The flight took a total of 24 hours with a layover in Washington and Seoul. It was 10:30pm in Hanoi and who knows what time at home. My instructions said I had two options: a $15 taxi ride to my hotel or a $3 ride on the airport bus into the city and a $2 taxi ride to the hotel where I was to spend the next 5 days of my 3-week visit of Vietnam and Cambodia.
As an economically disadvantaged traveler, I have a system: Never spend an extra dime on anything that will not enhance the experience. So I opted for the bus, which was in fact a small van. The only other English-speaking person was a passenger who reassured me that I was on the right bus and that the final stop would be in the city near my hotel.
It was dark and I could barely make out the landscape. As we drove into Hanoi I viewed crowded buildings and poorly lit streets. One by one the other passengers alighted until it was just me and the van driver. About midnight he stopped on the side of the road, not the bus depot I had expected.
He removed my backpack and handed it to a waiting taxi driver. The street was dark with no one around except some men sitting at a small table on the corner looking, I thought, rather ominous. The taxi driver looked at the name of my hotel and shook his head. He and the van driver conversed in Vietnamese for a few minutes and then, with the few English words they knew, somehow let me know they did not know where the hotel was. Instinctively, I looked around for a phone booth and telephone directory. Nothing.
Before I could summon my problem solving skills, a man on a motorcycle drove up. He and the two drivers looked at the name of my hotel, spoke a few words, and the motorcycle driver nodded his head, yes. He swung my backpack on the front on his motorbike, handed me his helmet, and I found myself on the back of his bike racing through the streets of Hanoi. It all happened so quickly without my having time to worry about what I was doing.
I cannot say I was exactly afraid, but it did occur to me that this could be the most dangerous and dumbest thing I had ever done. What intelligent middle-aged woman gets on a motorcycle at midnight in a foreign country in a city where she had never been before with a strange man who speaks no English? It vaguely occurred to me that I might never be heard of again. It flashed through my mind that Hillary Clinton has more on her agenda than trying to determine the fate of a crazy tourist trying to save $10.
Suddenly we stopped in front of a hotel that had a different name from mine, and I briefly considered jumping off and running to safety. But after a few words in Vietnamese with the doorman, we took off again. My emotions vacillated between enjoying the ride and wondering at what point I would be able to tell if I was being kidnapped.
And then we pulled up in front of a hotel whose name I recognized as mine. I got off the bike, and the driver handed me my backpack. Not knowing what else to do, I pulled out some US money and showed it to him. He took two dollar bills, smiled, bowed, and rode off into the night.