I’ve realised there is rather a large gap in my blog which is Hanoi.
Ive mentioned some of our experiences but I don’t think I’ve given any real in sight into the City itself, which is a mistake as it is a great place to visit.
Admittedly we only saw the Old Town and I’m aware there is a lot more to it than just that but I suspect the Old Town is the place most people will think of when they plan a visit.
When we first arrived It seemed like Hell on Wheels.
It is busy, noisy, chaotic, Slightly anarchic and we were at first a bit over whelmed.
We made the basic mistake of taking the Hotels Map (which doesn’t show all the roads, isn’t to scale and has such small writing you cant actually read it without a Magnifying Glass) and went out, in the dark, to explore.
There was an added complication. It was Sunday evening and there is a Night Market so all the streets are transformed and don’t comply with the stereotype portrayed on the map.
We obviously got immediately lost and spent several hours Criss crossing the streets looking for our Hotel, which we missed several times by’A Gnat’s Nudger.’
The next morning in the light of day we gradually found our feet and expanded our range of terrain until at the end we were fairly confident of where we were and how to get back.
The next thing to say is that the people are great, helpful and friendly without being in your face. They are basically a bit reserved so if anyone approaches you and starts a conversation you can bet your grannies Virginity they will try to sell you some thing.
Most street sellers are friendly and if you say No politely will let you get on your way, though there are some rules.
If you look them in the eye you are saying.”Im yours Baby” and they will try to sell you something.
Holding is owning.
If they put something in your hand (a bag of Doughnuts for example) it s then yours and you will be expected to pay for it, probably over the top too. If you want to buy something, ask the price first, haggle and be prepared to walk away. it is when you are almost out of ear shot that you get the actual price of goods.
Don’t fall for the “you have something wrong with your shoe” trick.
These guys have Equity cards.
The dramatic way they react when they realise you are wearing a broken flip flop is incredible. You would think they actually wrote the Health and Safety Policy for tourist footwear.Its a scam, the same as when the old lady carrying two trays balance on a bamboo pole over her shoulder offers to let you try carrying it. Then you owe her money.
When you are invited to ‘Take a picture’ they do expect to be paid one US dollar for the privilege. Our response has been to ask them to pay us one US dollar before we take their Photo, then they aren’t so keen.
The food is fantastic, great restaurants.
Don’t be frightened to eat at street stalls or the local restaurants (where everyone sits on tiny little plastic stools) the only risk is that you cant get back up.
Take a Rickshaw ride but be aware they follow the same old route and you will be in a huge gaggle of other tourists doing the same thing.
We stayed in the Blue Hanoi Inn Hotel which was well positioned, clean and welcoming. Staff were fantastic, extremely helpful though the Hotel lacked a few refinements and the restaurant left a bit to be desired, but the staff were great.
In summary. We loved every minute of our time in Hanoi despite some of the photo’s Jaki has posted in which i look thoroughly miserable.
Tam Coc Caves and Hoa Luin Temple. 25th October 2016.
I need to be careful with this Blog as i Know I will get it in the neck from Jaki but if Im gonna write, I need to be honest, even at the expense of my own safety.
We decided to have few day trips and looked on the web to see what options we had.
There are a load of sites that list the top ten things to do in Hanoi or the best five day trips etc (you can just Google these) but you will soon realise they are all the same trips.
So, we discarded anything that had the words ‘Temple’ or ‘Ruin’ prominently displayed. Anything that referred to Hiking, Climbing or Diving was left in the to do box.
At the end of this exercise we were only left with two options.
There is a ‘Must Do’ from here and that is a sight seeing trip in Halon Bay.
This is best done from a boat and they come in day boats or over night boats. One night or two.
On line we found what looked like a good trip, the one night, with Kayaking, Squid fishing, Cookery class etc for $96 but the receptionist in the Hotel (who has been great and speaks perfect English) convinced us it might not be a good idea to book on line. Firstly the images shown on the particular web site we were looking at showed a lovely boat, in full sail and right across the sail it said Swan cruises which is apparently one of the most expensive tours to book with as its 5*.
