A quick post about Hanoi and package trips

Ho Chi Minh statueI love Vietnam – been there six times. I love the Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel – stayed there on every single trip (and worked for them for 2 months on my last visit a few years ago). The guys that own / run it and all the staff are simply some of the most wonderful people you could ever meet – generous, hard-working, and above all honest.

So when they reach the point that they have to post the attached, I feel obliged to share it. Please – don’t get ripped off when you’re travelling as it sours a great experience. I’ve been on a load of HBH’s tours – all paid for out of my own pocket – and had nothing but the best memories to bring back. People who read my travel blog before it went into mothballs will know this.

Actually, I had one issue with my Fansipan trip (the scheduling of the ascent/descent wasn’t ideal) which I fed back upon my return. I was staggered when the hostel refunded about 50% of what I’d paid for it. I hadn’t asked for nor had I expected this.

So if you’re heading to Vietnam for tourist attractions, specifically Hanoi, avoid the places and people mentioned in the attached post. They’re scammers who will take your money and ruin your trip. I’m sure there are other places selling great trips (I’ve met people who’ve been on them), but I only ever used HBH and booked direct from their premises. A little more expensive than most (from what I heard), but worth every Dong/Dollar for peace of mind.

Ha, not Hay!

OK, this has become a bugbear over the last few weeks, especially as I spent so much of my time out there.

I keep bumping into backpackers who’ve been to Halong Bay. This is no bad thing. It’s beautiful and there are plenty of tours (some basic, some dreadful and one awesome – not that I’m biased given that I was a tour guide on the awesome one). However, I still don’t get how anyone can visit the place and still pronounce the name incorrectly.

It is “ha long bay” – with the “ha” pronounced as in the word “hat” – a short “a” sound and without the final “t”.

It is not “hay long bay”.

Allowing for my inability to type Vietnamese on here, the correct name is “Vịnh Hạ Long“. This translates literally as “the bay of the descending dragons”, a name derived from a legendary story of the bay’s creation.

If you change “ha” for “hay”, you’d end up with a completely different translation. In addition, nobody local would know where the hell you were talking about.

Oh, and no – there aren’t any bloody sharks in the bay. I got sick of answering this question on every single flipping trip I took out.

No sharks.

The crocs ate them all.

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Flitting through Bangkok

Last night got messy. I made the mistake of volunteering to lead a group of people up to Finnigan’s where I then made the mistake of telling Pete the barkeep that it was my last night. I was then presented with a cocktail in a flower vase. No exaggeration.

As I came close to finishing it, I then got a panicked phone call from the hostel asking me to gather my stuff and shift to another room as there’d been a double booking and someone else was supposed to be in my bed. I tootled back and shifted, but had to bang on the door of my new dorm as the folk in there had decided to lock it. A bit pointless when they’re actually in the room, and annoying as I didn’t have a key. I explained this to them, and that I’d not be able to get in if they locked the door.

Back at Finnigan’s, I rescued my cocktail and was then given another about a pint in size. And another. Into which Pete kept dropping more shots. We then had more shots.

On a sad note, the shots were raised to a friend’s father who died earlier this week, so the case was reviewed by a wrongful death attorney New York to check the circumstances of this. I promised her I’d have his name honoured by people in Hanoi, and I was true to my word.

As the group started to split up around 2am, I headed back to the hostel and found that I was locked out of the room because the muppets inside had locked the door again. So I rattled the handle and then resorted to kicking it. Repeatedly. And loudly.

Hey, well. I had told them I didn’t have a key and it was obvious I wasn’t in the flipping room.

I was out like a light and woke what seemed like 3 minutes later to my 6am alarm. I gathered my stuff, packed what little remained (outside the room so as not to disturb everyone else) and made my way down to find that my taxi wasn’t waiting for me.

This worked out well, as two American girls had missed their taxi as they had opted to spend the night with a couple of the guys they met in Finnigan’s… The hostel had paid for my cab so I ushered them in when it turned up.

The flight was uneventful other than being a budget one with comfy seats (Ryanair could learn a few things from AirAsia – like how not to be crap and treat your customers like garbage) and we landed in Bangkok just before 11am. The border security was as slow and painful as it always seems to be at Suvarnabhumi airport, though it timed well with the luggage surfacing.

