After we climbed aboard the plane and located our seats, I don’t know what happened. Perhaps somebody sprayed me or injected me with a knock out substance, but I found it impossible to keep my eyes open. It was the first ever flight I had been on where I was unconscious for the take off, the majority of the flight and the landing. I only woke up when I heard the unfastening of the passengers seat belts. When we were told to exit the aircraft it made me laugh, like it always does, to see every single passenger squeeze together down the aisle in an attempt to get through immigration first. It doesn’t matter how quick you move you won’t get your bags any quicker, IDIOTS! The process took as long as usual, around half an hour to forty minutes to go through the usual routines and collect more stamps in our passports. While we were waiting for our bags, on the fun generation style game, I read a sign that forewarned us of pretend taxi drivers outside. With our guards up we made our way outside to see if we could spot the real ones from the fake ones. All the while we had a keen driver following us, he was trying to persuade us to go with him. “Much cheaper,” he said.
When we first stepped foot outdoors, if we ever felt like celebrities before we now felt like royalty. There were loads of drivers, more than usual, all shouting at us, each promising to be cheaper than the other. Luckily Sarah had visited a tourist information inside and they told us to get a minibus, as they were the cheapest. A woman saved us from the zombie hordes and told us to jump into her friends bus. It would cost us $2. When we got in and asked the driver to take us to the front door of our hotel he charged us $4. We didn’t mind, I guess we were paying for the peace of mind. During our long bus ride to the centre of Hanoi, the first thing that became evidently clear was the extremely annoying overuse of drivers horns. I don’t think there was even a 9 second gap between each blast. Combine that with the amount of potholes our driver was swerving and you have a very comfy bus ride… NOT!
Half way through our journey a random man climbed aboard. We had read about this at some point, they are something of an annoyance. What they do is go about the bus asking people if they have accommodation, the ones that don’t he tells them he knows a place. You have to be real careful not to trust the wrong person, as sometimes this could see you giving money to a con artist who pretends he can get you a good deal, when in reality he runs off with your money. One by one, people dispersed from the bus, followed by the remaining group with the mystery man who jumped aboard. This left just Sarah and I. The driver (as I predicted) wouldn’t bother taking us any farther. We got angry with him when we said we paid him to take us to our hotel, to which he continued to point around the corner as if to say we had arrived. In the end he gave us back $1 and we went in search of our hotel.
Not knowing where we were, how much things cost, having no Vietnamese Dong (only US dollars) or any knowledge whatsoever of what to expect in Vietnam, we waved down a taxi. Now, apparently there is only one reliable taxi firm and they go by the name Mailinh. Not knowing this we hopped in the first taxi which stopped. This was a tiny car, probably the size of a Nissan Micra and it had to seat three people plus our giant bags. Mine was placed in the boot, while Sarah’s went on the front passenger seat, and this is where the crafty sod worked his magic. Without us realising, the driver put Sarah’s bag there to block the metre and I am pretty sure he pushed some buttons to make the metre increase at a faster rate. During our ride he asked us how long we had been there, Sarah quickly responded by saying a couple days (she read that this was a tactic used by travellers to avoid being ripped off by locals). Not knowing this I stupidly corrected her, thinking she was sleep deprived and lost the ability to keep track of time.
He drove us out of the way (like I presumed he would) to increase the fare, five minutes later the clock read 210,000 dong (roughly £6.20 something). Seeing as we didn’t have any dong to pay with, and we were extremely tired, we argued the point that it shouldn’t come to that price but the stupid @@@@@@ was having none of it. He was adamant it should have come to $20, which was a complete lie, but was happy to walk with us to a cash machine. Just wanting to get to bed and sleep I withdrew twenty dollars from my bag and paid the lying @@@@@. The worst thing was, he probably did that to all fresh faced tourists and it left me thinking of a line from the movie Platoon (which I have adapted)
“I love the smell of B******* in the morning!”
