Good Morning Viet...Oh, Ripped Off Already!

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, May 26, 2006

Rolling into Hekou on the China Vietnam border I had a couple of hours to waste before the border would open, actually had to double check the time due to the 1 hour time difference between the two sides - China really needs more than one time zone.

As the border opened a wave of conical hat wearing Vietnamese came flooding across which took me by surprise given how few wore them in China.

Passing through customs and immigration on both sides was pretty painless although my passport was handed to about 5 different people before I was allowed in while I'm guessing many of the locals that cross everyday for trade and what not simply got a quick stamp and waved through.

Knowing the train to Hanoi was leaving relatively soon and not wanting to be stranded in Lao Cai on the Vietnamese side I went against my better judgment and quickly booked my train ticket from a little travel agency inside the customs building who guaranteed me the price was the same at the station - not even out the door yet and already ripped off it would later transpire.

The travel agency people offered to take me via motorbike to the nearest ATM since the only money I had on me was the little Yuan I had left over that I'd exchanged before crossing over. That little money would actually be the only money I had though as the only 2 ATM's in town both rejected my two separate banks cards as I thought back to the trouble I had over the last few days in China trying to get some dough.

Luckily I had just enough money to get the train ticket to Hanoi and after being handed over to a different motorcycle taxi driver due to cops on the road up ahead which the travel agent motorbike driver did not want to pass (never a good way to instill confidence in your customers) I soon arrived at the station to find the ticket I had purchased was half the amount I had paid. Only a few dollars more but it was still not the best welcome to Vietnam to be ripped off within 2 minutes of entering the country.

The train to Hanoi appeared to only have one class, hard seat, which is the most apt description for it with nothing more than a wooden bench with a almost vertical back rest forcing you to sit up right for the 9 hour journey to the capital. It did though have a bunch of ceiling fans trying their overworked best to cool down the carriage as I tried to adjust to the new heat and humidity after descending from Kunming's lofty 2000m altitude.

Sitting opposite on the train was Sue from England who had chose to abandon a trip to Sapa due to the weather rendering visibility to very little and her mud splattered shoes testament to the less than dry weather as I sat there glad that I had checked ahead for the conditions and decided to skip it for now.

The journey was like a trip through all those movies you've seen with conical hat wearing locals cycling alongside a river beside a paddy field with a jungle green mountain backdrop. Still trying to better position myself beneath one of the ceiling fans a group of guards or security guys came into the carriage and pulled a package we hadn't noticed out from under Sue's seat and looked at us suspiciously while examining the brown paper wrapped rectangle. A few words among themselves and a few more glances at us saw them return the package under the seat with a kick and promptly left before a loud explosion in one of the fields we passed was enough to get everyone's attention on board. Ain't in Kansas anymore.

As the train arrived in Hanoi we got to free ourselves from the seats and the feeling slowly began to return to my butt although we walked with a lurch for 10 minutes that would have made the Hunchback of Notre Dam stare.

Arriving in the busy capital of a new country late at night with rain pouring down, no money, no where to stay and overloaded with the sights and sounds of the hectic streets of Hanoi with motorbikes and cyclos everywhere making it an almost leap of faith just to cross the street is never the best position to be in.

My first task though was to track down an ATM hoping that it would accept my card as I wondered how much those cyclo drivers earned if my card was still rejected. Thankfully there was one near the train station and I was soon a millionaire on taking out a wad of cash to the equivalent of about 30 GBP.

I was so glad at this point to have met Sue as she was staying at a guest house near were I planned to go so I had someone to guide me through the warren of little streets around Hanoi's old quarter. On arriving there though I ended up staying at the same place as Sue as the staff seemed friendly and the offer of a private room with en suite bathroom, cable TV, A/C and balcony for $6 was hard to pass up.

After we checked in, Sue and I headed out to track down some Pho, no not a Teletubbbie, but Vietnamese noodles which are pretty much an institution in Hanoi with you barely having to walk 10 meters without tripping over the little plastic stools lining the roadside surrounding a Pho stall. Squatting down on the little stools I was still more comfortable than on the train as we tucked into to a steaming bowl of beef noodles for little over 30p. Welcome to Vietnam.
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