When the the receptionist looked at the images she pointed out that they were from a different line and not Swan ( I e-mailed the on line company and asked which line they use and they later advised it was A Class. Our Lady suggested they were a two star Tour and the trip she was offering with galaxy was better. ( Though now we are on the boat, the A Class is moored up along side us and looks almost identical).
So we’ve booked a one night trip around Halon Bay which is where I’m currently writing up my notes as there is none of the promised Wifi in our room.
The second trip was to Tam Coc (three caves) where we would take leisurely ride on a Sampan and visit the Temples at Hoa Luin which I was assured we’re very small and wouldn’t take long to visit.
Sadly I’d been awake since 0300 when the call of nature first visited.
Our diet for the last 3 weeks has been primarily vegetarian with a small amount of meat, usually Chicken. The staples of Rice or Fred noodles is usually liberally mixed with cabbage, Morning Glory, Bean Shoots, Carrot and a range of other fresh local produce.
So when I ordered Fried Beef with Green Peppers at the Hanoi Garden Restaurant i wasn’t expecting a beef fest and I think a large portion of minced Beef cooked slightly rare was just too much of a shock for the system.
It left me feeling like I’d swallowed a bag of ball bearings that were hanging in a partially inflated Balloon.
So, when the alarm went off at 0645 on Tuesday morning I was feeling pretty ropey.
The Tour guide met us at the Hotel and walked us through the streets to where the bus was stopped. Parking a coach in Hanoi is almost impossible. In fact anything in Hanoi is almost Impossible. The Scooters park on the pavement which means all the pedestrians have to walk in the road where life and limb are in the balance.
Once on the bus we picked up from a few more Hotel’s and then set out for the 3 hour drive to Hoa Luin.
Luckily I slept most of the way even though the seating was very cramped.
The guide explained the bus was made in South Korea and its made for Asian People not Europeans, who are far bigger.
WE stopped after a couple of hours at a restaurant where we could use the toilets but you would really need to be desperate to engage with these bad boys. Plus 10 other coach loads of people were all trying to d the same.
I ate a pot of Yoghurt the Hotel kindly picked for me (they had offered to prepare a picnic breakfast but we declined) and managed to feel a little better.
We parked in a car park where the local sellers could get easy access to us in the hope we’d buy hats or souvenirs before setting off on the 10 minute walk to the Temples which were indeed small, didn’t take long to visit and if I’m brutal, weren’t worth the bother.
Our Guide (you can call me Jonny) tried his best to make it more interesting by giving us the full history of the place starting with the Big Bang and ending that morning, including every date, every Kings birthday and their eventual death date, which is apparently important.
I was relieved to get back on the bus or the short journey to the restaurant for lunch, which proved to be an exercise in mass catering Vietnamese style. IT really wasn’t very appealing and I think they went for quantity rather than quality. Drinks were of course extra.
Luckily I still felt rough so I had the Pumpkin soup ( Once i managed to salvage the serving Ladle out of the large bowl) which was very sweet and tasty.
By now it had started to rain, really rain. So hard it was impossible to have a conversation inside the dining area due in the main, to the tin roof.
WE seemed to hang around here for an inordinate amount of time and no one seemed to know why. Then, suddenly we were rounded up and herded onto the bus for the short trip to the Sampan dock.
This was very strange. There were dozens of Sampans moored up and sat on benches under cover dozens of Sampan Drivers (what is the correct name for someone who paddles a Sampan)?
They all appeared to be laughing at us. Look at those stupid Foreigners ( that is how we tourists are referred to here in Vietnam) paying good money to sit in my Sampan in the pouring ran. Suckers.
We were loaded two by two into an allocated Sampan, huddling under cheap plastic Capes of the gaudiest colours, (some of us had the good fortune to have brought umbrellas) and we set off our 3 Kilometre journey through 3 caves.