The only bit of solace we could take from the experience of our first hour in Hanoi, was that the driver dropped us off at the doors to our hotel. He told us we just had to walk down the road and it would be on our right. That still didn’t help us, as we ended up blindly walking by it. As we walked along the road we were constantly honked at by every passing scooter. On the same road there were lots of things for the eyes to take in, there were locals chopping meat, fish in buckets of water ready to be cooked, the uncountable amount of scooters, people going about their everyday business, it was mental. We were eventually saved by a boy from our hotel, wether or not he saw us pass the building I don’t know, but he told us which direction to head in and second time round we found it.
The girl inside gave us a room key, without any question (presumably because the boy phoned ahead to let her know we were coming). We made our way to the very top floor, up the spiralling wooden staircase we went until we arrived at the door to our room. When we got in Sarah had a shower, whereas I chose the option of sleep. I was out for at least four hours, during that time Sarah read up on Hanoi, and also found out our friend James Breen was in town. She had been messaging him during my slumber and had agreed a time for us to meet him at his hotel.
I had a quick shower, then we got ready to go out and find our buddy. We enquired at reception where James’s hotel was, to which the boy gave us a map and highlighted other favourable spots. We thanked him and headed on our way. The streets at night were much more easy to navigate, on accounts of there being less traffic. I was chief navigator on our hunt for the legendary Breeno, and after walking passed it by mistake, a local pointed us in the right direction. 20 seconds later we bumped into the man in question, he was in his lobby trying to sort out his laundry. The three of us then went outside in order to find somewhere to eat. Before going anywhere Sarah and I needed some Vietnamese cash, there was an ATM right outside the expensive looking building (talk about flash packing James) and from it I withdrew 4,000,000 dong. Yes ladies and gentleman, for the first time in my life I was a multimillionaire. We then walked towards the drinking/ social area which was highlighted in pink on my map. With me still leading as chief navigator (a job which I took very seriously, and one which I would hold onto for the whole of our stay in Hanoi). It took only five minutes walking before we arrived.
For the first time since being abroad I couldn’t believe the price of the alcohol, I thought it was cheap in Thailand but when James and I ordered a beer we were surprised when the price tag was only 60p a bottle. Food wasn’t that much more expensive with the price of a meal totalling no more than £2. Sarah wasn’t planning on staying out too late that night, we were about to return to our hotel and show James Breen what we were getting for half of what he was paying. However, en route to casa de cheap stay, we were beckoned into a bar which had live music. We popped in for one drink when James invited me to join him for a beer, seeing as Sarah wanted to turn in early, obviously I agreed. We listened to a couple different singers while we were there, the girl had a better voice than the guy I thought, and made me laugh when she couldn’t pronounce the word murderer during her Rihanna cover. We walked Sarah back to the hotel and at the same time showed James what our room was like, I gave Sarah a quick kiss goodbye and then THE BOYS WERE BACK IN TOWN!!!
We returned to the main strip of bars (of which there were 5) and found a quieter one so we could talk. We were the only two customers in there, which was nice, as it gave us the opportunity to catch up properly. We exchanged stories of what each of us had been up to since we last met, while occasionally having a chat with the girl who worked there. She told us useful words to use in Vietnam, as well as how to pronounce them to avoid confusion. It wasn’t long before the great party animal that was James Breen became washed over with tiredness. He suggested we call it a night and because he didn’t know the streets that well I guided him back. I only walked halfway on accounts that A. I am lazy and B. The streets weren’t that difficult to navigate from there. As I returned to my beloved, who by now was probably snuggled up fast asleep on bed, I had the misfortune of passing men peeing in the streets. They don’t do a very good job of concealing themselves when they do it either, finding a local wall seems to be as far as it goes, much like the local dogs.
When I grew closer to the hotel I was passed by a couple of trucks loaded with policemen. There job was to go around at night ensuring all the bars were closed after a certain time (I think it was 11pm) as the city had a curfew much like a naughty child and Laos. As I reached the final corner, I passed one more man who was using a local dumpster as a toilet, but at least be had the decency to walk into the shadows, out of sight. This would become a common sight of Vietnam, regular bathroom breaks by the locals, which left me thinking, “what have we got ourselves into?” I then proceeded up the stairs and found Sarah wide awake, downloading the newest information of Hanoi into her brain box via our tablet device. When I was ready I then climbed into bed, and that concluded our first eye opening day in Vietnam.