Leaving Hoi An on Sunday morning made me a little sad. I was sharing a driver to the Da Nang Airport with 3 Kiwis. Of course, we struck up a conversation en route to the airport. They were actually on their way (back) to Thailand before returning to New Zealand. They complained about the breakfast at Vaia Hotel; said it was much better at whatever hotel they were staying at in Thailand. (I, myself, had no complaints about the breakfast at Vaia Hotel; rather liked it.) They’d also rented motorbikes and gone to Da Nang and Hue, but didn’t seem that enthralled by Hue. When we got on to the subject of shopping, they mentioned that two little girls had come up to them at a restaurant selling some sort of handmade dragonflies. The little girls specifically asked them for coins, which they gave to the girls. Apparently, moments later, the little girls came back, threw the coins at them, insisted that they weren’t real and took the dragonflies back! The Kiwis explained that their coins are different from the Aussies (the $1 coin is larger than the $2 or vice versa) and/or that their coins had recently changed. That’s why the little girls didn’t believe that they were authentic. Whatever, how rude for them to THROW the coins back at them!
My flight to Hanoi was non-eventful, though they gave me an actual window seat for that flight. My previously reserved driver was NOT at the Hanoi airport. After waiting for about 45 minutes, I gave up and decided to fight with the cab drivers. Employees at the airport informed me that the fare to the Old Quarter should be 350,000 dong, or about $17. As I walked out towards the taxis, a taxi driver immediately grabbed my suitcase and started loading it into his trunk. I asked him what the fare would be; his response was “$25 U.S.” I told him that I would NOT be getting into the cab unless it was about 350,000 dong. He said that he had a meter. Yeah, WHATEVER!!! Then he simply said “Ok,” as he finished putting my suitcase in the trunk and locked it. Somehow I knew I’d be going for a “ride,” in more ways than one. As usual, his English skills were supposedly very limited. He didn’t seem to know where the street was in the Old Quarter. When we got to the hotel, the meter read 440,000, which I thought was too high, of course. Then again, he wouldn’t give me my suitcase until the fare was paid. I resigned myself to getting ripped off yet again and gave him 450,000. Did he bother to give me change? No! Did he get out of the car to get my suitcase? No! He simply unlocked the trunk. I got the suitcase myself and purposely dragged it out rather than lifting it out, hoping to scratch his car a bit. Was he even directly in front of the hotel? No! When I walked into Art Boutique Hotel, I was less than thrilled, which they could see immediately. There had been a misunderstanding with the driver about the time of the flight, which in reality was my fault (long story). Even so, everyone was very apologetic. I inspected my room (comfy bed, flat-screen TV, laptop, mini bar, air conditioning, Western bathroom), took a shower and relaxed for a bit. Then I went to exchange money and asked the reception to suggest a spa in the area. Although the spa they suggested was close, the spa would pay for the customer’s taxi on the way there. I took a taxi to the extremely nice spa, had a massage and a manicure/pedicure with OPI polish and they called a taxi to take me back to the hotel. Of course, I asked the spa what the correct fare should be. They said no more than 20,000. The drive back to the hotel took no more than 5 minutes, if that. The meter read 140. I asked him specifically what the fare was and he said “140,000.” I said “That’s funny ’cause the spa said it would be no more than 20,000.” He seemed upset at that point, but pushed some button and the meter then said 14,000. I gave him 20,000 and he actually proceeded to give me change! What a shocker! I told him to keep the change, though, even though, as usual, he’d tried to rip me off.
