“Show me the hike on the map,” I said to Thuy, the skinny guide who was going to lead us into the hills of Sapa.
He traced his finger up a trail line. “First we go this way…” Then his finger lost the line and floated across whiteness to the ending village. “We finish here.”
I thought maybe he had the shakes or was drunk, unable to keep his finger on the black line, but it turned out that the trail maps were poor.
The overnight train to Sapa winds through the darkness of Hanoi and when morning greets the land, outside are endless stretches of flooded, green rice fields. Farmers are hunching over planting seedlings in the pools of water or trudging behind hulking water buffaloes that drag plows through the paddies.
When the New York Times gives you 36 hours in a city, we at Somewhere Or Bust say, stay a bit longer. Here’s 37 Hours in Hanoi.
In my previous post, I was a bit hard on the city, so I’ll try to give Hanoi some credit. Having said that, Hanoi is chaos and you won’t really want to spend much more time than 37 hours, but the insanity alone is an attraction worth braving. The trick to surviving Hanoi is to not allow the swarmers, solicitors, scammers, touts, taxis, or tourist companies to ruin your stay. Here’s a guide so you can get the most out of your visit. Just try not to let the time slip away hiding out in your hotel room.
Marissa and I had spent the two days after booking our trip to Halong Bay wondering if we had fallen for the all-too-common tour company scam in Vietnam. There are many variations of this scam, but basically tour companies will show you glossy pages of four star boats cruising past Halong Bay’s limestone karsts, which tower above cerulean waters. You’ll fall in love with the image, book the trip, and wind up on a ship that looks like it had just returned from sardine fishing. After spending hours shopping around, we decided to book two spots on Glory Cruise for a two night, three day trip, using Kim Tours travel agency.
When we were having dinner, Marissa said, “You know, the lady at Kim Tours never actually called the boat company.”
“Eat here,” this teenage punk said as he shoved the menu against my face. I’m not being hyperbolic. He pressed the sticky plastic pages against my nose and cheeks and forehead. I ripped the menu out of his hand and thought three things: Tear the book in half, throw the menu among the chicken bones and napkins swimming in the gutter, or shove the menu back in his face. But as a guest in someone else’s country, I decided on the taking the high road. I fucking hate the high road.