Don't tell my mother about Hanoi
When I flew into Hanoi in Vietnam for the first time, I was on edge.
I'd just come from 4 days in Singapore, a giant city-island metropolis that felt more like a Western city specialising in satay, caste systems and Chicken Rice. It was a relatively easy introduction to South East Asia, although an expensive one.
But while I wasn't worried about Singapore, Vietnam made me nervous.
I was worried about scammers.
It wasn't an overwhelming fear– I'd read every blog post I could on the subject, and self-identifying as smarter than the average bear, it didn't seem like a problem worth worrying about.
But there's always that little voice when you're travelling to a new place that says "you never know." Or in my case, anxious texts from a concerned mother.
Telling her not to worry, I became determined to get through the entire trip with pride (and wallet) unscathed. So with eyes lowered and invisible warpaint smeared across my cheeks, I walked into the terminal on high alert, ready for anything.
"Where you headed?"
I jumped an inch in shock, protecting my ATM withdrawal before looking over my shoulder. A Canadian couple with backpacks on. Crisis averted.
Shortly after introducing ourselves and picking out some others, a tribe of travellers had formed. Safety in numbers, we shuffled our way towards the taxi rank as one.
First contact comes quickly: a man with a suspiciously nice looking polo on steps in front of us and provides a blatantly overcooked price to take us to our hostels.
Second contact: Prices clearly too high. Forgets to wear his nice shirt. Smile too cunning. We press on.
Moving through crowds, I see a sign for the taxi rank. It's another 200m away. Plus, there's a nicely dressed driver coming up in a nice polo. The polo has a logo.
We look around, silently agreeing that he is the chosen one. The tall Canadian takes the lead and barters a little to test the waters. Our new friend is very professional, giving a good price and discounting only a little because "his company sets the rate."
We nod in agreeance and make the longer-than-expected journey towards his van.
I've never seen so many scooters on a highway before. Or face masks. Or smoke for that matter. There's so much chaos flying past, it's almost hard to focus on what's being said around me.
Six of us at the airport had jammed our way into the four already inside. Some are holidaying while teaching in South Korea. A recently married Canadian couple, also staying at my hostel, are on their last big trip before settling down. I note the lack of phone reception, but the countryside, seen in tiny blips through the wall of noisy two-wheeled traffic, is more than enough to take in.
As our destination approached 40 minutes later, we pooled money together and finally stepped out at the hostel to a fresh rush of pollution. Wincing and glancing around, I immediately became more concerned with the daunting task of crossing a Vietnamese road than anything else.
Assembling my bags on the side of the road, I noticed the Canadians having trouble fixing up our ride. They'd just counted and handed the cash to our polo shirt friend, but he said there was a mistake. I take the money and re-count. It's all there. We check the price again.
"No, price not 230. Price 690."
That's not what he said at the airport. Three times, nodding vigorously. Apparently, we "misheard."
10 minutes later, tired and sick of arguing, we hand over 600.
Conceding our first defeat, we pull on our backpacks and start preparing spiritually to cross the road.