Myles Harrington

Vietnam Has The Nicest Thieves

In Vietnam on September 13, 2010 at 1:45 pm
Fellow travellers had warned me that the Vietnamese were different to a lot of other nationalities in South East Asia. I’d been told they were all out to make a quick dong, were rude and uninviting. I was prepared for the worst but what I’ve found so far is completely the opposite. Of course I still have a long time for them to piss me off, rip me off and leave bleeding in an alley but let’s not think about that for now.
My first rip off in Vietnam was an honest one. I stumbled out of Noi Bai airport in Hanoi after only managing a couple of hours sleep in the preceding 24 hours. The Lonely Planet didn’t mention how you should get to the city from the airport, or even how far it is. Why is it that they spend so long  finding the best burrito in every town but miss out the vital travelling information? Anyway, I decided that a shared minibus was the best, or only viable option and for the proposed $2 fee it was probably worth going for. Considering they won the war I don’t know why they are obsessed with the Yankee dollar. I ended up paying very slightly more than $2 because I paid in dong. The two old local blokes sitting next to me handed over 30,000 while I paid 40k. I asked the man dealing with the dough “Why do they pay 30 when I pay 40?” He replied in the way the Vietnamese have learned how to think when dealing with tourists, “They’re different, foreigners pay $2”. That’s just the way it is here. If you’re a visitor you’re going to pay more and you just have to accept it and at least he was an honest rip off merchant.
It was in that cramped minibus that I discovered how much I’m going to love my time in ‘Nam. I’ve seen many different things ferried around on motorbikes during the last five months but for the first time I saw piglets in a cage attached to the back. There must have been about 20 of the little swines squealing away. Absolutely brilliant. The tiered rice paddies began as the airport perimeter ended and the massive smiles from the passing people on their bikes began before that. They say there are nine million bicycles in Beijing, but I’m sure there are more than nine million motorbikes in Hanoi. That’s a fact.

The smiles of the beautiful people

My first couple of days in Hanoi were extremely lazy. On my first evening in the capital I took a late night stroll around the beautiful Hoan Kiem lake and sampled the Vietnamese staple, Pho soup.

Hanoi is much prettier than I'd imagined

On day two I went to the Military History Museum which made me pleased to not have been American. I would have felt like killing myself. I also had my second classic Vietnamese dish Cháo . I couldn’t face asking for the one with heart, liver and pig balls in it so I chose Miscellaneous Cháo which had all of that in it anyway plus more Miscellaneous meats. It wasn’t the most pleasant breakfast.

Plane wreck of pride at Hanoi's Military History Museum

suck on this Heinz. Don't look so meaty now do you?

On the evening of my second day I was determined to finish off Lost. I’ve been watching the show for six years and it ended while I was away so I downloaded the final few episodes and sat down at one of the cheap bars (25p for a beer) and settled in for a three-hour Lost session. With 10 minutes to go in the final episode a massive group of travellers came in and somehow I started talking to them. They were much more interesting than the programme, which is a shame because it kind of feels like I wasted about 100 hours of my life on a TV show. The cheap beer and snake shots flowed fast and we found ourselves a few hours later standing in a random quiet street looking for bars that were still open, being hassled by motorbike taxi drivers. I wandered off with a couple of group members and realised we weren’t being followed by the rest of the gang. We went back to check on them and they were still standing in the street. This time with no bike touts. The Irish guy had had his wallet nicked from his back pocket. A woman had come up to him and grabbed his balls while a sneaky pickpocket grabbed the other goods. We stood around for a little longer wondering where the local police station was and bizarrely a bike sped past and his wallet was dropped off with all cards intact and only the money missing. How nice of them! They are the only thieves I can think of that I’d actually like to hug after the incident. And that’s the mentality of the Vietnamese, they want to rip off the tourists and steal their money but at least they‘re nice and honest about it.
5k remaining: £1715.90
By the way, in case you were wondering, Hanoi airport is 30km from the city.

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