How Hanoi-ing?!

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Calypso Palace Hotel Hanoi
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Friday, May 24, 2013

They say first impressions count. Our first impression of Hanoi was that we were greeted by a magician in a taxi. Not only with the power of his mind did he make our meter spin at quadruple the speed it should, he then managed to turn a 200,000 dong note into a 10,000 dong note before my very eyes.  We left the taxi, raging at him, raging at each other and generally feeling like the world was against us. I would like to say that our stay in Hanoi improved after this welcome. Sadly it didn't and it turned out that if there was a scam to be experienced we experienced it.  We are pretty savvy travellers, we research what to do, what not to do and how or how not to do it and so far after 10 months on the road, if we have been scammed they have not done a very good job of it as I have never noticed it.  We were slightly relieved to get to our hotel to discover that our friends Tony, Roo and Vicki who arrived at the same time as us had had just as much (actually a lot more) trouble with their taxi, which was driven by a member of the Hanoi Mafia and tried to drive off with their luggage, leaving Tony in the boot banging on the window, and Roo and Vicki hanging out of the passenger door putting on the handbrake to disable the taxi and recover their bags, thankfully for them the Army were around and helped them get their bags and put them in a standard Hanoi taxi, just like ours unsurprisingly it had a magic meter!

In Hanoi there is a scam waiting on every corner and it would seem that we were in the wrong place at the wrong corner every day of our stay.

Don’t get me wrong the local people that we spoke to and interacted with in Hanoi were the nicest most honest and friendly people you would hope to meet.  The hotel staff we encountered were amazing and we really did receive a 5 star service from our little 2 and 3 star hotels, we just seemed to get unlucky with everyone else!

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and the second biggest city with a population of 6.5 million people.  It is also estimated that Hanoi has around 5 million mopeds and scooters. This makes crossing the road in Hanoi one of the most ridiculous experiences in Vietnam.  There are zebra crossings on the street which mean absolutely nothing.  Every tour guide and hotel receptionist explains to you that you just have to cross the road, without stopping or stepping backwards and the mopeds will go around you.  I took to just shutting my eyes and hoping for the best. Amazingly of everything that did go wrong in Hanoi I managed to cross every road I required without receiving a tyre to the leg or a hot exhaust to the shin.

Our trouble in Hanoi started with the obligatory tour to Halong Bay.  This is the part of Vietnam that we were looking forward to the most, the amazing limestone karstes poking out of the sea providing the most beautiful scenery that appear in every travel show and guidebook for Vietnam.   It is notorious that there are scam artists everywhere waiting to rip you off and send you on some rubbish boat in the overcrowded Halong Bay.  So we with some friends did our research and narrowed down the best companies and decided to go on The Real Kangaroo Café boat.  They claim to have a 1st class boat and are not like the tour agencies that just sell you an overpriced ticket for any old boat in the bay.  Guess what, The Real Kangaroo Café did just that, they charged us a small fortune for a random boat that had absolutely no affiliation with The Real Kangaroo Café and just to top it off to save money they stuck two different tours on the boat together with different itineraries which were inevitably going to fail and hoped that we would not notice and just keep quiet.  I can’t face going into the details again as we have trip advisor-ed this tour to death.  Sadly we didn’t have the lovely relaxing tour we hoped.  We spent our day on broken sunbeds with no cushions, then were dragged at speed through a rubbish cave, thankfully we chose not to take part the kayaking debacle which left the other members of the tour floating around the bay avoiding the boat highway and being screamed at by the guards on shore that they had to kayak back to the kayak farm, we in the meantime were stood on the most disappointing beach in South East Asia being refused entry because it was closed.  Back on the boat we decided that we could remedy the disappointment by having a laugh jumping off the boat, only to be told that it was illegal to jump off the boat or swim in the bay and if we did so the Captain would report us and we would be fined??!!  Needless to say we were not best pleased and reported our upset to the guides. Eventually after hours of asking we were given the owners phone number and just to make a bad situation worse the phone call didn’t go well.  We were then threatened by the delightful Australian owner, who told us that he was a member of the 1%er motorcycle gang and would be waiting to hurt us when we got back from the tour.  As it was it seems his gang mates must have been busy that night as we got to the café and were met by the slimy little man himself who talked over us with a video camera in our faces until we eventually walked out and left him ranting in his empty café.  I can see now why it was empty.  The loonatic then posted the video on YouTube, abused us on his Facebook page and has even set up a phoney blog where he pretends to be someone else just to abuse our friend Tony who he seems to have taken particular offence to.  Perhaps we should have trusted the reviews on trip advisor a little more and not believed the owners responses.  So don’t say you haven’t been warned, if you go to Halong Bay definitely don’t take this tour!

