We arrived at the Nanning International Tourist centre about 15 mins prior to our coach leaving. The coach was modern, air con and had a TV on playing some boring Chinese film. There were English subtitles but they were about a centimeter big and impossible to see.
We set off on time and bottles of water were handed round, as we left Nanning the scenery started to get pretty impressive. The closer to the Vietnam border we got and it got pretty breathtaking.
The coach stopped twice for toilet breaks and after about 3hrs we were at Chinese immigration.
We were booted off the coach with all our bags and loaded onto a golf cart, driven to Chinese immigration and after filling in departure cards breezed straight through in about 10 mins. Back onto a different Golf cart and then driven to Vietnamese Border control. I had to fill in arrivals cards and health forms. When I went to the customs officer he didn’t even bother to look at me or my passport or the kids just checked the visa and stamped us in, despite my visa being for 16 days he gave us 30 days from date of entry. Then we were ushered to a health desk, I handed over the form and the guy held a sign up saying “Please pay 2,000VND or 2CNY for health check” I asked him “what health check?” He didn’t have a clue what I was talking about so I paid and stood there waiting for this health check. He stamped my passport too and started serving the next person??? So yeah, I paid 6,000vnd for 3 health checks which never actually happened.
We were put back on a different coach and after about an hour sat waiting we were off. As an avid walker and someone who loves climbing mountains I have seen some amazing scenery. I have drooled over the Grand Canyon and pretty much most of Arizona/Nevada/Utah and everything they offer, have seen the deserts of Northern Africa and the most impressive scenery the UK has to offer. Nothing comes even remotely close to the scenery of Northern Vietnam. Huge mountainous rock formations all lush with tropical foliage, tiny little Vietnamese houses, and paddy fields – It truly was breathtaking.
About 3 hours after arriving at the Vietnamese border and awe struck with the beauty of the country and we were kicked off in Hanoi.
Instantly taxi drivers were all over us, so given that I needed a taxi I asked one how much to the Old Quarter, $10 was his response – Now, bear in mind Taxi drivers earn maybe $200 per month if they are lucky and this is work 26 hours out of a 24 hour day. So I knew he was pulling a fast one. $5 was probably twice what it should have been but I offered him that, he moaned and was insistent that it was $10 etc etc so I started to walk away. He came after me and we were off for $5.
As soon as we got in the taxi he started the hotel scam. Now, this scam has been around before humans roamed the earth, the dinosaurs perfected it some 50 Billion years ago. Basically what happens is you get in the taxi and they tell you either the hotel is closed for one reason or another or that it is a very bad place etc etc…. Of course the taxi driver knows a great hotel which is open and which isn’t bad etc… He drops you off there, claims his commission and disappears into the sunset whilst you get ripped off.
Now, there are a few ways to avoid this scam, I had expected and saw it coming before he even shut the door. Firstly never get in a taxi unless you are alone with the driver. Especially if you are travelling with kids or are female and alone. Never ever do it. If the driver insists his friend come along then you insist he doesn’t, if you get into a car with someone other than the driver then expect to be proper ripped off.
Secondly it’s important to let the driver know you are not a push over and that you are confident, people in Vietnam have been pushed to desperation and will try anything. What I did was when he asked to put our bags in the boot I insisted my bag travelled in the back with the kids, he was saying “no no, put in boot its fine” I was having none of it and told him the bag travels in the bag with the kids, he accepted and more than me being arrogant it showed him that I was confident of what I wanted from the start.
Ok, so I got in the car and the single first question was “So what hotel are you staying at” I told him and he said “Oh, are you sure…” I cut him off straight away and said “My wife is at the hotel and I am meeting her there” He said “Your wife is at this hotel” And I said “Yes, she has been there a few days and is waiting for us right now” His response was “Oh, ok” That was the scam cut short straight away.
In addition to the hotel scam there is other instances of drivers dropping you off and then claiming it wasn’t actually $5 but $15 etc so a way to avoid this, particularly on long journeys (mine was about 10km) is to ask for the drivers card. Which is what I did, I said “can I have your number and maybe I will call you” Straight away most drivers will see future business and not cause any problems which might jeopardize that. And that’s what happened. He dropped us off $5 see you later.
A point to note on Taxi drivers in Hanoi is their meters, they are not regulated by anyone and meters are well known to be tampered so that it goes up at a faster rate than it should, but many people still insist that the driver uses the meter, I’m different, I like to agree a price and then know what I’m paying. That way the driver can drive the longest way if he likes, he is still only getting the agreed price.
Anyway, so we arrived at the hotel approx 4pm (Mikes Hotel, Hanoi). We tried to check in but were told there was no standard room available. About 20 mins later I was told I could stay in a deluxe room for the night then move to a standard room in the morning. I was fine with that. We went to the room, the kids went to sleep and I sat out on the balcony with a few beers.
About 9pm the phone rings “Mr. Wilson we have your room available” I said “Its 9pm my children are asleep, are you saying I have to vacate this room” The answer was yes and that someone would be up to move our luggage. Instant knock at the door and some guy is stood there; I told him we would move our own stuff since my kids were still in bed. He said I needed to hurry up. I was fuming; I got the kids up, packed all our stuff and went to the lobby. I asked to speak to the manager and a woman came out called Lee Ma, I explained how this was ridiculous and she wasn’t bothered, she spoke to about 4 other colleagues in Vietnamese, I asked if she could speak English and she was having none of it. I said forget it and started to walk away, I turned round and she was laughing. With them. So I asked to speak to the manager, she was telling me he was unavailable and would speak to me in the morning. Normally I wouldn’t have stood for that, but it was 30 degrees plus, I was covered in sweat, the kids were knackered and so we went to our new room. I opened the door and Abi screamed. There was a lizard on the floor. I took a photo of it on my phone and went back to the lobby. I said what had happened and that I wanted refunding now and wanted to check out. I said if you don’t do it then I will sit on your doorway all night trying my hardest to convince every English speaking person not to stay. The manager appeared. I explained to him and asked if he had kids and how would he feel etc. he was telling me he couldn’t refund me since I had paid through Expedia but would put us back in a deluxe room for our whole stay, I was having none of it and was adamant about my refund. I knew we could afford to stay in any hotel in Hanoi – There was no reason to stay there. Then he said, “My Company owns 3 hotels in Hanoi, what if I move you to another one of our hotels at no extra cost” I agreed. He brought us to a hotel not so far away and showed us to our room. A huge deluxe room – Which is actually quite nice. Far better than the other hotel. After he showed us he was apologizing and saying that tomorrow we could sit down and discuss things. I told him to forget it, as far as I was concerned the matter was sorted. The problem was never with him and he had done what he could to help. He was very thankful and asked me “By way of apologizing and to thank you for your understanding, would you please come to my house for breakfast in the morning, my wife will make you very welcome and a really nice breakfast” he said there would be a car waiting for us at 9am the following morning.
The kids were straight to sleep whilst I sat and listened to Huddersfield Giants beat Saint Helens on Radio Leeds.
A tiring day – But one that ended well.