Vietnam: Sitting Ducks in Transit

Vietnam is the perfect combination of sublimity and regularity. Sacred ground for the Capitalistic v. Communist clash, ethereal landscapes replete with real-life depictions of workers in cone-shaped hats bent over rice plantations and a love for animals that remains in-satiated in more ways than one. There are several guides which will take you on the most picturesque sights there are to see (which I will be adding also), but this is a story. A story on where NOT to stay when in Vietnam.

Domestic flights in Vietnam are turbulent, to say the least. The planes bounce around, and if you are unlucky enough to have eaten a full meal beforehand, it can be a ‘colorful’ experience. Our 2.5 hour-long flight from Can-Tho to Hanoi for the ride home (back to India) was scheduled for 7 in the evening but eventually departed at 9:30 pm.

Considering that we had a flight the next morning at 11 a.m., we decided to stay in a transit hotel near the airport for the short stint. On landing at the airport, we were already tired from the long day and unsavory traveling, on top of which, we couldn’t find a single mode of transport to take us to the hotel which was merely 800 meters away.

After about a half an hour of bickering on Google translate (the only way to communicate with locals), we found a “Tuk-Tuk” style open vehicle to drop us to “The Airport Transit Hotel”. Now, coming from India, we are always wary of seedy looking hotels, especially those that even Google Maps can’t pinpoint, but the adrenaline was wearing off and the long day had gotten to us.

A dark road, non-existent lighting, and a bumpy car ride later, we arrived with a flourish at the ‘hotel’. The building in question had minimal lighting and had a bell-boy passed out on the reception desk as the sole security guard. After waking up the disgruntled bell boy, we walked up the rickety flight of stairs with a butt-load of luggage and reached the ‘room’.

Two small double-beds and a minuscule attached bathroom comprised the “Family Deluxe Room”. The bell-boy who was also working in the capacity of the housekeeping messed about with the air conditioning for a while so that it whirred to life, albeit grudgingly.

We tried to lock up after him, to get as much sleep as we could. Lo and behold: the lock was broken, making the bell boy our sole bulwark against any kind of attack. 20 minutes of jostling later, we gave up and knocked on our neighboring room. A dazed young woman came out and after some explanation of our broken lock, came in and tried to help us. 10 more exasperating minutes later, this quest was also given up. The lady was gone, and our luggage wedged up against the door to prevent any misgivings.

Trying not to kick each other off the beds, we settled in for the night.

At 4 o clock, I awakened to some noise that I couldn’t remember and saw in a blurry tint, my father peering worriedly out of the window of our room (that overlooked the entrance of the hotel). Too woebegone, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Meanwhile, my father woke up to the bone-chilling sound of a young woman shrieking: not once, not twice, but in occasional bursts of eerie frequency. He looked out the window and saw no movement in the deserted street. The shrieking ensued, and still, no movement.

In this time, his military instincts kicked in and he went over how he would save his family from the attack he thought was imminent. A broken lock, no security, no one to phone for help, and a dazed (presumably Russian) woman as the immediate neighbor. The odds were not in our favor. We were sitting ducks to whatever would be thrown at us. Russian mobs seemed the most likely: the seedy hotel, the eerie silence, the dearth of occupation, the dazed young woman, and the intermittent screaming seemed like a mobster’s haven. Yet, not a soul stirred. The silence was unbroken, save the cries of the woman.

With these thoughts, my father sat till the break of dawn, pumped with adrenaline, waiting for the onslaught, which he thought was coming.

In the morning, we awoke to the sight of my father slumped in the chair with a butter knife in his hand. On shaking him, he awoke with a start and we found out how we slept through one of the most terrifying nights of our lives.

Turns out that the movie”The Ghosts of Girlfriends’ pasts” is aptly titled, as we later found out that the screaming emanated from a couple having a massive showdown at 4 a.m., complete with shrieking and furniture being dragged around. In this case, the only thing my father should have been feeling is gratitude. Gratitude for never having had a big enough fight with my mother that makes others’ believe in ghostly apparitions or Russian mobs and start chanting the “Hanuman Chalisa”.

Nonetheless, the lesson remains: when in Vietnam, don’t scrounge on your accommodation and inform at least one trustworthy local of your location. There are many adventures to be undertaken in this scintillating country; 4 a.m. nightmares involving shrieking women is not the only way to get your adrenaline pumping.

I will help you pick out the 5 best adventures to have in Vietnam in the next post. Since we shouldn’t be traveling for a while; let’s live vicariously through each others’ adventures.

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