Saturday, October 08, 2011

A Rainy Hanoi

From Hanoi Tirant Hotel

What can I say? This is our free and easy day and the forecast of rain today came true. We made the best of time ....

The day started very early. My wife and I were awake at 0300 and at 0400 our regular taxi driver Fook came punctually. He is a reliable and honest driver and he maintained his vehicle well. On the 45 minutes drive to the Low Cost Carrier Terminal where Air Asia operates from we engaged in light conversation, centering on the budget speech presented yesterday by the Finance Minister who is also the Prime Minister (a dual role ill advised with serious elements of conflict of interest as well as the fact that the PM is not an accountant by profession).

We arrived LCCT in good time and after paying Fook the fare proceeded to check in our soft canvas travel bag. Yes, just one as we will be moving quite a lot. We also have 2 hand carry bags that contain essentials and my iPad of course. While waiting I used the free wifi service in the departure lounge to read emails, etc.

The LCCT will cease to operate late 2012 or early 2013 when the new budget airline terminal in KLIA begins operation and Air Asia migrate its services there. Hopefully it will be better organized than the present one which is quite haphazardly arranged and very basic. Imagine, no toilets once we enter the departure lounge!

Flight AK870 took off at 0630 before the morning skies broke. The plane is only quarter full with mixture of expats and Vietnamese. We opted No Breakfast on board. Air Asia charges food and we prefer to eat at home instead due to the short flight duration of just over 3 hours. Flying north eastward we flew into sunrise quickly and at 0840 the pilot made a smooth landing on Noi Bai International Airport north of Hanoi city 45km away and across the Red River.

An employee from VietnamTripAdvisor held up a placard bearing my name. I quickly identified myself and my wife and I were led immediately to a waiting taxi that whisked us downtown to the agency office. The drive took 45 minutes along the highway used by all sorts of vehicles. Driving is disorderly with abrupt lane changing accompanied by honking. You got to be daring and skilful driving here where the driving follows the US left hand system. Along the way I noticed most of the cars are Toyotas, Kias and Hyundais with smaller numbers of Chevvys, Hondas and occasional luxury brands like Mercs and BMW. The buildings alongside the highway are an assorted mix and old, reminiscent of what we saw 10 years ago in rural China. One interesting observation is an abundance of fresh flowers being paraded and sold on bicycles. On bridal cars fresh flowers adorn the bonnet instead of Teddy bears, ribbons or, God forbid, artificial flowers.

The weather is drizzly so my hope of taking nice pictures is gone. One thing I like about Vietnam is they have done away with filling in immigration cards on arrival for foreigners. The Noi Bai airport is old and basic. However it is easy to move around. I met Xuan who handled our tour for the first time and obliged her to take a picture for remembrance. Xuan is a sweet and capable agent full of smiles. After some formalities and chatter I settled the balanced fee before the cab driver sent us to our hotel about a kilometer away through alleys and tight traffic. Tirant manager, Kim, together with his staff Mandy and Ken are very courteous. I am pleased to use the free wifi service and this post is uploaded courtesy of Tirant.

After checking into our room (free upgrade to executive class on 6th floor with street view and super king size, more like emperor size, bed) at 1115 we went down to look for lunch and walked about to explore the neighborhood and Lake Hoan Kiem in light drizzle. We aborted the cyclo ride to the Old Quarters due to rain. The plan to watch the water puppet show tonight was similarly canceled as the only available show at 2130 is too late since we need to get up early tomorrow for Halong Bay. Maybe we'll try after the city tour on Oct 13. For now we want to enjoy our hotel room.

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