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No Worries 'Mas o Menos' 2 years on the road, travelling South East Asia, China, South & Central America and who knows where after that... Photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/

Hanoi(ed)

VIETNAM | Friday, 28 August 2009 | Views [2090] | Comments [3]

The train system is recommended for travel between destinations in Vietnam, with the reunification express connecting HCMC to Hanoi. Having done so many bus journeys recently we decided that we would mix it up and pay the little extra for the train to Hanoi.

I almost didn’t make the journey, as after waiting for the crowds to disembark and with both our backpacks I started to climb the steps into the carriage. Upon reaching the top I was met by a straggler who was slower than everyone else to get off . The train wasn’t due to leave for 5 minutes, but rather than a) wait, b) let me past, c) walk the 2 metres to the adjacent carriage and disembark there, he chose d) place his hands on the backpack I was carrying in my hands and try to push me backwards out of the train!! But we made it on and managed to find our seats ok.

Before our first stop an official looking man came around selling tickets to  passengers. As we had prepaid for our tickets and he didn’t ask us we thought nothing more of it, until midday when people started handing their tickets to the food staff in return for lunch. It was then that we realised he was selling lunch tickets and had decided unilaterally that we wouldn’t want lunch or that it was too much hassle to speak to us. Luckily, there were other food vendors on the train, so we did get a meal, although it was less appetising than what the majority were eating.

The rest of the 13 hour journey passed uneventfully, until there was a large bang close to Ninh Binh. We had read about children throwing stones at trains, but as our train had no metal shutters we assumed that the problems were in the past, but the huge crack in the window was testament to the fact that it still happens today.

After our long journey we weren’t looking forward to arriving in Hanoi, as it’s probably the scam capital of South East Asia. Hotels appropriate the names of popular hotels and working in cohorts with taxi drivers, direct customers to the ‘dodgy’ hotel where tourists are ripped off. In an attempt to avoid this we walked past all the touts  and headed outside the station and went straight to a taxi company we had used before and to someone who wasn’t asking for our business. We arrived at our guesthouse with no issues, using the most direct route and the meter not being ‘over clocked’, which is another con prevalent in Hanoi.

The next day we set out to do some exploring and quickly noticed that the pavements in Hanoi are not for pedestrians. Shops spill out onto the pavement and what little space is left is quickly commandeered by moped parking, meaning that you have to walk on the roads, which are even busier with mopeds than HCMC. Whether you’re on the path or the road it seems moped drivers in Hanoi deliberately try to run you down, but i’m probably being paranoid.

All of the roads in the Old Quarter area where we are staying are named after their principle trade of yester year and in some cases still today, i.e all the cotton shops were or are on cotton street and silk on silk street etc. We’re not sure of the translation of our street is, but it is probably deep fat fried alley or fish and chips lane!

The kids around deep fat fried alley were SO nice. A couple of kids playing football stopped playing so they could throw the ball right at Jo and another said hello to me and when I turned to say hello back he stuck two fingers up at me, charming.

We have long since realised that we aren’t going to enjoy Vietnam. However, after much deliberation we decided that we would go to Halong Bay rather than skipping it.

As we were aiming for escapism, we decided to make our own way to Cat Ba island, the largest inhabited island in Halong Bay, rather than paying for an horrendous sounding tour from Hanoi.

Rock the Cat Ba

Our first impressions of Cat Ba island was that it was nice and a place that we could finally relax and try and escape from the ‘real’ Vietnam.

We booked ourselves onto a tour and we were told that we would be part of a small group, I was skeptical to say the least, but when our tour started I was surprised that there were only 6 of us on an traditional junk boat. Perhaps the thing I dislike most about Vietnam is that I have started to assume everyone is untrustworthy and is trying to rip us off, it’s not a nice trait and its one I hope to lose as quickly as I have picked up.

Halong Bay was as advertised and we had a relaxing day sailing and swimming through the limestone karsts.

On our way back to Cat Ba we stopped at a floating village and picked up a villager who had filled her boat to capacity with recycling.

After about 10 minutes there was a screech from the back of the boat and upon going to investigate it was clear there was a problem.

