Sunday, February 20, 2011

2011 February: Vietnam: Hanoi: Flight, Hotel and the Old Quarter

I got my tickets last year (April 2010) for this February 2011 travel to Vietnam via Cebu Pacific for about 3500php. Since both countries were members of ASEAN, us Filipinos don’t need visa anymore. I don’t know anything as to what happened to Vietnam wars, on how recent it is or on the effects on simple families living there – until I had a quick chat with my friend. I would consider this as one of my hard core Asian trips, still willing to go to Cambodia given a chance. But will not try the farther routes of Laos, Burma or India.

Travel Date: February 13, 2011 
Destination: HCMC Airport and Hanoi Old Quarter 

My flight from Manila left at 23pm, and arrived at HCMC Airport at 1am. There is a time difference on Manila and Vietnam, it is one hour earlier in Vietnam (GMT+7). I’m already expecting to be sleeping at the airport since my next flight going to Hanoi is at 6am. But I never thought that the airports in HCMC shuts down.

From International Terminal, you have to out of the gates, turn left and follow the signs going to Domestic Terminal. All the entrance gates going to the Terminal are closed. No lights, few people outside – so where am I going to sleep here? On the not so clean chairs outside an open area lobby with the mosquitoes biting me? No way! I went back to the International Terminal, hoping that this is open, I thought that the escalator is also not working, but you just have to step on it for it to work. No lights anymore as well, nor air-conditioners, but there are one or two helpers in some of the restaurants at the Business Lobby. Not until I reached the area, were I suppose to be an expensive restaurant, I saw one sleeping on the floor with pillows from the dining chairs, also a family starting to nap as well. Then I decided, that this is the best place to stay for at least 3 hours of light sleep. At 4am, after some refreshments, I headed to the Domestic Terminal again, still closed but more people are waiting outside. For 6am flight, they opened the check-in at 5am, people were like rushing on the lines – luckily I’m the 3rd one who was able to check-in. This is the first time I has experience that upon setting my feet at Tarmac, we have to take short bus trips going to the Airport building. Why? It was freezing cold – 10 degrees! Another thing I noticed, there is no Arrival Card to be filled-up for the Immigration.

At Hanoi Airport, there are lots of people – International and Domestic Terminals are on same building on a smaller area. There are also more than 3 Foreign Exchange counters to choose from.

After doing my errands, I tried to find my Hotel pick-up driver. It was a long 45 minute drive from the airport to the Old Quarter. “What took you so long?”, the concierge asked me, haha! I’m staying at Thaison Hotel II. The manager is kind to offer me free breakfast even if I just arrived at their hotel. The hotel is clean, offers free internet, also has guided tours desk, with service elevator and with rooms until 7th floor. The room is well lighted, cabinet is with 5 hangers, tea cups, water thermos, toiletries (tooth brush, soap, shampoo, sewing kit) are available, soft double bed with 4 pillows, and a massage shower – a very nice place to stay. What I don’t like are the towels, the ants on the floor and having no English news channel.

As I finally settled and had some rest, I’m now ready to roam around the Old Quarter. I started at Hoan Kiem Lake, paying 10,000vnd you’ll find their temple and different kinds of Buddha statue they worship. Nothing is special I found on this place, but paying 40php for the ticket is not a loss. I continue to walk further until I reached St. Joseph’s Church. It was an old church and also picturesque.

If I’ll do it again, I would now choose Ho Chi Minh Temple over Tolia. I was looking forward on seeing cheaper North Face jackets in Tolia – and all was just a disappointment. The sizes they have were too big, some were obviously fake (especially those that are in the streets). Walking at the Old Quarter, is so a good experience, you see: most of the people seated on the street side simply just watching people as they pass by, a lot of local products (bags, woven wall decorations, etc.), restaurants offering small stools and pho and of course a lot of motorcycles coming from all directions.

I was also able to watched the Water Puppet Show in Hanoi for 60000vnd.

Here is what Hanoi looks during the night.

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