Hanoi, Viet Nam
21° 1' N 105° 50' E
Jun 30, 2009 23:21
Distance 188km

Text written in: English

Blog 20 Hanoi

Arriving back in Hanoi, Vicki got talking to a tourism student on our bus who kindly volunteered to phone for a taxi for us to avoid being ripped off by the drivers hanging around the bus station.


Having a perfect response to the usual hassle, we climbed into our cheap car and headed back to the travel agent through which we had booked the Halong Bay trip to get directions to our latest hotel.


Despite the fact that it was a different girl on duty at the travel agent, she personally walked us round to the hotel’s main reception area. Things were looking good until the bellboy took us round the corner to the hotel we were supposed to be staying at, only to discover that they had no rooms.


After a phone call (in Vietnamese) we were back on the street and were led back to the hotel we had stayed in before going to Halong Bay. Having practically sneaked out of the place to avoid the constant high pressure sales pitch, there was no way we were staying there again – especially since we had been told the hotel we booked was $10 a night more expensive.


Being rather tired, I told the poor bellboy that we were not staying there and that he had better take us back to the main reception building. After a rather pointed statement of our intentions, the receptionist was back on the phone and offered us a room in the ‘Luxury Hotel’. Scared that we still wouldn’t be happy, he insisted that we go to check the room first and within minutes, two motorbikes appeared to transport us for our room inspection.


Finding a far better level of accommodation than we had initially expected, we immediately accepted the room while somehow, the motorbikes managed to collect our three bags from the previous hotel and deliver them to the room. Quite what we had been described as in the phone call, we will never know but given the hugely attentive and ‘walking on eggshells’ service from the Luxury Hotel manageress, I can only guess we were flagged as difficult customers. The up-side of this was that we were treated like royalty in the hotel and we could not recommend the place more highly for service and care.


That night we took a walk down to the ‘lake’ (actually a large pond) in the centre of the city, which we discovered was only about half a mile away from the hotel, and found a trendy looking, yet cheap restaurant for dinner. Despite being exhausted from the day’s travelling, we still managed to walk around the lake and have an argument over which building the post office was before heading back to the hotel.


The following morning we once again set out on a ‘laundry hunt’ with no success. Things were getting desperate on the clean clothes front but being hardened hagglers, we managed to buy enough ridiculously cheap t-shirts to see us to Malaysia.


Finally finding the post office building, we collected the various tat that had accumulated over the previous couple of weeks and set about posting it home. In Vietnam, this isn’t the easiest of tasks but after several forms, much wrapping, taping and handing over of cash, we left with assurances that our souvenirs would be back home within a bare three months.


Knowing that we only had one full day in Hanoi, for once we didn’t really set out with a hugely detailed plan and instead simply wandered around the streets surrounding the city centre and managed to get a great feel for both the city and the people.


Sadly Hanoi, despite still being a fascinating place, didn’t quite measure up to Ho Chi Minh in terms of vitality or friendliness. We did find an indoor market which seemed to be fairly devoid of tourists and although selling virtually everything for dirt-cheap prices, we were very much made to feel that it was for Vietnamese only. One example of this was when we looked at a stall selling jeans and I was slapped on the wrist and told “no, no” while Vicki was scowled at for daring to lift a pair off the display to check the size.


Despite this, we spent an enjoyable day walking through endless small shops and stalls and, as usual, spent money we didn’t have on items we didn’t need. Despite not having quite the same appeal as Ho Chi Minh, there is a definite character to Hanoi and you can’t help being attracted to the old-world charm of the street stalls and small shops selling everything from fresh fruit to engine parts.


The weather in Hanoi was uncomfortably hot and humid, despite our virtual acclimatisation so in need of some air conditioning, we headed for the early evening water-puppet show.


We had heard of this performance from people we had met and at the end of the show were as equally bemused by it as they had been. Basically, puppeteers stand behind a screen while making various puppets perform on a stage of water with the controls for the puppets hidden beneath the surface. Apparently the show is a worldwide recognised folk production but to us it seemed like an incomprehensible series of small, unrelated displays scenes, albeit very cleverly controlled.


That night we considered eating somewhere very cheap then completely ignored that idea and headed back to the restaurant we had discovered the night before. Having taken the wrong order, a waitress eventually came across to tell Vicki they had cooked the wrong meal but asked if she could just eat it anyway.  When we did eventually get the correct order, it was nearly closing time so after a fairly rushed dinner, we headed back to the hotel for yet another packing session.


With the alarm going off at some ridiculously early time, we got into the private car that the hotel had organised for us (at a cheaper rate than the taxi we got on the way into town) and headed for the airport.


Using Air Asia (apparently the world’s best low cost airline – according to Air Asia) we discovered just how good Ryanair and Easyjet actually are. Having already had to pay an extra $17 for a 20kg baggage allowance and having stood in a seemingly stationary check in queue for ages, I was not in the mood for more hassle.


The check in manager wasn’t too impressed however when he discovered that I had been holding my bag up with my knee to make the 20kg. However by this time the luggage label had already been printed by the check-in clerk so with a now very large queue behind us I got away with it.


Arriving at Kuala Lumpur about three and a half hours later, (having had to fill in yet another immigration form and health declaration – this one being the most stupid yet since we were somehow supposed to know which countries the WHO had deemed to have domestically transmitted cases of Swine Flu) we collected our bags and walked through the infra-red scanner.


Discovering that our onward flight wasn’t on the departures board gave us a bit of concern but we eventually discovered it left from the next terminal. Trying to avoid more hassle with overweight bags, we stripped the big bags of anything heavy that was allowed to be carried on and transferred it to the hand luggage (kind of defeats the purpose but airlines don’t seem to have grasped that concept yet…).


After exposing our dirty washing to the entire low-cost carrier terminal of KL airport, we re-packed the bags and went for lunch – in Vicki’s case, something healthy and Asian, while I consoled myself with yet another McDonalds.


After struggling with the self check-in system while Air Asia’s representative pretended not to see us, we stood in a queue at the check in desk (which was claiming to be open) for another half hour before a check-in clerk finally bothered to turn up. Having fought off the inevitable locals pushing their way into the queue, we eventually discovered a self service ‘bag drop’ in the corner of the terminal which allowed us to bypass the weighing system. Since this had never been pointed out or signposted, there was no queue so we managed to check-in our bags before the rest of the crowd noticed.


Eventually making it through to the departure lounge, we sat down for a rest only to get about five minutes before a Jehova’s Witness or something came up to us and spent the next half hour telling us why the world and Gordon Brown were doomed to failure because they were ruled by money and not religion.


Finally getting away from her when we boarded the plane (she was on the same flight) we endured another three hours of Air Asia’s complete lack of service (and another health declaration form) before landing at Sandakan.

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