Friday, June 20, 2014

First Day in Hanoi

15 May 2014 (Thursday)

The plane left klia2 at about 6:40 am, Malaysia time. It arrived at Noi Bai International Airport at 8:25 a.m. local time, ahead of the scheduled time.

My first task on arrival at Noi Bai International Airport was to exchange my US dollars to the local Vietnamese Dong. Yesterday, I changed MYR528 for VND3,000,000. Today, I changed USD350 for VND7,372,750. In total, I had VND10,372,750. Yeah, yeah, yeah! I know. I was a very rich man.

The next thing I did was to get my SIM card as advised by NTHA. Mobifone outlet was across the hall. It had several voice and data packages available. I went for the second cheapest at VND500,000 which met all my requirements for a week. I test the internet connection but could not access it and asked the sales girl to help. She did. I tried to call NTHA's mobile number but could not get through. The sales girl advised me that I should replace the international dialling code "+84" with "9". I did but still could not reach her. I asked the sales girl to help again. She showed me by calling a local number. I observed that there was only one "9" in the telephone number she dialled. After removing "+84" and adding "9" to NTHA's number, I noticed that there were two "9s" in the phone number. I removed one "9" and this time, the line worked. I informed NTHA that I had arrived.

From the exit gate of Noi Bai arrival hall, I went to look for the mini-bus. As I was taking photos of the area near the exit, I noticed "minibus" just to the right. A man waved at me and I asked "Quang Trung?" (pronounced as "Kuang Chung"). He nodded. I was the last passenger. I asked him how much and he said VND45,000. I paid him and the mini-bus left.

An hour later, we arrived at the mini-bus station close to Vietnam Airlines office. There was a group of taxi drivers waiting there to solicit for business. I decided not to use the waiting taxi, both four-wheel and two-wheel taxis, as they were known to rip visitors off.

I had informed NTHA earlier that my plan was to settle into the first hostel I saw so that I could drop off my baggage there.

Using my Garmin eTrex 20 gps unit, I marked Backpackers' Hostel as my destination from Quang Trung mini-bus station. I set off and not too long later, I saw Hanoi New Hotel. I inquired for a single room and the rate was VND400,000 per night. I asked the receptionist to show me the room. It was clean. I needed to inform NTHA about my location and called her. However, I asked the hostel receptionist to tell her the location as I did not know the street name or the area. After a somewhat long conversation, he told me that NTHA had booked a room at another hostel for me. Another staff asked me how much the competing hostel rate was and that it could try to match the price. I said it was VND260,000. She asked me where the location was and the name of the hostel. I said I did not know. I had to apologise and left because I did not want NTHA to be inconvenienced finding me later.

NTHA told me to get a taxi and she would tell the driver the name of the hostel. Now, when I needed a taxi, I could not find one. As I continued to walk randomly looking for a taxi, a guy called out to me whether I needed transport. It was a Xe Om driver.

I asked him to wait while I called NTHA to tell him the destination. After the call, I asked him how much the fare was. He said VND70,000. I agreed and hopped behind him on the motorcycle. The hostel was called Camellia Hotel 6.

At the hostel, I was told that the room was being cleaned and it would take about an hour. By then, it was already 11 a.m. NTHA said she would be coming soon and we could go out for lunch. After she arrived, I had my first genuine taste of Vietnamese food.

After lunch, NTHA asked me whether I wanted something to drink. I added, "Something to eat too". As we walked, she pointed out Hoan Kiem Lake. It was so close to Camellia Hotel 6. She asked me whether I wanted to go up to a cafe in the upper floor of a building that has a view of Hoan Kiem Lake. I agreed. Besides the drink, I ordered spring rolls (Nem Cuon Toi) at Avalon Cafe Lounge for the two of us. True to what NTHA said, the taste of food in upscale restaurants did not taste as good.

NTHA had to go back to her office as Thursday was her busy day. After sending me to the hostel, I retrieved all the material on PNG from by bag which I had brought with me and passed them to her. I was dead tired from lack of sleep and went to my room while NTHA discussed with the hostel manager my plan for Halong and Tam Coc. I had told her at Avalon Cafe that the hostel manager told me the prices to Halong Bay and Tam Coc offered by Camellia Hotel 6 were VND350,000 and VND300,000 respectively (he actually said USD35 and USD30 respectively but I remembered it incorrectly and passed the wrong information to NTHA).

Back in the room, I took my bath and tidied up before taking a nap, which proved difficult.

At about 4:00 p.m., I decided to go to Hoan Kiem Lake for a stroll and to wait for NTHA's call. At the same time, I wanted to confirm with the hostel manager my seats to Halong Bay and Tam Coc, but he said NTHA had done the booking for me with Sinh Cafe. I was caught by surprise. I wanted to proceed to Hoan Kiem Lake but the manager informed me that a Sinh Cafe representative would be arriving in five minutes. I decided to wait.

NTHA had inquired about Halong Bay, Tam Coc and Sapa for me. The Sinh Cafe representative explained to me about the cost, which were VND650,000, VND550,000 and VND2,700,000 for the three places respectively.

I was okay with Halong Bay and Tam Coc prices but hesitated on Sapa as the itinerary did not appeal to me, which included trekking to two villages. She said I would not be able to get the train tickets to Lao Cai and back on my own but I told her I would make my decision later. I left to stroll and photograph Hoan Kiem Lake and to visit Ngoc Son Temple.

During lunch, NTHA said she would pick me up if she could finish work at 4:00 p.m. for dinner. She did not call, so I went to take an early dinner, assuming that she was still busy. I did leave enough space in my big belly to have a second dinner with her.

On Facebook, I contacted her. It was already late when she finally said she would come to pick me up to go to West Lake. By that time, I was back at the hostel already.

We went out on her motorcycle, with me riding pillion. West Lake is very much bigger than Hoan Kiem Lake. She said West Lake is very popular among dating couples. We went to a restaurant at West Lake but only had smoothies. NTHA declined to have dinner saying that she would take dinner when she reached home as this was her usual practice. I really want to treat her to dinner but she insisted that she would take dinner at home.

After sending me back to the hostel, I asked her to take supper of Pho Bo near the hostel but she declined again. She then left.

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