Published: August 3rd 2009July 2nd 2009
On the streets of...Haiphong
Where we arrived after 6 1/2 hours on a mini bus...not bad. But had to trek around with our packs
Thursday morning we depart our hotel at a reasonable 9:30am to catch a mini bus to Halong Bay, where we will get the ferry to Cat Ba Island. Everyone advertises tours out to the islands, but we figure we can do it ourselves. There is six of us in total: the Fins, the Irish girls, Wade and I (the Americans). Arriving at the bus station was a hectic mess, the minute we exit our cab we’re being dragged in several directions. We rush and buy a ticket and make our way to the designated mini bus. Imagine my wonderful surprise when I got to get in the bus and who do I see? The previous American girls who insist the word “Frosty” and “healthy” belong in the same sentence…fantastic.
We wait about 20 minutes before the mini bus departs (which makes you question as to why they’re always in such a hurry to get you aboard?), but when it does, we’re packed in like sardines. As we leave town we pass many women selling loaves of French bread for around 5000 Dong a piece (about .15 cents) on the sides of the road we make several stops to let people
Our majestic steed
This is what was going to whisk us away to paradise...
onboard. Before I know it, the mini bus which is equipped for about 22 people, is accommodating 33 adults, 6 of our backpacks, a few bags of rice, and maybe a chicken somewhere. The fold down seat next to me (made for one person) is seating two and my floor space is being taken up by the aforementioned bag of rice.
Funny characters step on and off, many are quite taken by the white travelers and make friendly gestures towards us—some a little too friendly. One guy took my headphones, but gave them back after 30 seconds or so of Against Me! and Paula Abdul, I guess some people just don’t have good musical taste. We arrive at our destination a whopping 6 ½ hours later (advertised as a 3 hour journey). Not to be discouraged, we hit the ground trudging. We make our way for what we thought was the ferry terminal—it wasn’t. We ask for help from a prestigious looking hotel and actually do get some useful information, such as where we can catch a ferry. So we all load into 2 taxis and head back the way we came. We’re dropped off at a ferry terminal,
where we wait…and wait. Finally, the ferry loads up and pulls away. We experience a beautiful ride through the islands and are even blessed with a gorgeous sunset. About 45 minutes later we land on Cat Ba Island…with NO transportation. It only takes about 5 minutes for all the ferry goers to jump in there pre-arranged cars or bikes and then there was us—and a pregnant woman and a Korean guy. The eight of us quickly realize we’re in trouble. A leader of a motorbike squad offers us rides (on the back of motorbikes) across the island to Cat Ba Town for a outrageous 140,000 Dong per person (to give perspective, hotel rooms are about 100,000 per person). We scoff at his offer and tell him we’ll walk—and then we realize the town is about 30 km away. We’re stuck.
The scheming bastard then tells us he’ll organize a bus for us—excited, we jump at his offer, until he yells out, “ONE MILLION DONG!” (this is roughly the monthly salary of a teacher here). Disgusted we turn around and try to talk with one another but we have no bargaining room and accept his offer. With the pregnant woman
(I still don’t know why she needed a ride from the ferry) and the Korean guy, it makes 10, so we figure 100,000 per person, not an awful deal. An hour later, the bus finally arrives (this is after one of the older men invited Jess and I over to have tea—and he proceeded to make me sit on a stool in front of him while he picked lice out of my hair…). We board the large van and immediately the old bastard who brokered the deal starts yelling at us, “MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!” We don’t want to give him all the money, for fear we’ll get shafted and dropped on the side of the road, so we finally settle on 700,000 Dong now and 300,000 when we’re dropped off. During the trip the pregnant woman steps out of the van with me yelling after her—“she owes us 100,000 Dong!!” But to no avail…Finally we arrive in town and while we’re spilling out of the van the Korean guy (who agreed to pay and agreed the pregnant woman would pay) took off. So there we are. Stuck with the bill for 300,000. We agreed to pay 100,000 for our eighth
person, but not the other 200,000. And then things got messy.