Monday morning was my scheduled day trip to Mai Chau. At breakfast so many of the employees said “Good Morning” and addressed me by name. The tour group was supposed to pick me up around 7:30 a.m. There was a mix-up, of course, as I was sitting in the lobby waiting for over an hour. I believe the hotel manager finally called them to see what was up. Someone arrived in a cab to pick me up closer to 9:00 a.m. We rushed to the van; Yours Truly was the last to board, as expected. In a nutshell, it was a long drive to Mai Chau. Once we got there, all but 2 of us were staying overnight. Everyone had lunch together, but we 2 that were leaving later in the afternoon were to get started on our tour of the village while the others finished their lunch. Our tour was supposed to be via bicycle. After they witnessed my attempt to ride a bike that was slightly too big for me, they decided to let the other man and me walk instead! I found the village nice and the culture interesting; wish I could have stayed overnight. Our guide, Mei, said that the people were known as Thai, although they’d immigrated from China. Their language didn’t necessarily sound like Thai to me, but their writing looked nearly the same. I bought some of the local handicrafts, mainly a skirt and a couple of shirts, and had several good photo ops. Then it was back to Hanoi, where I went out to dinner and straight to bed.
Tuesday was my last full day in Hanoi. I’ll make this short, as writing about it kind of annoys me all over again. I got a map from reception and walked over to the main street in the Old Quarter with the jewelry shops. Most of them take cash only, but I managed to find a beautiful star ruby ring for a great price. A few doors down was a lacquer shop. Although most of the lacquer ware could probably be bought for slightly more in San Francisco’s Chinatown, I indulged myself. The shop keeper was thrilled to be making a sale and even threw in a few little freebies for me. I asked him the correct price for a cyclo. He told me 150,000 for an hour; he even went out in the street and hailed a cyclo for me. The cyclo driver took me mainly through the Old Quarter while I made videos and took photos. I mentioned wanting to see Hoan Kiem Lake. We ended the tour at Hoan Kiem Lake, although it had barely been 45 minutes, most certainly not an hour. He then proceeded to beg me for more money because he “needed a beer.” Well, damn, after all this havoc in Hanoi, I needed a beer or two or three myself! I had been dropped off by a temple at the lake. I took some photos of the temple and the red bridge leading to it, as well as more photos while walking around the lake. Many couples were having their engagement photos taken that afternoon, as well as a few models. The rest of us were snapping away at their subjects, too! On my way back to the hotel, I came across another lacquer shop, which had some unique items. I didn’t buy lacquer, but other things. The rest of Tuesday was spent in my hotel room; didn’t even go out for dinner.
After breakfast on Wednesday, I went up to my room to pack. One of the hotel employees, T., called my room. Although she wasn’t working until that afternoon, she wanted to make up to me the bad time I’d been having in Hanoi. She said that she’d be by at 10:00 a.m. to take me for coffee/tea, then lunch. That was very sweet of her. She picked me up on her motorbike and took me to Align Cafe, a two story coffee house with nice, large spaces. While she had coffee, I had some fruity, girly pink drink! Her friend, V., joined us awhile later. Both of them spoke English well; T. had been in the U.S. before, having studied for a year at U.C., Berkeley, as well as living half of that time at the Hotel Triton in San Francisco! V. had never been to the U.S., but seemed to speak English well from his interaction with tourists at the hotel he works at. While they decided where to go for lunch, I ran around taking some photos. They ended up taking me to Quan An Ngon, which was one that was on my list. It’s a huge restaurant with food from all areas of Vietnam. They shared a rice dish, I had mi quang and the 3 of us shared spring rolls. It was a pleasant afternoon, which certainly did make me feel better about the less-than-pleasant time I’d been having in Hanoi. They dropped me back at the hotel via taxi, I gathered my luggage, waited for my driver and was off to the airport.
So… in conclusion, I would say this. In all honesty, Vietnam was not one of my favorite travel destinations. Unfortunately for me, it rained or was overcast most of my time there. I didn’t like being ripped off by taxi drivers in Hanoi, didn’t like being harassed by vendors in Hoi An and found that, in general, people were not that friendly and preferred not to have their picture taken. On the pro side, it’s very affordable, the food was incredible and all of my hotels were great. I will probably go again, within a year or two, mainly to Hoi An to have more clothing and shoes made. If I spend more time in Hanoi, at least I’ll know what to expect.