It is annoying that the Vietnamese drive harder bargains, are more annoying, more in your face, run more scams and are generally bigger pains in the proverbial ass. On top of that, Hanoi is supposedly a scammers haven in Vietnam. Then, the odd mix of fading communism and cutthroat capitalism results in strange mixes, visually, architecturally and professionally.
So, imagine my surprise, when coming out of the airport, the absence of taxi touts straining for my attention. One boy wanted to sell me his taxi, but he didn’t even try very hard. In fact, walking out of the airport building, I immediately stumbled upon the airport minivan transfer service, which takes you from the airport to the downtown area for a mere 2 USD, or to your hotel for 4. The drop off being quite a way from my hotel, according to my map, I decided to put my trust in the transfer service and ponied up the 4 bucks.
All the peeps in the van were Vietnamese and Thai, except for myself and a Slovenian called Jona and the two of us were the only ones going to be dropped off at our respective hotels.
Driving away from the drop off, within one minute Jona was already told to get off, and was pointed into a general direction to walk in, in order to find his hotel. As, as a traveler, you’re at your most vulnerable just after arriving in a new location, I try to make a point to keep track of where a transfer service like this actually takes me. I was keeping track of our location on my map, and I could see that we were not going towards my hotel, and were driving around in a few circles before, minutes after dropping of Jona, I was told to get off.
“Especen hotel?”, I asked.
“Yeah, yeah, this Especen hotel.”
“No it isn’t, look at the sign, this is another hotel.”
“No no, this Especen hotel, sign inside!”
“This is not my hotel. We are here [I pointed on the map], my hotel is here.”
“No no, this your hotel.”
“Yes yes, this Especen hotel.”
This went on for a bit longer until I decided this wasn’t going anywhere, so I got out. The hotel tout started talking to me.
“You wanna see room?”
“You’ve got my reservation, I would like to see my reservation.”
“Oh that other hotel. Not here.”
The van had already left, but the boy telling me this was the Especen had also stepped off. Annoyed, I told him that this was not the hotel he claimed it was.
“You told me [something resembling Especen].”
“No, I did not, I told you several times.”
“No, you told me something else.”
I gave up and started walking. The map showed my hotel a good walk away, but I didn’t feel like picking up public transport at all, expecting having to deal with more of the same. On the way, I stopped at the very decent Papa Joe’s Cafe, for a panini and a coffee. Sitting at the corner of Hoan Kiem Lake, watching the world go by, I realised that Hanoi is more a Phnom Penh than either a Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
Then, arriving at where the hotel was supposed to be, I couldn’t find anything that resembled the hotel. Turned out that my Lonely Planet guide had another one of its regular hiccups, the location of the map being horribly wrong, my hotel actually being very close to Jona’s, not far from the central drop off point. And that’s when my hotel is even one of Lonely Planet’s “Our pick”. “100% researched and updated”…
I gave up and climbed on the back of a motorcycle taxi. Interestingly, virtually everyone, both drivers and passengers, wears a helmet.
The houses in Hanoi, and in many places beyond, are tall and narrow, a leftover from times were taxes were to be paid based on the width of your building’s facade. In my hotel, there’s just enough room for two rooms, side by side, lengthwise, with a staircase in between.
The room is so narrow, the wide single bed, judging from the towels and toothbrushes, is actually a narrow double bed, with a bit of walking space on the side. Then, the streets are so narrow that if I would hang out of my window, I could shake hands with someone on the other side of the street, doing the same.
It’s easy to notice that, where in Thailand, smoking is something almost exclusively done by foreigners, here, it seems to be the opposite; almost all Vietnamese men seem to smoke. Also, there seems to be a structural absence of small supermarkets. Both Chiang Mai and Bangkok are littered in 7/11 supermarkets. Here, there are none. Later, I found a K opposite the Sheraton in Ho Chi Minh City, but that was the only time I found a proper minimart, though there are some Big Cs around.
In the evening, I visited the Water Puppet Theatre. Typical Vietnamese and, possibly, the result of the common folk still in need of entertainment even during the wet season, when the rice paddies were flooded, accompanied by a typical Vietnamese one string musical instrument together with a small orchestra of classical Vietnamese musicians. Both interesting and at times funny, though the short nights had taken its toll. I had a hard time staying awake.