The Road to Ha Noi
I was half way to Ha Noi, on the road from the airport, when I realised I was being robbed.
I’d paid $13 dollars online a few days before, back in the safety of my flat in London, so that a taxi driver would be waiting for me at the airport to take me straight into the heart of the capital. This, I quickly worked out, was not him.
All of a sudden it dawned me. I am alone in Vietnam, in a taxi belonging to a nameless local, heading into a totally alien city where nobody knows me and more to the point nobody gives a tiny toss. Stay calm, I thought. Maintain a clear head and this will all turn out alright.
I tried to game out the scenarios, starting with the most extreme paranoia I could muster -a knife being pulled out and this man driving and driving until I helplessly handed over all my worldly possessions and pleaded for mercy – and worked downwards from there.
But as I sat there trying my best to be nervous I realised that I couldn’t concentrate. A noise was distracting me from my worried little thought stream.
In every direction, motors vroomed, bicycles tinkered and cars and buses hurtled along, each one driven hell bent for Hanoi, the city just over the horizon but still so far away from my imagination as to be unreal.
The road was wide and straight and flanked with dusty shacks, tatty markets and acres of brilliant green rice fields, the afternoon sun dancing off the flooded patches of earth as we all hurtled past noisily.
In front, on either side, and behind, the procession of cars, scooters, bicycles and buses hurtled along, jostling for position, as if the starting pistol had just been fired on some gigantic, gut-wrenching motorized marathon.
Imagine the road around L’Arc de Triomphe, in air so hot it feels like steam, with twice as many drivers with half as much regard for their own safety as Parisians, plus a few dozen brake-shy bus drivers. This is the road into Hanoi; hot and fast.
But this was anything but imagination. This was hard and physical and buzzing all around me.
I decided to let my anxiety about the taxi scam go, or maybe that was decided for me. In the end I stepped out of the car in one piece, albeit £20 pounds lighter. The bastard had done me for the only cash I had on me and left me in a stinking hotel on the wrong side of Hanoi to sweat.
Which I had done for five minutes, an odd mixture of furious at having been picked off like a lame rabbit at the airport and easily dealt with but also dumbfounded at the thunderstorm of sights, sounds and smells I had been hit by between the car and the hotel.
After I had sweated and stewed in these emotions for as long as it took to vigorously suck down a cigarette, I marched down to reception and, surprising even myself, demanded the hotel order me a taxi and take me to my real hotel, and I wasn’t paying a penny for it. Which, also surprisingly, they did.
Once it was over and I was finally under the right roof, the memory of that rotten episode left me pretty quickly, but before it did a bizarre and calming thought came to me.
Let him have the £20. I’ve spent that much on one drink before; here it’s a week’s living. I’ve paid my entrance fee to Ha Noi, now I can take the ride.