Drama in Paradise!


The route from El Nido to Puerto Princessa was a really bumpy ride in the minivan. After we blew a tyre, the driver sped up to regain lost time. I'm not exaggerating when I say I came fully out of my seat at least four times. The rest of the 7 hour journey was a slightly less violent jiggling and bumping. It was this journey that must have aggravated some damage I'd done to my coccyx when falling off the moped a week earlier as it became incredibly painful to sit down. That's all I needed, a broken arse bone. But things got worse...

We checked into a friendly little hotel and next morning caught a tricycle to the airport. After a sad goodbye, and while waiting 7 hours until my flight, I decided to busy myself with some chores. Checking my bank account it showed a lot less than I was expecting. I clicked through to my statement and nearly £3000 had been taken out of my account, likely my card had been cloned when using an ATM in Manila. I phoned the bank who were extremely unhelpful. They cancelled my card to prevent further payments being made but refused to send a card out to me here, telling me I could withdraw money in branch. I asked if they had any branches out here. Of course they don't! I wasn't even sure what would happen next with regards to getting my money back. I have a pre-loadable card so I had to phone home and ask my parents to put some money on it for me. This card had been a bit temperamental in the past so I was understandably rather anxious. Luckily it loaded the money on. At 5pm I caught my flight to Manila and then checked in for my flight to Hanoi. Once through check-in I came to a desk that required payment for departure tax. I had only 220 pesos on me (£3) and the tax was 550 pesos (£7.50). I tried to pay on my newly topped up card but it wouldn't go through. I went to the ATM but still had the same problem. Starting to panic I went back to the desk to explain to her what had happened and try to sort something out. She repeatedly asked if I had any other currency on me, which I didn't. Then she told me to wait, and I thought she was going to sort something with her manager. About 5 minutes of waiting and people going through, a group of westerners came to the desk. 'Sir', she said, 'can you help this girl'. I was shocked and embarrassed and tried to tell them it was okay, I didn't want them to have to help me. But the lady kept on insisting, pointing at me and saying 'tell them'. Out of embarrassment I burst out crying and blubbered what had happened. Without hesitation they paid for me and I felt terrible. I know it's not a huge amount but I still felt bad. I went through and stood at the passport queue wiping my red sodden eyes. The group came up to me and tried to then give me money for food and told me it had happened to them before and to stop worrying about it. The kindness people have shown me on this trip has surprised me.

I got the flight to Hanoi, which arrived at 12.30am. I needed to collect and pay for my visa on arrival. When I got to the desk she said they didn't take card. I again explained what had happened and that I was unable to take cash out beforehand (plus when I applied it didn't say that cash was needed on arrival). She told me the only ATM was outside. I shrugged and just stood there. I can't be the only person to ever have landed without money. She asked if someone could help me. I replied that a stranger would be unlikely to agree to pay $45 for me. But that's exactly what happened! The guy standing next to me gave me $100 to pay with which I could give back once outside. I'm not sure I would trust anyone enough to do that. Once outside, I tried 5 different ATMs, panic rising as each one declined my card. Finally one made that wonderful machine-y counting noise and deposited 3 million dong into my welcoming hands. I gave the guy his money back and it just happened that him and his girlfriend and another couple that had landed were going to the same hotel and so I shared a taxi with them. After the taxi driver tried to rip me off, as is becoming common with me (he gave me the wrong change), we got to the hotel door and it was locked up and in darkness. We knocked, shouted and rang and finally they opened the shutters. After knocking the price of the room down with my sob story and trying to be sold a tour for the morning even though it was 3am at the moment, I finally shut the door and sank into the double bed all to myself and fell asleep watching TV.

After a refreshing sleep and a nice hot shower I emerged onto the crazy but wonderful streets of Hanoi. There were people everywhere, chickens, women wearing conical hats and carrying over their shoulder bamboo sticks with bowls of fruits and food hanging from them. There were a million motorbikes, bicycles and no pavements. People sat on tiny plastic seats at tiny plastic tables drinking small cups of coffee. I fell in love.

The hostel I'd looked up online a few hours before had plenty of rooms left but when I arrived were fully booked. I tried a few other places but they were also fully booked. One place suggested a hostel down the road and phoned to book me a room. Heading there I was approached by a woman selling fried doughnut things, I was starving. She made me up a bag and told me they cost 100,000 dong. I didn't yet know what the exchange rate was and was fiddling about trying to get out the right money. I handed her a 50,000 dong note and she grabbed another 50,000. At the hostel I worked out it had cost £3, which isn't a lot but actually when you know an entire meal here costs less than £1 it makes a difference! But...when I counted my money I realised she had grabbed a 500,000 note! This is about £15. I've been swizzed almost every time I've landed somewhere new. Doh!

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