Good Morning, Vietnam; Bad Evening, Vietnam

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This blog entry about the events of Monday, December 13, 2004 was originally posted on December 18, 2004.

DAY 422:  There was a peaceful, quiet darkness in my cabin near the engine room on the boat in Ha Long Bay, just before the break of dawn.  My German cabinmate Andy and I were snug under our covers in our respective beds.  Then, just a little passed 6 a.m., the motor kicked in to move the boat farther along and provide electricity to the ship.  The loud rumbling was incessant and inescapable.

“Oh yeah, I like that sound,” Andy said with the sarcasm one has after such a rude awakening.

“Good morning, Vietnam,” I added, also with the same kind of sarcasm.

“Yeah, ha ha!  Goooooood morning, Vietnam!”

IT WAS A GOOD MORNING IN VIETNAM after all, despite the rude awakening and the lack of a colorful picturesque sunrise with all the morning haze.  We made our way through the limestone peaks (some of them very phallic) to the fishing village on the island of Cat Ba to drop off the three- or more-day tourists (about half of us) for the rest of their packages, while the rest of us remained on board to go back to the mainland.

After a good morning breakfast of banana pancakes and a really stimulating conversation about world politics with Bob, I just went back to sleep for a nap.  Halfway to port we anchored for a mid-morning swim, and after that I just chilled out on the upper deck staring out at the open water and the boats going by (picture above) while writing out my postcards to send to Blog sponsors. 

Good morning in Vietnam, indeed.

From the harbor back on the mainland, the good vibrations continued through mid-day when we were taken over a bridge to nearby Tuan Chan Island for a delicious family-style lunch of fake meat shaped from soy bean paste at a fancy Chinese-style restaurant — it and the surrounding pavilion looked like something out of the World Showcase at EPCOT Center.  In fact, Tuan Chan was an example of the boom of tourism to come, with combed beaches, an expo center, and luxury bay front properties.  From what I gathered, Vietnam was bracing for an influx of tourism, and would become “the next Thailand,” which has its ups and downs.  On one hand, tourism will pump money into the economy; on the other, really, do they really need obnoxious drunken backpackers spoiling the purity of Vietnamese culture?


THE “BAD EVENING” MENTIONED IN THE TITLE of this entry happened in the evening (duh) when we arrived back in Hanoi, just before sundown around 5 o’clock.  These gave me two hours to run errands in town — buy a new silk sleeping bag, get cash, buy postage and mail my cards off, and repack — as well as quickly see some nearby sights I had missed:  the 13th century Ngoc So’n Temple dedicated to Van Xu’o'ng, the god of literature, located amidst mangrove trees on the center of the island in Hoan Kiem Lake.  One thing I didn’t have time for was the famous Water Puppet show, which I sighed about and moved on.  I had a quick sandwich at Ocean Tours’ cafe and then headed to the Queen Bee Travel office where they said my pickup for the night bus to Hue would be. 

It is probably the time to mention that the ticket I had had the Queen Bee name on it, but the business card Hai gave me in Vinh was for another agency, An Phu.  I had gone to both places before and both said the bus company was just another company that small middlemen agencies dealt with.  I simply went with Queen Bee because they were closer.

“They won’t give us the money,” the guy at Queen Bee said.  He had called the bus to get me as a client, but the main company wouldn’t pay Queen Bee out since they weren’t a usual middleman.  Queen Bee Guy actually knew me this before, but thought he’d try and help me out anyway and pursue the bus since he knew that I’d most likely been scammed; he showed me an article posted on the wall about how many people used the good Queen Bee name and reputation to do shady business. 

“No really, it’s me.  The guy in Vinh told me to go to [An Phu].  I just came where because you said you could call [the bus too].”  He let me call An Phu, and in their broken English they said something with the phrase “five minutes” in it; it sounded like they would send the bus over in five.  Meanwhile I called the mobile number Hai gave me in case of a problem.  Hai picked up and said everything should be fine as long as I went to the agency he told me to, An Phu.

Twenty minutes passed.  No bus.  In the interim, Queen Bee Guy called up An Phu and scolded them for using their name.  Eventually I was suggested to just go to An Phu myself; perhaps I was supposed to go there in “five minutes.”  I hopped on the back of a motorcycle taxi and took off into the nighttime traffic.


THERE WAS A CROWD OF CONCERNED EMPLOYEES at An Phu, most likely because Queen Bee just yelled at them.  I showed them my ticket and they said it wasn’t one of theirs.  They said that they never heard of a guy named Hai in the Vinh office.  “Can we just call this number?  He’ll straighten this out.  I just spoke with him.” 

No answer in Vinh.

“You want to book a ticket?” the An Phu Lady asked.

“No, I already paid for this [open ended, hop on/hop off] one.”

They argued it wasn’t theirs and even showed me a real one. 

“Can we just call this number again?”

“No.”

At this point we were just wasting time; the bus was most likely out of town already.  More arguing went on while my motorcycle taxi driver was still lingering, waiting for an outcome.  An Phu Lady said if I booked a ticket with her now, she could call the bus to come back for me.

“No, I just want to make a phone call.”

