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Published: December 23rd 2006
The charm is so hidden you can't find it
Whoever came up with that slogan is A: brutally honest, and B: a total PR idiot! 'Hidden Charm'? WTF? Yeah, come to Vietnam, our charm is hidden.
I had originally planned on spending a few days in the Sapa highlands after
crossing over from China, but I got stuck at the border town for the night
and decided to take the night train into Hanoi right off. I don't know if
that was a good thing or not, for about 15 minutes into the journey, I had
urgent indications that I had food poisoning. Now, the practical side of me
says that it was better to take the night train than spend money on a hotel,
because this way I didn't waste a stationary night puking my guts out and
rotating in some toilet time. I had never had simultaneous bouts of throwing
up and diarrhoea, and in this case, the super compact size of the train bathroom came in very handy. It was right down the hall from my cabin, and I made good use of the proximity. I had been 100% fine up to this point, but I had started running a fever by about 10hrs into the bus ride from Kunming, and spent my first few hours in Vietnam as sick as could be. The train trip was around 8 hours long, arriving in Hanoi
at about 5 am. I think I slept about 1 hr. After the first spout, I made good use of the pills Luke had handed me, and was able to 'shut off the valves' for my arrival. The last time I had to go to the bathroom, the door to my cabin would not open, and I had to race against time to force it open before I puked all over the cabin (with 3 other people in it). Even though running to the bathroom was no longer a pressing matter, I still felt extremely ill by the time I got in to Hanoi. I was seeing in black and white, and felt the need to barf even though there was nothing left to deposit. I found a group of Israeli travelers, and point blank asked them to just take me with them to their hotel and then I would venture out when I felt better. They took care of me, and I went to my hotel after recovering a bit and drinking some soda. I did a whole lot of nothing though. I took a nice long shower, and then slept a bit. I ventured out just before dinner,
A proliferation of anoying people who try to shove junk in your face and strike up 'conversations' (read sales piches that start with 'how are you doing today'. You learn to ignore the following: "Hello, You look, Buy Something, Friend, and pretty much anything that sounds like it is being spoken by a local.
and had some decent Pho soup and then saw the lake in the middle of the old town that is a tourist attraction of sorts. You can always tell the tourist areas by the number of scouter taxis that shout out trying to get you to go for a ride. They wave their hand, say "motorcycle" and point to their back seat. One feels like pointing out that if they have a moped, then it is not a motorcycle. However, that would require exchanging words, so it is best to to look ahead and keep walking.
A shout out to the 'moto' drivers in Hanoi: buy a cheap "for hire" sign and put it on your handle bars. This will make everybody's stay more pleasant, and keeps you from going horse trying to sell rides to people walking the half block from a cafe to their hotel. And for those bright people selling the random junk out of the baskets, as soon as someone says 'no', tapping them with, say, a piece of pinnapple is not likely to change their mind. Oh, and starting off asking 5x the going rate always makes us want to do business with you.
Yes, that is a winning strategy there. Don't change that.
I started feeling better after having my first meal in 30 hours and taking some pills, so I decided to make an attempt to stay on schedule a bit and purchased a 2 day one night trip out to Halong Bay. It left at 7:30 am, so I went to bed early (fine by me) and decided to put off my Hanoi sightseeing for my return.
(Halong Bay blog falls in between these two sections)
I slept in until 8 knowing that I had a choice 22hr busride to Laos coming up by the end of the day, and headed back to Baguette & Chocolate to have a snack before the 'included' breakfast back at Cameliia Hotel 5. I had a 2 pain au chocolats and a Capaccino for $2 with a Austrian Gal (Karen) who was finishing a 4 week stay, and she was ready to leave as well. To the country's credit, she had enjoyed the south more, so maybe, someday, I will return to see that part. Maybe. I went back to pack my bags and checkout. So, checkout is at 12. 11:45 comes
around, I am almost packed, and the cleaning lady comes to the door and starts ringing the doorbell. I let her know that I am almost done, that I get charged 50% of the room rate if I am not out by noon, so that they have nothing to loose if I am late. 11:47 comes around, I there are two of them ringing the doorbell and knocking on my door. Yet again, a WTF moment brought to you by the Vietnamese. Yes, the 22 hour busride to Laos was looking better all the time. I didn't know a 22 hour bus ride could look good, thank you cleaning lady(ies)! At this point, I just made a point of sitting on my bed for another five minutes. I then went downstairs, checked out with plenty of time to spare, and stowed my bag at reception for the day. I should make a note about the doorman. My $10 a night hotel had a doorman, who spent most of his day in uniform sitting on his butt. Out of the 30+ times I entered the hotel, he got up in time to open the door once. Yep, his name made the
short list for a tip. After leaving the old quarter, I was able to swing by the Mausoleum for the good old Ho Chi Minh. He had asked to be cremated, but they decided to pump him full of preservatives anyway, so folks can line up to take a peek at him just like Le Nin in Ru Sha. Good to know that his wishes were followed as much as anybody elses here. I also managed to walk over to the 'Temple of Literature', a Lonely Planet must see. I guess this is compared to looking at a bunch of cyclo drivers yelling at you. That was a plus, the place was free of people selling stuff. Yes, it was a nice destination. On par with my hotel room. Not that the city was completely a loss. There are many nice buildings in the French Colonial style, and the Little Hanoi 1 eatery was terrific (people and food). In fact, most of the Vietnamese people that were not trying to take money from me and were just going about their daily life were in fact very pleasant, but there are just too many of the other kind in Hanoi. I
am sure there are greats parts of this country that I am missing, but in order to keep to my schedule, my main memory of Hanoi will be feeling like I need to throw up, having a little sales women shove ripe fruit in my face after I hold her I didn't want any, all to the tune of a moto driver offering to drive me somewhere for the 10th time that block. Yes, the joys of that 22hr busride. At least I had Halong Bay! Cheers
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