Lao Cai says WELCOME !
Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
147Trip End Jan 05, 2012
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Wiser these days I have ensured to have the Hotels name and address written on paper at the ready. (However note to self – Have the name and address of the hotel translated into CHINESE as well as English because English means absolutely nothing to a Chinese Cab driver.) !
We are ‘ushered’ no …. ‘herded’ over to a young guys cab all the while protesting that we will NOT be needing his services. Actually the young guy looks clean, tidy and pretty ok compared to the ‘vultures’ circling us. Suddenly the boot of the cab is opened, our bags are pulled from our hands and loaded into it roughly .The only saving grace is that the guy with the English skills (shady looking character!!) isn’t intending to ride in the car with us. He is acting somewhat like an interpreter for the nice CAB driver.
Yelling at us the rate for the cab trip (remember he has seen the Hotel name and address) he demands 300 VDong. Roughly that is $15AUD so if a ride in the cab were 30 minutes in duration (as all cab rides seem to be ----( is that why the council/government build bus and train stations 30 mins away from the main hotel strips in order to raise revenue??) Anyhow that amount should be near enough to it give or take 10 to 20 VDong for the toursist rip off rate !
What he says next changes the whole game.
"You pay first" (Cheeky bugger!) No way I am paying 300 VDong up front for a cab ! I smell a rat !
I look him in the eye, now stuck in the back seat of the cab with Pam , bags in the boot surrounded by still warring Cab drivers (mafia members – who knows). I AM NOT PAYING before we leave I yell back at the English speaking dude indignantly. “You pay NOW”! he demands and then it unfolds like
You Pay 300 now !!
You haven’t answered my question, why must I pay up front? I never have before
Driver, driver No English you pay now !
No I WONT !
No English driver save time, no confusion at hotel
Does driver know where hotel is ??
Yes Yes no worry
Well then when he reaches hotel I will pay … Easy !
His face turns to thunder and suddenly much Chinese is being bantered back and forth between all of the men in the immediate area and at just a guess – they are all ANGRY ! really ANGRY.
Hmmm a quick overview of the situation sees us sitting in a cab surrounded by angry males – bags in the boot and the angry English speaking dude waving his hands around madly! The other guys around the car are responding to him loudly.
OK! OK! I know when the odds are stacked against me. Not only do I want to get to the hotel in one piece and preferably before day break but I want my Luggage too … I fear that If we leave the car the mild mannered driver will be ordered by the angry English speaking dude to high tail it out of there with our bags insitu. !
I sheepishly and VERY RELUCTANTLY hand over 300 VDong and the quiet guy is instructed to leave . We drive away and suddenly the landscape changes considerably. Gone are the one or two storied establishments and we now seem to be on the much poorer outskirts of the town – hang on a minute – we seem to be doing a around town circling drive as if the driver has been instructed to drive around for 20 minutes so we feel we are getting our moneys worth!.
The hotels first seen have given way to grotty market places, dirt and dusty shanty type homes with streets deserted and suddenly I don’t feel at all safe. What did that English speaking dude tell quiet driver?? “Take em to the back blocks and dispose of them”?? I remember the hotel picture on the website we used to book the accommodation as if it were scanned into my brain and I don’t see ANYTHING like that building here. Just as the next negative and preposterous thought entered by head we pull up in front of THE hotel. I have never felt so relieved in my life.! I was actually HAPPY that 300 VDong was ALL it cost for the not even 5 minute trip.
Bags removed I almost kissed the hotel owner as he approached to welcome us .
SHEESH ! No English AGAIN !!... Luckily the owners young twentyish year old daughter is visiting and on hand to complete our check in . After the Registration was completed we went up to our room to do the now familiar checks… Hot water = Check, Decent water pressure = check, TV = check , one English speaking station = no, lights = check and bonus we had a lift in order to go up and down to our fourth floor room.
