How to Get a Tow Truck in HCMC
D1 in the distance… so close, and yet so far. I had to leave it here for a bit…

Broken down on a highway or rural part of HCMC? I know the feeling.

Boy, do I ever.

Yesterday I had the unfortunate luck to develop a flat tire on my way to Vietnamese lessons (which are going much better than last year, btw!). The number of extenuating circumstances, however, were really just improbably high… 5 hours after it all started, I was finally on my way, my bike repaired.

But how did I get there?

Story time!

And BONUS – scroll to the end for contact information for what might be HCMC’s only English-speaking Bike Tow Truck service.

7:15am – I leave my house to pick up my classmate Christian, a German lawyer new to Vietnam. It’s flippin’ gorgeous out!

7:20 – We’re a little late, so I take the river road, intending to cross around the outskirts of D1 and get to our 7:30 lesson in record time.

7:24 – WRONG LANE! Oh no! We head into the Saigon tunnel – I’ll just have to turn around in Thu Thiem (the district on the other side of the river) and cross back. ETA 7:35, adjusted for stupidity.

7:28 – At the very bottom of the tunnel (as in, we could see the exits in both directions) I GET A FLAT TIRE. SHIT SHIT SHIT. We get off and push. It’s rush hour, and there are hundreds of motorbikes flying past me a minute.

7:30 – It quickly becomes clear, after about 50 meters, that there’s something seriously wrong with the bike. OH LOOK – the inner-tube has come out of the tire and wrapped itself around the back axle, acting as a massive rubber washer, slowing us to a complete stop. Fun times.

7:32 – An official-looking dude tells me we can’t be here. Together we rotate the tire backwards and rip out all the inner-tube shreds. Heading the rest of the way up out of the tunnel is relatively easy (but still a damn workout).

7:35 – We’ve reached sunlight and the toll booth that lies just beyond the mouth of the tunnel!

7:37 – Another dude indicates to me that I can’t stand here. We move again.

7:40 – Calling the teacher of our class and other vietnamese for help. Everyone is telling us to just ask someone or go to someone on the street, but this is Thu Thiem, a COMPLETELY undeveloped district. No houses, no shops, no people on the very nicely paved sidewalks. Just thousands of motorbikes and semis entering and leaving the downtown area, and a toll booth. I’m a little pissed that the policeman I can see in his hut is just watching us and not helping, but at least he’s not actively threatening me with a billy club or issuing me tickets, so that’s nice.

7:42 – Quang, a friendly English-speaking angel of a Vietnamese man, stops and takes it upon himself to help us. So nice. It’s starting to get hot, and I’m covered in dirt. My hands are black and I’m sweaty as hell.

7:50 – Walking along, we find a guy who indicates he can fix a flat!! Hooray!

AT THIS POINT… I tell Christian to go to class in a taxi, as I reach for my wallet to make sure I have enough money. SURPRISE. I forgot my wallet in my work pants last night. Christian has to stay with me for a bit longer.

7:55 – After a conference of three moto guys on the street, two calls to third parties, and a consultation with Quang, we have determined that the work is too ‘heavy’ for them to do. I believe the trek up out of the tunnel bent the rim of the wheel and they’re stymied, but that’s just my guess. Or they are just super confused about why my tire doesn’t have an inner-tube (no, make that DEFINITELY, they are DEFINITELY confused about that).

7:55-8:00 We walk my bike, with Quang leading the way across three lanes of bike traffic and 8 lanes of cars and semis to the toll booth entrance to the tunnel, going back to D1. Quang explains the situation and we lock my bike and leave. We hail the first taxi we find.

 

How to Get a Tow Truck in HCMC
MY HERO OF THE DAY. TGFE (Thank God For Erwin).

8:15 – Taxi drops off Christian at school (I’m happy to confidently say that he needs a little bit more practice than I do anyway, so it works out, sort of). Christian lends me 200k to get home – so nice. Everyone today was really nice.

8:35 – Taxi drops me off at home. I run down the alley and get my wallet!

8:42 – When I got my bike, the guy gave me this card for a bike shop that tows, and I carried it around for a year and a half JUST FOR THIS PURPOSE. I call. A vietnamese man answers, I try and talk, and he hangs up. CURSING. LOTS OF SHOUTING AND CURSING.

8:45 – No cash. Walk to the ATM. I’ll try the guy again in a minute.

8:50 – OH HOORAY. My debit card is still locked (I had called to reset my pin this same morning because I was having trouble online). I can’t call them, because in America it’s after they close for the evening. This is getting dicey, because now I have NO MONEY AT ALL. Well, besides about 1.60 USD in change, which is barely going to buy me breakfast (which I desperately need at this point), let alone repair whatever is wrong with my bike.

9:00 – Erwin owes me money. I call Erwin. He’s on his way. Thank god he’s not in class yet.

9:25 – Erwin calls. Erwin is lost. Directions. This is not how I pictured spending my Wednesday morning (for the record, it was SUPPOSED to be VN class followed by three hours of volunteer construction work, where I teach teenagers how to make tables, which I was really looking forward to because my Wednesday afternoon preschools are horrific, shouty, climby monsters).

9:45 – Erwin arrives. I could hug him. I’m about 4 coffees into my day at this point and I’m buzzing. We haven’t gotten coffee since before Lex came, so I’m happy that he agrees to give me a ride back to my bike, which is very out of his way.

 

How to Get a Tow Truck in HCMC
This guy will be your best friend in times of trouble!

9:45-10:15 – We have a lovely chat on the bike!

10:15 – Fortunately, upon arriving back at my bike (thank GOD it’s still there, although I discover part of me was already resigned to it being gone), I discover that the Bike Shop towing place has called me back, and the younger brother speaks English! I try to describe where I am. It does not go well. I hand off the phone to the policeman/tollbooth attendant (not sure which) and he explains. The guy is on his way.

AT THIS TIME – I’m relaxed again because it looks like all will be ok and there will be no lasting damage. Erwin and I chat about Tet plans, housing, schools, and more while we wait.

10:25 – Tow truck arrives. It’s a proper tow truck. I am properly floored.

10:40 – We arrive at the Shop in District Binh Thanh. I make a beeline for the cafe next door and sit down to wait.

Coffee, orange juice, zone out, iced tea, phone dies, iced tea, do my Vietnamese homework for Friday, More coffee, watch traffic and wave away flies for 40 minutes, iced tea, stir fry noodles and bok choy.

12:20pm – FINALLY DONE. Total price, 170k and I tipped the English-speaking brother Hau 50k because I was just so goddamn grateful to be on my way about my day again, having only lost 5 hours to this incident. yayyyyy.

 

MORALS OF THE STORY

  1. Put this number in your wallet (Hau is the brother that speaks English)
  2. DO NOT BREAK DOWN IN THU THIEM DISTRICT
  3. The REAL worst case scenario almost never happens – this was just another Vietnamese Adventure! A year ago, this would have made me absolutely lose my shit, but yesterday was a success in that I took it one step at a time and stayed positive. I’m embarrassed I had these problems while I was carrying a passenger, but since he’s going to take a cab now (humph, fine) I guess I just don’t have to pick him up in the morning. And everyone that helped me through the ordeal yesterday was spectacular (the policeman that was watching never even came over to look, so I’m not counting that douchebag)! Plus, it was really nice weather all morning.

Ta da. This has been How to Get a Tow Truck in HCMC. Good luck, you goofy kids. Wear a helmet.


Moto Hien: 0908169196 (Hau)
142 Nguyen Huu Canh, P22, QBT, HCMC