The driver of the van spoke some English and understood that the Korean guy owed money—but couldn’t understand that he wasn’t our friend. During the commotion some lady from a hotel/restaurant thought this was her business and got involved…I still don’t understand why she became so involved. Finally we’re all marching down the road trying to find the Korean guy, following the woman, when we decided to just split up and leave the situation. So we do…and it didn’t work, the lady followed ‘my group’ and then the guy driving the van drove up and corned us on the sidewalk. Most of the yelling occurred at this point. Then the owner of the van rode up on a moped? He spoke a bit more English, but there was still mass confusion—plus he wanted 700,000 Dong from us?! They were threatening to call the cops for some time and we kept encouraging them to do so (although I’m not sure that’s what we wanted to have happen). During the yelling frenzy we are acquiring a rather large group of Vietnamese around us, which is nerve wracking. At one point
a girl in the crowd began to get involved and when we asked her what she was doing she snidely replied, “It’s a free country, I can stand here if I want to.” Mr. Wilson innocently and calmly reminded her that Vietnam is actually a Socialist country. Not exactly free. That was a riot. So, the owner of the van and I are going at is for a bit and it comes to a head when he basically threatens bodily harm if we leave…I lose it. I start throwing the F bomb around like it was going out of style. My favorite line, “I’m going to call the Mother F#&*ing Consulate—C.O.N.S.U.L.A.T.E. Do you know what that F&$*ing means?! I’m going to tell them you’re threatening an American citizen on the streets—They’ll sure as F&*k call the F*@%ing police and arrest YOU for threatening me!!” There was more nonsense but that was the moment where I pull out the guidebook and a phone (that wouldn’t work in Vietnam but he doesn’t need to know that) and pretend to be calling the Consulate. The situation diffused slightly and he left to find the Korean guy.
We were told to stay put for 10 minutes and wait for him…which we did and he never came back. So we began walking down the road so we could put the terrible day behind us and get some food—when we hear some yelling at us from afar. The woman from the hotel/restaurant has been watching us and is now yelling across several lanes of traffic at us. We hold up, pissed off that we did indeed the 10 minutes, she runs over and ‘holds’ us there until the owner of the van returns…
He wants us to go talk to the Korean guy, which we maintain is not our problem—its his problem if he wants the money. We follow him up the road to where the Korean guy supposedly is, of course we cannot find him. Finally we throw 100,000 Dong at him and walk away—apparently that’s all it took because he left us alone.
With all that behind us, we get a hotel room that had ants in the beds and no towels. Actually reminded us all of the hotel in the Shining. Then we organize our hefty group of eight and go out for a cheap Denny’s style dinner. Afterwards, thinking all adventure is behind us for the night, the Irish girls, myself, and Wade go out to walk the strip before bed. While roaming the streets we see a crowd of Vietnamese guys surrounding a girl in the road. Concerned (and having JUST been in a similar situation) we approach the group. As soon as we do, some of the guys back off and say to us, ‘Your friend has had too many drinks,’ and sure enough. The girl is out of her mind. I swoop in and put my arm around her, telling her we’re going home—and that’s how we adopted Abby. Abby was from Manchester and appeared to not actually be drunk, but drugged in some manner. She took a fancy to me—which at first was in our favor because she WANTED to stay on my arm, but soon she grew bored with me and fancied anything that was Vietnamese and male. Our group split up Wade and Jess took off in one direction asking any backpacker type if they were missing a girl from the UK named Abby. Nieve and I took off in the opposite direction, on the same mission but also trying to possibly find her hotel. Our mission was short lived because Abby grew tired of us and began yelling and screaming for us to let her go. When we humored her requests she stumbled a few steps away from us and nearly got hit by whatever motorized vehicle that was buzzing past.
We were in agreement that Abby was the type of girl you see on Dateline—‘pretty girl, loved by all, smart, gregarious, takes vacation to tropical Vietnamese island and leaves hotel at 8pm never to be seen again.’ Because of this, we couldn’t leave her on the streets. Finally, after an hour or so of wrestling with her on the sidewalk, Wade and Jess emerge with a few people who happen to be rooming with Abby at the hostel. They didn’t know what had happened to her—nor did they seem very concerned…disturbed by that—yet very happy to not be wrestling with Abby any longer we relinquished care and returned to our hotel…where we laughed about the day’s absurdities and watched old Michael Jackson videos…tomorrow HAS to be better than this.