October 18, 2013
We woke up expecting the best case scenario. The best being Robert pops by and pays Katie and that the bus to Sapa isn’t full by the time he shows up. Fortunately, the women downstairs were nice enough to let us book our tickets and said that if the bike fell through we could cancel. It relieved the tension. We ate eggs and baguettes for breakfast and then chilled at a café until it was time to meet Robert.
One o’clock rolled around and Katie sold her bike without a hitch. Robert had come through and the two of us, for the first time in almost three months, were left with our feet planted on the ground. It was bittersweet. We had a lot of ups and downs on those bikes. From Katie’s accidents to my battle with mechanics to the 3000km we spanned along beaches and mountain tops and through fog and pouring rain to all the people and places it brought us in between. We did Vietnam. And we did it without a single regret. It was Katie’s first bike. And I know how hard it is to say goodbye to your first bike. We wish nothing but safe travels for all the future owners, but now we are onto our second leg of the journey and our first overnight bus.
The bus was picking us up at six pm which gave me a lot of time to help out one of the women working at the front desk. She had asked me for a favour early in the morning. Seeing that I was wearing a North Face jacket she had asked me where I got it.
“I got it in Ho Chi Minh.” I said
“How much did you pay for it?” she asked
“400,000 dong. So around $20 US. They wanted 500,000 but we talked them down. Katie and I both got them.”
“Can you do me a favour?”
“Yes of course.” I said, meaning it.
“It is my husbands birthday coming up and I want to get him a North Face jacket. They are very popular. But they sell them too expensive.”
I knew the store she was talking about. Just the day before I had popped in to compare prices and they were in the 800-850,000 range, although the jackets were made with a stronger material. Perhaps it was real Gore-Tex instead of the Gore-Tex logo that was fixed to ours. It was definitely of better quality.
She continued, “They won’t give me discount. They only want to sell to foreigners. Can you help me buy one?”
“Of course I can. What colour does he like and what size is he?”
“He wants a yellow one and large I think.”
“If I cant get a discount are you OK with me spending 800,000 on one? I mean I will try to get it for the cheapest possible, but I just want to know!”
“Yes that’s ok!”
I reassured her that the jackets are better than mine and worth more money to boost her into thinking she was getting a good deal. I even told her North Face jackets in Canada around the same quality go for around $120-$200 and she was spending $40. So, to me it’s already a great deal. She agreed and the two of us walked down the street. She didn’t want to get too close incase they saw her. So she hung back on the other side of the street while I went up to the vendor.
“Hey how are you today?” I said, always trying to butter up the worker. “Do you have that yellow jacket in a large?”
He went into the back to check and came out with one in his hand. So, to play the role I tried it on and searched the seams like I would on a jacket I was buying for myself. Everything checked out.
“OK. I have money with me and I want to buy a jacket today. What is the best price you can give me?”
He starts delegating with his wife or mother or sister. It’s rather hard to tell because everyone looks so damn youthful. They reached a decision.
“800,000. But we can do for you 700,000.”
That was a savings of $5 but I wanted to do a little better. I knew this woman doesn’t have a ton of money. Hell, none of us do. So I tried to work them a little more for an even better deal.
“Can you do 600,000?”
I knew I hit a nerve. Which is a good level to reach. It shows the real value of a product when they say no…no…no…and begin to put the product away.
“Ok. Ok. How about 650,000?”
He retaliated with 690,000 so I hit him one last time with 680,000 and he forked over the jacket. I was happy. I had a small victory. I had saved her 120,000 dong, only $6 US – but that means a lot when you’re making $1.20 a day. I ran back across the street and pulled out the jacket when we were out of view. I handed her the change and she tried to thank me by giving me a 20,000 Dong tip. I refused and told her over and over that it was no problem and I was happy to help out.
Back at the hotel everyone was trying on the jacket and laughing and in no time the bus was waiting for us out front and we had to part ways. We promised to promote Alibaba Hotel on TripAdvisor.com for them and hopped into the bus for our first sleeper bus.
The ride was uneventful. We luckily slept the entire way. The bus was filled with double beds stacked two high and fitted with blankets and pillows. It was pretty cushy compared to the pillows we had for beds on our next bus. But we will get to that later. For now we were destined for Sapa. The land of the rice paddies, soaring mountains, minority villages and cool fresh mountain air. We had been looking forward to it the whole trip and when we wake up it all begins. What a concept the sleeper bus is…wake up in a new city, refreshed and ready to start the day. Sounds peaceful right? Uhmmm yeah!