Monday, February 20, 2006

Bangkok to Saigon

Hi, I am in BKK airport waiting to fly to Siagon to join my training trip, so thought I should catch you up on what happened from Sydney airport onwards. Warning, this might be lengthy by the time I finish!

Tip no. 1 – don’t try to go to Thailand on a one-way ticket. Seems that Thailand has been fining the airlines for letting people onto the planes without a visa or onward ticket and a recent event at Emirates has made them extra cautious…I am thinking I should have noticed when they were making people unpack their hand luggage to get under 7kgs.

Anyway a seemingly innocuous question about how long I was going away then turned me into a pleading mess as I tried every excuse I could think of about why I didn’t have a return ticket or even a train ticket to somewhere. She was not to be moved and told me to go to another airline office and buy a ticket out of Thailand. Said other airline office (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) is sick of this happening and could only offer a one-way BKK- SYD for $1200…I was even prepared to pay it! After some more pleading with a very understanding lady she sold me a ticket to Singapore but wasn’t allowed to under their rules and had to do it while her colleagues were otherwise engaged and achieved the result with a combination of hand signals and pointing at her computer monitor.

After some angst in BKK I finally got them to agree to refund the ticket but I had to post it back to Syd, I hope my friend at nameless airline does not get into trouble for helping me. During this drama, Bernadette was calmly and rationally helping me and stopping me from becoming a blubbering mess and wondering why I took this job in the first place. Meanwhile, Jo and Conny were patiently watching my bags and trying to figure out what was happening by watching the expressions that were constantly changing on my face. All ended well with a quick beer before I had to disappear into customs. The good thing was that I didn’t have time to get stressed about leaving and so left with minimal tears. The flight was good except for the 2 aussie guys in my row who were trying to drink the plane dry of beer. Of course when I got to Thailand at 1.30am the immigration official couldn’t care less about visa or outbound ticket and just looked at my photo and gave me the standard 30 day stamp! Have to love the drama for no particular reason!

So onto the training for 5 days. This could best be described as a cross between Big Brother and Survivor. We were confined to a conference room in the hotel, (very nice 3 star jobby with a pool) and trained in all aspects of the job, including practical stuff on how to do accounts and other company stuff about what responsible travel means and how we are to achieve it. My fellow incarcerates were Jane, my roomie, 22 from England, very nice young lady, well traveled for her tender age and great fun to be with, esp when she even liked the old lady she had to share with, Sam, 20 something from England and mad on soccer, Georgina and Drea both 29, who got Borneo and I was really jealous until I realised that they have to jungle trek and climb Mt Kinabula (4095m) every 3 weeks…yeah, they can have that! Aaron from Texas, very funny man, his passengers will love him, Tan and Pun Pun both Thai nationals who will get to do only Thailand and finally George who was born in Cyprus, moved to England at age 5, but still wants to be recognized as a Cypriot, This is where the Survivor bit comes in, during all the group discussions George did not endear himself to anyone, much less the trainers, so when we all had our final interview to determine if we stayed…poor George didn’t get to keep his torch (Survivor reference…he got told to go home). We were stilled shocked with this outcome, if not totally surprised as they kept saying all week how we would all be great for the job. Anyway, they told me that they reckon that I will be great, so now I just have to live up to everyone’s expectations, including my own and make this thing work.

I wish writing uni essays came this easily. After training I had 13 days to entertain myself before the trip actually starts. As there was still all of us in BKK for a few days we hang around the hotel and the office in the hotel, (some of them may have had a hangover from the final night dinner). Then we finally decided to do something touristy, so went to the floating markets. This involved a minibus trip and then a speedboat though the canals to gawk on how the locals live. We then took a Venice style boat around the markets where we jostled with boats full of other tourists and people selling their wares. Seemed just like a big tourist excuse to me as I thought we would see people buying and selling food, but it was mostly clothes and poxy souvenirs. BKK has a niew big aquarium, so I convinced a few of them to visit that with me. It was good, well laid out and interesting displays. My only concern was that the tanks didn’t seem big enough for the fish population, a bit like the BKK real world. The flash shopping centre there was great too and the food hall an experience in trying to figure out what stuff is and how to order what you want.