Back on dry and safe ground we went for a totally delicious dinner and had some cocktails to ease our suffering and despite the fact we were all shaking with rage with had a very entertaining game of Jenga!

The next day we decided to see some of Hanoi and met up with the gang for an electric car tour of the Old Town.  This was a brilliant way to explore Hanoi, from the safety of a giant golf buggy we could browse the streets of shops lined with vendors selling exactly the same as their neighbours, from Sellotape to pots and pans and cuddly toys.  It was nice to be out of the madness of the city and the millions of mopeds and not to be clutching at my camera and purse in fear of the prevalent pickpockets and bag snatchers.  We also had huge amounts of fun holding onto a pretend steering wheel putting on a crazy wide eye and open mouth face and pretending to passing drivers that we were driving the buggy, little things for little minds!!

Next up on our compulsory tours for Hanoi was the Water Puppet Theatre.  Originally these puppet shows took place in the flooded rice paddies and the pupperters suffered from all sorts of terrible waterborne illnesses and diseases by putting on these shows. The puppets are controlled by ropes and sticks all hidden under the water. We had no idea what to expect from the water puppet show and we were enthralled and humoured and totally entertained by the sheer madness of it all.  I am still not entirely sure what the storyline was or what was going on but the weird little dolls dancing and spinning and jumping out of the water were utterly histerical.  I am not surprised that water puppetry doesn’t seem to have caught on, but I am pleased to have experienced the madness!

So it was time to bid Tony, Roo and Vicki a fond and final farewell, unless our paths cross sooner we will see you guys in Perth.  I envisage that the kangaroo café’s ears may be burning on that date!

So one day left to burn we set off to visit the Hoa Lo Prison, more commonly known as the Hanoi Hilton and where many American pilots were detained during the war, including none other than Senator John McCain.  The museum certainly has an interesting slant to it and the photos of the American pilots (who are never referred to as prisoners) decorating a Christmas tree, playing basketball and generally looking like they are having the time of their lives.  The cells and guillotines pretty much told a different story…..

Hanoi was generally a pretty crazy place to be, there always seemed to be something happening whether it was a motorbike crash or a street fight we saw it all, the street fight was hysterical in that there were two guys in their 60’s going at each other and throwing punches, hats and anything else they could grab, we got a cyclo and got away from the scene in case it got messy.  About 5 hours later we walked past the same house and they were still going for each other looking as angry as ever, we crossed the road and made a quick getaway.

Most museum and attractions are closed in Hanoi on a Friday so we did our research and asked our hotel and we were sure that the Army Museum was a safe bet, so we got our hotel to write the name in Vietnamese for us, we hailed a taxi from the only reliable company in Hanoi (Mai Linh) and set off across the city.  We arrived only to be greeted by an important looking man in uniform who we assume advised our driver that it was closed, so we took a couple of sneaky photos over the gate and got back in the taxi.

Our last evening and we decided to head to the weekend night market to see if I could get some replacement flip flops, given that I still hadn’t replaced the ones that I left on the hotel doorstep in Laos.  This turned out to be the worst possible thing we could have chosen to do.  Despite being as careful as possible and keeping all our valuables as secure about our person as was humanly possible.  Whilst walking through the market we were suddenly surrounded by a group of 12 year old Vietnamese girls who were pushing and shoving and poking us, we moved out of their way and I had my bag safe and told Tim to check his pockets. Sadly the words that come out of Tim’s mouth confirmed my worst fears "My phones gone".  For what it was worth we went to the police station but the officers were more interested in playing Candy Crush on their iPhones than they were about trying to get Tim’s back.  The little street urchins are as cunning as they are fast, knowing to turn off the phone making the tracking system useless.  Tim was grumpy, I was grumpy, I still had no flip flops, we did not love Hanoi and were ready to leave. 

Sadly the nights turn of events left our desire to venture out to see the Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum the next day dead and buried, instead we had a lie in keeping our belongings very safe and secure. 

I think that Hanoi is a bit like Marmite, you either love it or hate it……..Onwards to Sapa for the last instalment of Vietnam!!
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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