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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Xin Chao! Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City

Xin Chao! Yesterday was the beginning of my nomadic adventure and things have been good so far. My arrival in Ho Chi Minh City was a pleasant one and full of good surprises. The airport looked so much better than it was when I first visited the city seven years ago.

I arrived past 1am and had to kill time and take a nap at the airport. I was very happy to see two floors specifically built for waiting passengers. I found a good spot at the third floor where I managed to lie down comfortably on a sofa and get a few hours of sleep, enough for me to feel recharged.

Before 7am, I left the airport. I initially planned to take the taxi to Gia Dinh Park, the agreed meeting place with my volunteering contact person, Dat, who I met in Couchsurfing, but the cheapskate traveler in me decided to just walk to the destination as it's less than 2 kilometers away as shown in GoogleMaps. Dat and I agreed to meet there at 8am and he would take me to the Pagoda in Go Vap District.

It was a long walk but a good re-introduction to how crazy the hustle and bustle in Vietnam is. Upon exiting the main gate of the airport, I was immediately welcomed by what the country is most known for – motorcycles and the frenzy that comes a long with it! 

Looking for the agreed place was harder than I anticipated. GoogleMaps was functioning erratically and not loading my exact location. I had to stop and ask several people if I was indeed going to the right direction. I did a couple of wrong turns which made my walking journey to the park longer. Fortunately, I printed out the map that Dat sent me with the name of the street of our meeting place. Without it, I would most probably get lost and resort to taking the taxi. 

So after walking for an hour, I finally found our meetup location along Nguyen Thai Son Street close to the park's intersection. I arrived a little past 8am but Dat was nowhere to be found. I was already second guessing myself if I was in the right spot because the location was not exactly in the park but in the vicinity of it. To confirm it, I tried sending him a text message but unable to do so as my roaming was not activated yet. Damn! Fortunately, I saw a coffee house with free wifi in it just a block away! It was a life saver.

It was a timely discovery as I didn't take my breakfast at the airport and was already starving. I ordered a chicken Ban Mhi then connected to the free internet and immediately messaged Dat via Whatsapp, informing him that I was at the Serena Coffee next to Nguyen Tuan Street waiting for him. Ten minutes later, he arrived. What a relief! We talked a bit and ordered an odd-tasting lemon juice with seeds in it before heading off to the volunteering place.

I hopped back on Dat's motorbike with my helmet on to the Pagoda. It was a good 20-minute travel experience traversing the busy streets and alleys to Go Vap District. The traffic was already building up that morning and I was stunned by the Vietnamese riders' driving skills. We arrived safely at our destination without encountering any mishaps even though the motorbikes were a few inches away from each other. The Vietnamese rival the Indians when it comes to driving!

Upon my arrival at the Pagoda, I was welcomed by Jenny, a cheerful Vietnamese girl, who also volunteers in the language training school. Dat introduced me to her and brought me to the apartment where I'll be staying. It's a two-floor house close to the Pagoda. At present, three other foreign volunteers are living there. Two from the Netherlands and one from Japan. Jenny showed me the sleeping space on the second floor and I chose my spot on the right next to the stairs. 

Later in the day, I was introduced to other staff and volunteers at the Pagoda and we talked about my preferred teaching schedule at the school. I opted to conduct my classes every Tuesday and Thursday. Can't wait!

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