Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hanoi adventures (Day 75 - Christmas Eve)

- Our overnight train arrives to Hanoi at 4 am. Train staff is not aware of the promise to let us stay in our cabin till 7 am. Or they just really don't understand my question. Everybody gets kicked out. Generally speaking, Vietnamese train staff are not the friendliest people I've ever met - they do not speak English, they shout, and they make sure you are wide awake when you tell them for the third time that you do not want noodles.
- We look for a taxi. Hanoi is famous for its taxi mafia and we soon realize why. No one agrees to go by the meter, everybody wants a fixed price (big money for ridiculously short distances). We get outside the train station, hoping to find an honest driver. We step into the car, we leave. The meter is running, but not the way it should run. We stop the car, we step out without reaching our destination. We go to a fancy hotel, asking the receptionist to call us a cab. He does, but the new driver asks for a fixed price again. It seems we do not really have a choice.
- We finally reach our hotel at around 5 am. We wake the staff up. They are surprisingly friendly though. We leave our bags and go to explore the city. It's still pitch dark.
- The park if full of life though. The locals are exercising. They don't really seem to know how to. They use the benches or the tree branches. Some of them barely move, the others do something really dangerous. Who were their PA teachers at school?
- There are many tourists like us in the park, wondering around, waiting for the check-in to the hotel time. Some of them travel with children too, we smile at each other. The others are sitting or sleeping on the benches. Someone screams after the bird's poo drops from the sky. It feels funny.
- It's light by now. We start looking for a place to eat, but we'd prefer French pastries rather than the street food - the only food available at this hour. So we keep walking.
- We step into a few hotels and travel agencies to ask about train tickets, since we are leaving for Sapa tomorrow. It's Christmas time, so availability is really limited. We are happy to get to know that 3 berths are still available in a soft sleeper cabin, so we rush to book our tickets both ways. Feels like an achievement. We pay by credit card.
- We have breakfast at our hotel, we check-in. It's the most beautiful room we've had in Vietnam so far - good choice for Christmas celebrations.
- We wonder around busy streets of Hanoi's Old quarter. It's hard to cross the street here without having a huge adrenaline rush going through your body. This place is not for a fainted heart!
- It's time to pick up our train tickets and have lunch. We order the food and examine our tickets. How thoughtful of them to translate the ticket. And how cheeky! We look at the printed price, carefully hidden behind English translation. They charged us 50% commission, 60 USD in total! No one has appetite anymore. Well, Elvinas enjoys his meat spring rolls as always.
- We come back to the travel agency and tell them they've made a mistake. They tell us this is business. We ask our money back. They tell it's our fault not to check. We tell we'll request the bank to do a charge-back. The sales agent is really worried by now, but his boss has instructed him not to give the commission back. We leave the place really upset & angry.
- It's so hard to look at people as people now. This whole city looks so unwelcoming after the day's adventures. It's hard to fall into the Christmas mood. I'd like to be somewhere else now.
- My Christmas gift to myself - beauty treatments in one of the upmarket places. I get a manicure done, followed by 1 hour wonderful foot massage. (Ladies - this comes at the cost of 10 USD!) My man comes to pick me up, since it's already dark and the streets are busier than ever. He is so caring. I love him.
- Back in the hotel room we call our families. They are going around their usual Christmas preparation chores now. My father is heating the sauna. Gyula's brother is decorating the Christmas tree with the help of their nephews. We wish we were with them now and... for some snow.
- Elvinas tells Senelis about the biggest airplane in the world, which we took from Sydney to Singapore, and the overnight trains in Vietnam. This is the men talk.
- We dress up. Going down to the hotel's lobby to celebrate Christmas Eve with other guests and our hosts (it's a small family hotel). Their 3 year old daughter is dancing. Then they play with Elvinas. It's 10 pm now, we are exhausted and still sad a bit. But the party was good and lifted our moods greatly.
- We go back to our room. We hang a Christmas sock on the handle of our wardrobe. Will Santa come tonight? We hope so...
- Elvinas kisses us goodnight. He is so sweet and goodhearted. We love him very much.
- We write a blog post with 2 pictures, wishing a Merry Christmas to all. A short one. Not in a creative mood today. But we miss our families and friends, we want to let them know that.
- At this very moment it's hard to understand why we've chosen to travel for Christmas, especially to the country, where almost everybody relates to you as to a walking cash bag. And there is surely no Christmas spirit here, just a lot of commerce around it.
- We write a letter "from Santa", burn the edges of it. We roll it and put into the sock together with the chocolates. Will he be happy, surprised? We hope so. We are so happy he is still so innocent to believe in stories.
- We switch off the lights. So tired. It was a hard day. The toughest so far. Very different from what we've expected for Christmas. But it was a good one. It made us stronger. We say "Merry Christmas" and "I love you". We put in the earplugs. It's going to be loud in the morning. We'll wake up and see Elvinas peaking into the sock first thing in the morning. It's going to be Merry.

Some sort of yoga or meditation in the park 

Hanoi at night
Mass aerobics on the streets - a really interesting sight
Street vendors seen from our hotel window

KOTO (Know one - teach one) cafe, which dedicates all their profits towards education of street children.

Sent from my Android.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure where you'll be back at work, you'll remember this though day with emotion and envy;)We had a day like this one in Panama City where the reality doesn't match your expectations.

    Enjoy the rest of your journey! We are looking forward to hear all about your adventures and about the biggest plane that Elvinas took.