We landed in Hanoi, Vietnam around 5:30pm. Luckily for us, and thanks to help from our friends at Musiker Tours, we got our visas for Vietnam in advance and bypassed one of the long lines. We went to the embassy in NYC a few weeks ago, where they do same-day processing for visas. Obviously they charge a bit more for same day, but factoring in the extra train and taxi ride to go back to pick it up, it actually winds up being cheaper to just do it all in one day. Once we went through immigration, we headed to baggage claim. It was the moment of truth…did our bags make it?? It’s the feeling we all get when we are traveling – we waited in suspense. My bag came first and it took quite a while for Steven’s bag to make it out. To be honest, we definitely got a bit nervous at one point!
When we passed through customs, there were two places to change money and two places to get SIM cards. Being that our phones do not get service in Vietnam, we needed SIM cards. It turned out that both of the locations were served by the same company, but for some reason they had different rates and packages. We went with the second counter, which offered an unlimited data plan with 45 minutes of local calling for $9USD. Both of the currency exchange tellers had the same rate and did not take commission. We have found that the rate within the city or at hotels is pretty much the same as at the airport, so we suggest changing over some money at the airport so you can get around during your first day/night in Hanoi.
Once we finished with the SIM cards and currency exchange, we requested a Uber to take us to the old quarter of Hanoi. We had some slight trouble with the language barrier. When the driver called Steven’s phone, he said “I am at the international airport” and Steven’s response was “YUP! Me too!!” At that point a friendly Vietnamese man helped talk to the driver and instruct him as to where exactly we were. I have absolutely no words as to how to explain this Uber ride. Mostly because after 5 minutes I had to close my eyes for the rest of the 40 minute ride, so I think I avoided a major anxiety attack. Frightening does not even come close to accurately describing this car ride. The favored method of transportation for Hanoi residents is motorbike or scooter. So imagine, comparatively to NYC, instead of taxis there are that many motorbikes and probably 1/3 of the amount of cars. Most of the cars on the road are taxis and there are the occasional tour buses and trucks. Now, all of these vehicles just go. There are no stop signs, no traffic lights, nothing. It is utter chaos, yet we have still not witnessed a single accident, which is astounding. Motorbikes drive in the wrong direction, but honestly I don’t even know if it is the wrong direction or not because there are no signs! (Video of the craziness to come soon)
Once we arrived in the old quarter, the Uber driver ended our ride and we learned that the 45 minute ride from the airport cost us $9USD. At that point we knew that uber would probably be our transportation of choice since there is no way I will be driving or riding a motorbike. For a second, we stood on the sidewalk and actually felt stuck. Motorbikes flooded the road along with a few cars and no one stopped, ever. We didn’t know what to do or how to get to the other side of the street. We waited to watch what other people did and found that they just walk. Watching this is one of the craziest phenomenons I have ever witnessed, it’s like watching ordered disorder of objects. So, after some encouragement from my friend Arielle, we just walked across the street at a steady pace and viola, we were on the other side!
At this point we were on a mission. We have not really booked any rooms during our trip and had planned to just find guest houses or hotels when we arrived at each city. Well, after our experience I’m not sure if that will be happening for the rest of our trip. We went to a couple of hotels to look at the rooms that were available and found that the prices did not really coincide with the quality of the rooms. We compared the rates we were given to those on agoda.com and felt that we were being scammed. We finally found a hotel that seemed to be reasonable, The Serenity Diamond Hotel (1E Cua Dong Street, Old Quarter, Hanoi). We were shown two rooms, one without a window and one slightly bigger with a window. The difference was $5, so for $30 a night we thought the larger one would be suitable for us. When we went upstairs we immediately checked the bed for bed bugs. Hanoi is known to have a bed bug problem, so be sure to check for bed bugs!! Well, sure enough we found some, so we immediately ran back downstairs and out of the hotel.
At this point it was 10pm and we were exhausted. We decided to resort to Agoda for a last-minute reservation at one of the 5 star hotels a bit further from the Old Quarter. We wound up spending a bit more than anticipated for the first night, but decided we needed a good place to stay and could figure out the rest of our accommodations that evening. We highly recommend securing a place to stay at least for your first night, unless you have recommendations from others of places to stay. So, we ordered a Uber and spent $1 to get to The Hanoi Club, which was significantly nicer than we had expected. The room had a full kitchen with an induction stove, washer/dryer, a giant two person bathtub, rain shower, king bed and living area. It was the perfect place for us to settle down after our experience and revamp our plan for the rest of the trip. At this point we don’t have everything planned and booked, but we do have some things lined up for our next few destinations. We definitely took advantage of the giant tub and then got some good rest for our anticipated trip the next day to Ha Long Bag.
Follow Your Tummy…
April 21, 2016