My First Day in Hanoi.
Many people think of me as a seasoned traveler. I suppose that means that certain things should not happen to me. Like today!
It was a long trip from Toronto to Hanoi with two plane changes. My bike box was the last piece of luggage to appear on the conveyor belt in Hanoi but at least everything was here. It was 10 pm and looking around I found my ride. The driver took my cart and I started following him. I knew I needed to get some local currency but when I saw the lineup, and being tired, irritable and hungry, I felt sure I could change money in the city – probably for a better exchange rate. The taxi was prepaid so there was no issue there.
Sleeping when you cross 12 time zones is never restful and I had managed only a few hours during the 3 flights. The next morning, tired and with a headache I arrived at the hotel reception ready to eat but as the hotel has no restaurant there was a little thing I needed to do – change money. The receptionist explained in her poor English that there are banks everywhere – I just have to go out and find one.
Coming out onto a five way intersection, I see no banks or money changers. The night before on the way here I saw a street not too far from where I stood with at least a half dozen hotels. I decide that where there are hotels, there must be some money changing. And so I set off. On the first block I encounter half a dozen storefront dentists offices so I figure, as often is the case in developing countries, this must be the dentists’ street. All I need to do is to find the banking, or money changers, street. A few blocks later I see the hotels I saw the night before, but still no sign of the banks.
After a few more blocks and I decide to enter one of the hotels and ask where I can change money. In the first hotel, when I ask for a bank, the clerk shows me the room prices. Apparently my pronunciation of bank is not recognizable to her. In the second hotel, I do not fare any better so I pull out a $50 bill and try to explain what I need – to no avail. In the third, the cleaning lady, amused by my pantomime and my flaunting arms decides to stand beside me and measure herself against this giant measuring twice her size.
I walk back to my own hotel where at least the clerk knew that I need to change money. On the way I see a bike shop with a lovely bamboo frame bike in the window (we are cycling the Bamboo Route) for a mere $1,500 so I walk in, only to notice a $20,000 Ferrari bike on the wall. Right beside it, I kid you not, is a Lamborghini bike. Now very irritable and really hungry, with thousands of dollars in my money belt, with one coffee shop after another on the street, I can’t believe that I can’t buy myself a little bowl of Vietnamese noodles.
The receptionist, seeing me again, apologizes profusely that she forgot today is Saturday and the banks are closed until Monday. So what am I to do? Seeing me close to tears she takes my $50 and gives me some Vietnamese currency and I run to the nearest shop to get eggs with noodles – actually not a bad tasting combination.
Feeling much better, I decide to take a walk in the opposite direction, only to walk less than 100 yards and see a money exchange shop – open. My eyes then catch a glimpse to what looks like a bank so I step into traffic, oblivious to the Vietnamese drivers who skillfully avoid me. Yes it is a bank and the bank is open and so is the next one just up the street – mind you only until noon. After all, it is Saturday – my first day in Hanoi.