Cat Ba Island – Hanoi
20.04.2012 - 21.04.2012 36 °C
We once again awoke early and packed up. Checking out of the hotel, as you may remember our argument about exchange rates when we checked in, she asked us to pay the higher amount. I said no and pointed out we had agreed the other rates, thankfully it wasn’t a big argument and she charged us the lower rate. It was interesting that she had scrubbed out the correct rate we had forced her to write in the book two days prior, but thankfully still eligible if needed.
Breakfast wasn’t the best, in fact the food quality and accommodation wasn’t good on Cat Ba Island and was expensive for the privilege. But the coffee was good and we enjoyed sitting out, but loosing track of time, because our second cheap watch has gone wonky, I got up to pay the bill. The restaurant owner, totted up the bill, wrote a figure of 130,000 then corrected it to 183,000 which is a lot. I had been adding it up in my own head, and told her the correct fair was 133,000 which she shrugged, not in apology, as her reaction wasn’t one of surprise, but as if to say can’t knock me for trying…. Needless to say she didn’t get a tip.
With the bill and time palaver we were on of the last to get on the transport and got the best remaining seat on the back of the bus. The driver packed up the bus and we sat down with our day bags between our legs on the floor as every journey. Annoyingly 15minutes into the journey, with the irritating noise of polystyrene grating I looked under the seat to try and stop it only to find the floor was soaking wet. Thankfully we caught it just in time that whilt the outside of our day bags were soaked the insides were dry, and using a whole roll of toilet paper we were able to dry it out. The worst part being iis that they were carrying sea food of some sort and the sutble smell of lingering seafood, was now all over our hands, on my shorts after lifting my bag up and all over our bags. The future prospect of odour seafood be and oming more pungent was a welcome start to the journey.
Next stage was to get all our bags and ump onto a boat, which was not a ferry or an old fishing vessel but a rapid motor vessel, which happily tore through the sea (not past Halong bay unfortunately) and quickly got us to the jetty where we waited for the second shuttle bus. The angry Vietnamese trip organiser was throwing everyones bags into the front of the bus with care or consideration. When a French gentleman in his 50’s (MrF for short) carefully placed a holdall over the bags, Mr Tour didn’t like it and moved it, the French must have asked him to be careful and signalled gentle, to which Mr Tour man dropped the bag on the floor and kicked it under seat, the Mr F got up alarmed and shouting in frustration, pulled his bag out, to which Mr Tour tried to grab it from his arms and there was a scuffle which nearly broke out into a full blown fight. The customer service is great here and they really don’t care, in fact they hate tourists.
We had a bit of it, when our shuttle bus dropped us at the main bus station to get our on-going bus to Hanoi. Mr Tour and the driver were giving us conflicting messages about when to get off the bus in angry fashion like were stupid for 1) not understanding their broken English and 2) being confused at the totally contradicting requests. It was left to me and another guy to unload the baggage, which went on the floor outside. Our bags were at the bottom and one was out and we were waiting for the second one when the driver decides to drive off round to the right, almost straight over our luggage,I banged on the door and shouted at him to stop, which he ignored, and just moved our bags in time. Then Mr Tour appeared and told me he (the driver) knew what he was doing, I shouted at him as well and told him in no uncertain terms that he nearly ran over our bags and that the service was a disgrace, he clearly didn’t care, if anything was probably disappointed our stuff wasn’t ruined, but he kept his distance and didn’t get aggressive like he had done with the much older Mr F, probably because I smelt so badly of seafood. To cap it off, the toilet attendant charged me double for the toilet despite there being a sign with the price on it. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to argue for too long with the coach about to leave. Welcome to north Vietnam.
