July in Vietnam: First Impressions

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Vietnam didn’t do well at all in making a good first impression.

It started with getting into Hanoi from the airport. The plane was delayed (not Vietnam’s fault) and I knew for sure that trying to get into town at 11pm was going to be a nightmare. I was sure the $2 Vietnam Airlines minibus described in Lonely Planet  wasn’t going to run at that hour, not when the taxi sharks were all circling at the main entrance.  Determined not to be stiffed, I approached an American couple who agreed to share a taxi.

We bargained with the driver and got him to take us to two different places for a total of $20. For some reason the couple got dropped off first, at a nice colonial-style hotel with twin curved staircases leading up to the main entrance. When it got to my address, it turned out to be a dark, shuttered, deserted street in what looked like a pretty slummy area. Here, the driver informed me that the price was now $40. I just stared at him and laughed, got off and ran up to my own crappy guesthouse. True to my luck, the place was closed even though I’d called ahead with my arrival time. I located the correct unit number and rang the doorbell to the dump of a guesthouse that I stupidly chose out of Lonely Planet (to be fair, it only cost $3 for a bunk bed). The annoying thing was that the guy who appeared didn’t open the gate to let me in. He instead spoke to the driver in Vietnamese, then told me that I had to pay $10.

I was livid. Immediately, I sternly told the driver shame on him for picking on a lone girl at midnight and that he could drive back to the swanky hotel to stiff the American couple instead. I had $7 in my hand and he had a choice to either take the $7 or nothing at all. He left grumbling. The only thing I regret was not taking down his licence number and to complain to the taxi company.

Thereafter, glared at the useless guy who let me in only after I icily informed him that I’d booked ahead. Of course I promptly checked out the next day.

The next morning, I didn’t fare a whole lot better. There were other challenges to contend with, such as the pirate bookseller who tried to sell me a fake Lonely Planet Vietnam for USD13. He tailed me for a good hour even though I’d told him I didn’t want it at that exorbitant price. In that time, I got myself a new hotel room, booked a Halong Bay tour (more about that in another post), bought a local SIM card and test-called Delightt to bitch about him tailing me. He was still waiting for me outside after I bought myself a second-hand real LP at a bona fide bookshop for USD11.

Here’s the transcript of the scintillating cross-cultural exchange that followed:

PB: (seeing the real LP in my hands) F**k off tourist!
Me: Go f**k yourself!
PB: What did you say?????
Me: (ignoring him by concentrating on my real guidebook)

Thankfully, that was the worst of my experiences in Hanoi, though not the worst of my experiences in Vietnam. Things started getting a whole load better from then on and as I wandered around Hanoi, I forgot about the bad first impression and was ready to see more of the country.

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