We arrive in Hanoi from Tam Coc in time for a dusk wander in the streets of the Old Quarter, named and dedicated to each and everything under the sun from shoes, to silver, to clothes, to wood and the signature motorbikes of Vietnam lining each street, like a parking lot. It is freezing cold and I am tempted to buy a warm jacket, but the thought of what I will do with this jacket later deters me.
The Old Quarter leads towards the Hoan Kiem Lake, all lit up and lined with banyan trees, with the one pillar pagoda in the middle and a beautiful red bridge, popular with courting couples and wedding photographers spanning its width. The locals do a spot of evening Tai Chi, and it is fascinating to sit on one of the many benches and watch them – they don’t seem to mind! If those banyan trees could talk, I could just imagine the stories they would have to tell!
The few meals we had eaten were so bland, and cold, that we couldn’t help but stop in at the KFC across the street from CityView – but first, we had to cross the road. Now, crossing a road in Vietnam is not like crossing a road in any other city. You don’t stop and wait for a clearing in the ever roaring motorbike traffic – there will never be one – so you have to start walking, with bated breath, and miraculously the bikes will go around you – just don’t stop, because that’s when you get hit! It is absolutely mental! The KFC is the perfect spot for seeing people try to cross this busy street, indulging in some hot, fried chicken and fries!
Our agent had booked us great seats at the famous Water Puppet Show, in the theatre across the Hoan Kiem Lake. A very school like theatre, with a pool of water on which a magical puppet show happens, with fireworks and all! It reminded me of the Punch and Judy puppet shows I watched as a child, at other children’s birthday parties. The puppets are exquisitely crafted and we were sat close enough to marvel at the bright colours and the detail. Well worth a visit.
Dinner is in order after this puppet show, and our quest for the perfect pot of pho has failed miserably. There is a street food avenue in the Old Quarter but the guide we were with in Tam Coc told us not to try the food there, being tourists as the water used is not the cleanest. Darn, there went my slurping down hot pho fantasy!!
So we head to City View Café where again, cold food is the order of the day; but the view was stunning. We had some cocktails that we were sure were made from arak, and not vodka as stated on the well thumbed through menu, because two sips later I was feeling as high as a kite!
Heading back to the Crowne Plaza was easy enough as there were a myriad of taxis right outside the building, but I couldn’t help but wish that we were staying in one of the several hotels around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Shrugging off the earlier warnings from our guide to use Hanoi Taxi, Hanoi Tourist Taxi or another green one, we decided to take a taxi from outside City View for the sake of convenience.
As you would do, we negotiated a fare with the driver before getting in to the car. He agreed to a fare of the equivalent of $20 in Vietnamese Dong, which we thought was fair given the hotel was some distance away. The ride to the hotel was uneventful, but when we got near our hotel the driver refused to drive into the hotel area and said he would drop us a few metres away, which we thought was incredibly odd but seeing as the hotel was across the road, we got out anyway and M paid him the full fare in Dong.
The driver had cheekily hidden a note of lower denomination in one hand and once he was paid he started shouting and accusing us of short-changing him, showing us the note of lower denomination and he started to become very abusive, calling us f*****g tourists and accusing us of being liars and thieves! Now M had triple checked the notes before handing them over and I had confirmed that it was the right amount, so we knew instantly the driver was lying. Not to be bullied, M just shouted back at him and told him to bugger off!
When we got nasty back the guy just backed off and drove off, and later we found out from the guard at the hotel, who had heard the pandemonium and come to see what the issue was that this is a pretty common stunt pulled by taxi drivers in Hanoi!
Not a very nice way to end the day, but a lesson well learned. Always listen to the guide, and do your research!!