And I didn’t think it could get any worse

4pm and time to pop out and get the money out to pay for my accomodation at the Hostel. Grand total was slightly over 5 million dong, and Mike just rounded it down. That sounds like a lot, but at current exchange rates, it’s around £150. This includes accomodation for 40 nights, a passport visa extension, my bus ticket to China Beach, a flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City and more bottled water, Coke and beer than I can even hope to remember.

So, off I wandered to the ATM with my Lloyds card – the backup I’m having to use as the Nationwide one still hasn’t appeared. Maximum withdrawal from any ATM here is 2 million dong per shot, and it costs 20,000d plus Lloyds’ charge of £2. Thieving… *ahem*

Anyway, I used one machine to withdraw my first 2 million, the moved to another machine for the second. The last thing I wanted was someone to spot me withdrawing a fortune. At the second machine, I hit the 200,000d button by accident and paid about £2.66 to withdraw around £6. Arse. I then withdrew another 2 million.

Then I thought, sod it, nobody else was watching so I withdrew the final 2 million. Only the machine said my transaction has been denied by my bank and to naff off. Fine, be like that.

I walked over the road to the TechComBank machine sat by the stairs at the City View Cafe, inserted my card, banged in my PIN, hit the 2 million button and waited.

Only to be told that my transaction time had expired (whatever that means) and that the machine was retaining my card.



So there I was, one million short of the money I needed to pay my bill and with no spending money when I left Hanoi even if I could scrape it up. And no means of withdrawing money from anywhere. Screwed.

I headed back to the Hostel and Skype’d LLoyds who informed me that “the card shouldn’t have been withheld” (how comforting) and that my withdrawal was refused as I’d tried to go over my daily limit. I find this surprising as the last I knew, I had a £250-a-day limit on the card and I’d not even tried to withdraw £200.

They put me through to a woman at Visa in the States who sounded like one of those Speak and Spell machines. In fact, I honestly thought I was talking to an electronic switchboard for the first few minutes, such was her unbelievable accent. She told me they could arrange to send me out an emergency card if I gave them an address. Fine, how long will it take?

“I can’t answer that until you provide me with an address.”

“I can’t give you an address until you tell me how long it will take.”

It was now almost 5pm. My bus was due to pick me up at 6:30. I hadn’t packed or eaten. This time tomorrow I would be in a different city. Three days after that and I would be in Ho Chi Minh City and I hadn’t arranged any accomodation.

We went round in circles until I agreed to give her the address I was going to immediately – Hoa’s Place, just outside Da Nang. I was given a case reference number and a phone number “in the UK” to call if I had any queries.

At this point I rang Lou and pretty much just sent waves of panic and anguish down the interwebnet all the way to New Zealand. She suggested seeing if someone could loan me the cash – someone with a UK bank account, into which I could immediately transfer the monies to replace it. Genius.

Fortunately, I found one such kind soul and he withdrew 2 million Dong for me. With his bank details, I transferred an equivalent sum (plus a few bob) into his account. Rent payment sorted.

After a few minutes, I realised it would be best to send the card to HCM City rather than Hoa’s Place, allowing for time taken. I re-rang Visa, realised that the number I’d been given was incorrect, called Lloyds, was told that the number was in the US (and not the UK as I’d been told), redialled, waited ages and got talking to another agent who put me on the line to the person at Lloyds who was dealing with the problem. She said that everything had been OK’d and she was about to send the confirmatoin fax to Visa. All very swift. Then we realised that the Visa dude had vanished from the line. So I had to ring them back. Again.

By now my soul had surrendered to the messages of forced politeness telling me how important my call was to them. It certainly is if they have shares in Skype.

Finally, person number three. They told me that if I had the card sent to HCM it would arrive on Friday via DHL – 3 days before I got there. If I had it send to Da Nang, it would take until Monday – the day after I left. So, HCM it would be. Only I had no accomodation booked in advance. OK – British Consulate.

With some digging I got the address of the Consulate… only Visa also needed a name to deliver to as consulates will often “bounce” packages with no recognised name on them for security reasons. I think I got the name of the Consulate General or similar from the web site – I only hope she works in HCM and not in the main Embassy in Hanoi.

I also emailed the Consulate to notify them of the arrival of the package and that I would be there to collect the card on Monday morning first thing.

All sorted, methinks. Only to then be told that as the card is shipped “pre-activated”, it has no PIN. So I can’t use it to withdraw cash from an ATM. I’ll have to go into a bank. Which means I’ll get charged £2 by Lloyds plus a fee by the bank at this end (which can be as high at 7%!). I also have no idea if a replacement “regular” card is being sent out.

Regardless – 18:25 and I dash upstairs to the barbequeue that I’m missing out on to hand Mike my last million dong, and to wish everyone a sadly rushed farewell. I didn’t even have time to grab a burger as I was being collected at 6:30 and I now had 2 minutes to pack all my things.

I was literally stuffing the last few items into my rucksack when the receptionist came to tell me the bus taxi was waiting. Argh. I was in such a rush I left two milk drinks and a Snickers in the fridge. Dammit.

To be honest, I’m most narked at not getting a chance to say a proper goodbye to everyone with a burger and a beer. That and only having a million dong in my pocket to last me to HCM City as it means I can do pretty much knack all between here and there and I’ll be bricking it that the card makes it as I have no way of getting internet access again until Sunday night.

At least I made it in good time to the bus. Which typically sat for almost an hour after we arrived before departing.

I’ll say one thing, though. You hear a lot of horror stories about the conditions of buses in Asia, but the one I boarded was fine. Aircon (though it was set to Mr Freeze Ray and I had to turn it off), decent driver who spoke enough English to be helpful, clean, no smoking on board (no signs… just nobody did), fairly comfy though not exactly National Express…

One thing that really “took” me was a late arrival in the form of a youngish female passenger. The only spare seat was next to the co-driver in the front row, and when she got tired, he slept lying down in the walkway so she could have both seats. That’s customer service for you.

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