Mangosteens & Rombutans
Posted by Heliocentrism on May 16, 2009
May 16, 2008
Ahhh… The Mundane Life!
After my trip to Ha Long Bay, I had one more night in Hanoi. When backpacking I think it is important, every now and then, to spend a day doing nothing but wandering around the city aimlessly. I like to pretend that I live in whatever city I’m visiting and just do mundane things like read a book on a park bench or buy fruit.
As I roamed Hanoi that day, I realized how impossible it is for anyone to just walk down the street quietly. I had to walk while constantly saying, “No, thanks”, “I don’t want any,” or “I already have one,” to all the street vendors. The most aggressive of the vendors, were the ladies who sell pineapples. During my short stay in Hanoi I would be chased for blocks by two or three of them at a time, whenever I went out. I can only eat so many pineapples before my mouth gets sore!
I had a long train ride to Nha Trang and I wanted some fruit to take with me on the journey. I wanted to try some new fruit. I can buy pineapples and oranges anywhere. I was dying to sink my teeth into some crazy, funky Vietnamese fruit that I had never tried before. I had seen ladies selling unique looking fruit as they walked down the street. They always seemed to just wiz right past me not giving me a second look. On my last day in Hanoi, I stopped one of them.
She had some sea-urchin looking fruits in one basket and small black round fruits in the other. The baskets were balanced on her back in a yoke-like device and she walked as if she were late for a very important meeting.
I had to grab her arm because she was going so fast. She stopped to look at me as if she thought I wanted to mug her. I asked her, “How much?” She didn’t understand me. I pointed to both baskets of fruits with both my index fingers at the same time.
She put down her yoke and handed me one of each. Again, I asked her how much it was. Then she took out a knife, cut the fruits open for me, handed them back to me, picked up her yoke and went along her way. I quickly ate both fruits and ran after her. By the time I caught up with again her she was selling a bag of the “sea urchin fruit” to a local woman. I pointed to the bag and then to myself to say, “I want some too.”
She seemed completely confused. “Why does this foreigner want to buy this common fruit when there are lots of pineapples around?” Of course, the pineapple ladies from all over Vietnam smelled a fruit buyer and had encircled me. I begged and pleaded for this lady to sell me her fruit while trying to shoo the pineapple people away. Finally she sold me a bag of “sea-urchin fruit”. I point to the basket of the other fruit and she flat-out said, “No.”
While I was paying her two motor bikes crashed into each other head on, spilling cases of Tiger beer into the street as a result. Both drivers were fine, and in the commotion I was able to sneak away from the pineapple people without them noticing.
You Own Me 10,000 Dong!
That evening, I left Hanoi for Nha Trang. When I got to the train station I showed my ticket to the uniformed lady at the door and she let me in. As soon as I was inside, some guy in a uniform came up to me, grabbed my ticket, and told me to follow him.
I noticed that his uniform was different from those of the station workers. So, I grabbed my ticket back from his clutches and headed for the train. There was only one train in the tiny station so it wasn’t difficult to guess which one was mine.
I walked quickly, slipping through the crowd alongside the train to get to my car. The man chased after me. He was yelling at me and complained that he had shown me how to get to my train and now I owed him 10,000 dong.
I stopped and turned around to look at him. He was still running behind me and needed a little time to catch up. I told him, “Actually, you are following me. So YOU owe me 10,000 dong.” He didn’t think it was funny. He walked away feeling dejected and probably cursed me.
How to get there:
- You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus.
- Make sure to get a visa before going to Vietnam. Although some nationals can get a visa at the border for a few days, many cannot or will need a visa for longer stays.
- Visit the Vietnamese embassy in your country to get a visa.
- Don’t worry if you cannot get Vietnamese dong from your local bank back home. You can get your dong at the airport either in your country or in Vietnam. Don’t get too much; no one will buy it back from you. Many hotels, fancy restaurants, and tour agents will take US dollars or Euros. Though who knows what exchange rate they will use? You will need dong for taxis, small shops, and local restaurants and vendors.
- When you get to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh pick up a map of the area from any hotel, hostel, travel agency, or tourist information center. Once you have one of those you’ll be able to find anything.
- Having a map of the area in Hanoi is very important. Every block has a different street name so once you know the name of street something is on you can easily find it with a map.
- Wherever you choose to stay, make sure you bring a picture and the address of the hotel. One common trick that taxi and motorbike-taxi drivers like to pull is to take you to the wrong hotel. When you say, “I asked for ABC Hotel!” They will tell you that the name changed. They usually get a commission for bringing tourist to certain hotels.
- Sometimes hotels do change names. But most likely a hotel will not change names between the time of your booking accommodations and your arrival without telling you.
- Also for taxis, NEVER agree to a flat rate fee. The flat rate fee will always be way higher than it should be. Always demand that the cab driver use the meter. If he doesn’t want to use his meter, get out. Taxi drivers are a dime a dozen. This is true in most countries.
- For motorbike taxis, settle on the cost of the ride before getting on. Ask fellow travelers for advice on how much a ride should cost.
- Watch out for cyclo drivers that claim not to have change as a way to get more money out of you. If you need to, wait for one of those fruit vendors to come along and buy something from her to make change. You really should ask the cost to your destination and make sure you have exact change before you get in the cyclo.
- It’s best not to say anything bad about Ho Chi Minh while in Vietnam. He is still very much loved by his people.
- Nha Trang Railway Station 12°14’54.0″N 109°11’02.8″E
The cheapest thing to do is to take the train from Hanoi, or wherever you are, to Nha Trang. This is a 30 hour train ride.
You can buy your train tickets at any hotel, hostel, or shady looking travel agent selling on the sidewalk sitting on a cardboard box. Though I would recommend that you buy your ticket from a place that looks like it will be there again tomorrow.
There is also an airport in Nha Trang.
I bought my train ticket through the Hanoi hotel in which I was staying, Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel.