North vs. South – being a tourist in Hanoi

So here we go… South East Asia strikes again. We have been kind of stuck in Hanoi for probably a couple of days too long. Only because we both desperately needed to switch off  from the mad running around like crazy nutcase tourists. We collectively decided to drop Sapa from our Vietnam schedule as it would mean spending 3 out of 4 nights in transit, including a 24hour bus journey to Laos… JOY! Anyway this is not what i wanted to talk about in this blog.

After the extatic experiences in Dalat we headed to the sea side town of Nha Trang. A bit sceptical as Lonely (read useless) Planet calls it the Party Central of Vietnamese coast we landed our bums in a really nice and cosy hotel right by the longest and widest beach we’ve seen so far on our travels. Nha Trang does indeed have the bulit up, European feel to it with its big developments and the abundance of hotels, backpacker hostels, bars, restaurants and party places, however it is really easy to leave it all behind and lose yourself walking along the beach. You’re not getting anywhere near as much hassle as in Scam… ekhem, Cambodia and you’re pretty much left to your own activities, still having the option of popping just around the corner to have a decent lunch or dinner. Or you can end up drinking buckets or double vodkas if you meet old uni friends you’ve not seen for 7 years! Nadia and Arek, you know who you are :)!

The people everywhere in Nha Trang (apart from the train station) and the rest of Southern Vietnam were absolutely lovely. When we ventured out to the local market everyone invited us to try their specialities that were cooked on the spot and I even managed to buy a top for the whole 15000 dong which is about 30p. Been wearing it constantly since then! We also found a true street food place at which meals consisted of a local soup, portion of rice, fried egg and a very tasty grilled pork chop, all for  a silly 25000!!! We ended up getting take aways to eat on our longest so far, 27 hour train journey to Hanoi.

After paying 1.5 million for your soft sleeper train ticket you’d expect at least half decent conditions… Boy how wrong we were! Not only was the train about an hour late, the carriages looked like taken out of a war zone, with dirty linen and generally dirt and filth everywhere. Oh well, at least our sleeping bags came handy! How surprised were we when out of 5 Western people ont he whole train we eneded up with 2 Polish people in the same cabin! At least we could communicate, well… I could! The fellow travellers were equally as disgusted with the conditions as they said it was the most expensive yet the dirtiest train they so far took in Vietnam. Laughing and joking at how bad the train was and how much it reminded us of the old Polish sleeper trains we kept ourselves entertained until the food arrived… Food for locals that is. As we are Westerners the catering trolley and staff flew past our cabin not even offering us a drink. I poked my head out and asked for some food and was offered the crapiest looking bits of chicken and dry rice while the locals were feasting on stewed beef with veggies and steamed rice. It only took me 10 minutes to argue with them and say that yes I will eat what the locals are eating and no I don’t want to pay for the food as everyone else is getting it free! One of the guys stormed into our cabin snatching the food away and said NO FREE, YOU PAY! I gave up at this point and got C to hand over the wallet. The crew once they got their dosh just walked off laughing… That was the first glimpse of what we were to experience being
tourists in North Vietnam.

I got myself ranting again I know, but I guess I just have to get it off my chest so I can leave it behind and move on. Out of the 4 nights we spent in Hanoi on 3 of them we ate at the same lovely little place called Gecko as it was near impossible to get any decent food on the street without being completely ripped off. Paying 3 x as much as locals… Come on! Give me a break! Most of people would either ignore you once you wanted to buy something or not engage in the art of haggling (which is a necessity in South East Asia) purely because you are the Westerner and they don’t care! Getting anything sorted is near impossible as everyone gives you completely different information that basically suits their business at the time and getting our tickets booked for the 24 hour bus journey to Laos only took us a day!!! It’s best to ask open ended questions and see what happens as otherwise they just simply repeat what you said to them to make sure you hear what you want to hear. They do it to the Westerners you’d think… It all peaked last night when sitting in a mini road side, pavement bar we saw a big, swanky mercedes being pulled over and the local girl driving it being pulled out by 6 policemen and asked for money simply because she had a nice car. We only fully knew what was going on as a Vietnamese lady sitting next to us explained what was going on. Apparently the driver didn’t know ‘the right phone number’ to get the police off her back as she spend way too much time talking to them and whoever was on the other end of her blackberry. Eventually everyone smiled as she handed over a few bank notes and they let her go… Spoke to my folks about it and dad just commented how it reminds him of Poland back in the day.

Those of you who have been to SE Asia will either agree or just say that I am a Western snob used to all the conveniences and not going with the flow of Vietnamese culture… I would not agree on this occasion. I do quite enjoy haggling with local people, especially in Thailand as you can often get into really interesting little conversations and get what you want fairly cheap. I love the local food and I don’t mind paying a little extra but all that’s been going on up Norf has just been ridiculous and I honestly am looking forward to leaving, which is quite sad!

Don’t get me wrong, we had some lovely experiences like C’s birthday treats, a few lovely meals and met some lovely people. We went to the famous Water Puppet Show which gave C a banging headache (the high pitch singing was just a bit too much, lol!) and met up with Simone and Tanner (a fellow traveller couple we met on the bus to Siem Reap) a few more times but enough is enough and I guess we both can say that what Western tourist get to experience up north is just a piss take!

Till next time!


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