Vietnam welcomes us at nearly midnight. We feel lucky to find a counter open at the airport where we order an overpriced taxi to our hotel. We ride in style, and when the taxi stops we find ourselves in a mysterious alleyway. David is surprised, perhaps wondering if the driver took us into the alley to rob us. A bleary eyed young man, who looks like he is only 16, peers into our headlights from an open doorway. I had sent the Hotel Ciao a message that we would be arriving late. We enter into the hotel foyer, and another young man rises up from a dirty mattress laid down on the hotel lobby floor where he had been sleeping.
“There’s six of you?”, they ask with surprised expressions.
I pull out a copy of my reservations that shows I reserved one room to accomodate six people on hotels.com. After some discussion they brought us down the alleyway to their sister hotel, “The Blue Lotus”, where we checked into a room with two beds. They brought up a dirty mattress to throw on the floor for an extra bed. We did not argue. When they left we blew up one of our air mattresses for Aundrea that I brought along (I did not tell David I was bringing them…..shhhhh).
In the bad lighting I can’t tell if the bed sheets are dirty. Lucky for David he brought along his silk sleeping bag liner. I had plans to buy some in China but we never did. I take our only towel and lay it down for myself…..and David and I share the double bed. David’s feet are hanging off the bed. We are tired and don’t care…..
In the morning David looks a little more chipper. I guess it was not so bad…..maybe we have bed bug bites? Who knows. They might be mosquito bites. I tell the kids that if we don’t have bed bugs or lice by the end of this trip it will be a miracle. I lost my sense of humor when the hotel receptionist suggested that I needed to pay $10 x 2 for the two extra people who stayed in the room. I dragged out my reservation again, and told them I was not going to pay more….thank you very much…..and they did not insist any more….the nerve – like $25 wasn’t enough for a rat infested hole in the wall? Well, not really rat infested, but yeah….we have a lot to get used to.
We leave on foot to explore Hanoi. Our hotel is right in the heart of the historic district by the cathedral. Maybe that’s why this hotel had fairly decent ratings. There’s so much noise in this city with a constant buzz of traffic and horns blaring, and alarming smells and garbage….
Hmmmmm…….the restaurant employees wash their dishes out on the street…..
Often we would see men playing games on the sidewalk. We heard later that the women do a lot of the work, and the men socialize…..or whatever…..
We walked a ways to the Hanoi Hilton…..a nickname given to the prison where prisoners of war were kept during the Vietnam war. Unfortunately most of the prison has been knocked down to make way for a high rise, but there is a small museum on site yet.
We found the display with Arizona senator John McCain’s uniform that he wore when he was shot down over Vietnam, where by his own account he suffered severe brutality. The museum ironically shows photos of captured American airmen laughing and playing cards, smoking and playing basketball and such pleasantries. Kristoff is grinning from ear to ear to have his photo taken here.
There was a great backdrop for portraits, so I got a bit crazy!
The day is passing quickly, so we head off to Hang Gai Street, otherwise known as Silk Street…we have something very important to do! There are lots of vendors of silk…at least I think it’s silk. Or they say it’s silk. We go into the Hanoi Silk shop, and we bought five “silk” sleeping bag style sheets….you know, in case we run into some other questionable hotel beds along the way! We paid $23 for all five sheets, which is so cheap it seems like it can’t be real. Oh, and I bought a silk scarf for $5 as well….at least I think it’s silk.
I thought we might be able to use these sheets for years to come, but the seam in mine is already opening up. Oh well, if they last this trip I will be happy. I am quite confident the sheets will protect us from all manner of deadly Asian diseases and bugs and snakes and spiders and probably even rabid monkeys…..if we see any of those on this trip. I am scared of monkeys because of their propensity to be mean, to bite and to give rabies. If anyone gets a monkey bite we have to go home immediately according to our travel doctor!
Speaking of our travel doctor, we have been taking our malaria pills that he prescribed, but today Kristoff broke out in a rash. I wonder if it’s from the malaria pills? I don’t dare to have him stop taking them, though.
After a long day we were famished. I don’t remember who we asked, but we did ask a local where we should go eat. They told us to go the a restaurant called “New Day”. It looked a bit sketchy, but soon we were seated around a low table and ordered the most incredible meal! The waiter recommended four orders of this set menu, so for $28 we ate like kings….the most delicious meal imaginable!
From here we hurry on to our dingy hotel where they had stored our bags for the day. We are off on the night bus to Sapa, Vietnam! It is exciting! And nerve wracking…..David has read lots of reports of night buses crashing, and how terribly dangerous they are. Another option is to take the night train, which is a lot more expensive. The train costs $45 each and the bus is only $14. If I do the math I can save $372 on a round trip. So what if the wheels fall off buses? That’s not going to happen anyway…..that only happens in comic books…..
One thing I forget to think about is that we bought the bus tickets from our dingy hotel. Do you suppose they will book our tickets on the best bus? We tried to explain to the young gal at the desk that we want the “best” bus, and she assures us that it is…..has a bathroom on board….everything is perfect….the young man who checked us in last night tells us that the night buses are not safe….we ignore his advice…..
Ok, let’s see…..a rattle trap mini van picks us up at the hotel and drops us off about 15 minutes later at a total hole in the wall place where there are other unsuspecting travelers waiting for the night bus to arrive….