My last day in Hanoi began with a casual morning walking around town taking care of a few things that I needed to deal with regarding banks, emails, and phone calls. After sorting out everything I had set out to do, I packed my bag, left my hotel and stopped by a place that I knew not only had good food but was one of the cheaper places to get a bite to eat in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. With plenty of time to spare I opened up my handy guidebook and began looking at what sights Laos had to offer. As I read on, I realized that the meal was taking a really long time to come out and I needed to catch a bus to the airport at noon.
I still had a fifteen minute walk ahead of me and was going to need time to eat my food and here I was at 11:30 with nothing to eat yet. I sat there impatiently looking around and informed the staff of my travel plans. 11:40 came around and still no food on the table and as I watched the minutes go by on my watch, I continued telling myself that if it didn't come in the next minute I would just leave. 11:48 came around and I finally grabbed my things, said sorry, you took too long and walked out the door in the direction of the bus station.
Now I had investigated the location of the bus station earlier in the day so that I would be able to find it without any problems. The catch now was that I was approaching from a different way and things were beginning to look a bit different. I quickened my pace and began looking at street signs anything remotely familiar while constantly being bombarded with shouts of “Moto? Moto?” from every direction. The sensible thing to do would have definitely been to pay a dollar, jump on the back of a motor taxi and travel the quarter mile or so to the bus station, wherever in the hell it actually was. Instead, I continued walking, actually by now, I was almost running in order not to miss the bus that I needed to the airport. My watch now read 12:00 and I still had no idea where in the world the bus station could be. Sweat was pouring over my body as I turned yet another corner and finally saw the armada of mini vans waiting to take passengers to their various destinations. The bus was ready to leave and about to shut the door when they saw me hobble up under the weight of my backpack after running for nearly a full ten minutes now. There was one seat left in the back, sitting more on top of the luggage than the actual seat but at least I was on the bus and off to another country!
At the airport I checked in and finally got some food in my stomach helping me to feel normal again. I wandered around the airport for a while checking out the small duty free shops in the hopes of finding a good price on some M&Ms. I can't really explain why I had a craving for M&Ms but lately I have really been wanting some. You can find them every now and then along with a few other kinds of American candy bars but when you do find them, they tend to be pretty expensive. As I walked into the first duty free shop I saw, I found a decent size bag of M&Ms. I picked the bag up and my mouth began to water. Turning the bag over in my hand, I searched for a price tag. After searching for a bit, I finally noticed a small white tag with 8usd written on it. Surely this wasn't the price, it had to be some kind of code that they used to identify the price to the Vietnamese sales clerk.
Since there were plenty of other stores at the airport to choose from, I decided surely some of the others would have the prices marked much better. I realized my intuition was correct as I began wandering through all of the candy in the second store. I quickly spotted a bag of M&Ms and on the shelf was a clear label with the price, eight dollars. I mean come on, here I am at a duty free shop and the M&Ms are costing four times what they would in the U.S. I couldn't believe my eyes! While I really wanted an M&M, I decided these M&Ms were out of my price range and I would have to do without for yet another day.
With nothing else to do in the airport but wait, I took a seat and began reading my book. It didn't take long for me to get distracted when a cute girl sat down across the room from me. She had the look of an Asian person but for some reason, I could tell she must be from a western culture. I am not sure if it was the way she walked or the way she dressed or what, I could just tell she was not a local. Shortly after seeing her sit down, I saw her swing her backpack around embroidered in the typical Canadian fashion with a large Maple leaf. Out of the backpack came a Lonely Planet guide book for Laos and in an instant without even speaking to her, I not only knew she was Canadian but that she was also on my flight heading into Laos.
Seeing as how I was alone as was she, I decided to go for a stroll around the duty free shops again allowing myself the opportunity to take another seat that would be closer to her. Hoping that she hadn't noticed me sitting across the room already, I did a loop through all of the duty free shops and wondered who in the hell it was that actually purchased these eight dollar M&Ms in one of the poorest countries in the world. When my loop through the duty free stores ended, I took the seat next to the girl I had noticed before and realized that in my absence she had put her headphones in. Now, it is a difficult thing to strike up a conversation with someone wearing headphones and I usually tend to not even make the attempt. It usually signifies that they don't have any interest in talking to anyone else around as that is what I tend to do in the same situation. Feeling like I had failed in my attempt to meet the girl, I opened my book again and began to read.
It didn't take long, maybe one chapter or so but this petite little Canadian girl who looked very Asian pulled her headphones out and looked over at me in a perfectly clear North American accent and asked “Do you know what time it is?” Another great reason for wearing a watch I thought as I told her the time. From there our conversation started and my suspicion was confirmed that she was heading to Laos and she was Canadian. She was doing an internship for law school in Hong Kong for the summer and was meeting a guy she was friends with at the airport in Laos. I wasn't sure what “friend” meant but either way, it was nice to make a new friend who would be traveling in the same country as me and on top of all that seemed pretty intelligent.
After a short flight on a small prop plane on what is supposed to be the airline that has the worst safety record, our wheels touched down and we exited the flip down staircase onto the runway. Allison, the Canadian girl and I decided to wait together for her friend so that we could all split a cab and meet up for dinner later on. With the bags already waiting on the revolving belt, we quickly made our way through customs where we then found her friend Andrew waiting on the other side. After they hugged and caught up for a few minutes, I was introduced and we all took a cab into town and decided on a good spot to meet for dinner. I can't describe how important it is when you arrive somewhere to make new friends quickly. Having people around who's company you enjoy can make or break your first day in a new location. After eating a multitude of meals by myself on my first nights in new locations, I was happy to have two new friends to share my dinner with along with several of the local brews, Beer Lao!