Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Heat is On (Even Before I Landed) in Saigon!

Couldn’t get more boring than this: standing for an hour, waiting behind yellow line before an airline personnel bursts your bubble: “Hey kiddo! You’re 5-country backpacking trip is botched! Forget about it. Go home and get some sleep!" Kidding.

My bloodshot eyes. These eyes, the airline personnel behind the counter took notice of. Must be the A(h1N1) scare. What happen to your eyes, Sir? (holy camote! She knows I am a teacher! She calls me Sir!) "Not enough sleep last night (rolls eyes, secretly), Miss." See. I could be hideous and brat altogether, if provoked. I just try to push it down. The green monster won’t sweat the small stuff, baby.

To backtrack: I got a one-way ticket to Saigon. And per silly Philippine law, I should get a return ticket. Since I will be working my way from Viet Nam down to three other countries before I exit through Singapore, I didn’t bother getting a return ticket from Saigon to Manila. Getting the return ticket from Saigon is downright stupid. Besides, it will further bust my long-been-stretched shoestring budget. Five counters to my left, behind the express counter, I can see the manager talking over the phone. “Waiting for a reply from Saigon Station, Sir” the personnel says. “Whadddda *toooot…*!” I hollered inside my head. “Here, take a look. I got this guidebook (Backpack Southeast Asia and parts of China by Robert Alejandro; Php390.00). The author did this route and there’s no reason why I can’t,” in the most polite manner possible, I informed the lady. She got the book and presented it to the manager.

So, here I am. In cold, standing in front of the check-in counter in NAIA Terminal 3. Wide-eyed and trying to contain the panic creeping its branches inside my chest. This is my friggin’ first trip abroad. Solo at that. I have done every imaginable research. Packed the necessary clothing. Done the necessary rituals (if there’s any). Kissed the appropriate arses (again, if there’s any). And the gospel truth is that, yes, Juan, I am flying to Saigon for crying out loud and do the 5-country backpacking trip before summer holidays officially come to an end.

Fast Forward: The plane lands at Tan Son Nhat International Airport 10 minutes ahead of schedule. As if it matters to me. What greets me is a sleek steel and glass arrival terminal and a relatively younger looking immigration personnel. I intensely dislike the comparison but just can’t help comparing the pot-bellied immigration personnel in *clears throat* where else--my lips are sealed. Passing through the immigration counter is a breeze. No visa necessary in the next thirty days for Pinoys. After breezing through the escalator and x-ray, I come face-to-face with Saigon’s midnight air beyond the gate and sense familiarity through a lady speaking over the phone, in Tagalog. Turns out she is from Antique and works as a household staff for an expat family in Hanoi. Minutes later, another Filipina joins in. She is from Sorsogon and works as a teacher in Pnom Penh, Cambodia. And so, like backpackers anywhere, we easily adapt to the culture of sleeping in airports. But by 3AM, the guard on duty, with a smile, informed us the airport is closing in a few minutes (read: go, find another place to sleep).

To cut the chase, the Hanoi-bound Pinay goes to the domestic terminal whilst the Phnom Penh-bound one gets into the cab with me. We are off to the bus ticket office for Cambodia. In a strange twist of fate, the ticket outlet is right smack in De Tham Street—the backpacker’s area in Saigon. But the hostels open at 8AM. To kill time, we grab a chair in a 24/7 pub and order breakfast with a strange coffee to-go.

By 7AM, I started looking for a USD4.00/night room. Slim chance. For solo traveler, I got a good deal: USD8.00/night aircon room with hot and cold shower and CATV. But I have to sweat my way up on a narrow staircase. The room is on the fifth floor. By 10AM, I was ready to meet my couchsurfing host Jackie—a kindred soul who makes Saigon her home between Cebu and the world.

FIRST STOP: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), Viet Nam where traffic is crazy! Forget about our Manila drivers because they actually look sedated, baby!

Thank you many times over Jackie--my Saigon CS host. Kita kits pohon~

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