The worst thing about the overnight trip from Sapa back to Hanoi? Arriving in Hanoi unexpectedly at 3.30am, and nobody had anything booked because we all were told the bus would get in at 6-7am. Hanoi is a city where everything has to close by midnight, and this is enforced. So, arriving at this time, was not ideal. Far from it!
Whilst still on the bus, we were all woken abruptly by a guy who was shouting and coming round handing out bits of paper that read ‘Do not get the taxi from here, they will drive round and round and charge you lots of money, it is not far to walk to the Old Quarter, do not get a taxi! No taxi!’
So, on waking up a little dazed and confused, I soon realised it was absolutely pouring down with rain, and I mean torrential. I legged it off the bus and into the underneath luggage storage, and hunched in there frantically retrieving rain coat and rain covers to cover my bags with. I really, really did not want to be wandering the streets of Hanoi at 4am on my own looking for somewhere to stay, so I needed to join forces with someone. I spoke to an Aussie guy who was also in the luggage compartment of the bus in the same predicament of covering himself and bags etc, and I asked if I could tag along with him. He said of course, no problem. His friend meanwhile, had spoken to a taxi driver and got an assured price of 40,000 VND (£1.20) for the short trip to the Old Quarter, so we went for it…
The taxi driver takes us to the address of a hostel that the Aussie guys gave him, and true to his word, it was 40k.
So all would have been fine.
…the Aussie guy now realises that he hasn’t got his phone. He looks in all his bags, emptying it out on the dashboard of the taxi, but to no avail. He then remembers he handed another taxi driver his phone (showing him a map of where he needed to go) and never got it back! We searched the car just in case but it wasn’t there. I would have just got out here but the hostel we had gone to, and EVERYTHING around it was closed! Not even a bar open. So we asked the taxi driver to go back to the bus station and this is where he starts messing around. He starts going the wrong way (I had gps map on my phone so knew exactly where we were) and driving really slowly. He was turning down wrong roads, then going really slowly and not changing down a gear so that the car stuttered, and he got out trying to pretend the car had died. He obviously thought we were stupid, but this was his game. It was a nightmare trying to get him back to the bus station, and we quickly realised this was one big game, and stitch up. My choices were limited. I either get out and wander the streets on my own (and they were empty, not a soul in sight), or stay with the Australian guys and their nightmare! I had no choice but to stay with it. At least I was with the two guys and safer, despite the fact they were dealing with a potential phone theft! This went on for ages, and on and off the taxi driver was on the phone to someone, obviously we couldn’t understand what he was saying. We then came across this other taxi driver who was feigning illness in the road, clutching his stomach, then falling on the ground, and our taxi driver got out and then was was trying to get the Aussie out of the front seat of our car, grabbing at the door. I was in the back and was starting to get really worried at this point, this is where my ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicked in, and it was ‘flight’ all the way for me. ‘I’m out of here!’. I got out and the Aussie guy knew they had his phone and were just messing around. The taxi driver that had rolled on the floor clutching his stomach, got in the cab screaming, pretending to have some kind of fit. Then our taxi driver got in and they drove off. That was it, they were gone, and they had obviously orchestrated the whole thing between them, stealing the Aussie guy’s phone. It was a nightmare!
We were on a street where a couple of hundred metres down the road I had just seen two backpackers knocking on the door of a hostel (all shutters down and locked) and I saw it open. So I took my chances, hoping that they had room and headed there on my own, while the Aussie guys were going to head to the station to continue in their nightmare of getting their phone back. I rang on the doorbell and the shutters started to roll up, inside I was praying for a bed like you wouldn’t believe…and thank goodness they had one, I’ve never been so relieved in my life! Soaked in rain, I quietly piled all my stuff in the hostel dorm, took off all the wet clothes and crawled into bed. A whole hour had passed since arriving at the bus station and I cant explain how relieved I felt to be safe in that hostel.
I obviously never knew what happened to the Aussie guys, but I only stayed with their nightmare as long as I had to.
Before I came away, it was these situations that I worried about most, and would I be able to handle them. When you are faced with the situation, you do what is necessary for your own safety, and it was the ‘fight or flight’ moment that took over, that point where it had gone too far, that made me realise that I actually can make the right decision, in a very stressful situation!
At the time this obviously never entered my head, but I would loved to have got a photo of the absolutely deserted street of Hanoi, a far cry from the usual scooter lined pavements and zig zagging bikes along the road, with old ladies carrying bags of fruit. It was like two different worlds!
I tried to find a picture on the internet that resembled the street at that time in the night/morning, but there were none. So I will leave it to your imagination to capture how dark and deserted it was. Not a door to knock on, not even one light on, anywhere!