I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, at 8:30 pm and headed to customs. There was a desk with various forms, and I grabbed the one I needed, filled it out, and returned it to the man at the counter. The man instructed me to have a seat and wait for my name to be called. I had applied for and received a visa approval online from the Vietnamese government the week before, but I still had to wait for the final visa.
There were rows of plastic chairs, and probably 40 people waiting. I sat down and listened in on nearby conversations. A young couple from Belgium was talking to a European couple about their travel woes. They explained that they flew in from Laos and used a third party company when they applied for their Vietnam visa. The visa didn’t arrive in time (that’s why I went straight to the Vietnamese government website), and Laos wouldn’t allow them on the plane to Vietnam without paying a $100 USD fee for not having the visa.
The young backpackers obviously didn’t have a lot of money, so they were frustrated. While we all waited for our names to be called, the Europeans told the couple that came from Laos that they’d have to pay a fee of $25 USD to get their visa on arrival. I had also read that it had to be U.S. dollars or Vietnamese Dong. The young couple looked frightened as he explained that he only had Laos money and the ATM was not allowing him to take out money. I was fortunate that the ATM gave me Vietnamese Dong.
The young backpacker came back from the counter and said they let him pay in Laos money, but it was the equivalent of $80 USD, not $25. The guy started to vent about the corruption he was experiencing in Southeast Asia. Other backpackers told him that when they were in a hostel in Bangkok, they were smoking weed in a place where everyone smokes. However, it’s technically illegal, and they were busted by the police, who told them they had to pay a $600 USD fee or be jailed. It was a lot of money, especially for backpackers.
My name was called, and I walked to the counter. I paid $2 USD for them to take a picture of me and add a small printed copy of it to their file. Then I paid the $25 USD fee and walked through customs. When I handed the man my passport, he didn’t say a single word to me. He just looked at his computer and handed my passport and 30-day visa back to me, and I was on my way.
After I grabbed my luggage, I stopped at a booth selling SIM cards. I paid $13 USD for a month of 60 GB and walked outside. A taxi driver approached me and offered to give me a ride for 400,000 dong. I wasn’t familiar with their money yet, so I used my currency conversion app (Globe Convert) and realized it was $17 USD.
I pulled up the Grab app, and it said the price would be 268,000 dong ($11 USD). After I pointed out the discrepancy, the man said that Grab drivers aren’t allowed to do pickups at the airport. I pushed back once again, explaining that the app says they do pickups there. He reluctantly resigned himself and agreed to charge me 200,000 dong ($8.50 USD). The man also said I would need to wait ten minutes to see if there were others who needed a ride.
I agreed to the taxi man’s price and waited while the man asked where I was from. I said, “Los Angeles.” The man got excited and said, “Ohhhhhh!!!” Nobody else showed up, so he started to drive me to my hotel. It felt strange driving on the right side of the road. I didn’t realize I had gotten used to driving on the left in Thailand.
It felt cold outside with a temperature of 68 °F (20 °C). After spending a month in the Thai heat, this was a nice reprieve. The first part of the drive from the airport to old town Hanoi had a modern highway, was well maintained, there were trees on the side of the road, and there were more cars than in Thailand. Thailand had a lot of motorbikes. The driver often drove in the middle of two lanes, making me nervous. As we got into old town, the motorbikes were everywhere, honking constantly.
The driver pulled over and pointed down a very narrow alleyway, which was the street that my hotel was located down. His minivan wouldn’t fit, so I’d have to be dropped off there. It was sprinkling outside, so thankfully, my hotel was just a quick, one-minute walk.
A friend recommended the hotel to me. She told me they treated her like royalty, and she loved her stay there a couple of years ago. I walked into the small lobby around 10:45 pm and asked to check-in. The man said he couldn’t find my reservation and said, perhaps I booked a different hotel. Then he pointed towards the front door. I insisted that I had a reservation and gave him my reservation number.
