Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hanoi - Not A Very Pleasant Return

Hoan Kiem Lake

The Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Hanoi took 2 hours. I was shaken from the sudden change of destination but I had to think and act fast. Otherwise, I’d lose my ticket’s worth, as Air Asia tickets are non-refundable. I just added B1,600, then I was off to Hanoi once again. After an agonizing queue at the check-in counter (row E), the immigration was even worse. This was due to the picture-taking process that goes on. I was 3 persons behind the line, and the clock was running 7:15AM already. The flight was supposed to leave 6:55. My nerves were all frayed from all the anticipation and anxiety. As I passed the counter, I made a mad dash to the pre-departure area, which was a helluvva run. They waited! And I can only be grateful! It wasn’t a great way to start the day. In a way, it was a foreboding of things to come.


The plane landed 9:30AM to a fog-bound tarmac, with a visibility of just a few meters. I filled up my immigration card, subtly shivering from the unwelcoming cold. I wasn’t prepared to endure a wintery climate. In fact, all I had was barely appropriate. It was a sweat shirt that was hardly used in Bangkok. Immigration was a breeze, as usual. No questions. This weather must keep them lazy and basically careless. I texted my brother back in Manila to surf ASAP for the address of Tung Trang Hotel. Good thing that he was online. Although I'd find my way there, the route I know would require me to walk several blocks. This wasn’t feasible. I had a 15kg bag, and I was inappropriately bundled up.


I went to the Accommodations Counter which readily supplied me with a map and encircled the purported area. A “miron” (lurker) was nodding his head, saying “I know. I bring you!” I wasn’t thinking straight, and I really should have known better than biting the bait. Lurkers are NEVER good news. Most of the time, they have modus operandi that would squeeze moolah from your well guarded budget. The short of it, after an agreed $15 fare to Tung Trang, I found out that the lurker wasn’t the driver. I was led to a shabby car, bag at the trunk, then the lurker sat beside a driver. My spider-sense was buzzing overtime but it was too late. Half way to the city, just before a non-operational tollway, my ride pulled down a shoulder where a makeshift “police” stall stood. The lurker went down and talked to the uniformed lady “officer”. He came back asking for a “toll fee” of about $35 (500,000 dong). This was highway robbery. Airport taxis to the city center only costs $15 tops, and I am being asked for a "toll fee" of $35!

I knew there was nothing I could do! I was a blimp and a cunt and I deserved to be hoodwinked! I have been here before so I should have known better. After calming myself with an internal “It’s ok! It’s ok! You can earn that back easily!” – I somehow knew also that the worst is over. AND as a cautionary piece, one should NEVER ever mess with a police officer in a socialist republic like Vietnam, especially when you are easily outnumbered (3 of them, and your bag is in their trunk)!


By the time I reached the alleyway where I was supposed to get off, and walk from there to Tung Trang Hotel, I was adamant in giving him $15 for the taxi fare. Heto ang masaklap, the crocodile-faced hoodlum had the gal to ask for a tip of $20! Is he crazy??? I balked and refused! That’s about all the abuse I could take. I had my bag out, and I was already standing on a congested street. Either he takes my $15 or he leaves without it. Period!

After checking in at Tung Trang, where the former apprentice named Teyet (she's now calling the shots), I asked some minor information. A bus ride to Luang Prabang (Laos) is worth $18, and travels for 18 hours! I then walked along the main street. Decided to go to Hoan Kiem Lake, I took a taxi (flag down rate starts at 15,000 dong). I was famished, so I found a corner shop, walked upstairs, and ordered stir-fried chicken (55,000 dong).


Now it has to be emphasized here, and rather emphatically, just to be very sure and very exact. $1 is equivalent to roughly 16,000 dong. This is almost a fixed rate for the last 5 years or so. It is NOT 1,600 dong NOR 16 dong! I have travelled Vietnam EXTENSIVELY (and I do NOT mean just 3 or 4 or 5 days) 3 months ago so I am not making up a story when I say I know what I am talking about. Regardless of how smart other people would think they are, experience deserves a more believable reliability than any preconceived intelligence. Having said that, let’s move on.

After lunch, I decided to finally watch the world-renowned Than Long Water Puppet Show just a stone’s throw away from the main tourist office, across Hoan Kiem Lake. I bought a ticket (40,000 dong) for the 1 ½ hours show. The earlier 2 shows were sold out so I got the 6:30 PM show. (Show times: 2:45, 4:00, 5:15, 6:30, 8:00, 9:15) I had 3-4 hours to kill before this starts, so I decided to visit a park I have never been.


I decided to revisit their national hero’s (Ho Chi Minh) museum and mausoleum first. The sky was downcast so I just took a leisurely walk around the area, where I then saw the beautiful One-Pillar Pagoda! Oh! So this is where this pagoda was! The Pagoda stands on a single pillar, the surroundings adorned by pots of poinsettia in full bloom, appearing "very red" beside the greenish moat (a body of water). I’ve always wondered where this was located from my previous visit. After some snaps, I decided to head to this other lake. I looked at the map and saw a body of water west of the city center. This is the Thu Le Lake, with an adjoining park and a minor Voi Phuc Temple.

Thu Le Lake and Park was a pleasant area. (Before I forget, entrance here has an admission fee. I think it was 15,000 dong per person, probably coz it has animals on display. Is it worth it? Of course not! Haha. Hoan Kiem is free and it is a hundredfold prettier.) It sure looks a lot better than Baguio’s man-made lake though. There are recreational boats that can be rented to paddle over. The center of the lake has a romantically curved bridge. It’s surrounding land is spruced with animals in cages (including a baby elephant). Across the southern border of the lake, there is the Marko Market. At the western exit of the park, I took a taxi that would take me back to Than Long Water Puppet Theater near Hoan Kiem. (As for my thoughts on the Water Puppets Show, read the entry “Overrated Things about Vietnam”.)

After the show (it was a heady pleasure to just get out of that stuffy theatre), decided to take a rather pricey dinner once again at the touristy Hong Ngoc hotel Restaurant (180,000 dong). Though the pork steak was tasty (and the “small” rice turned out to be a bandehado – a big bowl), the pork was rubbery, it took all my strength to knife through it. That is one thing I have noticed about Vietnamese cuisine. They don’t quite know what to do with their pork dishes. That night, I realized I paid for a big airconditioned room even when I do not even need an electric fan. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

One-Pillar Pagoda

Thu Le Lake and Park (at the west Hanoi area)

Me at Thu Le Park. Who cropped me???!!! ;->

This is a familiar sight this season. These bald shrubs with pink (sometimes yellow or orange flowers) bloom wildly all over the city. You would see them on top of hotel desks, houses, restaurants, or being transported on motor cycles, sold in the market, etc. They seem to be their own version of Christmas Trees.


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