The city of great food and Interesting locals
Trip Start Dec 11, 2011
6Trip End Jan 14, 2012
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Where I stayed
Central Backpackers Hostel
Next thing we knew, the taxi was well on its way. It snaked in and out of the traffic, regardless of lane markings and vehicles beside him. He horned at motorbikes, cars, buses, even those 18-wheelers big rigs. He never stopped his car once, even for red lights. All at the same time, he was working on 2 phones, one in his pocket and in the car's cigarette compartment, to top it off, he didn't even had his seat belt on. This had all 4 of us cling tightly onto our seats and seatbelt straps. After an hour or so of this intense ordeal, we finally got to our destination. We gave him the agreed $15. However, before we got out, he called out and said that we owed him another $5; he claimed that there was toll and we had to pay for that. So we argued and bargained, eventually, seeing that wasn't going to let go, we gave him to get rid of him. There it was, our first scam.
We set out to our next destination. With the trusty 3-year-old Lonely Planet book in one hand and the compass on the other, I led the group in the direction of our hostel. The streets were completely filled with scooters, cars and the occasional buses. Sometimes, the streets didn't even have lane markings. Yet the vehicles could skillfully weave through the sea of metal. It was impressive yet daunting. Soon we met with our first challenge: crossing the road. Our natural tendency was to wait either for the traffic light to turn red and cross or an opportunity with a slight pause in the traffic. However, even with the red light, vehicle continuously flowed, there was simply no chance to make a crossing. After 7-10mins, we decided we would just cross. In fact, that was the solution: one just crosses. The vehicles will notice you and go around you. There was no way they would stop for you.
We scoured the nearby streets for local good eats.We passed by a couple of roadside stores where they cooked the food on the spot and people where sitting on these tiny stools that made their knees protrude above the proportionally small tables; it looked like they were squatting. We decided to try it out ourselves.
They were heavenly. Maybe it was because we were starving, but it was good and we didn't care. In less than 5 minutes we were done, craving for more but wanted to try something else. Then came the "bill", we didn't know how much nor did the helper knew how to tell us. She intelligent pulled out a couple of bills to show us how much. No troubles there.
Delighted with our first adventure meals, we were determined for more. We explored the streets of Old Quarter, first stop was the street market. In Asia, street market meant vendors laid their merchandises on tarp or cloth. However, this was not the case. The street were simply filled with stores selling mostly clothes. Not much variety. Vietnameses were aggressive people when it came to business. Everywhere we went, they came up to us persuading us to buy their goods. Even when we refused, they'd continue bargaining with us. After awhile, it became rather annoying. It became more and more difficult to resist being rude to them. Since the first meal, we had 4 others. The portions of the dishes were rather small to satisfy us in one meal. By then, we were roaming around, checking out the Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the city. By night, the entire city was lit up with a wide spectrum of lights that lined not only the huge lake but also the trees and a few street lights. It was a beautiful sight.
Our next goal was to get tours to our next attraction: HaLong Bay. We scouted a few tour agencies for the most valuable tour package. Soon we found one that went for $55 for 3d2n with one night on the boat and another on Cat Ba Island. Eventually we would soon realize that cheapest way was not the best way to go...
We spent the rest of the night getting ready for the trip tomorrow. Buying snacks, bread and drinks for the road. When we went back to the hostel, the two unknown occupants were using the WiFi at the lobby. We stopped to chat with them. The two girls were from England and they had been travelling for almost 6months now, spending the last 2 months in China. They made our 3 week backpacking trip sound like a holiday.
One discovery that we made was that where we bought our tickets for the tour was a scam. This tour agency "Sinh Cafe" was a huge tour agency cartel in Old Quarters. there were only 2 original ones in town and all the others were fake. There were at least 2 on the same street. Freaked out, we sought the friendly and ever helpful receptionist for advice. He ensured us that they were a scam not in a "you just lost your money" way, instead it was a "overcharged" way. Feeling more assured, we went to use the computers. Looking around, half the testimonials were screaming "DO NOT TRUST SINH CAFE, THEY ARE ALL FAKE". How observant we were. Damn you Vietnam.