Guest House” beckoned me in.