Jane & I decided that a few days out of BKK was warranted, so we headed to Koh Samet which is a beach area about 5 hours away by bus and ferry. We tried to go on a Sunday but a returning leader warned us that it was busy, so we made about 8 phone calls to get accom, but as there was a Buddhist holiday combined with Valentines Day it was a long weekend and everything was full. Eventually we left Monday and spent the 3 nights in a room that was at least 30 metres walk from the beach, a bit of a struggle to get out of bed and then collapse into a beach chair! Here we were harassed from the moment we sat to the moment we left (except while swimming) to buy a massage, sarong, food, hat or bag. It might seem rude, but in the end the only way was ignore them, and even then, some of them push their product directly between your eyes and the book you are trying to read! We sat and read, swam, drank cocktails, had a walk and Jane played with a 2 year old she borrowed from the pancake man. Being with Jane is an adventure in itself, she talks to everybody, and I mean everybody, and got us invited to have dinner with the pancake man and his daughter, and then we played pool with some young thai guys (well, young for me) and got sharked – no surprise there really as Jane is worse at pool than I am!

So now I am in Siagon or I think the politically correct name is Ho Chi Minh City. My first greeting was to be told by the hotel that they were full and as a leader we pay a reduced rate to live here, so we are the first to get kicked out. Luckily one of the other leaders was prepared to have a mattress put on the floor in her room so I didn’t have to trek around the city looking for a bed. A group left the next day, so I was OK for a bed then. Actually, this happened to us in BKK as well, when we came back from the flower market we were told to move out, without any warning. Have to love how they do business here.

So, HCM City is one of those places where I still shake my head in disbelief. Last time I was here for only one night, so didn’t get to see much, and frankly after the War Crimes Museum and the Reunification Palace, there isn’t a lot in the way of touristy stuff to do. I teamed up with my leader roomie friend and she got us some motorbike taxis to take us on a short tour this morning. We saw a Caodist temple, this is a mixture of Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholism and Taoism. Also a Catholic church and a Buddhist Temple in Chinatown. They took us to some markets where I bought was can only be described as a salad roll. I tried to get a plain bread roll, but she insisted on putting this stuff on it. It was OK, but may have upset my stomach a little. One of my trainee mates recommends a can of coke at the end of each day to kill off the bugs. It is really hot here, getting to 35 and very humid, so I have decided to stay indoors in the aircon in the middle of the day.

The office is a hotel room that has been set up with some desks and computers but the internet is very intermittent at the moment, it resurrects for a few minutes at a time. I will be trying to email this in one of those brackets of time. The traffic here is like nothing you see in the western cities. There are motorbikes everywhere, literally millions of them I think, well maybe not, but there is a lot. I am convinced that they are just driving around, esp in the evening, to fill in time and to stay out of their hot houses. They can’t really be going to and from bars and things surely? People are out on the street selling balloons and other things, it is really a carnival atmosphere…every night.

Appropriate regards, Rosemary


At 5:06 pm, Blogger Tegan Baker said...

HEY OMG OMG OMG this is heaps good...everytime uput up another blog, email me the site to my hotmail account so i can read

luv ya heaps
Tegan :)

At 8:02 pm, Anonymous mark said...

shorter paragraphs please

tegan please learn english

At 5:07 am, Anonymous Narelle said...

Mark - you haven't changed a bit! Love it!

Tegan - learn both grammar and spelling :-)

Rosemary - brilliant communication tool - settling in? I did not enjoy HCM - just as you mentioned about the traffic.

At 4:52 pm, Anonymous Tracy Nicholls said...

You go girl! Keep those stories coming. We loving reading about your thrilling adventures, the dangers you face and the risk of losing your bed for the night from the comfort of our ergonomic chairs. XO

At 6:42 pm, Blogger Bernadette said...

We love you Melly

At 12:50 pm, Anonymous Dave said...

Rosemary, Jo just told me that you made an update !

Sounds like you are settling into the lifestyle :-)

Have fun and keep the updates coming.


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