“Where you from?”
“Philippines,” Bing and I answered in unison.
The old skinny man suddenly pulls up a big notebook, flips through the pages, stops somewhere along the way, then shows it to us. It’s a letter written in Tagalog, which I soon realize is a review of this man’s services. The person who wrote it seemed satisfied with the tour and even praised the old man for his kindness. The book is filled with other reviews written in different languages, apparently from his former customers. Being a blogger and one who makes reviews myself, I have always given great consideration on other people’s reviews of places, products, and services. Naturally, I treated the reviews on that notebook with the same regard. I mean why would anyone waste time writing there if they don’t mean it. Bing and I agreed to get his services and I even thought I’d probably write my own letter of recommendation on that notebook. But I never did.
The day started fine. Bing and I were excited to take the siklo tour because for one, we’ve never seen anything like it. Siklo is a three-wheel vehicle or the Vietnam’s version of “pedikab,” only it looks different. It’s like a tuk-tuk in reverse, instead of the driver being in the front, it’s the passenger that is in the anterior of the vehicle. To ride it, the Siklo driver pulls the front downward, then you step in. He pulls it back up then takes the cycle on the back.
Riding a siklo is such a weird but fun experience. It could take you around the city of Ho Chi Minh and because the passenger seat is in the front, it allows you the best view for sightseeing. The name of my driver is Thu. He asked me several questions about myself, including my country, and I was happy to reply. Likewise, I also asked him about himself. He said that he has never taken a trip abroad and that he hasn’t even been to the northern part of Vietnam. He seemed to be nice, even warned me about protecting my mobile phone because the passing motorbikes could easily snatch it from me.
I watched the motorbikes sped by, the people on the side of the street who are hanging out drinking coffee, the street vendors selling food, the street vendors selling stuffed toy, the students heading their way to the school, and other things that are probably the daily routine of the people of Saigon.
War Remnants Museum
Phil, the guy that we met during the Mekong River Cruise talked about how depressing a trip to a War Remnant Museum could be. Naturally, I wanted to see it for myself just to learn some Vietnam history. Therefore, it is the first stop of our Siklo tour. The entrance fee here is very cheap, only VND 15,000 (PHP 32 – USD 0.068). [Read: The Not so New Story of the Mekong River Cruise]
In the backyard, you will find the military planes, tanks, boats, and other vehicles that were used during the Vietnam War. Inside the 4-story building is where you can find the other relics and photos that bore the memories of the war.
All acts of atrocities committed against humans are explicitly depicted in the galleries. There are photos of crying women taken before they were shot to death, of corpses of young children and even babies lying on the dirt road, of men being tortured, and of American soldiers, smiling and posing for the camera with the severed heads of some Vietnamese people.
There is a floor solely dedicated to Agent Orange. One of the atrocities the US committed during the Vietnam War is the use of chemical weapons, the most notorious of which is Agent Orange. It was meant to cause catastrophic devastation towards the natural resources in Vietnam. For 10 years, these chemicals were poured in Central and Southern part of Vietnam destroying the mountains, plains, and crops, water resource, and the ecological balance of the country.
Not only did it destroy the natural resources, it also affected between 2.1 and 4.8 million people. It led to physical deformities, children being born with no limbs, people suffering from skin disease, and causing other forms of disabilities. I was so aghast by the pictures I found myself cursing the people who did such evil over and over in my head. This is more than inhumane, this is evil. And I felt terribly sad thinking about the many lives wasted in a war between the disputes of the few.
Loan Bao Tin Mung
There is a Catholic church in Vietnam and it’s pink. I’ve never seen a pink church before, not even in my own country where it is predominantly Catholic. I was naturally amused and started taking some photos to the horror of a few churchgoers.
Bing was adamant that we go to Saigon Square as it was recommended to her by a friend. Apparently, that’s where the class A knock-offs of branded items can be found. It looks kinda like the shopping malls in Greenhills, it is air-conditioned, and the items are expensive. We later found out that there is another Saigon Square and that this one is not the SS that her friend was referring.
There are several Jollibee branches in Ho Chi Minh and Thu seemed to enjoy letting me know where they are, pointing at them, whenever we happened to pass by one on the street. I wanted to go to try Jollibee there, just to see if they have sort of “Vietnamized” their offering, but I never got a chance to do just that because I lost a lot of money.
Because yes, despite my best efforts, I got scammed again. [Read: Braving the Streets of Ho Chi Minh]
So this is what happened. Bing and I met Thu and the other siklo driver the day before. They told us that we only needed to pay VND250,000 for the tour and the rate is for the two of us. I remember this deal clearly because Bing and I even repeated the information to him for confirmation. This morning as we were traveling, a terrible thought occurred in my head.
“What if Thu asks us to pay VND 250,000 each?”
Immediately, I dismissed the thought even when I couldn’t shake the feeling that something unpleasant would happen after the tour. This was one of the cases when I didn’t want to be right but unfortunately, I was.
Come pay time, Thu was asking us VND 250,000 each, not as we originally agreed. We insisted to him that that’s not what agreed on. The 250,000 rate is also a per hour and we were touring the city for already 2 hours. So that’s VND 500,000 each, that’s over PHP 1,000 or USD 22. Imagine, it is as expensive as the Cu Chi Tunnel tour! [Read: A Crawl Inside the Cu Chi Tunnel]
Thu was demanding that we pay them immediately; gone was the nice old man that I was with just a few hours ago. I was predictably devastated; I didn’t have enough money, and to make it worse, the two of them dropped us somewhere far from the hotel. They didn’t even take us back to where they picked us.
Bing was handling it a lot better than me, but I literally had no more money to give, that I almost broke down and cry. We were standing outside a Jollibee store and the guard was already looking at us to see what was going on. I’m not sure if the guard was the reason but suddenly, Thu and his companion would take whatever amount we could give them.
Because of this, I lost VND 300,000 (PHP 600 -USD 13), only because I no longer had any more money to give.
Let this be a reminder to you to take extra precaution when booking a tour with the siklo drivers in Ho Chi Minh. If you have to take a picture or record a video or audio of the transaction, do it, just so you have some proof about the deal that you are making prior to the tour. Do not sign up for anything until you are completely sure — and again backed by some proof — that the rate they are giving would stand to the end of the tour.
To be fair, the siklo tour is quite enjoyable and would allow you to really observe and appreciate the city of Ho Chi Minh. Would I recommend that you go try it? Honestly, no. Unless you can find a way to do it without getting scammed, I would advise against it. If you wanna do it, proceed with caution.