24th to 25th Sept 2014
Caught the free shuttle bus from the airport to the airport express station, we thought that was free too but turns out we had to pay $160, we had worked out our money before so didn't have enough, paid on card and jumped on the train. It took just 24 minutes. I'm disappointed that the old airport has gone, as I've watched clips of aircrafts landing at the old airport, the planes flew really low near the high rise buildings. Then we waited for check in to open, where they asked us for our Vietnam visa, so we produced that, and then made our way through security and customs. Again there was no stamp in our passports, they just checked our slips of paper we got when we arrived.
We grabbed a McDonald's and my chicken burger was watery and has put me right off, so this might be a blessing in disguise as I don't think I'll have another McDonalds for a while. A few days later and Shannon admits his was horrid too and that's he's put off.
Time past quickly and then we were on our Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi which took 1 hr 35. We got more food and there was free alcohol too! So we each had a beer. One was called 'Halida' and was fine, and the other was called 'Bia Ha Noi' and tasted so strong- in fact we both said it tasted like there was a shot of whiskey in it! So we will try avoid that one when we are out.
Landed in Hanoi and went to the visa desk. We handed over our passports and then waited for them to be returned, we were with 15+ other people from flight so the process took a while. We then paid US $45 each for our printed visa in our passports, we then went through immigration, collected our bags, and enquired at the information desk about a taxi. The girls at the desk were sweet and arranged a taxi for us, but they also wanted to know our plans and were trying to get us to buy tours and trips with them. We left wondering if the Vietnamese are very friendly or after commission. The taxi ride was around an hour. We knew when we had arrive in Hanoi as the roads were crazy chock a block with scooters!
We got dropped at the Hanoi Golden Palace Hotel which cost us £56 for 3 nights. Had welcome drinks and fruit and a lady Anna who was chatty as heck asked us where we were going next, were we going to Halong Bay etc. she told us that the weather wasn't going to be good in a few days time and if we wanted to go to Halong Bay while the weather was good she would change our reservation, feeling dubious we checked the weather, it was meant to be stormy, so we decided to book. However we hadn't done our research until after and realised she was charging us a but extra for commission. But it was kind of the hotel to move our booking and it was hassle free.
After settling in to yet another hotel room, we took a short wonder around Hoan Keim Lake and then for our first meal in Vietnam what did we have?... A Thai. The next morning for breakfast however we sampled our first Vietnamese cuisine- pho (pronounced like foe) it was really yummy, it's like a noodle soup, with spices. The pho was with chicken although its more famous for having beef.
After breakfast, armed with a map and list of the places we wanted to see we headed out to explore Hanoi. First stop was Ngoc Son Temple in the middle of the Hoan Keim Lake. The lake is named so because legend has it that in the mid 15th century heaven gave Emporer Le Loi a magical sword that he used to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam. One day after the war he was on a boat in the lake when a giant golden tortoise appeared and grabbed the sword and returned it to its divine owners. Ho Hoan Kiem means 'Lake of the Returned Sword'. We seen the embalmed remains of a giant tortoise but did not see the real large turtles that are in the lake. We did however visit inside the temple and seen people worship the statues inside. As a token people leave items, we assume for the god they are worshipping. Not only do they leave good things like money and fruit, but we also seen coca cola and Haribos!
We walked past St Joseph's Cathedral, it was in the lonely planet book but didn't say much but I guess it's cool as the Yanks didn't blow it up.
And taking of Yanks, we then visited Hoa Lo Prison, best known as its nickname the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was where the US POW's were detained after they were caught by the Vietnamese. Most of them served 6 years there, but I was soon to find out that they weren't harmed or mistreated due to some law, so I think they could've been worse off. Vietnam hadn't asked to be blown to smithereens in the first place. The prison was also used during the French rule decades before where they would guillotine Vietnamese ladies heads off.
We then went to a funky bar that had the waitresses dressed like Hooters girls and had Victoria Secret catwalks on the TVs. We had lunch and some local beer, Shan was in his element.
We also had a look in the shops that lined every road, Shannon wanted a belt and found a lovely fake Hermes one, to get a good deal I found a lovely purple Mulberry purse. Shannon had also seen really cool North Face rucksacks, so he priced them up and hunted for the red coloured one we wanted. He found, and again to get a good deal you need to buy something else, so he got some shorts-come-trousers too. Got it all for just over £30!
Later we had dinner at a restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel called Hanoi Garden, and the food was really tasty. I had beef with lemongrass and ginger and Shannon had beef curry. Afterwards we spotted a great place to watch the crazy traffic, a coffee bar called Highland Coffee, which was situated a few floors up and had an outside decking area. It was thrilling watching the thousands of bikes swarm in and around each other, horns hooting everywhere, pedestrians seizing their chance to cross and more bikes and cars weaving in and out, no lanes, no common way.
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