Trains, Planes & Automobiles-Sapa to Hanoi to Hue

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Asia » Vietnam » North Central Coast » Thua Thien - Huế » Hué
June 18th 2010
Published: June 19th 2010
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Thursday, June 17th

We were really hoping that we had no other passengers in our train cabin as we headed back to Hanoi. The station seemed so empty as the train began to board. About ten minutes before the train left the station a Vietnamese Business Man traveling with only a small bag joined the party. I went to go wash my face and brush my teeth before the bumpy train ride began. When I returned to our cabin there was another similar looking Vietnamese man and woman sitting on the other bed. Elyse saw that I looked a little confused and she had told me that it was just his friends. After the train pulled away form the station the two other travelers returned to their own cabin. Some fifteen minutes later the man returned and stayed in the extra bunk the entire trip. Fortunately for us he snored like a chainsaw cutting timber. We hate to feel well rested or get any sleep on the night trains. (sarcasm)

Friday, June 18th

It was around a quarter to five in the morning when both the Vietnamese guys started up the cell phone conversations. WTF? I guess it
cafe by the lakecafe by the lakecafe by the lake

only 2 pictures from today, day of transit
didn’t really amount to anything as a conductor pulled open our door and flipped on the light to announce we were nearly there. Exiting the train we looked for a couple that we had went trekking with in Sapa and spoke with before boarding the train. We had no clear agenda like the first time we arrived in Hanoi and though we could hang out with them at their hostel before they were able to check in. We avoided all the cab drivers and moto bike drivers yelling at us to take their ride. We found a coffee shop that was open and sat inside to figure out our plans for the next five or so hours. We had the famous Vietnamese iced coffee and we studied the Lonely Planet map. We decided that we would spend the morning next to one of the lakes. The coffee shop guy said that it was at most a 5,000 Dong ride to our destination.

We hailed a cab and were off in every which direction but to the actual direction we needed to go. I told the guy he was only getting at most 10,000 and he pretended not to understand. The driver felt that we needed to take the scenic route to the lake and go slow. Pulling up to a spot next to the lake the meter read 168,000 Dong. Elyse and I both laughed and told the guy he was only getting 10,000. He called us a number of choice curse words and refused to take our money. Some nearby moto bike drivers began laughing at the spectacle. It is probably an all to familiar scene for them in which an in the know tourist refuses to pay their outrageous fares. The guy then said “ok, ok 50,000” and I said 10,000 he ended up getting nothing from us which was just fine with me as he refused my 10,000 dong bill.

We found a nice little restaurant right next to the lake and had an early breakfast. It was a little before 6:30 when the Czech couple arrive at the same joint. Apparently the hostel they found open would have a room available in three hours. We all sat and chatted and read some Vietnamese newspapers printed in English. After about an hour and a half later, and being much too hot to be outside, we headed across the street to another coffee shop which had WiFi. We spent the rest of the morning relaxing in the AC and I followed along the game cast of the NBA finals.

The airport shuttle wasn’t too far form the coffee shop so we said our goodbyes and headed to the airport. A few hours later we landed in Hue. (pronounced Hway) We were dropped off in the city center from the shuttle we caught at the airport. We got help to find our hostel from a nearby bank employee. We lugged our heavy bags in the sweltering heat the 1 km or so to our place. We checked in and immediately headed out for lunch. We thought since our flight was at 12:30pm we would be served food, but we thought wrong. It was our 1st time flying Vietnam airlines and it wasn’t that great but it was on time. It was about 3 o’clock when we returned to our room to shower and relax. My only plans for the rest of the day was to relax, grab some dinner and watch the World Cup match.

Around 8:30 or so we both were really not that hungry but I wanted to go out and get a little something to eat and to find a bar to watch the game. We settled for the small place immediately beside our hostel. It was packed full of all Vietnamese people and all of which were glued to the TV awaiting the start of the game. I decided that I would only have beer then try to find an ATM afterwards. We were both pretty tired and didn’t feel like sitting out in the heat. I finished the beer and Elyse headed back to the room.

