From the moment I arrived in Hanoi things got difficult. The taxi trip from the bus stop to my hotel on the day of my arrival was no more than a kilometer and the fare should have been around 8,000 Dong. Half way to the city center I glanced at the meter and saw it already said 90,000 Dong. I pointed to the meter, asking, “Meter say 90 – that mean 90,000 Dong?” (I’ve slid into the simple English spoken by the Vietnamese because it’s easier for them to understand). “Vuong (yes), 90,000 Dong,” he replied. I had warning of this – there are discussions of Hanoi’s rigged taxi meters all over Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum. “Meter no work – you turn off,” I said sternly. “Vuong, vuong, 90,000 Dong,” he insisted. Although I had few options at 5:30 AM on dark, deserted streets with not another taxi in sight, I bluffed. I yelled, “You cheat me – I report you – you let me out of taxi right now!” “No – it OK – I fix,” he said. By the time we reached the hotel the meter read 108,000 Dong. We negotiated and I ended up paying him 50,000 Dong. Had it not been for the fact that he held my suitcase hostage in his trunk I would have simply walked away without paying him at all.
On Sunday I booked an all day city tour. Our first stop was supposed to have been the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to view the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh. Uncle Ho, as they fondly refer to him, was the President of North Vietnam until his death in 1969. His embalmed remains have been lying in state since and there is a long queue every day to view his body and pay respects. Instead, our guide took us first to the Museum of Ethnology, which features displays and films on many of the 54 different ethnic groups that inhabit Vietnam. Interesting, but not what I had signed up to see – this stop wasn’t even on the itinerary. Just to be sure, I asked if we were going to the Mausoleum. After informing us that she was a new tour guide and politely asking us to “be sympathy for her” because she “is learn English,” she told us we would go to the Mausoleum in the afternoon. From that moment Continue reading