Sunday, February 14, 2010

A frightening experience

Towards the end of last week there was one of those episodes that would worry all parents.

I have mentioned the girls'  South East Asian trip and the fun that they have been having. Well, Dee had a phone call from one of our daughters, I didn't know which one. Watching my wife's face, I thought that one of the girls must have been killed. It wasn't as bad as that, but they were in the middle of a quite frightening experience.

The group had been on a tour of Halong Bay booked through their hotel which they had expected to be a highlight of the Vietnamese trip. They weren't satisfied with the tour and complained to the hotel. Failing to get satisfaction, they decided to leave the hotel where they had booked to stay for the next two nights. This led to a confrontation during which the party was physically assaulted - the details here are still unclear - and threatened with death. Terrified, they paid for the boat trip, the two nights booked accommodation and fled.

At the time Helen rang us, they had gone to a brightly lit five star hotel to try to regroup and to decide what to do. The staff there, as we later discovered, were helpful and kind and the kids spent an hour discussing their options, apparently sitting in the business centre. They were very frightened and just wanted to get out of Vietnam.

You can imagine how we felt. While we waited for further news, Dee rang the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs hot line, while I went to check Facebook. Facebook is in fact banned in Vietnam, but with the usual ingenuity of the modern young, the group had worked out out how to access it despite the ban.   

Dee had wanted the kids to go the police, a very Australian reaction.  Foreign Affairs advice to her and apparently to one of the group who had rung about the same time was that such a complaint would require them to stay in Vietnam and hire a lawyer. In the meantime, they advise them to stay in well populated areas. I have to say that the Foreign Affairs' 24 hour hotline people were very good.  

  The group apparently spent an hour discussing their options. Some felt so threatened that that they did not want to stay in Vietnam and wanted to leave for Thailand a day and a half early.

They decided to leave for the airport. No flights were available that evening, but they just wanted to get away from Hanoi city centre. They also hoped to book a flight for tomorrow.

Catching a taxi to the airport, they found that there were no flights available. It was 10pm Vietnamese time by now, so they told themselves  that they needed to eat and find some accommodation. They ate at the airport restaurant and then pondered their finance since they were out of dong. The night got worse for them when the only accommodation they could find near to the airport was a 2-star place that they knew nothing about. They ultimately booked in, afraid to go back into Hanoi city.

During this period we largely lost contact, although we knew from one sms message that they were probably okay. As it turned out, the staff at their new hotel seemed to have been remarkably kind.

I can't comment on the original affray because I don't yet know all the details and won't find out until the girls get back. It was obviously a terrifying experience for them as well as a worry for their parents.

I am very grateful to the staff at both the five star hotel and the airport hotel for their kindness.  


Neil said...

How horrible for you all.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Neil. It was indeed.

Anonymous said...

Jim, half the fun of traveling in a third world country is getting ripped off or more accurately seeing how many times you can avoid it because you leave home knowing full well that everyone is out to get you. That's just the way it is! The problem here as I see it is that modern technology has allowed a lot of people to do a lot of worrying over a storm in a tea cup. Jamie

Anonymous said...

I started worrying about my daughter from the first night she slept beside our bed in her crib.

She's 34 now. I still worry about her.

Here's hoping it sorts itself out for your daughters, Jim.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Jamie

I am sure that you are right at one level. Without the communications the whole thingg would have been over without us knowing. Still, this was a little more than a storm in a tea cup. The kids, I think H in particular, were really scared.

Having people stand right in your face and say things like "I like to eat meat for New years" and "i kill you" when you believe every word they say is terrifying.

I suspect that there is an issue about over protection and also about expectations of behaviour. But that's a separate question.

KVD, everything is fine now. I don't worry about my daughters in a general sense although I have been concerned for them from birth. My mum once siad to me when I was in my early forties: "Dear, I am still your mother!"

Anonymous said...

Surely H wasn't seriously concerned about becoming a victim of cannibalism?

It sounds from your account that the hotelier got the message from the complaint about the H Bay tour that that your daughters' group was not going to pay for it. Presumably the hotelier would still have to pay the tour operator. That's the sort of 3-way problem that, in my experience, often leads to quick escalation of conflict.

Add group dynamics, language difficulties, etc, and I'm sure it was a frightening experience for them. Even so, deciding to leave the country forthwith seems an over-reaction.

(But surely, by the time of this dispute, your daughters, having had their room/s held for them, were liable on ordinary principles for at least the first of the 2 nights' remaining accommodation at the hotel?)

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi M. I was cautious in what I said because I didn't know the facts and had only the phone calls to go on initially. Just going by Facebook/blog comments:

JG: "We finally arrived back at 4:30pm quite disappointed with our cruise. T. L. and I approached our hotel manager who immediately blew up at us. The argument continued until we just gave up since we weren't getting anywhere. Supremely pissed off and very uncomfortable with being in the hotel the group decided to check out. Another unfortunate event happened where we were physically assaulted and threatened with words of "I like to eat meat for New years" and "i kill you". He was not kidding. Charging us for the extra 2 nights accommodation we had not used and the original price of the tour less the agreed discount we hurried out of there thankful we could even leave."

Eldest: "aka kelly aka helga was physically threatened in Hanoi. Not much fun really!"

Youngest: "we had a problem at our hotel and thus wanted to leav two days early, we came forward with the money and the man threw it on the floor, physically assulted two of the group and repeatedly said he would kill us all one by one, after trying to first lock us in the building... ps all good now, out of the hotel and waiting for our flight tomorrow"

Youngest a little later: "we all didn't feel we could trust the vietnamese police enough but called the consulet to see what was best to do... he threw he hands in my face and it took EVERYTHING I had not to knock the shit out of that 5ft 5 prick"

Just as well she didn't. She is very strong!

From this distance, I can't say exactly what happened. I certainly can't say that the group didn't in some way provoke the indcident.

Regardless of the facts of the matter, what I can say with certainty is that it terrified the living day lights out of them.

Anonymous said...

It certainly seems odd. You would expect professionals in such a situation to be able to handle complaints in a more business-like fashion (to put it mildly). My comment about the first of the remaining nights still holds, though.

Jim Belshaw said...

You are probably right there, M.