Many of you are nervous about visiting a country such as Vietnam because it is so different from the word from which we come. I understand this. I was exactly the same as you when I first came to this part of the world. Like you, I did a lot of reading on the internet about do’s and don’ts, studied the travel guides, I even went on the forums such as Trip Advisor and asked questions. I had queries such as corruption in Vietnam, the friendliness of the people, security etc…. I think it really came down to trying to get a feel for my personal security and comfort in a culture and country I did not understand. I have long realized that all the guide books, forums, and information is written by outsiders, fellow travelers, and tourists that had good intentions, and can only write from the narrow perspective from mostly within the confines of the tourist bubbles created for tourism purposes. So how can I give you the general feel of the how the Vietnamese truly are? Perhaps a story of what happened to me on one trip will give a general picture. This story involves local people, Police, my friends at V’Explore Travel, and a very distraught Owee.
It all starts with one of my motorcycle tours. I have a nice couple that has booked a trip through the Central Highlands, Dalat, and to Saigon over 4 days. I had some legal papers that needed verifying in Saigon so
this was a great opportunity to kill 2 birds with one stone. Normally I only travel with my residence card, however, because of this trip I carried all of my marriage documents, passport, and papers provided to me by police……. You see, I have spent years trying to obtain an elusive legal document that is marred by complex paperwork and red tape like you would never believe. I am down to the final step after years of effort and endless legal and government fees… I was lucky enough to be able to combine work with personal business. For the first 2 days we enjoyed the adventure but then were forced to stop. Sadly, our guest suffered from MS and after arriving in Dalat, could not continue. Such a shame that a beautiful young woman has to suffer…… Anyway…. I refunded her money for 2 days and with it being Thursday, decided to make haste to Saigon to get the verification done early in order to return to my loving wife early. I arranged for our guests transportation to Saigon by bus and made a dead head to Saigon. The roads were bad but my mock Harley was up to the task. I cruised at semi high speeds to try to make it to the consulate before closing time. For some reason, I wore earphones while driving for the first time and never heard when a large bump on the road caused one of my saddlebags to become dislodged and slide down the highway. I was totally unaware until a young fellow road up beside me and pointed to my missing bag and back down the road. “Thank you” I yelled and headed back to the bump where I know it would be. NOTHING!!!!…… Whaa?? I looked…..
Drove slow….. Made 3 passes…. NOTHING. I think I was in shock. I had lost the bag that contained nothing but all of my legal documents, my passport, and a single jacket. A dead calm washed over me and I drove in a high speed haze to Saigon making it just in time to go to the Canadian embassy and tell them what happened. (Along the way I was pulled over for speeding 10 k over the limit. I was shown, and paid the (as of Jan 10) 750000 Dong fine, and left not realizing that I was issued no receipts… Dammit!!! That is the first time in 15 years cops took cash and never issued a receipt….. hmmmmm is this corruption?)
To the consulate, losing the passport was a serious issue and should be reported right away. The problem was that there was a chance it could be returned. If I cancelled my passport, all of the work and money for years would be lost………. I left the consulate and became ill. I checked into my hotel on Thursday and decided to wait to see if the consulate would get the returned document…… Little did I know that this would never happen as they do not make contact information readably available. I was in a deep depression. For 4 days I simply stayed in my room sleeping as much as possible. I did not want to go home. I waited without hope for something from my Embassy which I knew would never happen due to the dismal track record of my efforts in the past. My depression grew deeper and I reluctantly informed my wife what happened. She was verbally supportive, but I could here in her voice the tiredness of after all her work (yes mostly her efforts), it was all over….. I became even more distraught and buried myself in the coffin that
was my room.
My friends Hau and Nghia found out I was in town and called but I was in no mood to see them. I was thinking of them as my friends and not the tour company, so I never even thought to ask them for help. I told them I was not in the mood for a visit and also explained the situation….. They know me and my situation and were shocked this happened. “OK” “Talk to you later”. I returned to my coffin/room and tried to drown my sorrows to no avail. OMG!! This has to be the worst thing next to my brother’s death!
OK…. Sorry… I have not yet made the point and the story is a bit long. Take the above as a prelude to what I wanted to talk about. This page was all about me….. The next one is all about them.