It sounded exciting.
Once the initial novelty of riding in a Sampan, being propelled by a lady who rowed with her feet wore off I was able to take stock. We were being propelled along a stretch of weed filled water through rocks that reminded me of Burrington Coombe. It was, magnificent, It was beautiful, but it was very dull.
Still, we had the three caves to look forward to.
As we entered the first one and I immediately realised this wasn’t going to be anything Like Wookey Hole or Goth’s Cave’s at Cheddar. It was grey. Where you could actually see it was very grey, the rest was pitch black and it started to get a bit eerie, a bit scary.
This might be getting good?
Till we came round a bend and there was light at the end of the tunnel.
It was at best 50 metres deep. The other two were even shorter.
They were in reality a bit of a red herring.
The we reached a point where our lady suggested we turn around and I for one was very relieved to hear it.
We were then approached by a lady in a boat who tried to sell us fruit, and soft drinks which we declined. She also suggested we buy ‘One for Madame’ meaning the lady doing the paddling.
This is apparently a ruse. You buy a can for the peddler at a ridiculous price, she takes it and then sells it on again to some one else later. They should start selling time share.
I was starting to feel like a package, I had been transported around at inconvenient times, deprived access to a clean toilet’s, soaked through and set up as an easy target for tout’s.
Even whilst we were in our sampan locals were taking our picture which they try to sell to you later. If they were good quality and not over exposed I we may have considered it but the ones we were offered had our heads in a shadow so it could have been anyone.
It felt packaged, like we were being carted from on place to another like a commodity to be exploited where ever possible. I Know these guys are poor and they’re trying to make a living the best they can but It doesn’t feel right.
I just didn’t like it. It was feeling uncomfortable, as was my bum on the hard wooden seat.
My back ached and I couldn’t stretch my legs. This was definitely not my finest hour.
On the way back the’ Madame’ suggested we might like to give her some money for a “TIP”?
I was so happy to get back I agreed.
Back on dry land we congregated at a very unappealing Cafe before setting off on our bicycle ride ‘through the rural environment where we would see village people in their natural environment.’
We were given some rickety old push bikes, which weren’t even legal. The Front wheel bearing was gone completely on mine making it almost impossible to peddle and it made an awful screeching noise that frightened off wildlife for a 100 metre radius.
I had no from Brake and by now, very little patients.
We stopped once for a photo opportunity before descending on the local market where we could watch people cutting up raw meat or barter with the locals for Tat. I didn’t stay long.
I was glad to get back on the bus and sleep the whole way back to Hanoi.
Im sorry to say, this wasn’t the highlight of my holiday and some things are best forgotten..
Im fast becoming known as Duncan Doughnut around here.
Jaki blamed me entirely for the Taxi disaster yesterday, that was all my doing.
Then I got caught for the Flip Flop scam and today the bloke recognised me in the street and asked me for his money. He wanted 180,000 Dong to mend a flip flop that cost about 10 dong, but I paid him 100,ooo Dong just to get him off my back cause he looked like a ‘Stalker’.
Today though, I’ve tread new ground and managed to get myself into even more of a pickle than yesterday.
This, as near as I can recall, is our day.
Jaki was up early and wanted to go for breakfast so we made our way to the 8th floor where we found the Restaurant. It is in fact one of the bedrooms converted into a dining room. Its small, with glass windows on three sides which made it hot and a small kitchen the size of a broom cupboard just of it.
The menu was a bit strange it had eggs, bread, Jam, Omelette, scrambled egg or Mushrooms (Scrambled Mushrooms ?) As well as a range of vietnamese dishes which we just didn’t recognise.
The thing was, all these were listed as separate items and it was only when another couple came in we realised you could mix and match as many of these items as required.
There were tea bags and a flask of luke warm water so I asked if I could have some hot water? They gladly obliged serving it in a glass with no handle which meant I couldn’t pick it up as it was too hot.
