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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: 21.0243, 105.855
Vietnam Standard Time, or VST for short, is defined as UTC + 7. However, it's not always about time zones when used in reference to developing nations. Quite often, it's a joke - India is a prime example, where people jokingly define Indian Standard Time as how Indians are always late for everything! So Vietnam would surely be the same, right? You would never expect for anything to be on time in a country like Vietnam, where its discount air carrier is a comedy of errors.
Check online, and there are nothing but negative reviews of VietJet, where delays of 5-6 hours are not uncommon, unacceptable given the fact that flights within Vietnam are never more than a couple of hours. The staff occasionally even jokingly explain that the delays are due to the fact that the airline has only one airplane servicing the entire nation! But a funny thing happened to us in Vietnam, as we quickly realized that VST doesn't exist in its gag form - shockingly, things are almost always ON TIME HERE!!!
Every Vietnamese flight we have taken has not departed on time, but has left early! All of our pre-arranged airport pickups have actually been
Monument to the Martyrs ...
... in honour of those who died fighting for Vietnam's independence.
late, even though they were there at the appointed time - they were late only because our flights typically arrived at least 15 minutes early! Every tour, every transfer, has also been on schedule. Our whole perception of Vietnamese tardiness was completely shattered!
This isn't always good, however, as we learned in Hanoi when our city tour arrived 30 minutes early - we were instructed to check out and finish breakfast before 8:30, but hurriedly made our way to the front desk when we received a call, advising that our tour guide was waiting in the lobby. We explained the situation and asked if we could quickly have some breakfast, to which he responded with a simple gesture of his arm and "You could, but that bus full of other tourists has already been waiting for a while ..."
The looks of disapproval were numerous as we made our way to the back of the bus, doing the tour member walk of shame. But what to do? Flights arriving early are great, but tours? Not so much! So while VST turned out to be false, we learned of a different and annoying Vietnamese quirk - that the whole tourist economy seems to
Vietnamese Wedding ...
... typically, weddings are held at home, and they add these fancy tents to the exterior to accommodate all the guests.
be built on referrals and sub-contracting, with no ultimate accountability for anything. Though we had opted for the convenience of a packaged tour for our last week in Vietnam, and had booked with a top-ranked company in Hanoi, it really didn't offer the full convenience that packages like this normally would.
Our tour was little more than a collection of several small tours and transfers, resulting in a lack of continuity, and the feeling that you never really knew exact details of what was going to happen. Given the business model, we easily understood how the tour could have arrived 30 minutes early. It became increasingly funny as the tour unfolded, and we came across more and more tourists that seemed to be on a similar "organized" tour, but like us, none of them really knew what the itinerary was. Is dinner included at the hotel? Do we eat at the station before the night train? What time is the pickup?
Three different parties would always have three different answers, and almost always, none of them would turn out to be right! The good thing about our tour company, Vietnam Awesome Travel (with a name like that, they must be
great!) - was that the owner was always responsive by email, though the answers were sometimes nonchalant, as was the case when we pointed out the early tour pickup. I could almost hear him shrugging his shoulders through email, as he formulated a response that neither offered a solution nor acknowledged any real problem.
We learned to roll with it, as it seemed to be part of an overall attitude in Northern Vietnam - not that it's a bad thing, but it seems that they learned not to take any of these hiccups too seriously. Because really, what would that accomplish? As a tourist, overreacting to these things would only ruin the holiday, and not improve the situation. The only approach is to simply have faith that things will eventually sort themselves out - we always got where we needed to go, when we needed to be there, and that's all that mattered.
Even though the package was something less-than-perfect, we wouldn't hesitate to use the same company - it seems that all the operators are the same, and having such a responsive owner was great, especially when I had stupidly thrown away our return train voucher. Also, the one part
Buddha's Hand ...
... one of the most unique fruits available in Southeast Asia, which says a lot. Though it's a citrus fruit, I'm not sure how good it is to eat - there is no pulp or juice inside.
of our tour that Vietnam Awesome Travel actually had direct control over was fantastic, a food tour through Hanoi's Old Quarter. We have had wonderful luck with all the food tours, sampling not only the best cuisine, but also having the best guides.
Rocky was quite the character and tour guide, and it was quite amusing watching him strut along the streets of Hanoi in his Hawaiian shirt, looking a bit like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. He certainly did a great job of preserving our lives, as Hanoi's traffic seemed far more chaotic than HCMC. It was comical every time we had to brave the traffic, and Rocky would raise his hand, gather up the group, and sternly warn us "We are crossing the street ..."
Sensing how much everybody was enjoying the food, tour, and camaraderie, I have a feeling that Rocky decided to extend the tour, allowing us to sample even more excellent food. We ended up getting back to the hotel much later than expected, which wasn't great for our early morning departure. But we didn't complain, as this was one time where we were more than happy to synchronize our clocks to VST ...
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