I exited our small road and followed a major road and found an ATM pretty soon. I was unable to pull out any cash since the machine didn’t accept Union Pay, our Chinese ATM card. Not to worry as there was another one across the street. This one failed to dispense cash as well. I was a little worried and felt it was a good mission to find an actual machine that worked. I walked and tried three other ATM’s with no luck. A guy on a cyclo (a peddle bike with a two wheel seat attached to the front where passengers can ride) shouted “are you looking for a bank?” I initially ignored him and began walking down the road. He said that he could show me one that took all cards and would ride beside me with out charging me anything. I though what the hell, he said I didn’t have to pay him, so I allowed him to take me the one block to the ATM. Sure enough my card worked there. I had walked several blocks and thought I’d give the guy a break and take his ride back to near my hostel.

I got in and we rounded the corner, a different route than I walked but it was in the same direction as where I needed to go. I wasn’t really worried as I had a good 50 pounds and 5 inches on the guy. He said that he would cut over to the main street but suddenly stopped half way down the block. A stockier than normal Asian man appeared from the shadows. The cyclo blocked my path as the front tire butted against the wall of the building and the diver stood by the other side of the cart. “Give me your money the stocky man yelled. “No F*$%# You! I shouted. At that point I noticed the man was wielding a 6” knife. I grabbed the smaller man by the throat with my left hand and tried to push him out of the way so I could escape. This startled both of them but the man holding the knife yelled “I’ll kill you!” I quickly replied are you really going to kill a white tourist in an alley where 100 people just saw me come down with your buddy?” I began to think rationally for the first time as the adrenaline rushed through my body. I thought this was ridiculous and threw the 1,000,000 Dong I just withdrew from the ATM at the man and pushed the smaller man away. I ran back down the half block and looked for a cop. I walked quickly up the crowded street looking for a cop. I thought what would really be the point? If I do find one he sure as shit wasn’t going to speak English.

I headed back to the hostel pissed off and a little jittery from the situation. I told Elyse what happened and she began to freak out. From my experiences in Vietnam this seemed to be of no shock that I was just held up by knifepoint. In hindsight I should have gone with my initial reaction to ignore someone soliciting me for a favor. I also should have pieced together that the cyclo driver was on his cell phone while he waited for me to withdrawal money. Whether it was all coincidental in that this guy saw me and it had been a crime based on opportunity, or if it was staged and he stood by a broken ATM and waited for tourists to try and pull out money, then chiming in to help me out for no money, I had learned several valuable lessons.

The way I reacted goes against everything law enforcement teaches you to do; I should have just given them the money immediately. Pulling out money can in most instances wait until its daylight. Reflecting on the situation I cannot be too angry with what happened. I had only lost around 52 USD and came out unhurt.

Later that night I recalled a conversation I had with an older Australian gentleman at Halong Bay. He said that in that all men were basically the same at the end of the day. They work to earn a living and try to provide their families with the best life they can. If only that were true this world would be a much better place. The statement doesn’t take into account that human personalities are not just based on genetic code, but are largely dictated by environment. And frankly the environment that this joke of a government has bestowed its citizens is shit. Possibly if these thugs had a proper education, job opportunities, and a system of governance that brought order, this entire situation would never have happened in the first place.


20th June 2010

Sorry to hear your mishap in Hue. I think you should ask your hotel staffs for ATMs and whatever, including calling a reputable taxi in the future. I think all you need from a stranger is ask for direction to the nearby ATM. Honestly I never heard tourists get robbed in Vietnam like that before, but heard about thieves with weapons after the nightfall in Phnom Penh a few times . It would be helpful if you reported to police station. In the future, you should be more careful when withdraw money from ATM and avoid doing business with people right at the ATM - you might encourage opportunist thieves. I enjoy the way you confronted with the crooked taxi driver in Ha Noi. In Vietnam, the seating fee for taxi is about 7-8 thousands dongs and then add about 14,000-15,000 extra dong for 1 Km. If you will fly to Sai Gon in the future. At the airport you should buy coupon at the taxi counter inside the airport if you can. Or take only Mai Linh or Vinasun by waiting or walking back the taxi line. If you have to take other name on the line, you have to make a clear agreement about price before getting into the taxi. Anyway 5-6 USD is fair fee from airport to PNL area, and about 2-3 (maximum) for rides in downtown. Your writing after the bad experience make me think that you have to be a positive and logical man. Happy travels! Paul
20th June 2010

Wow crazy!! Glad you are okay!

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