Old East Gate in Hanoi

Produce Market

August 17, 2001 (32-days)

Xin chao (sin chow),

I hated Vietnam at first.  In a month, I developed an appreciation for it.

I started in the north at Hanoi and went to Sapa, Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island.  Then I went south to Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh City).

The moment I crossed the border from Laos I knew I was in for an adventure.  It started with the outrageous price of $15 for a minibus ride.  I was the only westerner and worked hard to get the price down to $5.  When I paid, I knew I'd been ripped off.  I could see it in their faces.  I told the man it was bad karma to lie, and cheat people.  I might have said a few other things.  On the ride, I discovered the locals pay less than $1, which made me angry.  I can see paying double, but this was much more.

The local girls swarmed around me trying to buy my kip Laos money.  I was tempted, since it is worthless once you cross the border, but I didn't know the Vietnamese rate, so I held on to it.  Fortunately I exchanged money with another traveler and discovered the girls wanted to give me half of the value.

Although the local buses are cheap, they are crammed full and take three times as long as the tourist bus.  It's a shame, because I really enjoyed traveling with the locals in other countries. 

On my second day, I learned the Vietnamese numbers, which I highly recommend in any country.  A lot of times I get the local price and I'm sure I've saved a fair amount of money.  Plus you feel like you bond with the people.

In Hanoi, I was turned off by the aggressive sales on the street, which I hadn't experienced since Indonesia.  I also didn't like the emphasis on package tour groups.  In comparison, independent travel is expensive and difficult, which makes you feel forced to join tours.

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