Good morning Vietnam

Trip Start Sep 05, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Monday, November 21, 2005

Alarm went off unceremoniously at 5:30am so that I could be ready for our 7:45 flight to Hanoi in Vietnam. Got into a tuk-tuk and got the price down from the rip-off he originally wanted.

The airport was surprisingly nice although very small and basic. Wandered through and checked my bags in. Having successfully got rid of my bags I attempted to enter the departure lounge, only to be told that I had to pay $10 departure tax! What a joke! You have to pay to leave the country! Having paid the $10 I was finally able to sit down in the departure lounge. After filling in the disembarkation card our flight was called so we headed to the baggage check. For the first time in this whole trip I managed to not set the alarms off! Dave however had alarms going off and his bag was scanned 3 times before they said have you packed a Swiss army knife. He had totally forgotten about the restrictions and forgot to pack it in the check-in luggage. They said he could check in the bag but he just said, "I can't be bothered, here have a present". Sat in the lounge watching BBC world for 30 minutes before leaving to get on the plane.

We could have paid $5 extra to fly on a Boeing Vietnam Airlines flight but I didn't want to, I wanted to experience the best Lao Airlines had to offer. Our plane, an ATR, was unlike anything I had ever flown on before. A tiny plane with a large propeller on each wing. Scary stuff but the flight was great. Very smooth all the way and I had a great view directly into the spinning propellers. Thoughts did enter my mind that if the propeller came loose then my legs would have been amputated but thankfully they remained intact.

The food was OK although the tuna and sweetcorn in the roll was the stingiest amount ever. The orange was a nice touch though, although I do find it funny that they are green in Asia! Half the plane was taken up by blokes wearing identical tracksuits who turned out to be the under 20's Lao football team on the way to Vietnam for a tournament.

Once we were in Vietnam the fun began. Everyone says the Vietnamese love to scam people for as much money as they can get and to an extent it turned out to be true.

Stepped outside the airport and were met by a gaggle of taxi drivers trying to get our service. We wanted to get the cheap bus but couldn't find one anywhere so decided to get in a share taxi for $2 each. We ended up waiting in the taxi for 25 minutes before a group of 5 French people came along and I assumed we would all be getting in the same taxi so went off into the terminal to break into the 100,000 dong notes I had withdrawn for the ATM. Yes I was now a millionaire, multi millionaire infact as I had withdrawn 2 million dong.

Anyway, having purchased a bottle of water I returned outside to see Dave sitting outside and the taxi gone, and he had a face like thunder! The French people had thrown our bags out and taken the taxi for themselves! I was livid and Dave had told them exactly what he thought of them in words I won't publish here. I found it unbelievable that someone could be that selfish but apparently it is the case.

Found another taxi and this time managed to get to the city. Told them we wanted to go to the old quarter but they wanted to know which hotel. The guys behind said the Real Darling so we thought we may as well go there too.

Once outside the car we were met by some hotel staff who said they were from the Real Darling so we looked around the room and took it. For $7 it seemed great with Satellite TV, minibar (that I would never use) and en-suite. They then started to give us the hard sell on their tours. We had planned to go to Halong Bay so listened to what they had to say and wrote down their price ($18) before going to find lunch.

It was only when we got outside that we realised we had been conned and we were at a totally different hotel, just down the road from the proper one. How they can blatantly lie like that is beyond me.

We were headed to the Kangaroo cafe to see what their tours were like and get something to eat but got distracted by Pepperonis. They had and all-you-can-eat pasta buffet and I gorged myself on piled plates of pasta until I could eat no more. It was delicious and a bargain at 28,000 dong, 1 quid.

Went for a walk around the lake and went to see the temple in the middle. They had the preserved remains of a giant turtle that lived in the water although I don't believe for a second that it was real.

Headed back to the hotel to book the Halong Bay tour. When we got there they tried to rip us off again and were quoted 3 different prices within 2 minutes so we made it clear that they didn't have a clue how to organise a tour and went to find another travel agent listed in the LP. They recommended Handspan travel so we went there first. Were there all of 2 minutes and left laughing when they quoted $77! We used the net to try and find which places were cheap and most importantly reliable!

Saw one which sounded OK and went to find them. The directions on the net were useless and we only found them be complete chance. Spent about 40 minutes in there trying to persuade them to lower the price and ended up getting a dollar off the price. A small victory!

At dinner we went south of the lake to a place called Al Fresco's. It said mains from 60,000 dong in the LP and sounded really good. I ended up spending 275,000 dong (10 quid) on dinner which was crazy! I should have seen the prices on the menu and walked away but at least the food was good and had huge portions!
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