This is my ‘how-not-to’ guide, to avoid getting your ass robbed in Hanoi…
And… before I get started, if you are like the 100,000 others in this hood, wanting to see the unforgettable rice terraces of Sapa, make sure you do it when the weather is clear –Sapa Weather (we were there end of November). If you don’t check it, and arrive out of season, you’ll likely be in a scenario too similar to mine and my oldest and dearest mate’s, cutting fog with a knife and drowning in rice-wine.
Dark and gritty at night (keep your purse very close for snatchers) and full of exhaust fumes, mad horns and speeding mopeds by day. Sounds great right? A city of streets that all look the same, and to anyone that is not a local, have no names. Every time you get on a motorbike taxi expect that you will be taken to the wrong place. Know that first. Also, the food in Vietnam can be so beautiful, but also so bland. Get experience using fish sauce as your salt. ‘Pho Bo‘ is one of my favourite things and if there is anything I really miss from Vietnam, aside from the Ha Long Bay region, it would be a breakfast of Pho Bo. Or the fresh, light, summer rolls and aromatic fish sauce-based dip.
Secondly, our accommodation, Kangaroo Hotel, was not the cheapest or the best but it was reasonable and easy enough to find from the bus station; also, it is very close to the big and round lake of central Hanoi and a butt-load of street vendors.
A Night Out!
You can find plenty of opportunities for a drink in these city streets with the other debauch ex-pats, and being new to the city it will be as confusing as deceiving.
Stay with your mates. That is the best I can say. If you are gettin drunk in the late night, keep with your mates. This place has been infested with drunkard westerners since the Vietnam War and there has been a lot of infrastructural processing into the ways to rob you out of your personal items i.e they are hella good at it.
Scenario 1: I was told to watch out for girls eager to stick their hands into your pants and grab onto your junk -it was actually a guy that threw his hand in my pants!
While this lady has her little hand, juggling your nuts, she is sliding your wallet or phone or whatever else, out of your back pocket; when this guy did it to me, I leaped back,
‘I’m onto your game!’ I said, ‘get the fuck back !(blind drunk as well)’
My friends had disappeared and I had no friggin clue where I was (3 a.m or so). I started swinging my beer bottle towards him and then two girls roll up on a moped.
‘Climb on, and we’ll give you a lift to your guesthouse,’ they say. Innocent and charming little ladies they seemed to arrive to save the day -I was relieved.
‘Oh, thank you so much.’ I climbed in between them and we drove off. After some minutes have passed by, they drop me off at ‘my hotel’. Only after I got off do I realize I’d been dropped off in front of a completely different hotel -in a different part of the city- and then, after realizing that, I checked my pockets. Wallet was gone -missed one of the damn bike helmets with the empty bottle by centimetres -tribal justice almost got em.
*That was when I stopped carrying a wallet full-stop; since this day I have never carried a wallet again.
This was the only night I brought out a ridiculous amount of money -to me (80 bucks)- and my C.C/D.C (Murphy’s Law) . The next moped to pass by was the guy who tried to slip his hand in my pants. OUCH!
One of the very popular things to do in this madhouse of Hanoi is take a guided tour to snake village. You gather with other backpackers of all ages with a ‘leader’ -ours from Australia who I ran into in Bondi about six months later.
We were five lads at a table of about fifteen tyrannous savages looking to drink the blood out of a snake -or any other reptile as the night progressed if they’d have let us. 3 of the lads had convinced me to play a game that involved a play on words and many push-ups (you weren’t allowed to say ‘mine’). They killed me -had been practicing for weeks on each other. Around the table was a scene like no other with all-you-can-drink rice-wine and after some ceremonial shots and trash-talk we switched rooms to the killing floor. You are seperated into pairs and one is the ‘killer’ and the other is the ‘eater’. It was my birthday.
Ciaran cut the snake open and our ‘leader’ squeezed the blood out into a cup -to be drunk later- and then I ate the still, beating heart, out of it’s chest. It sat on my tongue an instant before disappearing into my throat throbbing its way into my stomach.
After the killings are finished, half drunk and full of adrenaline and rice-wine, we head back to the long table and squat for the bile+rice-wine and blood+rice-wine combos. The shots are thrown back in mass, frantic celebration. As the blood of snakes ways its energy into our immune systems we finish up our hors d’oeuvres of snake bits and then load into a car.
The rest is not so clear, but I had met a woman I knew as familiar and we headed back to my place. At my place she insisted I pay her, and then spend the night with her. I insisted on not doing that and simply having her ‘stay over’. She didn’t like that deal and left. Problem was, and what I didn’t know, was that my best mate’s IPhone was sitting on the bed she had sat on. She took it with her and left me none the wiser. I took chase down the stairs -not for the phone but simply to stay- but she wanted nothing to do with me, especially after cashing in (IPhones were also brand new at this time). Well done young lady -and the hard part is, she probably sold it for thirty bucks.
The night ensued to me finding my way up two balconies to sit with a crew of Koreans smoking hash and opium. Then, as birthdays go, it continued into the streets completely hazed until I got onto a motorbike taxi which crashed pretty hard onto the curb of a city street.
The morning was me in complete agony, with pain in my head -and outside-, on my toes, hands, elbows, and knees and all my muscles -from a hundred push-ups. Then, Ciaran, the good lad he is, looks over and asks simply and empathetically through our state,
‘You know where my IPhone is?’
‘I bet the cleaning lady took it! I’ll go ask the woman downstairs.’
The woman working the desk, who was the owner as well says, ‘well, you did have a woman come back with you, here, last night and then she left about five minutes later.’
Bad news Ciaran. Really bad news.
Got me again.