I flew into Hanoi with a damaged dental veneer and a host of annoying errands to take care of before I go to cave country in Phong Nha. Fortunately, I found a fantastic dentist and took care of it immediately. There was also plenty of time to see a little of the city and chew my way through the street food in my neighborhood. I’ve been going through a bit of a nightmare trying to get my FedEx medication package through customs. Hopefully, it will be sorted out tomorrow before I leave for Sapa north of Hanoi.
The final resting place of Ho Chi Minh
My Hanoi Dentist – $50 to repair a veneer!
My Hanoi Tailor – One dollar to hem my pants! This wonderful guy hemmed my pants in less than ten minutes and refused to take a penny more.
My Hanoi Chauffeur – Priceless
Throughout Southeast Asia, there are hundreds of thousands of people offering rides and tours on the back of their motorbikes for a small fee. A female doing so is exceptionally rare as was validated by the staff at my hotel. This young lady’s angle was to play the starving student card, say that she just wanted to show you around, and then instead of money ask for shoes to replace the crappy ones she was wearing. Some things never change. Augmenting women’s wardrobes seems to be my lot in life.
In this case, I wrote it off as part of a tour. I decided to offset some of the cost on our next meeting by not falling prey to her scam when we went and sang karaoke in English and Vietnamese. Then we went for lunch to a restaurant that I’m sure had given her a kickback. Afterward, as we left to return to my hotel, as expected she decided she needed a new overcoat. My stomach was feeling poorly, and I said we needed to get back. We got to the hotel, I went inside to break a large bill, and returned with some gas money.
It’s clear that she was convinced that she was going to wheedle the coat money out of me. She tried to bargain with me, but I was having none of it. I told her that she could either accept the gas money or I would take it back to the hotel with me. So ended the most unique bit of Vietnamese exploitation I have experienced thus far.
I have been overcharged by taxis, street food vendors, and others but this was the most entertaining. At least I had a little adventure, took care of a number of errands, and got some interesting material and pictures for the blog.
Vietnam is a country of real variety in terms of people, and their intentions, morality, and ethics as evidenced by my tailor friend and his “Hello Kitty” counterpart. Some people are committed to serving you in the best way possible, and many are out to do you a disservice. It is sometimes hard to reconcile the two when traveling in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. One minute you are under the care and protection of kind hotel staff, and the next prey to unscrupulous touts and scammers on the busy streets.
There are many bloggers including, Nomadic Matt, the number one travel blogger in the world, who has stated unequivocally that he would never return to Vietnam for some of the reasons I’ve stated. The good Vietnamese are truly embarrassed by the behavior of some of their countrymen, but it is certainly harming their tourism efforts by leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many of their guests.
Personally, I have managed to take it in stride even though I admit it can get disorienting and discouraging at times when one second you’re being charged triple for a cab ride, and the next moment you are surrounded by high school kids who want nothing more than to take their picture with you. In Vietnam, you’ll get plenty of lemons. Just try not to miss the sweetness, and enjoy the lemonade. Just avoid the pink lemonade on a motorbike. It has a very sour aftertaste.
After returning from my trip to Sapa, and being transferred from the train station to my hotel, I waited for a room to be vacated in the wee hours of a Hanoi morning. I decided on a nice walk around Hanoi that can only be experienced in the wee hours. I had dreaded my return to the generic cacophony of sounds that the Old Quarter has to offer, and which I had escaped in the pastoral beauty of Sapa, but five in the morning enabled me to make a welcome transition back into city life. Gone were patrons of food vendors filling the sidewalks with short plastic tables and stools, as was the constant staccato beeping of motorbike buzzers which have been known to leave many a westerner in a state of confused psychotic dysphoria.
Instead, a myriad of unusual muted encounters tends to await with the intermittent crowing of roosters and a few odd, putting scooters to break the silence. I strolled up a familiar street and offered something that was reminiscent of a scene from “Full Metal Jacket” replete with offerings of “boom boom”. The only thing missing was “she love you, long time.” I then sat down at a small street vendor and had a coke light while listening to and observing some embarrassing, drunk American thirty-somethings reviewing their evening’s exploits and acting like fools. I felt I wasn’t missing much in my sober condition. A trip down another side street revealed an outdoor meat market, both sides flanking me with carnage and rib cages galore. On another, women loaded vegetables onto devices that look like giant scales which they carry on their shoulders. Sorry, but I have to ask someone the name of the things. Primitive but eminently practical.
This is not something that is offered as a tour and is usually stumbled upon by accident. It is worth the time if you have the opportunity.
Hanoi Hannah – The Patron Saint of Weary Travelers
The Holiday Diamond on 05 Nguyen Sieu Street is the place to stay in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The staff is second to none and the price is just over what you would pay for a hostel. The rooms are nice and the breakfast is good and made to order. Hannah, the young lady shown above made my stay exceptional. She helped sort out a number of annoying issues that required multiple scans and emails. It was like having a personal assistant. I needed glasses, she hooked me up. I needed some pants shortened, and she told me where I could find my one-dollar tailor. When I went to TripAdvisor to submit my glowing review, I found more of the same. Hannah this and Hannah that. So if you want five-star service for two-star prices. For value, location and experience there is no other place to stay in Hanoi. Frankly, I think Anthony Bourdain would stay here in a New York minute since he’s very fond of the street food of Hanoi, and this place is located in the very heart of PHO Land.