Hmmm I don’t really like this place and Pam agrees with me, there is just something that doesn’t sit right and I just cant put my finger on it right now. We put our bags in our room then go down and ask the owner’s daughter where is the best place is in town to eat (the town looked pretty deserted when we arrived). Charades are used again to indicate food/eating and the quizzical look on my face indicates where -whilst I look around from place to place in the street. She points that we should turn to the left of the hotel (which is situated on a corner) and walk along the street to find the many restaurants there. We do so and after 200m are seriously looking like we may have to go without dinner this evening. There are a few shonky looking shop fronts but without knowing the state of the kitchen I ain’t trying !.
As if by a miracle I see across the deserted street the work PIZZA painted on a shop window in great huge green letters. EUREKA ! FOOD !! We wander over and see two local guys sitting at an outside table (crazy really cos its freezing and almost dark) They have at their table the MOST amazing plants and I cant help but ask what type of plant they are. The boy replies in perfect English “they are wild banana flowers” and I have bought them as a decoration for Chinese New Year , I had to go over the Border just to buy them. Interestingly I then recognize them from my own back yard although we throw away the flower part when we have the fruit that we want on the tree.
We move into the shop and meet lovely English, Dutch and German couples, all retirees who are having a holiday in Asia and have met on their tour today. The are funny as anything but are all leaving on tonight’s train (the one we have just alighted from). We sit and introduce ourselves and chat easily, we laugh and compare travel stories as we eat and before we know it its time to leave , we have to be at the border of China early tomorrow to catch our bus and the others have a train to catch at 8pm. Its always a shame to have to leave when you ‘connect’ with people and really would love to stay and chat. I wonder how many of these people (in ordinary circumstances) we would meet in our life times ?? Probably none and the commonality is that we all have travelled .. out of our comfort zones and not only visited places that we might not have dreamed of years ago but also met the most interesting people who we really would NEVER have met back in our safe worlds.
We bid our farewells and get back to the hotel only to realise that our bus tickets for tomorrow’s journey to Kunming have NOT arrived at our hotel as promised by our Travel tour agent in Hanoi yesterday. Ohhhh NOOOO no tickets means no trip. I somehow make it understood that I need to call the travel agent in Hanoi and the owner of the hotel calls on his mobile for us. I speak to the very helpful and accommodating travel agent (Tuan) and explain our dilemma. He apologises and says he will contact the agent here and get back to me within 5 minutes which he does. He explains that the courier who has our tickets has been held up and will be there by 8.30pm.
We sit on the internet booking accommodation in Kunming as we wait for the ‘golden’ tickets to arrive. Do you realise HOW difficult it was to GET to Kunming in the first place let alone during the Chinese New Year festivities. If these tickets don’t arrive we will have little or no way (other than walking) to get there and will be stuck in this ‘god forsaken’ town for god knows how long !! Our future depend on these tickets they better come tonight ! 8.30pm becomes 9.00pm and then I feel another ‘tourist rip off’ coming on. ! Surely this cant be a case of I have your money now I run??? I ring Tuan AGAIN and relay my sentiments in a rather cranky tone. He assures me the tickets will be in our hands tonight and by 9.15pm. We have now been awake since 4am and fading fast . I send Pam up to the room to have first shower because there is no point in us BOTH waiting for the guy and I wait (half asleep) until BINGO 9.30pm a young guy arrives with the TICKETS in hand. Two Bus seats to Kunming and BONUS he tells us we don’t have to be at the border until 8.15am as the bus doesn’t leave until 8.45am (originally Tuan told us to get to the border by 7am for an 8am departure. For the second time today I feel very relieved and even more relieved that we can sleep in a little longer in the morning, after all it has been a very long day !
Off to the shower and then into bed and regardless of the ordinary pillows and very hard mattress I slept like a baby. We awoke early and even though our early morning wake up call did not eventuate everything was cool we were dressed and packed in plenty of time. We even beat the owner up and his wife had to wake him to ring the cab and give the cabbie instructions for us in Vietnamese. We arrived at the border between Vietnam and China at 7.15am (really early) and the events of the day unfolded quite differently than we expected.