Saturday, July 19, 2014

Exploring Hanoi Old Quarters

20 May 2014 (Tuesday)

I arrived from Lao Cai on the night train at about 5:00 a.m. I slept well without disturbance from the train crew as I had locked the cabin door.

I was mindful of the taxi scam and ignored the touts. I wanted to take the real taxi. A Chinese speaking tout kept following and offering to take me but I refused his offer. I made the mistake of replying him in Chinese earlier when he talked to me in Mandarin. When I saw a legitimate taxi driver by his car, I wanted to take his taxi but he ignored me. I was pissed off and waved off both the tout and the driver and was determined to find a taxi on the road. It was then that a waiting Mai Linh driver asked me whether I wanted to take a taxi. Seeing that it was a Mai Linh taxi, I agreed. As I got into the taxi, the Chinese speaking tout was mumbling that a fellow ethnic Chinese was not helping another fellow ethnic Chinese. When I got into the taxi, the Mai Linh driver said he did not know what the Chinese speaking tout was mumbling about.

I showed the driver Camellia Hotel 6 business card. He then drove off. I soon realised that he was not driving me towards the Old Quarters but into a more developed part of Hanoi with high rise building. I showed him the business card again with the map on the back and told him Camellia Hotel 6 was near Hoan Kiem Lake, near KFC. He seemed confused. He then contacted someone on the phone and we were soon on the way to Old Quarters.

He stopped at a hotel but it was not Camellia Hotel 6. However, the area looked familiar. Then, I got it and told him he had passed by the street to Camellia Hotel 6. I pointed to him the direction and he reversed his taxi. He stopped when I pointed to him the narrow Trung Yen lane to Camellia Hotel 6. By this time, the taxi meter had run close to VND300,000.

After getting out of the taxi, he said, "VND200,000". I had already mentally prepared myself to argue with him over the taxi fare since realising his mistake in taking the wrong route to Trung Yen Street. I said I was not going to pay him VND200,000 because it was not my mistake. He defended himself saying "Trung Yen" street (there was another Trung Yen street when I checked with NTHA that night). I noticed "Trung Yen" written on the awning of a shop and pointing my finger to the address, I said "Trung Yen". I also told him my friend said it would cost only VND50,000 from the train station to the hostel and I was being generous by giving him VND100,000. He relented and then left.

That morning, I explored the Old Quarters to look for food. From my Garmin eTrex tracks in three excursions, I walked a total of over 13 kilometers today.

While quenching my thirst at a coconut stall near Long Bien bus station, I asked NTHA to join me for lunch at Cha Ca La Vong. She apologised saying that she had an interview appointment with a guest. However, she said she would be able to join me for dinner that evening.

NTHA arrived at about 6:30 p.m. to pick me up for dinner. Prior to that, she would take me on a ride across Long Bien Bridge, built by the same French guy who built the Eiffel Tower. She highlighted to me that it was repaired after the war with the Americans and only pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists were allowed to use the bridge now. Instead of riding on the right lane, people rode on the left lane on the bridge. She challenged me to find out the reasons, which I still have no answer.

After dinner of Pho Cuon and Pho Chien near Truc Bach Lake, NTHA brought me to see the lake which was separated from West Lake by Thanh Nien Road. We rode past the Presidential Palace and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum on the way back to Camellia Hotel 6 where I was staying.

After dropping me off at Camellia Hotel 6, she gave me some present and a farewell card. It was time to say goodbye. We do not know when we would be able to meet again. Though she was busy with her work, she took time to plan things out and get the best deals for me to make my trip to Vietnam more pleasant. She tried her best to help me from being ripped off but still, it was unavoidable. I only hoped that the Vietnamese government would do more to improve the image of its tourism industry, particularly to stop scams and cheating by travel agencies, transport workers and souvenir vendors. Otherwise, the ordinary and common people like the street hawkers are really nice people, not forgetting NTHA and Camellia Hotel 6 manager's wife.

Today was my last full day in Vietnam. I would be leaving for Noi Bai airport at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow. I had asked the hotel manager to call a taxi and it would cost me VND300,000 (which NTHA said should cost only VND200,000).

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