Flashpacker transport options

There are no trains from Saigon to the highlands of Dalat. The journey involves a 7 hour bus trip which means either be an entire day on the highway, or an overnight trip. The bus company targets local and international tourists, so at least wouldn’t be a repeat of my recent bus journey. Still, I wasn’t keen to loose an entire day travelling or suffering a unpleasant night with even less sleep than my travel insomnia would allow.

A quick internet search showed two flights a day with Vietnamese Airlines. Since these flights are mainly filled by locals, the prices are reasonable (US$50 one-way) and, better still, can usually be booked at short notice. After a bit of a struggle, I got myself a ticket for a Monday morning flight.

The good news was that the flight would get me in to Dalat at 07:30 for a full-day of motorcycle touring. The bad news was that I’d have to be at the Saigon airport at 05:30. The taxi from the centre to the airport can take an hour and while I had been waking up at 04:00 I was trying to encourage my body clock to stay asleep at that time.

Budget travel guides, both Lonely Planet and online, were silent on hotel options near the airport. An internet search revealed a number of high-end options. I had been staying in budget accommodation for far in Vietnam, but having come to terms with my flashpacker status, I decided to go for it and booked a room online.

The driver stuffs my backpack into the back of his taxi. “Parkroyal Hotel?” he confirms, looking at my backpack and then from my sandals to my grubby T-Shirt. “Vang,” I assured him. Yes, a luxury hotel for me tonight please! In the taxi I try to make myself look presentable. I put on my best, or at least cleanest, T-Shirt and take off my bead bracelets. I try brush some of the dirt off my backpack and zip away the shoulder and waist straps. It looks a little bit like a shoulder bag, but really is still just a backpack pretending.. There is nothing I can do about my sandals – the only footwear I have with me are my pair of Tevas.

To try and compensate for my slightly grubby looks, I booked myself in with the title “Doctor Jason Haines” (unfortunately, “Lord” wasn’t an option). PhD doctorants can be eccentric can’t they? I’ve worked with academics that wore sandals in far cooler climates than Saigon.

I try to feign confidence as a stroll into the lobby. I’ve stayed in hotels of this class in Europe and had to pay 3 times as much for the privilege – I could stay here a year if I maxed out my Visa card limit. I give my bag to a porter and present my passport – use two hands in Vietnam – to the receptionist with a “Chao buoi toi (good evening)”. I get a friendly welcome, well at least after they’ve seen my credit card. I’m sure the sideways glance he given me is just in my imagination.

The porter deposits my “bag” in my room and I change for a swim in the indoor pool. Back in the room, I hit the mini-bar. To complete my 1st-world neo-tourist-colonist image, I take a Gin and Tonic (“Keeps away the mosquitos, old boy! Don’t want a dose of malaria, what?”).

Over the few hours of my stay I spend more money on tips for the porters and the mini-bar than I’d spent on accommodation the previous two nights. The room is both ludicrously cheap by European standards and ludicrously expensive by Vietnamese standards.

“I hope you enjoyed your stay. Thank you Doctor Haines,” says the receptionist as I check out. No, thank you!

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