The fruit juice was pretty awful too!
I decided to stay away from eggs today as Ive probably consumed 2 dozen in the last four days and it’s definitely having an effect. I look like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke after his 49th Boiled egg.
I chose the ham and cheese sandwich which when it came was bacon and Omelette, but it was almost what I ordered.
We spent some time deciding what we wanted to do and see as Im a convert to a new religion.
It’s called BAC. Bugger Anything Cultural. It’s a growing fad.
We decided to take a trip through the paddy fields on a Sampan with lunch, followed by a visit to some caves and a cycle ride through the country side. We booked this through the Hotel rather than on line as they undercut the on line price by $4 and convinced us that there are ‘levels’ of this trip (as it turns out this is true of most trips) and the cheaper one has a crap old bus, with no air-con and a $5 lunch. The more expensive one has a smaller group, better bus with comfortable seat’s (it’s a 3 hour drive away) and the allowance for the meal is $10.
We also want to have a night on a Junk boat in Halong Harbour and we found this on line at $96 each.
When we showed the web site to the lady she laughed.
“That is Swan Cruises, they are the most expensive line offering this trip. There is no way they could offer this for $96.” She told us confidently
When I checked some of the other images used by this web site I realised they had mixed and matched images from different boats and they never at any time tell you which boat you will be going on. Ive since e-mailed them and asked for guidance but it looks like they show you images of the 5* boat but put you on the 2* one. We’ll see what they say.
So, we booked an overnight cruise around the harbour, with a cookery course and a night Squid fishing for $90 each.
I also asked her to phone VietJet lost property to enquire about my Kindle and surprise surprise they knew nothing about it. I could, they suggested go up to the airport lost property and enquire ($30 round trip which will I know will be a waste of time) or, as they now had my e mail address they would e mail me if and when it turned up?
I settled for that.
At around 1400 hrs we booked a two person Rick Shaw ride around the Old Town.
When it arrived it was a one person Rick Shaw into which they stuffed two over weight Europeans and the poor old bloke who was forced to peddle us around became the brunt of all the other Rick Shaw riders jokes as he sweated and puffed us around the streets.
It was, Im sorry to say, bloody uncomfortable and both of us were bruised and sore when we got back. Had we known, we would have booked one each and enjoyed it much more.
Still, it was interesting to see the town from a bike but you really do take a leap of faith in the traffic, which is probably the least disciplined since we started traveling. There are pedestrian crossings, there are even pelican Crossings, but no one takes any notice of them what so ever. You simply walk out in front of the traffic and hope no one knocks you over. It is a total lottery.
After our ride we sat at a Cafe and drank Fruit Juice. I even tried Iced Hanoi Coffee which has condensed milk in the bottom and (apart from my intolerance to all things Caffeine) was bloody lovely.
Buoyed by the increase in stimulants I tried on a Vietnamese hat which was way too small and spotted a lady selling Doughnuts.
Now I’m six foot, about 14 Stone (well on a good day) and this lady was about four foot two in her bare feet.
Before I knew what was happening, I was subject to Bullying. She thrust a bag of doughnuts into my hand and demanded 150000 Dong.
Im still not totally on top of this ‘Dong thing ‘ which means nothing to me which is why I’m not allowed to carry any money.
At the exact same time, Jaki was negotiating with a Lady to buy a Fan and had some money in her hand.
My little doughnut lady tried to snatch the money from Jaki ‘s hand (some thing only the fool hardy would attempt). She (Jaki) looked a little startled and asked me what I was doing?
I grinned sheepishly and said. ‘I don’t Know.’
So Jaki took it up with the doughnut lady (who by now was reinforced by another even smaller doughnut lady) abandoning the poor fan seller to her own devices.
It got even more complicated. Jaki pointed out they had taken 200000 Dong rather than the 150000 Dong initially demanded. Their solution to this was to bung two more doughnuts in the bag and then leg it, leaving us with a £9.50 bag of doughnuts that we didn’t want.
