Okay, I know you only want to read about the taxi fight but there was other stuff that happened today too…
Today was my last day in Hanoi. My flight was leaving at 1pm and I had made arrangements to have a driver drive me to the airport at 11:30am.
That gave me the morning to cross a couple of Hanoi things off my list: the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and museum and the Presidential Palace next to it.
I hopped on the back of a motorcycle (this time with a helmet) in the drizzling rain and went for a short 15 minute ride over to it on the outskirts of town.
The mausoleum is a huge thing here. The area is cordoned off and heavily guarded by uniformed and armed guards. It’s also a big educational thing for the kids here and most of the people doing the tour today were groups of school kids.
They were so cute as they would repeatedly say hello, hello and wave as I walked by them. I gave some a high five and it just brought a smile to my face.
The mausoleum itself was a unique experience. You enter in an orderly fashion past the many guards and very quietly and respectfully walk around the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh and then right back out.
The whole thing takes about 2 minutes but it takes a good 15 minutes to actually walk from the entrance to the building he’s being housed in.
Outside the mausoleum is the Presidential Palace immediately recognizable by it’s grandeur and it’s bright yellow color.
The public isn’t actually allowed inside, you can only take photos of the building from the outside.
Following the path you are finally led to the Ho Chi Minh Museum which is your basic museum setup telling his story and some of the history of Vietnam.
I opted to walk back even though it was raining and the walk was about 40 minutes. I just wanted to see some of the stuff that I whizzed by on the motorbike earlier.
By 10am I was back at the hostel and still had time to pop out to finally try the infamous Banh Mi bread people had been telling me to have.
I went to a little donair stand down the street and ordered one. It’s essentially a donair done Vietnamese style (on the Banh Mi bread which is thin, crispy flatbread)
Anyway, as every other donair I’ve wolfed down in my life, this one was no different – yummy!
At 11:30 a driver came to whisk me away for the 45 minute ride out to the airport. I said my goodbyes to Zoom the awesome front desk clerk who had made me feel at home there and I was on my way.
When I arrived at the airport a few days ago it was 2 in the morning and the arrivals/immigration/visa area was kind of dingy and small in the basement.
Imagine my surprise then when I walked into the departure area and it was bright, shiny and clean – almost new. Quite surprised that an airport in Vietnam would be so modern and clean.
I happily sat in the lounge waiting for my flight where, naturally, I ran into Eve (girl I sat beside on my flight from Manila) yet again.
Her group were on the same flight to Da Nang but while I would then be going north to Hue they were heading south to Hoi An where I’ll be in a couple of days. Chances are we’ll likely run into each other again.
I also ran into Chad and Emily whom I had met on the street food tour last weekend in Hanoi. They also were on the same flight and, again, most likely I’ll run into them in Hoi An in a couple of days as well.
We boarded the plane and then sat there on the tarmac for 45 minutes before finally taking off for the hour long flight.
Da Nang is kind of in the middle of the country and most people use this city as just a hub to go to their final destination. Hue, where I was going is a 3 bus or train ride up north and Hoi An is a 45 minute drive south.
It would seem, actually, that most people were heading to Hoi An and I was in the minority of people heading to Hue.
But north is where I was going!
THE TAXI FIGHT!!!
I make it a habit of getting some basic knowledge of a city before I get there. One of things I like to find out is how I get from point A to point B and how much it should cost. This is especially important here in Southeast Asia as cabbies will try to charge you a flat rate instead of using a meter.
Anyway, I had looked up how to get from the airport to the bus station where I would catch a cheap bus up to Hue. It was a short 3km trip and should only cost about 50,000 dong ($2.50).
I went over to the taxi stand and I told the man directing the cabs that I was going to the Intercity bus terminal to catch a bus to Hue. After I turned down his offer to have a cabbie drive me all the way there for the low, low price of $50US he let the driver know where I was going.
Of course you should be able to assume that taxi drivers know where the bus station is but that just isn’t the case alot of the time. Normally I’m overly prepared as I have the address of where I’m going on my phone and I use my navigation app and GPS to make sure I’m going where I should be going.
This time I didn’t have the address and it became apparent my cabbie had no idea where he was going. I couldn’t communicate with him at all and I quickly started fiddling around on my phone trying to find the address and plug it in to my navigation app.
Meanwhile the meter continued to rise – 90,000, 100,000, 120,000…
He actually called someone and passed the phone to me. Not that that helped at all as the person on the phone spoke very broken English too.
After finally getting the address and plugging it in on the app it became apparent that instead of doing a short ride from the airport we had gone entirely around the airport. I showed him the map and pointed him in the right direction and then, poof, he took a wrong turn and started to go in the opposite direction.
At this point I was yelling at him as I waved my phone with the map “you’re going the wrong way!” and he just kept driving.
Finally, exasperated, I demanded he pull over and stop to which he didn’t do either right away. We finally pulled over to where the person who he had been talking to on the phone was. The fare was 250,000 pesos ($12) and I knew we had been travelling in the wrong direction.
I grabbed my bags and got out telling him I’m getting another cab, you’re going the wrong way. I don’t pay.
