In a matter of a few weeks, we’ve gone from hot, dry West Africa to hot, wet Vietnam. We arrived two days ago.
Our daughter, Petra, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, told us not to join the ‘landing visa’ queue on arrival. ‘You already have electronic visas, so go straight to immigration.’
Unfortunately, the guy at immigration thought otherwise. He ignored our e-visas and sent us, along with many others, back to the queue for visas on landing.
Two hours and US$50 later we managed to collect our luggage—two bags sitting on their own next to carousel 2. The fact that the cashier for visas managed to disappear for long periods of time added to the delay. Luckily the airport had wi-fi, so I was able to let Petra know about the hold up. And Poor John reminded me it wasn’t as bad as the last time we entered Vietnam when we were stuck overnight at the border.
Anyway, Petra was puzzled and annoyed by this change of system. It had worked perfectly well for others in the past. She discussed the matter with her work colleagues and speculated that it was because immigration hadn’t reached its financial quota in July.
Nope, her colleagues were confident that it was because ghost month had begun and ‘it’s bad luck not to pay your fees because the spirits of your ancestors will get you’. Below I’ve added a short explanation about the annual Ghost Festival observed in much of South East Asia.
After leaving the airport long after dark, we were pleased to find one of the two taxi companies Petra had recommended. She said the ride would take about 30 minutes and the fare should be about 140,000 dong (or less than A$10). One guy pretended to be from a recommended company, but his offer of a $25 fare exposed him as a fake.
Our taxi got us to Petra’s place for 139,000 dong. I managed to take a couple of pics along the way, including one of a furniture showroom/workshop where two fellows were adding gold paint to chairs.
Yesterday was a chance to settle in. We explored the nearby markets and treated ourselves to pho (the famous Vietnamese noodle soup) and a watermelon juice (less than A$5 each).
We’re in the Mekong Delta now and it’s pouring with rain.
The Ghost Festival is held during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon. During this month, it is believed that the gates of hell are opened and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who forgot to pay tribute to them after they died, or those who were never given a proper ritual send-off.
In Vietnam, this festival is known as Tết Trung Nguyên. It is a time to pardon the condemned souls who have been released from hell. The ‘homeless’ should be ‘fed’ and appeased with offerings of food and, presumably the extra $50 for visas we already had.