So since this was the first time that Tulsi & I were planning an international trip on our own – we made a LOT of dumb decisions. Here’s 5 of the many, so hopefully you don’t make the same mistakes too.
1. Never Too Old To Hustle:
So it was our first day in Vietnam and we were excitedly exploring Hanoi’s streets. When we passed by an old woman with a stand full of fried dough balls, she smiled at us and we smiled back. She then offered us a fried dough ball and gestured sweetly that we must try it.
We thought ‘Aaw, how sweet’ and had a bite, smiling and nodding about how delicious it was. She immediately started filling a bag full of the fried dough balls – all the while very sweetly asking us in broken English, “Where you from?”, “You so beautiful”, “You married?”.
She seemed very upset when we said we weren’t, and we thought ‘Aaw old ladies are the same all around the world’. She handed us a massive bag of dough balls, and we kept saying no no, we can’t have all of that. She seemed very upset that we were rejecting it and we thought, ‘Oh no, we can’t make this sweet old lady sad’.
So after she removed about 5 from a packet of 20 – she handed it to us very happily and said ‘Ok, 1,25,000 VND’.
I almost choked on the one I was eating.
That was almost Rs 400 for a packet of street snacks which you’d expect to cost about Rs 50 max.
But it was our first day, and it was an old lady, and we had no idea how much things cost so we handed over our new Vietnamese Dongs with sinking hearts and forced smiles.
In our effort to convince ourselves we weren’t ripped off by an old lady, we chomped and chomped on the dough balls, trying to convince ourselves that they weren’t rapidly losing their crispness and turning into soggy dough balls with a lot of powdered sugar.
We still ate them though. (But Tulsi swears she will never ever eat them again).
2. Want Some Gum?
And the misadventures of the first day don’t end there. As we miserably chomped on the dough balls, we made our way to the famous Hoan Kiem Lake.
Suddenly a man said ‘Oye! Oye!’ and gestured wildly at our feet. We jumped up, thinking we had stepped on some strange creature.
He immediately bent down and gestured to Tulsi’s slipper, the front part of which had separated a little. He whisked a tube of superglue out of nowhere and porceeded to fix it.
At this point of time Tulsi and I were looking at each other thinking, ‘Aaw, what a nice, kind man. Vietnamese people are so friendly and helpful!’
After he was done he tapped to check it once and said OK OK. We beamed and said thank you, thank you and were ready to proceed until he stuck out his hand and said (still smiling):
We had had enough. Our pride wounded, our souls stirred, we firmly shook our heads and said ‘No, only 20′.
And so it went on.
And although we begrudgingly gave him the 20,000 VND note, inside we were thrilled that we had managed to win the bargaining war.
3. Bill – who dat?
So one of the smart things we did was decide not to carry toiletries from India and add unnecessary weight to our bags (we had just one check-in bag on departure).
We happily went grocery shopping in Hanoi, and found most international brands like Pantene etc available. Except for the brand name, everything else was in Vietnamese and most items didn’t have a visible price tag.
So hoping we got the right items, we handed them over to the cashier of the tiny grocery store. He tallied all of it and told us a number that both Tulsi and I didn’t hear properly at first. So he repeated it, but this time it sounded different (& higher).
We got even more confused and asked him to repeat it again. It sounded different (and higher, again). We decided enough was enough and stopped him before our deafness emptied our pockets further.
After reaching our hostel we carefully scoured the bottles and realised we were probably overcharged by about 15,000 VND. Though it isn’t a huge amount, we realised we need to:
A) Ask for bills
B) Not look confused during payment of any sort
C) Not be embarrassed of sounding stingy/like an idiot and clarify the payment before handing any more over.
4. The Visa Debacle:
My visas cost me a total of Rs 16,000. Yes, my visas cost nearly as much as a one-way ticket to Hanoi from New Delhi. Why? Because we stupid.
So here’s the breakdown:
Vietnam E-visa: Rs 3000 (including stamping fee)
Cambodia E-visa: Rs 2316
So going alright so far. We had booked our September trip tickets to travel from Delhi to Vietnam back in February. The cheapest one was with a 5 hour layover in Malaysia, both on arrival and departure.
But unfortunately, since we had different PNR numbers for the connecting flights, we had to get a multiple entry visa for Malaysia
So that made it:
Malaysia e-visa: Rs 9750. To spend 5 hours loitering in the airport.
Total: Rs 16,000 with a side of sadness & lots of ‘why we so stupid’.
A friend of mine who lives in Vietnam suggests taking a Thai Airways flight which has a 2 hour layover in Bangkok. At face value looks more expensive, but it will save you a bunch of time and cuts down on the hassle.
An ACMECS Single Visa would cover both Thailand and Bangkok visa in one go.
5. What NOT to do at Airports:
Of the 14 days we were in Vietnam/Cambodia, we spent roughly about 3 days in the airport itself (not counting travelling time). This was thanks to our bid to get cheap air tickets but we had each other and free Wi-Fi so it wasn’t too bad.
BUT – while we bought most of our souvenirs in the city itself, there were a couple of things like local candies we thought eh, we’ll buy it later at the airport (since we had the entire day to kill)
I mean, we know this right – everything is super expensive at airports. Still, I thought it was a smort idea to defer the candy-buying to the Duty Free.
And this was on the last day of our 2 week trip which meant we were down to our last dollars. And Durian candies that I saw cost about $1 in the grocery store cost about $6 at the airport.
Then began the big debate – what if I buy the Durian candy but nobody likes the taste? $6 down the drain. So after a lot of hunting and hustling, I finally bought – of all things Kinder chocolates – as my big Vietnamese candy haul back home.
The whole point of doing stupid things is becoming wiser about stuff after that, so I guess this trip was fun AND a great learning experience. I hope this helps you not make silly decisions like this, but I honestly hope you do too.
Even though an old lady duped us into paying an exorbitant fee for her street snacks, it probably helped her buy a couple of things for her grandkids for the upcoming New Year festival. We also met another sweet old lady who sold us pickled mango – who gave us extra slices just because we were tourists.
While a family store owner overcharged us about Rs 40, another family store owner welcomed us warmly, made us feel like we were having a meal in her home.
She watched us carefully, making sure we were not left feeling helpless with the new cuisine and even introduced us to the rest of her family members when our meal was done.
It wasn’t all that bad and the love we experienced throughout the trip made the silly incidents seem like insignificant blips on a magnificent trip.
It may have made our pockets a bit lighter, but all these instances have given us a lifetime of laughter about how stupid we were.
Until the next trip!