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Published: December 11th 2014
Good Evening, Vietnam!
I breath a solid sigh of relief when I am given a boarding pass, only of course after paying for my changed ticket and a ridiculous luggage fee, even though I only had two pieces of carry-on sized luggage (they only permit one). Note - avoid VietJet air if possible. After all my transactions I see I only have $37 left in my bank account - car payment went through. Automated bill payment, so great and so terrible.
So I send out another SOS, and this time my friend Linda bails me out and drops another $500.00 into my bank account. I exhale. Until I am physically on that plane I remain on edge. I also don't have any baht left, so I can't buy any food and I am starving. I crush the last of my peanuts, my last reserve, and can't wait to use my dollars to buy a meal on the plane. Vietnam is dollar friendly, though you still need dong for the markets and taxis (21,300 dong/US dollar).
I board the plane next to two Vietnamese women who had been vacationing in Thailand. They make
sure to tell me that Vietnam is much better than Thailand, and the people are nicer. At first, I think the main talker must want something from me as she is being so nice, but no, she's genuine. She gives me shopping and travel tips and we chat a while. The women then proceed to take pictures of everything: the plane, the seats, the sky through my window.
The steward comes and I order a seafood dish, which they are out of. They are actually out of everything but BBQ pork. So I sigh and remember that Jesus went 40 days and 40 nights, so I should probably just suck it up. I don't know how my new friend knows, but she knows, and instructs her friend to get into the overhead compartment and brings down some crackers. I'm salivating at this point. And the first thing she does is hand me a packet of them. I could have cried. I ate them so fast, she then gives me three more from her packet and will not take no for an answer. That's when I remember the Vietnamese rule - never eat the last of something, because your host will take it as a sign that you are not satisfied. So I slowly munch through my last cracker until I'm sure she has finished hers.
Equipped with new fuel, I get off the plane and head to the "Visa on Arrival" stand at the arrival gate. I hand over my paperwork and passport and wait for an hour or so, still convinced that something will go wrong. I make friends in the lobby with a loud Dutch girl who proceeds to scream at me the saga of her Australian boyfriend cheating on her, just to then confess she cheated on him twice previously. Free entertainment.
They finally call my name "Riel Alanca" and I jump up, and after $45 more dollars I am finally squared away with the Vietnam government. I would have paid $1000. Of course, I didn't have 1,000, but you know. Customs is easy and I board a minibus which costs $2 to be dropped off at your hotel. Taxis are around $18. The air is refreshingly cool, most people in parkas and rain jackets.
Again, get what you pay for. We have to wait for the bus to fill, which takes about an hour. They fill every last seat, and then like the luggage on top. The guy tries to make me pay $5, but I give him the eye and pay him $2 because we both know that's the right price. They drop us off at an undisclosed location which is definitely NOT our hotel lobby. Eh. Fortunately, a Canadian woman has her stuff together and she marks out where we are on her map, and she shows us where we have to go, just a few blocks away. A French girl, Coralie, decides to see if my hostel has a spare room, so we head off.
Once at Hanoi Rendezvous Hotel, all is right with the world. The staff is top notch, and we get settled in with hot tea and we book a day trip the next day to Halong Bay. We grab chicken noodle soup on the street for $2 and sit in child size plastic chairs and hover over our bowls, just like the locals. So happy to be in Hanoi, and so happy NOT to be in Bangkok.
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