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Published: June 20th 2008
Rock Star Gold Digger
He just happened to turn his head while digging for goodies!
And ... Vietnam rears it's ugly head!
We are starting to think that perhaps it wasn't the best idea to extend our visa's, as the second half of our time here hasn't been nearly as pleasant as the first. North and South Vietnam are very, very different. In the south, people are friendlier and more laid back. They want to earn a living and of course hit up tourists for money as often as they can, but it's not as bad as in the north. That friendly Vietnamese spirit we wrote about is much less prevelant than before. Normal every day people are still wonderful ... but when it comes to anyone earning a living off tourism, it's a whole different story! There is an unbelievable amount of deception here, in the way that they scheme and scam and con and will do anything to get more money.
Northern Vietnam has been a constant fight to make sure we're not being taken advantage of or ripped off. Guesthouses, taxis, travel agents, restaurants ... all the time! Tourists are always charged more than locals, but at least in the South we were able to hold our ground and achieve a
more reasonable price. In the North however, they are more aggresive and can be downright nasty! For example, a photocopied Lonely Planet book should cost about $3 US (that's what we paid for it in Cambodia and in Saigon), but in the north, they start at $20 - $25, and when we try to barter with them to get a fair price, it almost always turns ugly. One stupid tourist paid that price, therefore, we all have to pay that price! We've been told off, yelled at, sworn at and taunted (really, as in, they follow us down the street swearing and muttering insults). What has kept us here so long (6 or 7 weeks now?) is that the country is so beautiful, that there is so much to see and do, and that tourism industry aside, real Vietnamese people are genuine and sincere. If they can speak english, they're just looking to connect, and even if they can't speak english, we get smiles and greetings all the time!
Anyways, as for what we've been doing ... travelling!! We've spent the majority of our time Hanoi, and are using it as hub to and from other towns around the
north. We arrived in Hanoi just in time for Kristena's birthday, which we celebrated by going to a movie. A few things about Hanoi that have thrown us through a loop ... traffic, traffic, traffic! It's more intense here than any other city we have seen, if not by volume than certainlly by noise!! Horn honking is out of control, it's how drivers say "move, stop, hello, hey you, coming through, screw off ... etc etc!" And, it's not just a little "beep beep" we're talking about, it's any form of deafening sound they can think of. We've heard christmas songs, famous jingles, semi truck blasts (coming from teeny motorbikes) and of course, just the overeager crankpot who holds his horn for as loooong as he can!
We also spent a few days in Halong Bay, which is almost like the Gulf Islands in BC, except we don't have gigantic limestone formations jutting out all over the place. We made the mistake of booking the "budget" tour though ... and you really do get what you pay for! In this case, we paid for disorganization and bed bugs. It was awful! Halong Bay itself was wonderful, just as beautiful
Smokin Doobies, Vietnam Style
Not too sure what's in his pipe, but he was a happy fellow! Hanoi, Vietnam
as we'd heard it would be, but the tour took alot of grinning and baring and vodka shots. The tour operators didn't know which end was up and when we'd bring our concerns to them (such as oh, we don't have a bed to sleep in), they'd forget they can speak english. When we'd ask for a name (to report them to the trusty but useless tourism police), they'd suddenlly forget that too. Before booking, against heedings from other travellers about the bottom of the barrell tours, we thought "What could possibly go wrong?", but it turns out ALOT! Lessoned learned though: no more budget or organized tours!!!
After Vietnam, our plan was to head to China. But ... that hasn't worked out so well. Because of the Olympics, getting a visa is harder than it should be. Outside of the embassy here in Hanoi a sign is posted with all the things required in order to apply for a visa. We needed to get transportation in and out of the country, as well as book our first nights accomodation. So that's what we did. Train ticket from Hanoi to Beijing: $312. Flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur:
$139. Two nights accomodation in Beijing: $9. The look on your face when the immigration official denies you a visa: Priceless. Actually, it was better than priceless ... it was one of those "WTF???" fuming moments, like the ferry ride from Greece to Italy or the Mr. Sam incident in Cambodia.
Mr. Immigration took about a minute to look over our paperwork, said "Why you in Vietnam?" We said "Tourism", he said (complete with fist slam and all) "No visa! No working, no visa! You go to your own country!" and with that we were dismissed. We tried to question him but he got madder and pointed to the door. We emailed the Canadian Embassy thinking they might help because NO WHERE does it say "Meet all our requirements, but we still might say no", but it was no use. We emailed China's Embassy too, but they won't respond. We tried again the next day, thinking maybe we'd get a nicer, happier man, but Mr. Immigration works everyday. This time he was calmer, and explained that at the current time China is only issuing visa's in Vietnam if you work here, but that didn't help our situation much. We
Ooo La La
Sunset, Halong Bay, Vietnam
begged and pleaded and even cried a little bit, but still no visa! We were able to refund our train tickets for 80% of the price, but the plane tickets and accomodation have fallen into a big black hole and we're now out about $250. We're not very pleased with China at the moment.
Sooo ... plans have changed yet again and now we're heading to Malaysia. It's time for a change! Take that China! We didn't even want to come to your country that badly anyways! (Actually we did, we really REALLY did, but they don't need to know that!)
Trevor and Kristena
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