Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 19: Hanoi Day 1

We got to Hanoi about 12:30 and as we headed to lunch Marv and I had to drop off yet another load of laundry. Lucky for us our tour guide knows where it's cheapest (hint: not usually the hotel) so we paid 74,000 dong for 2.5 kilos of laundry. I'd estimate we've spent $15 on laundry so far, and we have been very merciful on our bank muscles. We packed way, way lighter than everybody else so every time we're in a town for more than one night we need to do a load. Let me tell you, nothing is more humbling than hand washing a pair of your own underwear in a sink.

Our group split up for lunch and we followed our tour leader to a very local soup place. The soup, it sounds like it's pronounced "fur ball", was really good since this had the added flavorings of pork wantons, chicken and pieces of liver (which I ate, because I'm a culinary rock star). A huge bowl of filling soup cost just over $1. Again, hot soup on a hot day is insanity to me, but the stuff is tasty.

We met back up with everyone to do the one main touristy thing everybody must do in Hanoi: a water puppet show. We decided to be frugal tourists for once and didn't spring the extra dollar for VIP seats. This wasn't a great idea when we realized the comical amount of legroom provided to the non-VIP audience. Seeing a 6' man crammed into a chair designed for a 4' person is truly a sight to see. The show was nifty but I can't say I understood what story they were trying to tell.

That evening we cabbed it to our restaurant for dinner, and being 16 people we couldn't all fit into one. The taxis were instructed to drop us off at a specific corner, and 2 of the 3 followed each other and let us off (unbeknownst to us) a block away from where we should be. So we spent the next hour running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to figure out where the hell we were and where the hell the rest of our party was. Finally we were reunited, but this is not our last run in with a taxi that evening.

We had the option of getting up early the next day to view the body of Ho Chi Minh, which is only on display from 8 - 11 a.m. Nobody was particularly interested, so our tour guide was able to come out and par-tay with us for once. We found a club that catered mostly to wealthy Vietnamese and partied well past the official closing time of midnight. Once we left the club we were shushed and shooed away from the door, so I'm sure the club owners have a delicate relationship with the government that wants to shut them for the night at ridiculously early hour.

We hopped in a few cabs back to the hotel, and made the stupid (drunken) mistake of not agreeing on a price beforehand or requesting the driver use the meter. For comparison, our cab ride earlier that night cost 32,000 dong. Once we got back to the hotel the driver wanted over 150,000 dong for the short ride. Two out of the three cabs were trying to swindle us.

Thank God for Amy, our Thai tour leader. No way was she going to let us get blatantly ripped off like that so she made a HUGE stink. She got the front desk staff involved and, at 1:30 a.m. on a quiet street, was screaming at the drivers that people like them make Vietnam look bad and threatened to call the police. In the end we paid each driver 40,000 dong (a perfectly fair price) and told them if they wanted to complain about that - the thieving bastards of course did not - they could wait for the police to come.

A Vietnamese-born friend of mine told me "Don't let people rip you off just because you're white." I'd like to think we white people stood up for ourselves quite well!

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