Our guesthouse is located in the Old Quarters, within walking distance of Hoan Kiem lake. The area is always bustling with activity; the streets, whose names we cannot pronounce, are lined with cafes where locals sit for hours over a cup of Vietnamese coffee to people-watch and while their time away.
It takes a certain kind of street-smart to survive in Hanoi. In the span of a day, E and I had been unwittingly ripped off a few times.
Like the cafe that listed their canned drinks for 12,000 VND. When E asked for a Sprite on the go, she charged us 15,000 VND. "No," he argued, directing the waitress's eye to the menu. "It says here 12,000 VND." Her smile never left her face, and without as much as an explanation or apology, she walked over to the register and handed us the extra 3,000 VND. Except she gave it to us in small coins, obviously out of spite, and E refused to accept the money and asked for notes instead. She returned to the register again for notes.
Or the bakery at the corner that sold yummy-looking tarts for 1,5000-2,000 VND each. I picked out a few and we were charged 13,000 VND, and it was not until we went back to the guesthouse that we realized that we had been overcharged by 4,000 yen. The exchange was done so quickly that we hadn't been able to calculate the exact amount.
Even at our guesthouse, different staff members gave us different prices when we ask to book a taxi to the airport for our flight to Laos. In the end, we insisted on the lowest price quoted.
Of course one could argue that 3,000 or 4,000 VND doesn't amount to much in our currency. But it is the principle behind a fair exchange that makes me indignant- I will pay what is promised me, at a reasonable premium, but not random prices quoted according to their judgement based on nationality, skin colour or dressing.
For the most part, our 8 days in Vietnam has been a real eye-opener and introduction to the Vietnamese culture and psyche. I would love to come back again to explore the countryside and less touristed parts of this country.