01-06-2011, Ho Chi Minh City.

‘Air walks on a plane in Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Saigon)’, is what I found on the internet. ‘It is a rental aircraft. For a small fee you can rent a plane for air walks.’ Great news I thought, we can focus on aerial photos in the Mekong Delta after we decided to postpone a flight in Cambodia due to bad weather. (Every day around 4pm clouds rolled in over Tonle Sap Lake, spoiling the beautiful light you need for aerial photos.)

Upon arrival in Ho Chin Minh City we headed straight for a recommended travel agency specializing in trips to the Mekong Delta. We voiced our wish to rent a small plane. The clerk fell silent in mid sentence. “You know this is a communist country. They make everything difficult,” he replied. “I don’t think it is possible.” After some pushing him, he advised us to call the airport authority which I did from his phone. The operator forwarded me directly to the right person who unfortunately didn’t speak much English. So after I gave the phone to the travel agent I got the message that I should send an email or go to the airport myself.
The agent still kept shaking his head with a slightly amused (or was it pitying?) look in his eyes. He repeated: “You know this is a communist country? You have to get permission for everything. It is going to take a lot of time… This is not like your country.” I explained I had surprisingly good results in other countries paying around 250-300$ per hour for a small plane. He grinned again and said, “Well it will be at least ten times more here!” I decided not to reply to this obvious exaggeration.

We decided to have lunch and I sent an email to the Airport Authority, not expecting a reply.

Keeping a shuttle in the air. Large groups of Saigonese play a type of hacky sack in the 23/9 park in central Ho Chin Minh City.

During our walk back to the hotel we passed by a large fancy looking travel agency, with loads of counters for domestic flights. We decided to try it once more. The first host that approached us looked a little puzzled after my question but pointed us to a desk.

I explained that I wanted to rent a small plane for 2 persons. The girl smilingly replied “two tickets, to which city?” No, a private plane for a tour. “Private? she burst out laughing as if her neighboring colleague had just whispered a dirty joke. “You want a private plane? That’s only for the president,” she replied giving us that same look we got from the other agent. “No chance.”

A little discouraged we arrived in our hotel where I checked my mail. I found a reply in my inbox from miss Kim of the Airport with a friendly reply when I would like to rent a plane. Ha! I thought, you see? it is possible!
Cost: first 2 hours 12.000 USD and 5.500 USD for each consecutive hour. Ouch.

Miss Kim is looking forward to hearing from me.
Sure, she is. But I’m not sure… Am I supposed to bargain with her, like you do over everything in Vietnam? Then where do I start? Usually you are supposed to end up at about half the price you are quoted. That would still leave us at the rate the travel agent predicted: 10 times the price I’m used to. No way I’m going to do that.

So more internet research. I found a parachute club in town. They offer parachute courses with a jump from a helicopter for 100 USD. But supposedly only for locals. Of course no email address or Telephone number. But a street address. So We’ll just go there in person tomorrow. And we may visit the airport as well, following up on the posting about ‘air walks’ that started this quest at the first place.

To be continued.

Published by Ronald de Hommel

Ronald de Hommel is a Dutch freelance photojournalist based in Paris, France. He specialises in global social subjects relating to environment, development aid and conflict. He is one of the initiators of Disputed Waters. He works for a wide variety of Dutch and international publications and NGO’s. His work is represented by ANP Photo (Netherlands), Babel-Photo (France, Lightmediation (France) and Nazca Pictures (Italy). Website: www.ronalddehommel.com

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *