Traveling again is fantastic – BIG SMILE! After a break in Oregon that seemed to last forever, I’m happy to be in Hanoi, but so far, the trip has had its challenges.
US State Department Cautionary Travel Warning
A few days before my departure, the US Department of State issued a “Worldwide Caution” for citizens traveling abroad. They expressed concern about the “continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas”. Hummmmm
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
As a solo traveler, before departing I register trips abroad with the US State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP sends information and updates about safety conditions in destination countries. I take cautionary info seriously but don’t overreact, and will add new destinations, as this trip’s “moving itinerary” changes.
Tropical Storm Mulan
Shortly after landing at Noi Bai Airport, I noticed that the U.S. Embassy Hanoi had issued a tropical storm alert for Vietnam. For the next few days, Storm Mulan – labeled a typhoon at one point – is expected to bring “heavy rain to northern Vietnam”.
There was a delay in the Seoul to Hanoi flight, due to massive flooding caused by the storm. Although I’ve experienced a few tornadoes, if Mulan develops as expected, it will be my first typhoon. The windows at Seoul Incheon Airport were sheeting with heavy rain. Eight people in Korea died in the storm, billed the “worst in over 80 years”.
To make the situation a little more concerning, my one piece of checked baggage – Oregon – Seattle – Seoul – Hanoi – was lost :o(. Over the years, I’ve had this happen a few times, and it’s not fun. Thankfully, many of the most important things were in my carry on. Except for a t-shirt and pair of jeans, all clothes, an umbrella, rain poncho, and coat for cooler EU climates, are inside the lost luggage – bummer…
Asiana Airlines filed a “property irregularity report,” and it could take them three days to trace and hopefully find the luggage – or not! The agent who helped said checked baggage from Seattle often gets lost en route. I didn’t find that especially comforting… As far as I could tell, the fully-booked Seoul to Hanoi flight had only about five non-Asian passengers, and four of us were missing our checked baggage. I’m trying to be positive and hope it shows up. One flustered man said he had an important job interview early the next day, with nothing but jeans to wear.
Hanoi 2011 – 2012
My first visit to Hanoi was 2011 – 2012, and I remember celebrating New Year’s Eve 2011 there, getting caught up in happy, boisterous street celebrations. That was several travel adventures ago, but the memories are great. Hanoi is an exciting, vibrant city with a fast-moving population of around 5 million. This visit, I’ll concentrate mostly on the arts, Vietnamese food, historical sites, and interesting cultural performances. There’s plenty to keep me busy, and I’m hoping my body adjusts quickly to monsoon season rain, heat, and humidity.
“Many view Vietnam’s capital as a city of contrasts. Although it’s home to thirty-six historical streets. Vietnam’s oldest national university, and ancient sites like the One Pillar Pagoda and Thang Long Imperial Citadel, Hanoi districts are undergoing a noticeable transformation.” Nhu Phung vietcetera.com
Internet articles describe modern Vietnam as home to “entrepreneurial enterprises with a vibrant business scene and robust startup culture”. The country has a large influx of foreign workers and remote freelancers. I’m ready for new discoveries and to see changes made during the past ten years.
Hoàn Kiếm and Ba Dinh Districts
My apartment is in Hoàn Kiếm, a central part of Hanoi with historical relics and other points of interest. During the previous trip, I visited major attractions like the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ba Dinh Square. I’ll look for new attractions this time and visit sites like a memorial near the remains of John McCain’s airplane. In 1967 during the Vietnam war, it was shot down over Huu Tiep Lake. I’m here until September 5, slowly immersing myself in Vietnamese culture and hopefully feeling the Hanoi vibe.
Hanoi’s motorbike taxis are called Xe Ôm. “The name literally translates to ‘hug vehicle’, and that’s what it amounts to: you ride pillion on the motorcycle and hug the driver from behind, hanging on, as the both of you whiz through the city’s traffic.” Tripsavvy.com
Nearby Ba Dinh District has undergone substantial development since my last visit, including construction of “high-end, modern residential highrises,” like Lancaster 9x. It’s home to embassies, restaurants, ancient temples, and museums. While acclimating, I’ll explore districts near my apartment, focusing on Hoàn Kiếm and Ba Dinh. Famous Hoàn Kiếm Lake is known for Ngoc Son Temple and a legend about a magic sword, and giant turtle.