Many of you know that I recommend V’Explore Travel as one of the best Vietnam tour providers, and I have very good reason to do so. In the past, The owner Nghia, and his sales manager/Tour Guide extraordinaire Hau (now my best friends in Vietnam) helped me when on tour, one of my friends died in Hanoi. Again in this situation, they were thinking of me and after the 4th day, Hau called with his never ending positive attitude and after I explained what had happened, he simply gave me his usual “No Problem” we will get the documents back. “Yea right I was thinking” He believed that if we ran an ad on the local TV station, somebody would call and return the lost items. I am not very convinced as it had been 5 days already and my consulate had not heard anything. I drove back to Nha Trang stopping at the same area and questioned a couple of coffee shop owners by spot I suspected I lost the bag and nothing…….. There were a few more businesses such as a machine shop, a truck tire centre, and others but I figured that if the people working the coffee shop saw nothing, the others most likely did not either. Like years ago, my V’Explore friends took on the task of helping me with a disaster. I asked Hau if he could look after it and he assured me he could. The TV station would not take such a request over the phone and could only accept the as in person. To my amazement, Hau knew someone that lived in the same town close to the TV station who went in person to place the ad. I was informed that the cost would be 50 dollars a day to run the ad during the noon and evening news. I was surprised at how small the amount was for TV coverage and decided to run it. For three days we heard nothing. I asked that the same person renew the ad for another 3 when I got a late night phone call. It seems the number they gave on TV was wrong and the TV contacted the person who placed the ad, who in turn contacted Hau, and in turn contacted me giving a phone number to me.
My wife called and sure enough, a fellow had found my bag and described the contents. I had hope!! I could not believe my ears. The part of Vietnam I lost this was in the middle of nowhere amongst mostly rural people.
Early the next morning I rented a car and drove with haste up the mountains to Dalat, down the other side to Bao Loc and just past the town of Tan Phu. OMG!! I headed straight to where I thought I lost my bag and sure enough, the address was there. Even more surprising is that it was the machine shop right next to the coffee shop where I had been asking. Of course, they knew it was me right away and invited me in for tea. I graciously accepted and spoke with them in my limited Vietnamese. It turns out that after finding the bag, they immediately tried to Contact the Canadian embassy but they were totally unsuccessful at finding a contact number or any service that could get in touch with them. They were at a loss because they did not want to turn it over to any local authority as they are feared (unjustly but old habits die hard) it would cost them money in some way. When they saw the ad on TV they were relieved and tried to contact the number provided, but were frustrated by it being incorrect. The young couple then contacted the TV station which triggered the fore mentioned events. I thanked them and gave them a reward which they tried to refuse. YiPee!!! Life is back on track. With my passport and papers in hand, I raced towards Saigon to finalize my documents.
On the southern reaches of hwy 20 before I reached the road to Saigon, I carelessly passed some very slow traffic on a solid line. Whammo!! The cops got me! It was not a big deal I am thinking as I have been pulled over many times and averaged about a 50/50 for fines. (The travel guides would have you believe that foreigners do not get pulled over) The officer had my license in his hand and was debating what to do with me and then IT happened. He asked me why I crossed the line. In this case my Vietnamese failed me….. I told him because I was stupid. He seemed not to understand, so he asked again and I repeated my answer. He looked calmly at me for a moment and them put my drivers license in his pocket informing me that I would return in 1 month to face ticketing and fine payment. Whaa?? I had no desire to return and told him that I would not. I had enough for the fine (about 300000 dong) and would pay it here. I asked about the fine and he wrote 2,500,000 on a paper. NO WAY!! I said, buit he stuck his ground. This is definitely corruption I am thinking and I am angry. I tried to use a couple of trick I have learned to get him to back down, but there was no way. He was sticking to the figure and there was no getting out of it. Grumbling, I reluctantly turned over the cash and left with a sour taste in my mouth. Until now, I have never faced such open abuse from a cop. Generally they are nice and even forgiving. I even have a lady cop who was writing me a speeding ticket ask me for a coffee date, but this????? I was moodily driving the remaining distance when it dawned on me what really happened.
In Vietnamese, there are many different words for you and I depending on the circumstance. Because most around me are younger, I have developed a habit of using one word for I. In this instance with the cop, I
should have been using another word. When he questioned me about crossing the line, I was actually calling him stupid and not me!! AAAaaaccckkk!!! Darn my bad Vietnamese. No wonder he went after me hard. In the end I arrived in Saigon on a Friday afternoon with just enough time to get to the embassy with the documents. I was almost trembling with satisfaction of having the final process complete. I checked in security, registered, waited in the short line, and then presented the document that I had so hard tried to bring for verification. The consular official looked at it for a moment and then rejected it as being the incorrect document….. Huh? AAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!! I called my buds Hau and Nghia from V’Explore and we went out for dinner and beers. I related to them the whole story and about how I called the head of the police check stop stupid. We all laughed, toasted multiple times to the spice of life and the next day carried on. I owe them more than they know and I hope one day to even the score.
I am sorry that this is such a long winded post. It started with an idea that sort of got side tracked as I was writing. I guess my whole point in writing this is that here things happen, people are concerned, helpful, and have a decent social moral. There is also hazards that are not necessarily out there to get us, but we mistakenly become victims from lack of understanding. So…. Is Vietnam a risky place to travel? Remember…. I was travelling by myself the whole trip. A foreigner in areas of Vietnam that almost never sees them.
Oh… and random pics.