The people of Vietnam are generally a friendly and kind lot, although we have noticed a slightly cooler reception as well as temperature as we've gone further north. Some areas have been downright frosty in fact. Take for example the chaotic arrangements for the journey from Hue to Hanoi. We'd been told to be at the bus stop at 5pm. Determined to get the good seats at the back with extra legroom, we arrived at 4.30pm. After a huge kerfuffle it emerged that we'd been told the wrong stop so we had to hurry to another collection point. I was near the front of the queue, yet the bus driver told us and a group of Aussies that as were were foreigners we must get to the back of the queue. "Vietnamese take priority over tourists," he said haughtily, spitting out the word "tourists". Seeing as we'd been waiting the longest and had paid 3 times the local rate for our tickets, we all though this unfair, and said so. He shouted abuse at us and ushered the locals on, refusing to allow us on the bus. Can you imagine what would happen if we did the same in London? There'd be uproar, and rightly so.
Eventually when all the Vietnamese were settled in their beds on the bus, he reluctantly allowed us to climb aboard. Luckily for us, the locals didn't want the extra legroom seats seeing as their legs swing on the seats anyway, barely touching the floor.
The bus stopped at a roadside eaterie after a few hours, and everone piled off to get some dinner. After waiting for a while for our noodles with vegetables it became apparent that the greedy old French couple sitting next to us had gobbled down the wrong meal...ours.I wouldn't mind, but they'd ordered beef and rice, and had tucked into our...noodles with veg. Hardly an honest mistake. The waiter didn't apologise and said we'd have to wait..again."A hungry man is an angry man, " seethed Liam as we climbed back on the bus hungry, having not received our meals in time for the bus leaving. In the whole time we've been travelling we've probably got EXACTLY what we ordered about...10 times. Usually, there's some discrepancy. Sometimes I reckon the chef takes a look at our order and thinks "I can't be arsed to cook that, I'll just give them this and hope they don't complain."
15 hours later we arrived in Hanoi. It was 6am, pitch black and pouring with rain. Wearing flip-flops and t-shirts, we slip-slided around on the muddy grass verge where the bus dropped us off and attempted to work out where we had to go using the lifesaving Lonely Planet guide. About 10 taxi drivers clambered for our business, shouting in our faces and trying to steer us towards their old bangers. Usually, we try to arrange the hostel to pick us up from the bus stop to avoid being ripped-off but the place we'd booked didn't offer this service.
Finally we agreed a reasonable price with the least dodgy-looking cabbie and slid into ther back seats, grateful to escape the rain. We'd only been in the car a few minutes when BANG!!! we'd hit a motorbike and it's 2 passengers. This was our second road accident in as many weeks, and the 5th one we'd witnessed since Cambodia. I sprung out of the vehicle to see what had happened...
The passenger was dazed and slumped on the floor alongside the car, but soon managed to get to his feet. But where was the driver?? I looked around and to my amazement she'd skidded all the way across the main road and was now lying under the bike on the pavement on the other side of the wide road. Luckily, as it was raining they were wearing lots of layers and there was little traffic at this time of the morning. A few hours later and it would've been a different story. They're a tough old lot, the Vietnamese, and once she'd got over the initial shock of flying through the air she leapt up and started shouting abuse at our driver. Liam signalled to me to get out, and popping open the boot we grabbed our rucksacks and made our way to the side of the road where a small crowd had gathered. Seeing as we're becoming experts in crash scene protocol, we knew the police wouldn't even bother talking to us so figured there was little point in hanging around. The crowd grew bigger as early morning exercise fanatics rubber-necked to see what all the commotion was about. We were more interested in the makeshift aerobics class taking place around the lake. Apparently it's part of Hanoi life that people gather early in the morning to do aerobics around the city to huge sound systems blaring out dance music. Individuals and small groups were solemnly working out with no teacher, all scattered around the city streets, yet they were all doing the same moves. Very weird. It was like something out of a Fatboy Slim video. Old grannies were doing push-ups against a bench and a little old man was rotating his hips. I wished I'd had my camera handy to video it, it was pure comedy gold.
Our laughter didn't last long. Starving from lack of dinner the previous night, tired from the journey, shaken up from the car accident, and struggling to find our hostel in the rain, we agreed that this was a definite low point. After walking around for alomst an hour, Liam finally located it in a tiny backstreet. We walked gingerly up ther front steps, covered in mud and dripping water all over the tiled floor.
The hostel had only cost 4 quid each per night, and upon entering our room we realised why. The room was damper than us, with paint peeling from the walls and a huge brown damp patch on the ceiling. The shower and sink leaked all over the floor. We had a shower, dried with threadbare towels ("we'll probably get impetigo from these") and I went to climb into the bed to warm up, just as Liam pointed out that the sheets were covered in pubes. For God's sake. I climbed wearily out again and we set off to explore Hanoi...