The Vietnam Diaries 2011: July 29th – Ninh Binh

At 4:30 in the morning we’re woken up by the family on the lower berth. And by “we” I mean the whole train. For some reason the family seems convinced that the lower berth is surrounded by an invisible sound-proof barrier, because they make no attempt at modulating their voices. They’re loudly talking to each other and their kid is banging various objects against the table repeatedly.

At some point the father has a conversation on his mobile phone. He yells into it, because he’s sure that the phone is, by itself, incapable of transmitting human voice. We’ve observed this phenomenon before and I’ve already covered it in an earlier post here.

The family continues their morning ritual of screaming into each other’s faces all the way until they leave the train at 8:00. When the family leaves they smile at the people in the cabin, wave to Katka and I and say “Goodbye” in English joyfully. They’re completely oblivious to the fact that everyone else in the cabin is on the verge of a homicidal rampage.

Even though one of the ninja passengers is clearly challenging them to a fight!

As soon as we get off the train in Ninb Binh we’re ambushed by a crowd of “hotel agents”. In all fairness, calling these guys “hotel agents” is like calling spammers “online offer specialists”. They proceed to ask us whether we’ve already booked a hotel. We have indeed booked a hotel, but this doesn’t stop any of the “agents” from showing us pictures of theirs and describing their benefits.

One of the agents actually claims to be a representative from the Queen Hotel, but only after we mention that we’ve booked it. He offers to “escort” us there. Seeing how the hotel is literally a one minute walk from the train station, we politely decline the offer and make our way there on our own.

The receptionist speaks very poor English. Through a combination of single words and impromptu sign language he requests to see our booking voucher. I have the voucher saved on my laptop. While I’m waiting for the laptop to start up, the receptionist finds my name on his computer. He points happily at the screen and then at me. I nod and give him the thumbs up. He repeats his request to see the voucher, even though he has just confirmed my reservation and he can also see that I’m loading up my laptop.

“Thanks for showing me the passport, now may I also ask for its digital copy?”

I finally show him the screenshot of the reservation and he tells us we can go up to our room. Since we’ve arrived a few hours before official check-in time I’m positively surprised. Wanting to communicate my delight and break the ice I say: “Great, so we can check in already?”. The receptionist arranges his face into a mask of total confusion. He squints his eyes and looks at me blankly, before saying: “Chiii…cken?”.

Really? You’re baffled by “check in”, which incidentally is the phrase written on a sign right next to you, stating check in times? I don’t mean to sound like a complete wise ass, but I’d expect the words “check in” to be pretty standard in the hotel industry. It’s not like I asked him which of Mozart’s symphonies the hotel’s orchestra have in their repertoire (the answer is “none, because Mozart isn’t good Karaoke material). Hearing the words “check in” should be a daily occurrence for a hotel receptionist. Just like hearing the words “more explosions” and “forget character development” should be to anyone working on a Michael Bay movie.

Struggling to keep a smile on my face I say: “We. Can. Get. Our. Room. Now?”. He stops to think for a second. Then, with a patronising expression he points to a young woman employee and says “follow her please”. Wow, he thinks I’m an idiot, purely because his working assumption right now is that I’ve been asking for chicken at a hotel reception. This hotel stay is going to be…interesting.

“Sorry sir, we don’t serve chicken here. Also, you’re a moron…sir”

The young lady takes us up to the 6th floor and lets us into our room. She smiles and, as she swings the door open, says: “Welcome to my home!”. I assume she meant to say “to your home”, seeing how we’re the ones who’ll be staying here for the next few nights. If it is in fact her home, then it really sucks that a non-stop stream of tourists occupies it all year round.

We shower, cover ourselves in layers of soothing lotion (seems we’ve overdone it with the whole beach thing yesterday) and nap until 14:30. After the nap we go down and arrange our trips for the following two days with the hotel’s tour agent. Then we set out to find a post office (something we haven’t succeeded in doing yesterday in Dong Hoi).

Ninh Binh is gloomy, grey, polluted and filled with cars and motorbikes. It has the same industrial vibe of Da Nang, but without Da Nang’s large size and financial attractiveness. However, Ninh Binh is an excellent staging area for small excursions to nearby tourist areas. After a rather long walk through the city we finally find a post office…but it turns out that they don’t sell postcards there.

A post card?! At a post office?! Don’t be ridiculous!

Katka resigns to her fate and decides to go with email postcards instead. On the way back we drop by a supermarket and get more crackers, wet wipes and Yomost (!!!). I’m afraid I have developed a minor addiction to this incredible drink and will display severe withdrawal symptoms upon return to Denmark.

Back at the hotel we visit the 9th floor where, according to the hotel brochure, a Sky Bar with a great view of the city is located. Well, there may indeed be plans to establish a bar here. However, currently the 9th floor offers four bare walls and some clothes drying on stretched out ropes.

We wrap up our unarguably most uneventful day in Vietnam with a visit to the hotel’s restaurant. Here we eat some “check in” and chase it down with a few refreshing yoghurt shakes. We’re asleep by 22:30.

The journey continues right here.

For now, remember to check out Katka’s pictures from the trip on her Flickr page.

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