Wow, my first full tour day and I’m not sure I can fit it all into a single post. Today I was starting out at a hotel in Hanoi and was to end up sleeping on a boat in Ha Long Bay.

First off, I started the whole group experience as the “problem child” when I ended up being late when I was 10 minutes early. My itinerary said I would be picked up 8-8:30a.m. I’m thinking this means a group orientation will start at 8 and we’ll load up- leaving by 8:30. Instead, I received a call in my room at 7:45 saying the leader was waiting for me in the lobby. Okay, no problem. I was already packed, had had breakfast, and was just putzing around, so I grab my bags and head down to the lobby- no later than 7:50. The manager took my key and my large suitcase as soon as I got off the airport. “They are waiting for you” and I see a large van of people all loaded up. Great. Then as I am walking up to the door, I see that my suitcase is still sitting by the front desk. “Oh, I need my bag,” I say. “No, no- we keep this here for you until you come back tomorrow.” Um, what? The eight people already in the van are looking at me, I’m looking at the guide with this dumbfounded- “No, I need my suitcase with me- if we are staying overnight- I need a change clothes.” “Oh, she hasn’t packed her knickers,” an Aussie from the van tries to help explain. I look at her- starting to formulate the cause of confusion as to why I *wouldn’t* need my suitcase. “You were supposed to pack just an overnight bag for the boat,” she leans out to say. Doh! “No one told me this,” I explain as the guide simply takes charge by saying okay and shoving my already embarassingly huge (to me) suitcase under one of the van seats as I sheepishly take the remaining free seat next to the door. 

Sigh. I look at my phone. 7:50am. I mutter something about being the last one on even though I was 10 minutes early.

“Oh, they called us last night to tell us they’d come between 7:15 and 7:30,” offers a nice Aussie lady sitting next to me. “I haven’t heard anything different than what the emailed itinerary says.” “Didn’t they tell you when you got your packet with your phone?” “Uh, what packet? I didn’t see anyone or get a packet” “The one with your airline tickets?”

Uh, no.

Great. Apparently everyone got information, instructions and their vouchers and tickets except ME. Okay, breathe. We will be returning to the Flower Hotel for one night before our first flight. I’m sure I can 
Now, to make sure, I brave the wifi at our first pitstop to send a quick email off to “Danielle,” my Hoi An Express rep explaining that I did not receive my packet or instructions on the departure time. We’re told we have 40 minutes there. Its one of those “take you to a shop that will give us a kickback” places so I think there’s no way I’m buying anything. I mean, the selection is a variety of lovely handcrafted goods, but  I only have about $120 in cash and haven’t even changed any to Vietnamese dong and want to avoid using Vietnamese ATM after Chase pretty much scared me off from them. But then I see one little thing- its just a buck. Then some postcards, another buck. Then I see the checkout. They take Mastercard. 

Okay, so this is a tourist trap and the prices probably aren’t THE BEST, but if I can conserve my cash, I’m willing to pay a little bit of a premium to use my card. 

I end up buying 23 items for a total of $102 dollars. 

As I’m nearing checking out, I see our driver. “How much time do I have?” “About 10 minutes,” he says. Cool- I go back for something I skipped at the beginning and bring it to the girl who’s already been totalling and wrapping my things. She gives me the total, I mentally do the math to confirm and convert to US dollars and then head over to the payment counter. 

“We’re all waiting in the van,” one of the Aussies comes up behind me and says, sounding slightly exasperated. I look back and see her walking away and the guide points to one of the doors to indicate which way I should exit. It has NOT been 10 minutes since I had asked him about the time.

I walk out. Everyone except me is waiting in the van. Again.

Problem child.

Part 2 later. For now, here are some pix of the shop, and some views along the way.