The second part of the journey was covered on a larger coach with much more effective air conditioning. We had more leg room too so both felt more relaxed…unfortunately that was short lived when the driver found his horn and consequently didn’t seem to be able to stop using it: every time he saw another vehicle would blast the horn repeatedly until they were no longer in our proximity. A couple of hours later we arrived at a random bus station in Hanoi; as soon as the bus pulled up the exit was surrounded by taxi drivers all bustling for our business, Sarah took shelter on the bus whilst she figured out where we were leaving me in charge of getting the big bags, the afternoon heat was really intense and the bus station very dusty. As I got off the bus one of the taxi drivers grabbed me and I had to physically push him away in order to get him to leave me alone, we decided to get a taxi as we still weren’t sure where we were in relation to the hotel. We got into a very compact 4 door Daewoo who’s meter was over enthusiastic to say the least: 400 meters up the road and we had clocked up enough on the meter to take us 5 km! We got him to pull over and let us out. The driver eventually obliged but wanted the money before he would open the boot for us to get our bags out, we compromised and got him to open the boot before handing over the money.
Our next move was to get back onto the main road to hale down another taxi, that was the easy part, again we told and showed the driver the address of where we wanted to go, he started off and the meter was behaving but within minutes he was on the phone to one of his friends, then he passed the phone to me so that I could tell the person on the other end where we wanted to go. This fruitless exercise lasted for a few minutes to no avail, we were by now passing the landmark lake that the hotel was supposed to be close to, we decided we could probably do better or at the very least cheaper, on our own. We took refuge in a café with wifi and figured out where we were: it turned out only 0.7 km from our destination. After we had finished our drinks we set off and in no time at all, thanks to google maps we arrived at our hotel. Although it had been rated highly on trip advisor we were still pleasantly surprised with our accommodation: for $23 per night we were pretty much in luxury…for us anyway.
Located down a side alley off the non-stop commotion of the main street our hotel, like most in Vietnam, was a “slice” of hotel: they buy small plots of land and then build as high as they can feasibly go. The staff were actually friendly and smiley; which made a refreshing change. Securing our bags we went out in search of some Northface jackets we were hoping to buy and send home to family. We headed for a street we had researched on the internet where there were supposed to be a number of shops selling Northface goods, stopping on the way to get some lunch at a street café where we ate burger style meat with noodles and veg. The streets were treacherous: the pavements were full of parked scooters and stalls which meant you were constantly weaving onto the road, which resembled a scooter version of the M25 with a few cars and hummers thrown in for added interest. We found the shops but they were bright pink and fake or bright green and fake; next stop the “wholesale” market.
We assumed this would be where the stall holders came to get their stock in bulk but the market, which was also on the tourist walking tour, was very central and the first floor which housed predominantly knick-knacks was full of tourists buying single items. We were keen to get our hands on a number of jackets so thought wholesale or retail we would be successful. I also in need of some new underwear and soon found a section full of bra shops, walking up to the first counter I was told that they don’t have any big enough…although flattering I knew that was highly unlikely but we wondered onto another stand where we were completely ignored, we were also ignored at the next one despite virtually shouting at the woman: you have to hand it to them they are great at pretending your not there! The last and final straw was the next store where she looked at us, shook her head and gestured with a wave of her hand for us to go away and said “goodbye”. At that point we decided to stop looking for underwear and go in search of the jackets. About 20 minutes later we hadn’t seen a coat let along a North Face one so we abandoned the search and headed back to the old town where our hotel was situated to find some tea taking in the views of the lake in the process (the main lake is massive with a 13 km circumference, we walked around the lower smaller one instead!)
We settled on the lonely planets “pick” mainly because it was close and we wanted to check out the area it was based in anyway. The setting was beautiful overlooking the cathedral, on the first floor we found a table in the shutter framed window looking out onto the cathedral, whilst very beautiful it was very French again; which is always a strange feeling when you’re in Vietnam even if the “influence” is easily explained. The meal wasn’t amazing which we couldn’t decide if it was a reflection on how easily lonely planet hands out their “pick” rating or the quality of other restaurants in the area. We wondered back to our hotel, chatted to people on skype and then got some sleep for our busy day tomorrow.