I’m still considering transportation options and deciding the best way to get around Hanoi. Transportation is probably going to be confusing in the beginning – but who knows? Apps almost lead you around by the nose, convert USD to VND, Vietnamese to English, kilometers to miles, and milliliters to ounces. Even so, things may be a bit tricky during the initial learning curve.
Within Hanoi, people get around via cyclo bicycle rickshaws, regular taxis (not my favorite), motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles. Trains and buses are used to travel outside the city. The crazy traffic in Hanoi is swimming in motorcycles! Of course, walking is the best way to get to know a place, but long distances in the heat might be uncomfortable and crossing the street on foot through a massive onslaught of motorcycles can be terrifying! Last visit, I remember jumping on the back of motorcycle taxis. It was fun, efficient, and a great way to cool down! Maybe I should rent a helmet, but they’re hot, and I doubt there will be much speeding in the heavy traffic.
Before hopping on motorbike taxis or motorcycles, it’s wise to check Google Maps and determine the total mileage to and from your destination. You can find taxi fare calculation sites online, but I’m not sure if they’re accurate. Supposedly, a “normal” rate is 10,000 – 15,000 VND ($0.50 – $0.70 USD) per kilometer (0.6 mile), and this is in line with the cost of my airport transfer.
Agreeing on a price with your driver in advance is a must. As with many large cities, Hanoi taxi drivers have been known to cheat tourists – I’ve “relearned” that reality of life in different countries all over the world. Exploring interesting high-density urban districts will keep me busy for a while, but day trips to rural outlying areas like Ninh Binh are on the agenda, and I may visit magical Halong Bay again? Electric and motorbike tours in- and outside Hanoi sound interesting.
After a 17-hour flight from the US via Seoul, I was “groggy” but had arranged to be picked up at Noi Bai Airport and driven to my apartment in Hoàn Kiếm. Luckily, everything was in order with the Vietnamese visa obtained online. Although immigration control was hectic and slow, I survived unscathed! Unless there’s a high-quality transportation system (subway) from the airport, it’s worthwhile arranging a pickup in advance to avoid airport traffic and taxi hell. However, my past experiences of actually FINDING the driver weren’t always as easy as they sounded. That was the case this time as well, partly due to the lost baggage. Eventually we connected, and I made it to my apartment late that night.
Whatsapp, Google Maps
Whatsapp is extremely popular abroad, and I started using it again to communicate with my Hanoi apartment manager. It’s free and efficient. My apartment is modern, comfortable, private, and a good home base at the end of a long day. I’m brushing up on using Google Maps offline. Internet here is fast and reliable.
Vietnamese Đồng and Language
Vietnam currency is the Đồng (VND), and 1 VND equals about $0.000043 USD – huh??? I have to start by wrapping my head around smaller amounts – $5.00 equals about 117,000.00 VND. My apartment costs millions of VND for a one-month stay! Vietnamese Banknotes from the 200 to the 500,000 have a picture of popular former president, Hồ Chí Minh.
Vietnamese is considered an “Austroasiatic language” and is not only spoken in Vietnam but also in parts of Cambodia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and China. At my next stop – Vienna – it’ll be Euros, German, a modern transportation system, and cooler weather, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Today, jet lag is doing its thing with my mind and body. I haven’t slept for over 24 hours but feel wide awake and spaced out. Obtaining a local SIM card and enjoying Hanoi pho noodles and dim sum are first on the agenda. A popular café – The Hanoi Social Club – is nearby, and I had lunch there today. If something more exciting comes my way, I’ll share it.
Transportation, weather, and language differences may be the biggest challenges in Hanoi, but I’m ready? :o). I’ll attempt a few Vietnamese phrases, hoping sketchy pronunciations aren’t offensive. Finding the lost luggage would make my day!