Through the large glass window, we watch the rain fall steadily on the narrow street outside L’Heritage Hotel in the old quarter of Hanoi. The riders on the motor scooters wear long plastic capes in neon colors that cover the rider and the scooter, merging the two into one. They look like mechanical centaurs as they swerve and honk in the seething river of traffic that flows past our hotel.
A Bad Start
Yesterday, when I booked our trip to Ninh Binh Provence, Hanoi was overcast but pleasant. I was congratulating myself for deciding to visit Hanoi in December when the weather is cool. The nice young lady promises me an incredible view when I upgrade the tour to include a hike up a steep mountain. A buffet lunch and tour guide are also included in the price of just $64 a person. However, this morning, we wake up to a steady down pour of rain. Now we wait in the lobby for our tour bus to collect us. It is already an hour late. We are off to a bad start.
Finally, our bus arrives and off we go. For an hour and a half, we cross and re-cross, circle and re-circle Hanoi collecting twenty-five other poor souls who have booked the same tour. Our tour guide is Tuan. He explains cheerfully that we will only travel for another twenty minutes before we stop to get a coffee at a rest stop. He has been collecting everyone’s “receipts” as they enter the bus. However, he is missing someone on his list. He calls out the name. No one answers. He calls out the name again. Again, no one answers. Five young men are loudly snoring in the back row of the bus. “Perhaps the missing person is one of the people sleeping,” someone suggests. He looks at Max, my ten-year-old son and demands”Wake him up!” Max’s eyes grow large as he looks around to see if Tuan is really talking to him. “Wake him up!” Tuan repeats. An awkward silence follows as everyone in the bus seems frozen in the horror.