Her boat had capsized and shed its load into the sea. We were all thankful for another opportunity to go for a swim and cool down and along with the boat helpers we set about collecting as many cans and plastic bottles as we could. After 30 minutes we had managed to collect the majority of the recycling and it was nice that the owner of the recycling, who didn’t speak a word of English thanked us all personally and indicated that she would now be able to eat with the money from selling the cans and bottles.

Arriving back at the Hanoi bus station there was only one taxi company that we hadn’t used before so we wondered about their legitimacy. Things started well when we set off on the most direct route back to where we had stayed previously. However, neither of us could read the meter due to the sun light, but I could notice the figures changing quickly without being able to read them. Positioning myself to be able to read the meter I was astounded to find that we had travelled 10km and the fare was already nearly US$10 after just 2 minutes. At this point I told him to drop us off and we weren’t going to pay the fare. He waved his hand and said later and as we were on a ‘motorway’ we had little choice but to stay in the taxi.

We arrived at a street close to our destination, after, according to the meter, 5 minutes, 28.4 kms and a fare of $25!!  He asked for the fare on the meter and I again refused. At this point he tried to lock us in the car,  Jo having her wits about her already had the door open and the automatic lock failed and a stand off ensued. Jo got our belongings out of the car and I told him that we wouldn’t pay anymore than the already inflated $5 we had paid to get to the bus station, having gone the long way and if he wanted to call the police then he should do so.

When it became apparent we weren’t going to resolve the stand off, he called my bluff and said he would call the police. As the police are probably just as corrupt, or that he would know someone who was, I didn’t really want the police involved. He could have been calling some ‘friends’ to help him out or not actually speaking to anyone at all, but did we really want to find out? I sent Jo off to get the owner of the guesthouse  to help us out and upon seeing her leave the tables turned and he was suddenly happy to accept $5 and quickly drove off.

The next day we finished off sightseeing in the city, going to Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex, 

where the main attraction is going to see an embalmed Uncle Ho. The mausoleum is very strict and I managed to get told off for breaking nearly every rule, wearing sunglasses outside the mausoleum, smiling, talking, even having a hand in my pocket. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the mausoleum and we were told we had to hand our camera in at the main gate meaning we weren’t able to take any pictures of the rest of the complex.

After finishing seeing Hanoi we booked a bus up to Lao Cai. It was another typical ‘Vietnamese’ journey, which started off well with nice comfortable reclining seats but followed the usual pattern of a broken air conditioner on a bus with no windows and lots of vomiting from locals. We only stayed one night in Lao Cai but we both liked the town and the people were very friendly. Although, we’re not sure whether we liked it so much because we knew we were so close to ending our ‘nightmare’ in Vietnam. Lao Cai is a border town and it was from here the next day we said farewell to both Vietnam and South East Asia to head into China.

Until a hopefully more lighthearted next time, take care

Ryan & Jo

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dojo77/collections/72157621819402495/

Vietnam Summary:

Highlights

Favourite Place -  Qui Nhon (Jo), Ho Chi Minh City (Ryan)
Favourite Attraction -  HCM Mausoleum (Jo) , Cao Dai Temple (Ryan)
Food -  Hue Spring Rolls (Jo) , Vietnamese Curry (Ryan)
Beer - Saigon Green (Jo), Beer 333 (Ryan)

LowLights

Too many to name (Jo) , People (Ryan)
 
For those of you thinking of possibly travelling to the region:  Costs in USD

Accommodation - $8-15
Restaurant meal  - $3-5
Food stall meal - $1-2
Mug of Draught Beer - $0.20
450ml Bottled Beer - $0.75-1.25
285ml Soft Drink - $0.75
1.5l Bottle of water - 50c
Bus - $1.50 an Hour

Tags: cat ba island, halong bay, hanoi, lao cai

 

Comments

1

I keep reading your blog and wondering when things are going to start going wrong for us. So we've been rather chuffed to avoid all all these shysters - perhaps they are too busy counting the profits that you've left them with! They are rather into 'luck' in this part of the world perhaps you have angered the gods in some way.... consider it retaliation for the Ashes victory.

  Linds Aug 30, 2009 3:54 PM

2

Are you going to visit the Chengdu office?

  Holmy Sep 1, 2009 5:33 PM

3

We arrive in Chengdu on the 6th, our plan is to drop by the office and see everyone at some point

  ryanandjo Sep 3, 2009 12:23 AM

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