My motto in life for when things turn bad or unaccordingly to plan is that it’s an “experience”. Something I can tell my grandchildren when I am nothing but an old lady with no more than her stories of a life once lived. My partner Peter would hardly agree with some of our so called “adventures.”
We flew from Vietnam’s capital Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi in the North. The North was once a communist strong hold armed by the Viet Cong and the South heavily influenced by the Americans. Vietnam was a different place in those times and traveling between the two proved impossible for most. After the 1975 unification traveling between the islands became as easy as 1, 2,3.
Thanks largely to the extra leg room; our flight to Hanoi was quite pleasant. Pleasantness diminished to torture and the undeniable feeling of why did I come here? Our check list consisted of little research, plane tickets and accommodation. Check; check and check we were off to an excellent start. I was exuberant with the thought of crossing Halong Bay off my bucket list; what 20 something year old wouldn’t be?
Our plane stopped short of the airport entrance consequently our sun kissed bodies were exposed to the harsh cold and saturating rain. Peter and I had every tropical garment on singlet’s, shorts and jandals as Kiwis call it, flip flops if you’re Australian and thongs for Americans. And of course our sunglasses, now what did we need these for? All that sunshine...of course! It was now 8:30pm.
We waited for the inside warmth; instead the baggage claim awaited us. Thousands of frosty white tiles and the airiness of an examination room filled that space.
“We are so prepared hun.” Peter looked at me with sarcasm written all over his face.
Hanoi was majestic, timeless and serene. Hanoi was preserved in a different era; people dressed differently, towns had yet to be corrupted with gigantic skyscrapers and fuel guzzling machines.
We found a taxi that would drive us into the night to our hotel. We thought it would take an hour but to my naivety it took 3 in the back of a car with a driver that spoke no English. When we neared Halong the driver stopped at what looked like a dingy bus stop. Peter and I looked at each other and thought what the hell. The driver pointed at us then the bus stop; he repeated this motion several times. We got the picture he wanted us to get out. We weren’t getting out; we insisted he take us to our hotel. We finally arrived at our so called 24 hour hotel. At first glance it was obvious it was not open. There were no people around, no bright lights, not even dim lights. Fortunately the owner was asleep in the lobby; so we persistently knocked on the glass doors. Once he opened the door I presented our booking. The owner concluded he didn’t have our reservation and wanted more money. The taxi driver was trying to make a run for the doors-we were not his problem anymore. Peter by this time was furious and I was in tears. In the end we were too much trouble and the Hotel wouldn’t have it. I am still waiting for my refund, its June now and we went in March.
We persuaded the driver with a large sum of money to help us look for a vacancy. He didn’t understand English though he certainly understood money. It’s true what people say money talks. Desperation began to show on our faces...we eventually found a place. We didn’t care about the condition of our room, the stains on the carpet, the dodgy windows and the door that wouldn’t lock. Luckily my sister the air hostess told me never travel without a door wedge. We were just glad to have somewhere to sleep.
Looking back on our “adventures” it just made the trip more memorable. Ho Chi Minh said "It is the wonder that one cannot impart to others". I remember the first time I saw Halong’s beauty. The islands were to my left, my right, and as far ahead as my eyes could see. It was like the photo’s I have seen in many travel books - the land of thousands of islands. It made me dream of a time where dragons ruled the Earth; they breathed fire and flew across the widest oceans.