We arrived in Hanoi around 10am after a 17 hour train ride from Hoi An. The train was a great way to see the countryside, weaving in and out of the coast line in the afternoon and in the morning when we awoke traveling through the rice fields with our bunk mates–a Vietnamese woman from Hanoi and a mouse who attempted to snuggle up to us as we slept. Dazed from the long trip, we walked into our first scam. As the city of scams, it’s only appropriate we were taken by one right off the bat. We hopped in the first taxi we saw (mistake) and took off. Of course, we made sure the driver turned the meter on which he was fine to do becasue as we soon learned, he had a fake meter which was running at hyper speed. By the time we reached our hotel we saw the meter said 128,000 VND ($6) and we didn’t believe it was true. John asked how much and he pointed to the meter to which John sternly replied, “No, how much? That is too expensive.” And again, the driver just pointed at the meter. John just stared at him for awhile. After 30 seconds of awkwardness we gave up and paid him the money. When we asked at our hotel how much we should have paid they told us 40,000-50,000 VND would have been fair. We did learn from that experience what type of taxis are legit and that we could use our hotel to advocate for a better price for us if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation.
Frustrated with our handling of the taxi scam and the blatant unethical business practice on the part of the taxi driver, our first impressions Hanoi were not positive. We dropped off our bags at our hotel, which we were pleased with, and hit the streets in search of good food and tickets for the water puppet show. As we wandered the city streets we happened to run into a couple from California we met in HCMC. We chatted them up on the street while fending off local sales people and ended up making plans to share some food later that night where we got to spend more time talking about our travel experiences and lives back home. Our time got cut a little short as we didn’t want to miss out on the water puppet show. This traditional performance is put on in a small theatre in the heart of the Old Quarter. It’s not a “must see” event if you come to Hanoi, but it was entertaining and interesting to see an ancient cultural tradition of music and puppetry. Water is the life source of the Vietnamese people so it makes sense that water puppetry was a good way to tell stories. The basic idea is that the “stage” is a pool of water with a backdrop, which in this case was a pagoda. The puppeteers are behind the backdrop and the puppets are attached at the end of a long stick (or several sticks depending on the complexity of the puppet) which comes out of the backdrop. The puppets would dance, swim, fish, squirt water, etc. Many stories were conveyed with the puppets and the music over the 45 minute show. We enjoyed the performance, but by the end of the night we were ready to escape to our hotel.