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A Tale of Three Cities, Two Countries: Hanoi, Vietnam

A Tale of Three Cities, Two Countries: Hanoi, Vietnam

Continuing his round trip with Emirates and Sunway, ITTN’s News & Features Editor Neil Steedman flew on from Yangon, Myanmar, with Emirates’ through flight to Hanoi in Vietnam to see Uncle Ho, taste the street food and – yes, of course, to experience that traffic.

Yangon to Hanoi

At Yangon International Airport, premium class passengers on Emirates B777-300ER flight EK388 from Dubai to Yangon and Hanoi use the Mingalar Sky Lounge, which is bright, spacious and offers a wide choice of local and international food and drink options. The orange juice was not made from fresh oranges and the bar did not stock tomato juice, but there was nothing else to ‘complain’ about – even the toilets offer pedestal or squat options!

If you have succumbed to buying lots of souvenirs in Yangon you will probably not have exceeded the 40kg baggage allowance for Emirates’ Business Class. The flight to Hanoi departed at 13.00, was just 2.0 hours (there is a 30-minute time difference), and a cold light meal of seasonal fruit, chicken Caesar salad and (an excellent) chocolate brownie was served.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Arriving in Hanoi

Whie my Myanmar visa had been so easy to obtain online, my application for a Vietnam visa had been a little more complicated. It had to be done by email, with the fee having to be paid by bank transfer and proof of payment scanned and emailed along scans of two completed forms, passport and photos to the Vietnamese Embassy in London, then a loose leaf visa was sent by post within the 10 working days specified – efficiently processed but not as simple as online.

However, I am pleased to report that since February 2017 leisure visitors to Vietnam from 40 countries, including Ireland, the UK and Poland, are now able to apply for an electronic visa online. The Tourist eVisa is valid for 30 days for single entry and costs US$25.00. The English-language website for eVisa applications is at: https://www.immigration.gov.vn/

Immigration at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport was quick and currency exchange immediately after Customs offered 24,500 Vietnamese Dong for €1.00 – it’s a currency that takes a while to get your head around! The Tourist Information Desk provided a city map and, alongside, a taxi to Sunway’s Golden Lotus Hotel for 1,030,000 Dong (€45,00) return. This seemed a little expensive at first but the airport is quite a way from the city centre and the taxi did arrive on time early on a Sunday morning for my return trip back to the airport.

I quickly learnt that the trick to crossing the street in the Old Quarter, where there is a continuous stream of non-stopping motorcycles and scooters, is to cast all fears aside and to walk slowly but confidently straight across – the bikes will alter course to go behind or in front of you (so NEVER step backwards!).

Traffic is busy in Hanoi’s Old Quarter!

Traffic is busy in Hanoi’s Old Quarter!

Golden Lotus Luxury Hotel

On arrival at Sunway’s 3-star Golden Lotus Hotel at 39 Hang Trong Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, I learnt that they had moved me into the Golden Lotus Luxury Hotel just up the street at No. 53-55. The hotels are right in the city centre Old Quarter and are ideally located for the Grand Cathedral and Hoan Kiem Lake with its Ngoc Son Temple.

The 3-star Golden Lotus Luxury Hotel is a good value and friendly hotel, with a restaurant offering Asian and Western food – including US$12.00 set menus, a swimming pool on the top floor, and spa (www.sunway.ie/worldwide-holidays/vietnam/hanoi).

Presidential Palace, Hanoi

Presidential Palace, Hanoi

Street Food 1

One of the many joys of Vietnam is the street food, so for my first evening in Hanoi I had booked with Hanoi Free Local Tours at (www.tripadvisor.ie/Attraction_Review-g293924-d10323576-Reviews-Hanoi_Free_Local_Tours-Hanoi.html). My guide, second-year English student Nga Nguyen, was very good and introduced me to Hanoi’s famous hot egg coffee in the Lake View Café at 11 Hang Gai. The initial taste was pleasant but that did wear off after a while!

We then set off to sample three dishes at different places: Bun Cha (grilled fatty pork with white rice noodle) at Bun Cha Dak Kim, 67 Duong Thanh Street (delicious); Banh Cuon (steamed rice sheets filled with pork, mushroom and shallots) at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen Thanh Van, 12 Hang Ga, Hoan Kiem (quite good); and Che Mua He (a sticky rice dessert) at Xoi Che Ba Thin (pleasant).

Banh Cuon

Banh Cuon

In Highland Coffee, overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake, I asked Nga was there a difference between north and south Vietnam, Hanoi and Saigon. Her replies were succinct: three different accents and different words are used in north, central and south Vietnam; the north has four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter while the south has two seasons, hot and rainy; and people in the north “look to the future” (i.e. save) whereas those in the south “spend what they have”.

Temple beside One Pillar Pagoda

Temple beside One Pillar Pagoda

City Tour

My half-day Highlights of Hanoi city tour was well guided by Huyen of Intrepid Urban Adventures, who speaks good English. In response to my question about the difference between north and south, Huyen was even more succinct: “The north are more reserved, the south more open”.

The day happened to be Commemoration Day for the Hung Kings, so the streets were not quite as busy as usual, but hundreds were still queuing at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to file past Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body. Carved inside the entrance is his quote: “There is nothing more important than independence”.

The Mausoleum complex also contains the grand French-style Presidential Palace, but more interesting was Uncle Ho’s simple stilt house, which he had built and chose to live in, as well as the One Pillar Pagoda and a nearby Buddhist shrine.

Another major attraction in the Temple of Literature, dedicated to Confucius and Vietnam’s first university, which is a well-preserved example of traditional Vietnamese architecture.

Entrance gate to Temple of Literature

Entrance gate to Temple of Literature

Guide Huyen in Temple of Literature

Guide Huyen in Temple of Literature

Street Food 2

For my second evening, I had booked a street tour with Nhung Nguyen (Rose) through ToursByLocals (www.toursbylocals.com). Having learnt that I had already sampled Bun Cha and Banh Cuon, Rose quickly changed her plan and instead we enjoyed a very tasty Pho, the famous Vietnamese noodle soup with beef – a better choice than the chicken alternative.

Outside Hanoi

If your clients have time to venture outside Hanoi, top attractions to visit on a day tour include Halong Bay, Ninh Binh and Perfume Pagoda. For those with a few days to spend, the main attraction is the northwest market hilltown of Sapa, where surrounding hill tribes such as the Hmong and Red Dao sell their wares daily.

Later this week, I will be reporting from my third city, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

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NEIL STEEDMAN has been a trade journalist, copywriter, editor and proofreader for 50 years, and News & Features Editor for ‘Irish Travel Trade News’ for the past 40 years.

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