Ho Chi Minh Hassle

Was supposed to go to Japan, but I didn’t bring any warm clothes with me and I don’t want to buy new ones, so booked a new trip to Myanmar. Heard there’s some sort of genocide going on there, but that won’t stop me. However learning that it takes 3 days to get a visa to Myanmar the day before I was going to depart does stop me.

Okay, new plan. According to Skyscanner I can get a flight to Saigon for $65 so ding ding ding, I’m going to Saigon. Have been to Vietnam before, but not Saigon, so why not? I remember it was a pain in the ass getting a Vietnam visa at the airport, they only accept cash and there’s no ATM machines, so I get some local currency before setting out for the airport. What a smart guy I am.

Show up at the ticket counter and am informed that without a visa invitation they won’t let me on the plane. Somehow I forgot about that little detail. What a dumbass I am.

The gate agent says I’m early enough that I could apply for the visa online and get approval in time for the flight. Okay I’ll try. Sign up for airport wifi, find the Vietnam Visa site, and send in my application. It usually costs $17, but for “airport express” service it’s $67, guess that’s the price of being lazy.

Get an automatic confirmation email of receiving my order right away. Sit and wait about 20 minutes and then think, “It’s Saturday, I wonder if anyone is actually there?”

Call the number and the lady on the other side says, “Hello Mr. Dennis.” She knows who I am because she has my phone number from my application. She also knows that it’s Saturday, that makes us even. Then she tells me something I didn’t know, that to process an order on Saturday it will cost an extra $133 and I need to email a copy of my passport.

What I’m thinking is, “Bitch, why didn’t you send me an email telling me this right away? Or call? Or put this info on your Commie website? I’m sitting at the frigging airport with my flight boarding in an hour and you’re sitting around waiting for me to call?” But I say, “Okay, that’s fine.”

She says she’ll send me an email explaining the three options:
• Pay $133 get it right away
• Pay $0 get it on Monday
• Get a refund

My hotels are already booked and my 30 day Thailand visa expires today, so I say, “Option 1.” She asks if I will confirm by email. Two minutes later I email a copy of my passport and the instructions, “Please proceed with option 1.”

She responds with, “Please check email for making payment.”

I check all the emails, check my spam folder, and there is no way to make a payment. Respond with, “I do not see a way to make payment from the email.”

Her response, “We have sent you an online invoice. Just send a remind again. Please load your email inbox.”

There is no invoice in my email. Ask if there’s another way to pay, but she just keeps trying to send the same thing. Time is getting tight. The airline will stop issuing boarding passes in ten minutes. I go up to the ticket counter and explain my predicament. There is no later flight I can take. In desperation I ask the Vietnam visa people if I can just email my credit card info? I don’t like doing that, but time is almost out.

She emails back, “You can pay at this link: www.i-am-a-stupid-communist-who-could-have-sent-this-link-ahalf-hour-ago.commie”

The visa letter pops up, I’m giving a boarding pass and 30 minutes to get on the plane. How hard can it be? Run through the outer lobby to the escalator up to security. There’s a big group tour of Chinese tourists waiting at the bottom and the escalator is closed due to the security line being too full. I show the security lady the boarding time on my ticket and ask if she’ll let me through. Nope. Is there another security line? Yep.

More running through the airport. Up another escalator and… the line through security is small, almost no waiting at all. I just might make it. Do the shoeless shuffle x-ray and then run for the next stop at immigration. Escalator down and oh oh, line is long, like 200 people long. My watch says I’ve only got 20 minutes. Umm. No way I’m getting through here in 20 minutes. I wonder if they’ll hold the plane for me? I wonder if my luggage will go without me? I wonder for another 30 minutes before getting my passport stamped out.

The visa lady calls to tell me that someone will meet me at the airport in Saigon. I say, “Not if I don’t make my flight.”

