OK. I admit. I’m a klutz. Last year? I knocked over something in a monastery in Baisha, Yunnan. Then there was the time I tripped over a pumpkin and had to go the ER to get the pulp removed from under my toenail. And I’ve fished more sunglasses out of squatty toilets in China more than I’d like to admit.
You get the picture.
So, it should be of no surprise that my fingers fumbled with my phone at the Ninh Binh Dragon Mountain top, just south of Hanoi, Vietnam.
Well, my phone did pick a good place to die.
How did I end up on Ninh Binh, Vietnam? Well, I recently had to leave China. No, I wasn’t deported: I’m a grammar teacher, not Ethan Hunt with secret launching codes hidden in my contact lens. The event was traumatic nonetheless, and an Evacuation Grief Counselor was consulted to guide me through the exit process (How did I miss that major in college?). His advice was to take a few months off to process what happened. I had two choices: either say goodbye to my favorite Asia haunts or hang out on my sister’s couch and binge watch Netflix.
You get the picture.
Back to where I dropped my phone. I did a tour group thing with a random tourist agency I stumbled upon in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. I walked into the small business for one reason only: air conditioning. I pointed to one of the glossy pictures peeling off the wall and said, “I want to go there.”
Now the last time I’ve done an organized tour group has been, uh…NEVER. Tour groups in Asia are no different than those at Disney World except you ride a bus to different attractions instead of the Monorail and have a slight chance of getting an intestinal parasite as a souvenir. They bring you to places scarier than Pirates of the Caribbean, as many tourist attractions in Asia don’t abide by safety codes. There may not be guard rails or even steps. The rock path at the top of Ninh Binh Dragon Mountain was slippery and jagged; a small caveat left out of Lonely Planet description. TIP: Don’t just watch your phone when you hike Ninh Binh Dragon Mountain, seriously watch your step or your next selfie might be in a full body cast.
This is where I felt lazy
The next stop on this group tour was a scenic boat ride down the Tam Coc. I thought I’d give my arms a good work out, but like all English teachers who tell their students to read thirty minutes a day, I failed to spend five to read the brochure. I didn’t realize I’d be paddled around my a local laday using her feet. I can’t even pick up a dropped coin with my toes.
I tipped graciously, wondering if she had a thirty-minute morning workout video on YouTube.
This is where I lost my wallet
I didn’t even know the name of temple. I didn’t even care. I just wanted to get back to my hotel and scrape off the grime and sweat of the day. Even though it was cracked, my phone was still able to snap this sunset. But, as I put my phone back into my fanny pack? You guessed it. My wallet fell out.
So, heading back to Hanoi, I realized I had no money, no phone. Not one on the tourists on the bus offered to help me. Seventy thousand dong, about three USD was all that I needed. Not the German couple, not the Chinese man tinkering with his drone or the Indian woman who was wearing sequined pants, not exactly the best clothing choice for that day. The van would drop us off at the tourist agency, about a ninety-minute hike from my hotel. Ninety minutes at night, when my legs were already wobbly. And my feet didn’t even paddle a boat.
Finally, someone offered to pay a taxi for my way home. It was the tour guide. The 70,000 dong might have been a good chunk of his daily wage. He shoved the money in my hand, called a Grab-it motorbike. I felt ashamed, not just for being careless, but ashamed to be grouped with tourists. Another Vietnam Travel TIP: if you take a Grab-it motorbike, put on your helmet, say a prayer and close your eyes.
This is where I felt happy.
So, the next morning, I made it my mission to repay the tour guide for his kindness. I found a place to exchange USD to Vietnamese Dong on a weekend. Another Vietnam Travel Tip: Many banks do not exchange money on weekends, but a Chinese jewelry store usually will. The exchange rate won’t be the greatest, but if you’re in a pinch, the pinch will only hurt a little.
I wrote a card to the tour guide, had my hotel manager translate it into Vietnamese, enclosed the money he lent me and then some.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” —Desmond Tutu