I should admit first of all that I was somewhat apprehensive about my winter holidays this year. Not as much as last year, when I was unsure what to expect on my trips, but just that most of what I planned, I did last minute – my hotels, for example, and my flights were booked at end of December/start of January – when I really should have been planning it for longer. When people asked me what I planned to see in Vietnam when I was there, I wasn’t sure, as I hadn’t read the guide book etc. I had vague ideas, but actually until I arrived I hadn’t explored what there was to see in-depth.
My plan consisted of five nights in Hanoi, four in Ho Chi Minh City, and four in Hong Kong. Then back to Beijing for a few days (I had a dentist appointed), before heading to Seoul for three more days before returned to Beijing again, and my holiday would effectively be over.
Day 1 – Beijing to Hanoi
Leaving Beijing was the easy bit. Where I live, the subway station is about a two minute walk away, and this line interchanges with the Airport Express, so it is easy to get to the airport via subway. On arrival, I found out I’d arrived a bit too early – and check in wasn’t going to be open for another half hour or so – so I sat and read my book. My luggage was eventually checked in and went to the gate to wait. The flight was late leaving, which made me a little concerned since I was being picked up at the airport and taken to my hotel. Although often this incurred a bit more cost, in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh I asked for airport pick up and drop off as it was so much easier, especially as I don’t speak Vietnamese and there is no metro system in either city.
The flight between Beijing and Hanoi was just over two hours (there is an hour time difference between China and Vietnam). Because I booked things last minute, on my preferred flight only business class was available. It was not much more expnsive than economy, so I opted for that.
On arrival to Hanoi I cleared customs pretty quickly – being a British citizen, at the moment I can travel to Vietnam visa-free for 15 days or less (this is set to change later this year I think), collected my luggage and found that the person waiting to pick me up was still waiting there. I was also able to change some money at the airport, from US dollars to Vietnamese dong. Handing over a couple of hundred dollars and getting back several million dong was an interesting experience.
I remember being sat in the car, on the long trip to the hotel (it took about an hour and a half) thinking what have I got myself in for? The traffic was crazy busy and we seemed to be stop-start all the way. When we arrived, I also had no idea where we were. I’d got the hotel from Trip Advisor, and it was reasonably priced and had decent enough reviews. It was down an alley, and we parked on the main road, so I had no real idea where we were going. But one of the staff came out and helped me with my luggage and, on entering the hotel, I was greeted by warm, friendly faces and taken to my room.
The room was very well laid out – I had complimentary fruit, a couple of bottles of water (which were replaced daily), and even a complimentary bottle of wine! I don’t drink, but it was a nice gesture. The bed had rose petals on it and a structure, made out of towels. I say structure, as I wasn’t entirely sure what it was! Nevertheless, it was nice and cosy, and the TV had several English language channels too. I settled in for the night and slept well.