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Take A Deep Breath: Hanoi, Vietnam

Our Hostel's Solution to a Broken Window... a Soiled MattressTake a deep breath. We had been warned. Don’t trust anyone in North Vietnam. To us, that seemed a bit exaggerated. We step off the plane in Hanoi and board the airport approved minibus bound for downtown. First stop, fifteen feet outside the airport gates. More money was required to take the load of white faced tourists to their hotel. Cue the band of scammers. Take a deep breath. We arrive at a poorly lit intersection where the driver rudely announces this is the last stop. A heated argument ensues between me and  the fraudulent minibus operator about how we paid to be dropped off at the Hanoi Guesthouse, not some Hanoi locale swarming with suspicious individuals. Take a deep breath. My demands fell on deaf ears, but a gentleman offered to take us to the hostel for a fair price. Oh, did he ever take us to “Hanoi Guesthouse” alright. Turns out the real Hanoi Guesthouse has such a great reputation that others with the same name have popped up. However, these knockoffs are of inferior quality. Evidence #1: the ”Hanoi Guesthouse” we slept at utilized a soiled mattress as a window replacement in the second floor stairwell. Take a deep breath.

Before Getting in Verbal Argument with Van Driver, This Seen of Not Being Able to Get A Piece of Luggage Out Was Hilarious Hanoi's Old City Area on a Rainy Day

Water puppet shows are all the rage for tourists in Hanoi. What the heck, we shall check it out. Unfortunately, the thearte in Hanoi’s Old City was sold out. I called another theatre further afield whose tickets were available so I hopped a cab only to find the person I spoke with was mistaken about the ticket window times. IIt was closed all day, only open immediately before start time. Take a deep breath. One hour prior to showtime, Ash and I flagged down a lime green cab driven by a friendly looking woman in her twenties. Friendly until she opened her mouth. We quickly noticed the meter had been tampered with and was ringing up a bill four times faster than normal. I asked her to stop the car, that we would pay the current amount and hail another. But she wouldn’t stop. Take a deep breath. So Ashley and I told her we would not pay the full amount upon arrival at the theatre. To say she became angry is an understatement. You must understand one thing about Hanoi, Vietnam in general, before the story unfolds; motos are everywhere and they are driven recklessly. For example, crossing the street is toying with fate. So the fraudster driver was prepping for a confrontation as she parked the tiny car twelve feet away from the crumbling concrete curb with motos racing past us on all sides. Before exiting the cab on the curb side, I glanced over my shoulder to ensure no bikes were moving past. Upon opening the door just one quarter, WHACK. Take a deep breath.

Hanoi Moto Parking Hanoi - Hoan Kiem Lake - Tortoise Tower

Perpendicular to the taxi’s right front tire lay a man and his young son, no helmets in sight. I was mortified. Instinctively, we rushed to their aid. Thankfully, both were fine except for a small bleeding cut on the boys ear. Once it was clear that they were both not seriously hurt and that the moto itself was in working order, I gave them half the money in my wallet as a penance. Take a deep breath. Next thing I know, the scamming taxi driver has a handful of my button down shirt with an unbelievably tight grip, screaming in Vietnamese. Ignoring her, I sternly ask Ashley to run away and meet me at the hotel as an angry mob surrounds us. But she won’t leave my side. The scene is chaos. Take a deep breath. I nearly punch my temporary capture in the face after repeatedly looking her in the eye saying in slow English, “let me go.” Instead I opt to unbutton my shirt as a way of escape. But before I am shirtless, two men remove the ravenous woman’s clutch then each take a firm grip of Ashley and me while directing us to a streetside cafe where we sit, trembling, on two low plastic stools. The father and son have since left unceremoniously on their moto as the crowd grows around us. There is shouting, mass confusion, no one speaks English, and we fear for our well being. Three tense minutes pass with us scanning the impenetrable fence of North Vietnamese. Then a pre-teen girl and her younger brother approach, speaking decent English. I beg them to call the police, but they say that that won’t be necessary. That everything will be OK. Take a deep breath. The two men who accompanied us to our current location have since had a visit to the accident scene with the flustered driver. Through hand gestures, but mainly through the young English speakers, we are told the accident was not my fault at all. It was the driver’s mistake since she stopped so far away from the curb, essentially in traffic. Upon understanding the circumstances of the accident, the crowd becomes disinterested and a few even apologize for our uncomfortable treatment. Our dishonest driver has since fled after realizing payment is now the least of her worries. We didn’t see the water puppet show, just thankful for calmer heads prevailing. Take a deep breath.

Hoa Lo Prison - As It Was Before Western Section Torn Down for Skyscraper Ha Noi - Hoa Lo Prison - Open Area

Hoa Lo Prison - John McCain's Flight SuitTake a deep breath. Hoa La Prison, otherwise known sarcastically to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. Typical of Vietnam’s war museums, it was more propaganda than legit history. Constructed by the French in the 1860s when present day Vietnam was part of French Indochina, the North Vietnamese used the facility to interrogate and torture American pilots downed during Vietnam War bombing raids. Methods of torture included beatings, lengthy periods of solitary confinement, and iron bindings. The North Vietnamese were not after military intel. Oh no. They longed to break their prisoner’s spirit and obtain written and / or verbal statements that were critical of US conduct in war while praising their “host’s hospitality.” Take a deep breath. The museum went to great lengths to portray the prison more as a temporary home than hell on earth. Perhaps the most maddening display was a picture of captured pilots enjoying a Christmas decorating session complete with paint brushes, craft materials, and even a Santa. We knew this photo was staged, that the Americans were ill-treated rather than welcomed as foreign guests free to celebrate their holidays. John McCain’s flight suit was proudly encased in glass, displayed as a spoil from wartime. Take a deep breath.

Hoa Lo Prison - Fake Christmas Hoa Lo Prison - Greg Not Happy Outside Wall

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. When taking transport of any kind, only pay once your request has been fulfilled. Keep the money in your wallet until the very last second, otherwise your payment may not result in the desired results.
  2. All guidebooks have a “safety, dangers, and annoyances” section about a country. In many nations, these guidebooks list traffic accidents as places where violence may flare up. Thus, avoid getting in the fray just to catch a peek of an auto accident.

  • Miscjessica

    Glad to know you're safe after all that commotion that's a scary experience indeed. I hope the rest of your time in Vietnam is better.

  • http://twitter.com/conniehum Connie Hum

    Oh no, what a night! I hope you're faring better these days. Thanks for the post too! I should be in Hanoi in a few weeks and this will come in handy! As such…sounds like I won't be able to catch up to you guys. =(

  • Arun

    That was a horrid experience. I am frequently reading about many such troubles in Vietnam for travel bloggers. Glad it ended without any major problems.

  • http://travel.paintedstork.com/blog Arun

    That was a horrid experience. I am frequently reading about many such troubles in Vietnam for travel bloggers. Glad it ended without any major problems.

  • fofs

    Arun – We too came across other travelers that have had difficulty in Vietnam, while others simply loved it. Our experience was varied and the jury is still out whether we give the country a thumbs up or down for travel. Thanks for the comment.

    - Greg & Ash

  • fofs

    Connie – Just three days ago in Hurghada, Egypt we met a single woman traveler who swore by Hanoi. That she can't wait to go back. Enjoy your time in Vietnam! Hopefully our paths shall cross someday.

    - Greg & Ash

  • fofs

    Jessica – The experience was indeed hectic, but then again when traveling for 14 months, it is not going to peaches and cream everyday. Hanoi was the only “fly in the ointment” while traveling in Vietnam, so yes, the rest of our time there was more enjoyable.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    - Greg & Ash

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