Apparently this was also all my fault for looking at the lady in the first place.
Jaki was just not happy. She didn’t even like the doughnuts, which was lucky cause I scoffed the lot.
As a result I earned the name Duncan Doughnut.
We also went to a shop to get a SIM card for Jaki’s mobile phone but after a painful hour of watching three totally incompetent spotty youth’s trying to get the Sim card in the phone they declared it wouldn’t work.
Would it work with my i Phone we asked?
Of course it would, and they went through the whole process again before declaring this a failure also.
As a last resort we saw an Official Apple Workshop which also sold fried Noodles and rented rooms. for 100,000 Dong they fitted a 3G sim to the I pad which if a little slow, gives us mobile internet access for half the price of a bag of doughnuts.
On the walk home there was a guy cutting hair at the side of the road using a pair of wall papering scissors. I saw this a s a challenge and asked him if he could trim my Beard?
For 70,000 Dong (less than a third the price of a doughnut. Everything is now relevant to the cost of a doughnut) he would give me a hair cut too.
So the next thing you know ,I’m in the chair and he’s hacking lumps out of me barnet.
He spoke a little English but we didn’t have too much conversation about style.
It was a straight forward haircut I was getting. No Frills.
When I was younger my brother Tony and I went to MR Boswell’s barbers on Sea Mills Square and asked for a ‘Mod Cut” (which was all the rage at the time).
“Certainly young man, hop in the chair.” Said Mr Bowell happily.
We imagined emerging looking like Stevie Marriot from the Small faces. Instead of which we ended up with a short back and sides.
“Thats a short back and sides Mr Bowell”. We said in Harmony.
“Thats right Son, thats all we do here.” He replied.
One of my early disappointments and I’m sure, one that damaged me emotionally for years.
So after cutting my hair my new found Hanoi barber set about trimming my beard which entailed him leaning across me with my face firmly embedded in his armpit.
Now for a guy whose job is personal hygiene I have to tell you, he was left wanting. Luckily Jaki wasn’t there to watch (she’d got bored some time ago) so I didn’t quite convulse.
Once that ordeal was finished, he decided to give me a wet shave with a blunt cut throat razor which dragged each bristle out of my face and left me with two cuts on my cheek.
Once free, I staggered back to the room where I sought solace in the remaining doughnut and Jaki’s sympathetic ear.
We left Bangkok on a Vietjet flight to Hanoi as they charged the same price as most of the other airlines but allowed 20kgs of hold luggage without an additional charge. At least, that’s what we thought, though when we were at baggage check in we began to doubt.
Several people in front of us were sent to a different check in desk because their baggage was over weight. Yet one guy’s back pack was 17 Kilos. Our came in just under 20kgs each, and they accepted it without question. Strange!
The other thing we hadn’t been able to do was print out our boarding passes but this didn’t seem to matter they had our passport details and gave us our chosen seats without question. Lesson to be learnt there Easy Jet/Ryan Air?
No need for an additional £70 charge eh?
Our problems started when we landed.
We hadn’t been able to get any Dong in Thailand and only had $26 to our name so when we landed as well as all the usual stresses we had to get some money. There were desks advertising “Currency Exchange’ and we approached them to see if we could use a Debit card to get some local currency.
Unfortunately they will only change one currency for another and by the way, would you like us to organise a Taxi for you. Current rate $25 in to Old Hanoi?
It seem’s the scam’s start as soon as you enter Vietnam, so you have to be ‘On your toes from the off’.
The only way of getting any currency if you have plastic is to use an ATM and there were three different ones at the far end of the lobby, so we trudged up there with all our baggage and for no logical or sensible reason chose to use the middle one.
Now it got interesting:
22321 dong = $1.
So. $100 = 2232142.86 Dong.
Or to put it another way:
1000 dong = 1.57 Thai Baht.
Given that £10 = 429.41 Thai Baht
Am I making this clear?
