It was January 2012 when we (O, Y, T, and myself) decided to go to Vietnam and Cambodia. At that time, there were no direct flights to Siem Reap, so we had to book flights to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly, or even currently but informally, Saigon). We were supposed to book right after it was decided, but thought of waiting a week, as the prices of the airfare were not to our liking at that time. After a week, Cebu Pacific published promo fares for Saigon, and I booked our tickets right away. I also booked tickets for cousins A and C, but they were unable to come with use because of exams. Because what we had were promo tickets, they were unable to refund. Rebooking was very expensive, so it was decided to just let go of the tickets. 😦
Our flight was to leave from NAIA Terminal 3 on 18 March 2012 at 2250hrs. We were at NAIA at around 2030hrs, fearing the lines at the travel tax and immigration stations, even as we have already checked in online. At the check in counter, we saw Mayor Alfredo Lim of Manila. The Cebu Pacific personnel at the counter even asked us “Ma’am, gusto nyo syang makatabi?” Apparently, Mayor Lim was also flying to Saigon! O and Y are Manila residents, but as Y quipped “Shucks di ko ata sya binoto,” so we were content in shooting him from afar.
The plane left ontime, or thereabouts, but we were stuck for a bit in the runway. Let’s say about 10 minutes. My cousin N, who was a pilot for a local airline, always lamented on this unfortunate situation of the airport. The flight was uneventful, your typical Cebu Pacific flight, ie. no food or drink, unless you’re willing to spend an arm and a leg for instant noodles. Can’t complain though, and I was asleep for most of the flight anyway. O was unable to sleep, so she read Smile Inflight Magazine twice.
We arrived at Tan San Nhot International Airport, Ho Chi Minh City at around 0140hrs. The flight was 2 and a half hours, but there was a time difference between Manila and Saigon of 1 hr., Saigon being an hour behind. We passed through immigration and customs without a hitch. What I noticed was the abundance of flowers (orchids at that!) in the airport! How refreshing!
Out the airport we went. We refused the insistent offers of cab drivers outside the airport. Instead, we walked to the right side of the airport, straight to the domestic terminal. O read in a blog that cabs were cheaper in the said terminal. What greeted us after our short walk was an empty, and I mean desolate and dark, terminal. The few people hanging around didn’t speak a word of English so we just went back to the arrival gallery of the international airport. We figured that tip would only work in daytime 😀
We went to the extreme left side of the airport, where the supposed taxi stand was. We picked a cab (an Innova) and bargained with the driver to take us to Pham Ngu Lao, District 1. We settled at 200,000D (approximately 9.60USD or 412.25PHP) for the 4 of us.
We actually did not know where we were staying. O, prior to take off, contacted Chanh of Bich Duyen Hotel to book our beds. Unfortunately, the said hotel was already full, so Chanh referred us to the hotel next door. We didn’t even know the name of the hotel. It was funny, we really just relied on Chanh’s word about the whole thing!
After about 20 minutes, we arrive at Pham Ngu Lao. We asked our driver to drop us off at Bich Duyen’s address. I, Y and T didn’t know what we were in for. We arrived at an alley, a sort of Diagon Alley, should you miss it, you’re doomed! It was really a darkened alley, with flashes of Hostel, it was practically an eskinita (Filipino for alley, sort of derogatory, actually). It was so funny! And scary, I have to admit. We passed some hotels and finally reached Bich Duyen. We had to wake the gatekeeper to ask about the “other hotel”. The gatekeeper was “Chanh” (or, as we found out later, was a general name used by all in Bich Duyen) and knew of our arrangement and led us to Hotel Phan Lan. The gatekeeper was Van, and took us in. It was surreal.
I was unable to appreciate Phan Lan at first, probably because of the shock. I will write more about it in my next post.