The man found my reservation, apologized, and then brought me fruit and tea. He understood it was too late for me to get dinner, so he brought me bread and butter to my room too. The room was very narrow and small, but it was clean and comfortable.
I was exhausted after a full day of travel by ferry and planes. After a shower, I was ready for bed. I turned off the lights, but the light on top of the closet cabinet wouldn’t turn off. It was a light for the closet, but the top had a circle cut out around it, letting the light shine in the room. I grabbed the desk chair and climbed on top to see what was going on. I called reception and tried to explain that the light wouldn’t turn off. The man at reception didn’t understand me, so he hung up and came to my room.
I was in my PJs and let him inside. I explained that the light should be turned off when I close the closet door, but it’s not connecting for some reason. He climbed onto the chair and played around with the wires and switch but couldn’t get it to turn off. He suggested that I just remove the key card and cut off all of the power to the room.
Frustrated, I explained that if I did that, I couldn’t charge my phone or use the AC. The man stepped back on the chair and disconnected some wires, and the light turned off. He said someone from maintenance would repair it the following day, and he left.
The next day, I slept in and then worked on my blog. Next, I talked with some family and friends in the U.S. and updated them on my whereabouts. I had no idea what I was going to do in Vietnam, so I spent some time researching TripAdvisor. At 3:30 pm, I left the hotel to explore and get some food. On my way out of the hotel, the front desk staff said they noticed that I missed the free breakfast. Embarrassed, I explained that I had some writing to do.
The narrow streets and alleyways in Hanoi were loud. Motorbikes raced by while honking their horns, and street vendors were everywhere. When I arrived at an intersection, I noticed there were stoplights, but they weren’t turned on. It was just a constant free flow of cars and motorbikes. Crossing the street was difficult. I had to make eye contact with the drivers and walk across while bikes zoomed behind and in front of me.
Motorbikes were often parked on the sidewalk, forcing me to walk into the street. As I continued walking, I came across a beautiful lake. Bright flowers were in bloom all around, groups of people were playing games, and others were going for a stroll. I followed the path around the lake and ended up at a temple. I bought a ticket and went inside. It was a beautiful small temple.
I found a restaurant nearby on TripAdvisor with a 5-star rating. I didn’t have a reservation, but they told me that if I was done by 7:00 pm (it was 5:45 pm), I could get a table. It was a romantic, upscale restaurant filled with couples. I paid $26 USD for a three-course meal, including wine. The food was delicious, and I considered this a treat.
Next to me was a couple in their 20s from the U.K. Their snobbish attitude was apparent when they instructed the waiter that the girl was vegan and clarified, “no butter.” The server confirmed, “vegan?” I thought it was insulting that they assumed he didn’t know what vegan means, considering he is a server in a major city.
The waiter mentioned the fish sauce that he’d remove as well before he walked away. Looking concerned, the girl said to the guy, “Wait, so all the food we ate in Thailand…I wonder if it had fish sauce in it?”
The guy responded with what I was thinking, “Yes, I’m sure it did. Especially the pad Thai.”
The girl justified it, “Well, it was vegetarian at least. I don’t eat food when I know it’s not vegan.”
The guy responded, “Yes you do.”
Getting upset, the girl said, “No I don’t. I know a guy that says ‘as long as I don’t know if it has stuff in it, I’m vegan.’ That’s not me.”
The guy laughed, “It is when you’re drinking.”
Dining solo at times is lonely. Other times, it’s entertaining. After enjoying my delicious meal, I chatted with the server, Leah. She told me about herself and how she was learning English. We had a nice conversation, but it was close to 7:00 pm, and I had to skedaddle.
I walked back to my hotel and was enjoying the cooler air. Street vendors were setting up small tables in the middle of the streets. Shirts promoting the meeting with President Trump and Kim Jong-un lined the clothing booths. The two had just met in Hanoi, and the t-shirts had their faces outlined with the word “peace.” The city was abuzz, and I was excited to see what Vietnam had in store.
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