More running through the airport. There’s another guy running in flip-flops. I blow past him into the E-Wing, but also blow past my gate “E2.” Turn around at E6 and run back. Looking down at the jetway I see no plane. I guess it’s left already. Bummer. But I guessed wrong. The flight is delayed and the plane isn’t here yet. Awesome!

Wait a bit then fly. I’m on Jetstar, an Australian discount airline, and there were a few oddities when I bought the ticket. First off the taxes on the ticket were higher than the fare itself. But the really weird thing was the following option:

“Fly Carbon Neutral
Offset the carbon emissions from your trip with our certified and accredited carbon offset program. You will offset 154kgs carbon emissions.”

Isn’t that cute? Jetstar is on the “save the planet bandwagon,” and how much extra does it cost to save the planet? Just $1.45. Wow! What a deal. Who wouldn’t want to save the planet and fly with a clear conscious for that? Well, anyone with a brain and ten seconds to think about it, that’s who.

1. How does paying any amount change the quantity of fuel used by the jet flying between Bangkok and Saigon? Answer: It doesn’t.

2. Where does the $1.45 go? Answer: To the “certified and accredited carbon offset program. (I.e. Al Gore’s bank account.)

3. How in the heck can a $1.45 offset 154 KILOGRAMS of EMISSIONS??? Just to put this in perspective, that quantity of CO2 would fill 700 bathtubs. How pray tell, could 700 bathtubs of emissions be “offset” for $1.45? Answer: It can’t.

This entire offer is a scam, but one that delights the egos of the gullible. Newsflash: In a few million years, when humankind is long gone, the planet will still be spinning happily along, and whatever replaces us will look back on our history and laugh.

Anyways, the emissions are made and the jet lands in Saigon.

There’s a preppy looking guy with my name on a sign. He takes my passport and asks me to wait. Not a fan of letting strangers run around with my passport, but there’s no other option. Besides, it looks like it means he’s going to stand in line for me, so I get comfy.

Ten minutes and he’s back. All done. Way faster than standing in line, almost worth paying extra just for that. Okay, got a big commie visa sticker in passport, and off to interrogation, err, I mean immigration. Find a very short line with a very sexy lady in front of me. Get approval from the passport troll, sexy lady not so much.

One of the benefits of almost missing the flight is that my bag was last on – so also first off. This trip is starting to go my way. Now for my least favorite part of visiting a new place, figuring out how to avoid taxi ripoffs.

There’s a smiling guy behind a taxi booth near the exit, “Sir you need taxi?” I hand him the address I want. He quotes me 220,000 dong. About $10 US. Not bad, but my poker senses tell me its a bluff. Last time I took a taxi from the airport in DaNang the fare was closer to $2 US. Hey, eight bucks is eight bucks, and I got a lot of money to get back for my visa ripoff.

Go outside looking for the regular taxi queue. An overhead ‘taxi’ sign is not exactly clear where the line starts. A friendly guy standing by a taxi waves me over to the other side of the barrier. Hmm, my poker sense is telling something is up, but I ask the guy, “You have meter? And he says yes, so I agree.

He guides me to go around the official barrier, and that should have been a big frigging warning sign, but I went anyways. Off we go, check that there is a meter and it is ticking. Its already dark so I don’t see much of Saigon, other than the never-ending stream of scooters around us. Its about 20-30 minutes to the hotel and I’m a bit confused by the number I see on the meter: 650.

Umm, surely it’s not 650 dong, about 3 cents, but if it means 650,000 dong, about $30, then I’m going to be pissed. The guy says, “650,000 dong sir.”

Fuck.

Okay, okay. It’s just $30, pretty average for a taxi ride in any Western city, not a big deal. But that’s not the point. The point is I’m getting ripped off despite my best efforts not to. There are three tiers of taxi pricing, local price, official tourist price, and total sucker price. I’m getting the latter. So much for my career in making fun of the gullible.

Maybe I should have paid the Carbon Offset after all? I mean, if I wasn’t smart enough to save 20 bucks on a taxi, at least I could have saved the planet!

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