So here I sit with no wifi (come on, Bangkok! Get with the 21st century!) waiting for my bus to Pattaya. I intend to spend the afternoon and evening watching stuff at the nearest cinema to my guest house!

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Towards the end

I’ve only a couple of days left here and I’ve not posted in about a month which is poor form. In fairness I have been ridiculously busy and there’s been a lot of routine to the job. In addition, there’s the “what happens in the Bay, stays in the Bay” rule.

So I’ll only tell you a few things to whet your appetites and change the names to protect the guilty. And drunk.

The major story a couple of weeks ago made the local paper back home when I saved a young girl from certain death (PDF file – 386k). Which is not quite completely true. In fact, it was blown out of all proportion, but in the reporter’s defence it was the copywriter who reworded everything. Still, it makes me sound good.

I have, of course, been up to Blue Dragon a couple of times and will be back up over the next two days (weather permitting). The swimming course I was due to help with was, ironically, cancelled due to flooding a couple of weeks ago.

Sarah, one of my co-workers from the last school I was at, visited for a few days towards the end of her trip. I took her up to see the place and meet Mike and she was suitably impressed. I made good friends with a couple of boys, around the 7 year age bracket at a guess.

Mike told me that when one of them came in, they couldn’t tell what sex he was let along get any information from him. His hair hadn’t been cut in months (at least), or his clothes changed in a similar length of time. He would sit in the corner and avoid communication of any kind with anyone.

You would not believe this to see him now. Cheeky, funny and happy to clamber all over me with the biggest smile a small child can produce. He’s bright, and I spent a good while showing him a map of Hanoi which he pored over, recognising place names and asking what the symbols meant. Certainly not the scared child he had been not so long ago.

The tours have been great, but hard work as I’ve said before. Courtesy of a typhoon a week ago we had to evacuate Castaway Island and I’ve not been back since – a shame as I’ve not been able to say goodbye to the guys there. I did have a heck of a last night on the Jolly Roger.

The staff gave me a 50% discount on my bar bill, which is a good thing as no matter how much I drank I just couldn’t get squiffy. Being the new teachery-type I am, I can’t quote figures but trust me, I should have been on the floor. Face down. With marker pen all over me. Pretty much like Tom ended up after Jordan’s birthday on the island.

I can honestly say that despite the stress, irritation, lack of sleep and so forth that come with the job – every day was like working with your best friends. Tricky on the Jolly Roger in particular is a heck of a guy and I’m really going to miss hanging out with them.

Of course, the hostel staff deserve a great mention. Hard-working, fun and always smiling. I’ve had some awesome work colleagues in the past, but this bunch are something else. I’ve even learned some Vietnamese, but not really the kind of phrases you want to be using in polite company or around children.

There have been lots of little events and I might document them one at a time as they come to mind or this post will get to a stupid length. I’ve got two “Bar PM” shifts and a day off before I head for Bangkok / Pattaya and I’m going to make the most of the remaining time here.

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Footie and films

Quick catchup. After several tours of Halong Bay, I’ve had 2 days of to recuperate. And I needed them.

Yesterday I stayed up till 4:00am to watch England be crap, then rose at 8:30am as I can’t sleep for more then 4 hours at present. I collared James, a chap from the US, and we went to see The A-Team at Vincom Towers, which was more enjoyable than it should have been.

The afternoon was spent catching up with you lot, followed by an early night.

Up at 7am today to ensure I could make it to the footie at Long Bien where the Blue Dragon kids have their weekly kickabout. A small turnout of 40 or so didn’t mar proceedings (almost everyone here stays up to watch the World Cup) and the under 14s were presented with a trophy from a local competition.

I took another backpacker, Sean, who was hugely impressed with the turnout and the work being done by BDCF. He chatted to Michael and Tho while I embarrassed myself on the pitch. Hey, I was barefoot. And I suck.

After a drink with the guys, Sean and I headed down to Vincom to catch The Karate Kid which was – like The A Team – far better than it had any right to be. We got back to the hostel in time for free beer then happy hour, followed by me typing this up before I head for bed.

Off to Halong Bay again in the morning and back on Wednesday!

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