It's been quite an interesting three days. Almost as soon as I got here, my brand-new T-Mobile cell phone, purchase specifically for this trip, stopped working. I finished a call; pick up the phone 20 minutes later make another call; and suddenly neither the microphone or the speaker worked! This is BRAND NEW Altell Evolve from T-Mobile and it is now toast. No, it was neither dropped nor otherwise mistreated. One minute it worked, and the next, it didn't.
This means that the first full day of my adventure was spent first trying to get this POS fixed, and then in search of a new phone. This time (with translation assistance from Hoa, I bought something with which I am familiar... a used iPhone 3GS. I guess I should be grateful that it happened in HCMC rather than in the boonies. I couldn't even call customer service because I can't use my phone and the only number that their website has is a toll-free 800 number that is only good from the US. I contacted them via the on-line "Customer Support" line and, after about 25 minutes of round-and-round, I was told that since they can only ship a replacement phone within the U.S., I am on my own with this one. I thought I was saving money, and now it's cost me an additional $130 and, more maddening, a full day-plus out of my trip. Oh well, it certainly could be worse.
Both Monday and Tuesday afternoons, Ann's friend Khai graciously took me around town on his motorbike, showed me many of the sites and even buying me a bowl of phỏ. He's a very nice guy and a good tour guide. Thank you, Khai!
As mentioned in a previous post, the streets here are full of bikes with a few cars running just of keep it interesting. Hoa, a mechanic from the bike shop, gave me a ride to the hotel Monday night and called it a "people river". So well-put that I'm going to appropriate it :)
Most of the last three days has been spent at Flamingo Travel, sorting everything out for the rest of my trip. They've been extremely helpful, and I highly recommend them to anyone who will be on a bike in Việt Nam, whether you're renting or purchasing. After trying out a number of options, I decided to purchase a red 2010 Yamaha YBR 125cc for US$1300. They are doing a bit of work on it and awaiting the paperwork from Hanoi. For $25 a local craftsman fabricated a new seat that will put me 15cm higher and give me a much more comfortable leg position.
A year ago I wasn't even thinking about motorcycles and later today I will own two! LOL
The test rides gave me my first experience as PIC on the streets of HCMC today... WOW! It's actually fun! As well as a bit nerve-wracking :)
It's hard to say enough good things about the crew at Flamingo Travel. They have treated me like a valued customer and an old friend since I first walked in the door. They've even invited me twice in three nights for dinner and beer! Correction, beers!
This was dinner Tuesday night, sitting in the shop. Why walk to a restaurant when you can have the food cart across the street deliver? Hanging around the shop also allowed me to meet a few ex-pats who have lived here quite a while. Charlie from New Zealand, Terence from England (who took this shot), G from Canada, and a few others. All great guys and quite helpful when it comes to information and planning on the next stages of my trip. Left to right are Muy (pron. My), Charlie, Chong (Chon), Dy (Dee), me, Hoa (Hwa), and Hung (Hoong).
The original plan was to leave Friday (tomorrow), and then Hung, the owner, invited me to stay through until Sunday because they are hosting a street party Saturday night. I am, of course, very anxious to get started on my trip. Even so, I'm waiting until Sunday. That will also give me time to explore HCMC on the bike
As I predicted earlier, as soon as we made the deal on the bike and even before it's officially mine, I've added a 12v outlet, a large case on the back that will hold my helmet and lock securely, as well as mounts for the Spot Connect and my GoPro Hero3 camera. It already had side racks, so I bought a few bungee cords to help secure everything during the trip. With a good amount of torque for a 125, I'm sure it will carry me well
At one point on Tuesday, we needed to go back to the seat fabricator, so I rode with Dy sitting on the back... IN SÀI GÒN TRAFFIC!!! He speaks very little English, so I didn't bother telling him that he's the first person to ever ride on the back of a bike that I am piloting. He's a good sport and we both survived, so all is well :-)
Yesterday I received my official legal Vietnamese driver's license!
It expires in 2016, so I guess I'm going to have to come back :-)
Thanks again to Chris @ FT for facilitating this... Gee told me yesterday that he tried to apply for a license late last week and they (licensing office) told him that they are not currently issuing them, so I applied just in time!