I should have written about Hanoi last night, when I loved it. Because today… well, unless I find myself a good bottle of red wine tonight… I hate it.
I’m going to work backwards, because the culmination of this headache is most fresh in my mind. My iPhone was stolen from my pocket, while I was taking photos of a turtle. Not just any turtle, a lucky turtle – the superstitious Vietnamese believe that this turtle may be over six centuries old, and that it once saved Vietnam from Chinese attack. Also, it is only one of four giant freshwater turtles left in the world. All of this leads the people of Hanoi to believe the Hoam Kiem turtle is lucky.
But, it’s not. Well, at least it wasn’t for me today. After lunch, along with half the population of Hanoi, we crowded around the lake to catch a glimpse of the turtle coming up to breathe. And we saw it! A number of times, and we were told that this should bring us luck. Well, it brought someone luck, because they’ve got a new unlocked iPhone now with gorgeous photos of a border collie on there. I’ve changed any passwords that might lead the thief into my accounts, and other than the prized photos, the phone is of little use. My music, contacts and information is all backed up, but of no use to anyone except me (I hope). It’s really not a big deal, and it could have been much worse… but enough to make me upset.
Before all this, we’d had an average lunch at an average, overpriced restaurant after an average day. Rising a little later than expected – following a late night, and a gloomy morning offering no sunshine into our room – we sped across town to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. It was closed – at 11.25am. Seriously, it’s open for only 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. Bad museum! So we jumped onto a bike-tuk-tuk and were wheeled off to the Temple of Literature. Beautiful grounds; a little busy, but full of stories about the history of Hanoi.
I might mention here that our driver – let’s call him Rip Off (hint hint) – said that the price was 70,000 VND, but that we needn’t pay until we were finished, in case we wanted to go to another spot. And he stayed there, waiting for us patiently at each spot we visited.
After the Temple of Literature, we went to Hanoi Prison. According to their records, the prison was ‘sarcastically referred to as the Hanoi Hilton by American soldiers’ that were detained there during the Vietnam War. We overheard a tour guide telling her group that the American POW’s were very well treated here, and that any stories to suggest otherwise were incorrect. I think she was talking to you, John McCain. The prison wasn’t nice by any means, but it was better than the prisons I’ve seen in Germany and Hungary, left over from World War 2. Most of the prison grounds have been knocked down and replaced by Hanoi Towers, a high rise shopping complex, but we again overheard that the grounds used to be big enough to hold about 2000 prisoners (even though it was built for only 450).
One last stop on our bike-tuk-tuk to a small lake with a crashed B-52 in it. Yep, just lying there – old, grey, dirty from muddy water. I couldn’t even tell it was a plane, to be honest. Just some left over steel and a stray tyre or two. But this ‘monument’ instills a sense of achievement for the people of Hanoi, when the American B-52 was shot down from the skies in 1972, at the turning point for the Vietnam war.
It was then 2pm and I had a bit of a headache, a sore neck, and was hungry. End the tour, please Rip Off! So he rode us to a street that was ‘very close’ to our hotel and asked for $50. Yep, 50 US Dollars for a trip that was originally quoted at approximately $3. And even if we multiplied that initial quote a few times to include the two extra stops, we were still expecting to pay only about $10, maybe $15, or 300,000 VND. But he was asking for over 1,000,000 VND! WHAT THE! He’s sore, and rode a long way, and apparently he thinks ‘fifty dollars is cheap, for you!’ We negotiated and got him down to 600,000 – which is about $30 for the trip. Now, we’re not tight with our money, but that’s a rip off. Sure, $30 MIGHT get me home from a night out with the girls back in Brisbane. But we’re in one of Hanoi’s top 10 hotels for these three nights, and we’re only paying $35 a night to stay here. So – it’s a RIP OFF. And HERE I might mention that he pointed us in the wrong direction to find the lake, and we spent another 30minutes walking to get back to our hotel.
GRR! Why, Hanoi – why must you be so exciting and interesting by night, but so frustrating by day!
Now that I’ve vented my frustrations, I can describe Hanoi a little more concisely. Hanoi is a city that despises hesitation. You should always know what you want, how much you wish to pay, and how to get there, or else you will be late, ripped off or run over. So, in order to survive, be direct, have a map and name your price. Oh, and don’t bother going out during the day – wait until night when it’s pretty!
To ensure my frustrations with Hanoi and the phone loss don’t last, we’ve made some fun plans for the next few days. Tomorrow, for my birthday, we’re booked in for a 4 hour spa and massage treatment in the morning, and a lovely dinner at night. The next two nights will be spent on Halong Bay, posing as honeymooners for extra discounts and/or special treatment. Ahh… I feel better already!