The ATM asked us how many Million Dong we wanted to withdraw and as we didn’t have a Scooby how much a Dong was worth it was anyones guess how much we needed.
So we only took 1.5 Million dong to start with. (£54.90 to be exact).
Whilst we were getting our heads around this a guy asked if we needed a Taxi and offered to take us into Town for $20. My immediate reaction was to offer $15 which he accepted.
This was a mistake. Once they have you in Dialogue they have you hooked.
We really weren’t ready to leave the airport at this stage, we didn’t even know which Hotel we were staying in and couldn’t retrieve the booking info I had saved on the laptop as it kept crashing.
So we needed Wifi so I could log in to my trip advisor account and sort things out.
Whilst we were trying to do this the Taxi guy kept ‘trying to help’ by offering me his mobile phone and suggesting wifi addresses and password I could use to speed up the process, none of which worked but it did increased the anxiety of the moment and made everything even more confusing.
I suggested he should go away but he smiled and carried on interfering.
Eventually we found the address of the Hotel, he said. “I know that place” and told us to go out by the Tuk-Tuk and he would meet us there.
Frazzled and not thinking clearly we found ourselves in the back of an electric Tuk-Tuk that had a top speed of 5 miles an hour. It dawned on us that this vehicle wasn’t able to take us all the way into Hanoi.
We didn’t know just how far it was but we were certain this baby wasn’t going to cut it.
Our Chariot started doing a circuit of the airport and once out on the main road a car pulled along side, with his window down and spoke to our driver. He then stopped and the car and handed our driver some money. He then told us to get into the car.
This was clearly not a Registered Taxi and it didn’t seem like a good idea so we refused and asked the driver to take us back to the Airport. He smiled sweetly but we didn’t move.
The car driver was becoming irate and was having a heated conversation with someone on his mobile phone ( I assume it was the guy who had hooked us at the airport).
He kept thrusting it at me telling me I should talk to the person on the other end. By now Mr Tuk-Tuk was also on his phone. It was becoming a bit of a circus.
So, we humped our cases off the Tuk-Tuk and set of to look for another legitimate Taxi.
At this point a third person came up and tried to get us to go in yet another car, which we refused.He too became animated and he clearly wasn’t a happy bunny.
A Meter Taxi had pulled up at the Junction and we asked him to take us into town, however before he could say yes or no the other two guys approached him, said something and he quickly drove off refusing to take us with him.
So Jaki and I marched up the dual carriage way in the searing heat carrying our pack packs and dragging our suitcases, where we were heading God only knows.
At this point another (legit) Taxi pulled up, said. ” Quick get in” threw our bags in the boot and whisked us off.
It looked like we were rescued till he pulled over to the side of the road under a viaduct. This looked dodgy and we braced for another confrontation.
Luckily he ran behind a bush and had a Pee, got back in, apologised and delivered us at our Hotel safe and sound.
There is no one at the airport to look after or advise tourists, we are all fair game and clearly the system is there to be exploited. So be warned.
I suggest you do your home work.
Preferably get a pick up organised before you arrive (our Hotel offered airport shuttle but failed to answer my email when i asked them to organise it for us).
If thats not possible, make sure you research on line the cost of a Taxi and how to get one that wont rip you off.
My day was made even worse when I realised I’d left my Kindle in the seat pocket of the Plane when we disembarked.
Ive been in touch with VietJet and reported it and Ive de activated the Kindle and changed y passwords but I have lost all the reading material I had stored on there and I feel really upset at being so dumb.
The final insult came as we left the Hotel to explore. I hadn’t walked ten paces when a hand grabbed my Flip Flop in mid stride. This dextrous digit whisked the flipflop off my foot before it had time to hit the ground and as I continued hopping to a halt he started busily repairing the right shoe. Stitching bits and glueing others.
Jaki took one look and legged it. I found her hiding round the corner where she could laugh at my discomfort in peace. It seem’s I had fallen foul of yet another Hanoi scam.