Friday, May 21, 2010

Hanoi, Vietnam: Part I

The flight from HCMC to Hanoi didn't go so well. My left ear gave me a lot of problems. I tried everything that I could to pop my ear, but nothing worked. Eventually the pain in my ear subsided; however, I was left almost completely deaf in my ear due to its inability to pop.

I'd heard that the airport was pretty far from Hanoi's city center, so after I retrieved my luggage I immediately began looking for some westerners to share a taxi with, thus reducing the cost. I spotted a European couple and asked them if they would like to share a taxi. It was pretty obvious they had no intentions sharing one, as they suggested I share a taxi with another western looking guy who was getting into the cab adjacent to theirs. Luckily this guy had no problems with it. His name was Ben, a 38-year-old American from NYC. I was impressed with how well traveled he was. Working for Pfizer Pharmaceutical as an independent consultant has allowed him to travel all around the world. All he needs is his laptop and a good Internet connection and he can work in the comforts of any country he wishes. He seems to be pretty content, however, working out of his apartment located near Grand Central Station in downtown Manhattan. Nice.

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When we arrived in downtown Hanoi the city was at a standstill, as today was Vietnam's big holiday, its Liberation Day. And the streets were a parking lot as everyone was enjoying the firework celebration. "Celebrate good times, c'mon!"



Ben already had a reservation for a hotel so I said I'd walk with him there and check it out. Our taxi driver, due to the crazy traffic, dropped us off a few blocks away from the hotel, so we had to make our way by foot with our backpacks strapped on through Hanoi's crowded streets, avoiding collisions with motorbikes. Ben's hotel was--to no surprise--a bit too steep for my liking. So I headed back into the mass of humanity in search for a room. I had a difficult time finding a hotel with ANY rooms available, much less a cheap one. Because of the holiday I found myself searching for a room in Vietnam, in one of its most populated city's, and on the worst possible night. I eventually found one, but it set me back a whopping $12 per night. Oh, well. At least it was a nice, clean room with air-con.

The next morning I headed out to explore the streets of Hanoi. I wasn't walking but 5 minutes before I ran into Ben. Odd. And as both of us were hungry we went to a restaurant that Ben said came highly recommended, called Little Hanoi. And boy-O-boy, was it good. Ben and I exchanged travel stories over delicious crispy deep fried spring rolls, sauteed green beans, and fried rice with veggies. Mmmm, good.

Later, we took a stroll through Hanoi's old quarter. I found the temperature in Hanoi to be a little cooler than in HCMC which was refreshing. I also found Hanoi more aesthetically attractive. Though Hanoi is a modern city with millions upon millions of motorbikes, it still had a sort of old-time feeling and charm to it as I walked through its narrow French Colonial streets. Once Ben and I made it to Hoan Kiem Lake we parted ways. I continued around the lake enjoying the pleasant views. It definitely appeared to be the spot to take your loved ones. Ah, yes, romance was definitely in the air.



Eventually I found my way to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, also known as the 'Hanoi Hilton' where American POWs were tortured during the Vietnam War, this included former US Presidential Candidate and current Senator from Arizona, John McCain. Inside, there were pictures of Sen. McCain being pulled out of the water by the Vietnamese after his plane crashed. They even had the pilot uniform he was wearing from the day he was captured. It was pretty neat to see.

That night I met up with Jesse and Sabine, a Dutch couple who I'd met and traveled with in Laos. It was great seeing them again as I really enjoy their company. We ate at a fairly cheap restaurant with an excellent balcony view of overlooking the street. Over dinner we exchanged travel stories (a common thing to do amongst backpackers) and reminisced about good times in Laos. Jesse knew a local Vietnamese woman from Hanoi (I forgot her name, so let's just call her...Li) who was going to show them around a nearby city, called Bat Trang, and asked if I was interested in joining them. Sounded great.

It was pouring down raining the following morning, and I debated whether or not I should meet them. However, the rain lightened up just enough, allowing me to escape the compounds of my hotel. With my rain jacket on, I threw the hood over my head and quickly made my way to their hotel, the meeting point before walking together to the bus station.

While waiting for our bus I pulled out my wallet to retrieve some money for the bus fare.

"Put that wallet away," said Li, in a loud whisper. "You'll attract thieves."

I was pretty hungry at that point as I hadn't eaten any breakfast yet, so I pulled out my wallet again to buy some food that was being sold.

"Put that wallet away, Adam, I'll buy it for you," Li persisted.

"Really, you don't have to do that," I pleaded.

"Oh, please! Oh, please!" she repeated.

The bus suddenly arrived as I was placing my wallet into my jacket. And due to the unexpected and sudden arrival of the bus I forgot to zip my pocket. Everyone rushed to the bus, pushing and pulling one another. After we boarded the bus and drove away, I noticed a Vietnamese couple saying something to Li.

"Adam, this couple says that they saw a man suspiciously lingering around you, and that you should check to see if you have all your belongings."

"Oh, okay. Thanks." So I began checking my pockets and discovered that...MY WALLET WAS MISSING.

"My wallet is missing!" I yelled.

"What?!" said Li. "I told you not to show your wallet."

I thought now is REALLY not the time for the 'I told you so' speech.

Panicking, I checked my pockets a million times. I thought to myself, why didn't the couple say something to me outside when they saw the man around me? Why would they wait until AFTER I boarded the bus and drove away?! "Stupid!" I screamed in my head, working myself up.

I felt the rage inside of me growing stronger by the second, something that had been dormant since I quit my job and began traveling. I sat down and tucked my hands under my thighs, as my hands had begun to shake due to the excessive adrenaline flowing through my veins.

"What am I doing?" I thought. "What the hell am I doing in Vietnam?"

To be continued...



-Adam

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