He didn’t like that last part.
I started to walk away and he stood in front of me blocking my way. I just kept saying I’m not paying – call police. and kept walking. He soon gave up the chase and shortly afterwards I hopped in another cab and was on my way again.
To say I was highly stressed and aggravated would be an understatement.
For the new cabbie I just showed the address of where I was going as any extra information like talking about buses or going to Hue seems to just confuse them.
We arrived at the address but there was no bus depot.
What the hell?!?
I told the driver there should be a bus terminal there and I then finally shared that I was catching a bus to Hue.
He looked at me perplexed and pointed in the other direction. He seemed confident in what he was doing so I just let him drive.
At this point I was really at his mercy as I had no idea where the bus terminal actually was.
We ended up about 2 blocks away from where I got out of the first taxi. There was no bus station there but there was little bus waiting on the side of the road.
A man instantly greeted me at my door as I was trying to pay my cabbie.
The cabbie is telling me 100,000 for the man and at first I actually thought it was the first taxi driver looking for some sort of payment.
I told the man to just back off for a second while I paid my guy the fare.
Soon it became clear that this man was with the bus and it would cost me 100,000 dong ($5) to get there. I didn’t care. I was happy to finally be on a bus to Hue after a crazy hour racing around the city.
I plunked down in the bus and let out a huge sigh of relief. It was just after 5pm and the bus left about 5 minutes later.
Thank God I made it because I really don’t think there was another one going that day. I had actually started thinking of backup plans in the back of cab so I’m glad I didn’t have to use them. By the way, I never did find out where the Intercity Bus Terminal is in Da Nang.
The bus was a smaller size that fit maybe 20 or so people.
Inside the bus were some people that recognized me from the flight from Hanoi. Of course their taxi driver knew exactly where to go.
I told them about the 100,000 bus fare and they told me they had only paid 55,000. Luckily I hadn’t paid yet so when the man came to collect I just simply asked why it was 100,000 when they had only paid 55,000 and lo and behold my fare was now 55,000 dong ($3).
Needless to say, we all ended up chatting for the rest of the 3 hour bus trip.
There was Ariane and Christian from Germany, Anna from Denmark and Kerry, Tiffany and Ryan from Singapore.
My outlook on the day instantly changed as these people were really cool and if it hadn’t been for the craziness I might not have met them.
As I’ve said before – embrace the bad, it’s all part of the journey…
We arrived in Hue around 8pm and grabbed a couple of taxis (better experience this time) to where our hostel/hotels were.
I was staying down the street from Ariane and Christian and the other 4 who had been travelling together for a couple of days had no place booked yet.
They ended up checking into my hostel and after we all unpacked we all got together and headed out into the dark Hue streets for some well earned dinner.
I hadn’t eaten since 11am and really was counting on getting an afternoon meal after getting off the plane as I was sure I had a couple of hours to kill between 3 and 5pm.
Of course with the delayed takeoff and that taxi ride I had no time at all and I was starving!
Anna had a piece of wood with a screw in it with the name and address of a restaurant here in Hue. A friend had given her the peculiar address stick and told her she had to go there.
So, we did.
It wasn’t nearby as we had to walk about 20 minutes in the dark and drizzling rain. We turned the corner and there it was – Lac Thien. I was expecting some restaurant and it was a little hole in the wall place like so many I had seen in Hanoi. It was also empty.
First impression, not so great. Luckily we stuck around for a second impression.
We sat upstairs surrounded by different visitors’ messages left on the walls in felt marker. Most were the I was here variety but some were pretty clever and downright amateur art.
We, of course, left our mark. I’m not as artistic so I just left a thank you message and a couple of hashtags (#eurotrip2014 and #findingtodd).
Since there were 7 of us we decided we would just share a bunch of plates. At the very front of the menu
was a list of 13 house specialties. All the dishes were Vietnamese and I suggested that we should just order a bunch of them and share those.
We ended up getting almost everything from that list and over the next hour yummy plate after plate came to our table. It truly was a feast.
That wasn’t the best part though…
The Lac Thien restaurant is run by a deaf mute family and has been in operation since 1965. Our waiter was a 67 year old man named Trung. He was such a cute old man with a huge smile and would give the thumbs up in every photo we took of him.
Because he was deaf mute he would communicate with us using charade type gestures. We literally had conversations with him. It was just the cutest thing.
Some of our group had bottled beer and that’s when we found out the story of that piece of wood with the screw on it.
It’s a homemade bottle opener and Trung dazzled us with his bottle opening skills as he lay the piece of wood flat on the bottle top with the screw underneath the cap. One pop on the end of the wood and the bottle cap was off.
He later prepared 7 of them for us at a side table putting screws in each one and writing the restaurant name and today’s date on them.
What a great souvenir!
Trung told us the story of his family by using big placards showing how many kids and grandkids there were and how many were deaf mute. He also showed us picture books of the different people who had the bottle openers, took them back home, shot photos with them and mailed them to the restaurant.
It truly was an fantastic experience and although the food was amazing, that won’t be what I take away from it – it’ll be the great friends I made and Trung, the cutest little 67 year old server out there!