“[Take him to the Youth Hotel,]” is what she told the taxi motorcyclist I presume, because one ride later, that’s where I was.  (She probably thought I was really young.)

Moon, the nice lady at the Youth Hotel desk greeted me.  “I can put you in the dorm for two dollars.”

“No, I just want to use the telephone.”  She let me use it and dialed the mobile number on speaker.

“The number you have dialed has been…” started the pre-recorded message.  Moon hung it up.  The number was no longer existent.

Fuck!  I was scammed.  The bastard probably pulled out his SIM card too.

“The bus has left already,” Moon pointed out.  She suggested I spend the night and then get on a bus to Vinh to get my money back, but I told her I’d probably just be wasting time going down a dead end and that I accepted my defeat.

Wow, that didn’t take too long, I thought.  Scams and other bad things are all a part of the drama of travel.

I thought about a Plan B.  “What time is the night train to Hue?”

“Eleven.  I can book it.”

“It’s available?”

“I can book it when you pay me.”

A slight hesitation was followed by a forking over of money.  “Yeah, okay.”  I had her book me a sleeper.  In the meantime, suddenly I had time to do that one must-see thing I would have missed.

“Uh, what time is the Water Puppet show?”


WATER PUPPETS ARE THE BRAINCHILD of farmers of the Li dynasty in the 11th century, a thing invented out the necessity of entertainment during the flood season.  Wooden puppets are controlled by hidden puppeteers like marionettes (in Prague) are, not by strings above, but by sticks below, hidden under the floodwaters.  The craft of water puppetry had been perfected to simulate dancing, working, swimming and other life-life motions.

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theater Troupe has continued to preserve this proud Vietnamese art form and has been recognized for it, having performed overseas numerous times in Japan, Korea, Thailand, Australia, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, the USA, Mexico and Brazil.  Four times daily they performed their show to busloads of tourists in the theater that started it all, just across the way from Hoan Kiem Lake. 

The performance was divided into 17 short scenes, each one with puppets “acting” and dancing to the music of a live band positioned on the left of the water-filled stage pool.  Wooden human dolls worked, played, paraded, swam, and raced boats.  Floating dragons danced amongst waterproof pyrotechnics.  One scene re-enacted the famous legend about King Le Loi defeating invaders with a magic sword he got from a giant turtle.  The puppets were jolly and brought the kids out in all the adults in the audience.

And so, it was a bad evening turned good after all — or was it?


“I BOUGHT A TRAIN TICKET FROM MOON,” I told the new guy at the Youth Hotel desk.

“Oh, you’re late.”

“What?!  It’s at eleven.  She said be here by ten fifteen.”  I showed him my watch.  A quarter passed ten exactly.

“The train left at ten.  You had to be here at nine fifteen.”

“I’m going to Hue.”

“At ten you should have been here,” he said with a deadpan face.  “Do you want me to book you a room?”

“No, no!  I need to get to Hue tonight!”

“Where are your bags?”

“Here.”  There they were, on the side piled with the other bags.

“You can bring them to the room.”

“Oh c’mon!  I’ve already been scammed once today.”

Suddenly his deadpan face turned into a smile.  “Okay, okay.  Here.”  He handed me my train ticket.  He was kidding all along. 

I snatched the ticket from him, got my gear and hopped on a motorcycle taxi to the train station.  I made it to my bunk with time to breathe.  Soon, I was on my way southbound to Hue.  Finally.


I GUESS SOME DAYS CAN START OFF with good mornings and end with bad evenings, but that’s all a part of independent travel.  Earlier that evening I ran into Aussie father and son, Bob and Roland, on my way to the theater. 

“I tell my son, there are good things and bad things,” Bob said.

“Yeah, but that’s just a part of the game,” I said.

“It’s a part of life really,” he said.  Spoken like a sage.

In the end, I was only ripped off $27 (USD), which wasn’t too bad.  After all, in Vietnam, a country with plenty of violence and bloodshed in its history, losing $27 isn’t exactly the worst thing that could happen.






Next entry: Temporary Ceasefire

Previous entry: A Plan To Be Spontaneous




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Comments for “Good Morning, Vietnam; Bad Evening, Vietnam”

  • MORE TO COME…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/18  at  07:30 AM


  • Yippee!  First again smile

    Posted by Liz  on  12/18  at  10:26 AM


  • Sorry about the scam Erik…

    I am headed home to Michigan now so soon your blog will have my full an undivided attention!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/18  at  07:30 PM


  • at least you got to see the water puppets…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/18  at  10:20 PM


  • MICHELLE:  OH NO!  You mean, you’re… you’re… going BACK?!  wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/18  at  11:47 PM


  • I like your last sentance. Great attitude Erik…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/20  at  03:47 PM


  • Hi Erik,

    congrats on a fantastic site. Will certainly read in more detail over Christmas. Sent a couple of images of a “card sharp” at Halong Bay. Let me know if you get them; they’re about 2 Mb in total.

    Regards,

    Bob & Roland

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  03:04 AM


  • did you really need that wise ass giving you shit about missing your train? I guess sarcasm doesn’t translate with broken english.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/21  at  10:10 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Temporary Ceasefire

Previous entry:
A Plan To Be Spontaneous




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