Sunday, July 4, 2010
On our way
I felt myself go through the stages; denial, disbelief, anger and finally acceptance. It started at the check-in desk for our flight from Singapore to Hanoi, where the unfriendly lady of Tiger Air, uttered the words: "where is your visa?" as she leafed through our passports.
"We are getting the visa on arrival" we replied cheerfully.
To be able to do that, she told us, we required a letter from the Vietnamese authorities giving permission to obtain the visa. Without it, we would not be allowed to board the plane.
I turned round to my husband, expecting him to be pulling a letter out of his package of holiday documents, but no, his face looked particularly drained of color.
We loaded all our suitcases back onto the trolley, as we were redirected to the customer service desk, where the good news was that the Vietnamese embassy was closed for the day, the required document would take at least 12 hours to process and Tiger Air did not fly to Hanoi again until Sunday and it was Thursday.
The problem was a misunderstanding with our tour operator, which, it soon became clear, could not be solved in time to let us fly.
To cut a long story short, we called our friends, we had left with a hangover that morning and asked if we could come back one more night. Jip pumped his arm with a loud 'Yes!". He had already expressed his desire to stay longer in Singapore, where he had got on well with the boys of said friends.
We had been too smug, congratulating ourselves on our organizational talents. Everything seemed to be running so smoothly. We had managed to spend a successful day at Universal studios, just missing the afternoon rain, we picked up our luggage with plenty of time to spare and even managed to repack the bags so they were all within the smaller luggage allowance of Tiger Air.
So, we had to be punished for our smugness. Not that it was terrible to spend another comfortable night in Singapore, but it was a little too much excitement for my liking.
We managed to get a flight the next day with a different airline and required document.
And now we are in Hanoi, staying in a perfectly nice hotel, of which the room interiors are clearly modeled on a Swedish sauna. "Really good design, don't you think?" Jip said after he had inspected them.
We arrived on Saturday 2, between dusk and dark, in time to see the Dutch team win, and as we drove into town, passing the lights of the karaoke bars, we saw a crowd of Vietnamese crouched on the side of a bridge. I asked our guide what they were doing. Our guide, named Son, with a funny accent on the O, whom we may call Sun, he said pointing to the sky, told us the people were trying to catch a breeze from the Red River.
One of the other things we did not realize before booking, was the climate at this time of year. We are traveling in a particularly hot season which may also include rain; it being the rainy season. No rain yet, but it is 38 degrees C, so any breeze is welcome, and an air-conditioned bus is no luxury.
Our guide is helpful and knowledgeable, although lacks a sense of wit and often keeps talking expansively on the history of yet another Dynasty, while the children are running off to climb yet another Vietnamese landmark.
He did give us some tips for crossing the road in Hanoi:
"Lights do not mean anything, do not look at the traffic lights, look at the driver, cross anywhere on the road, where you can, and walk in a steady pace, do not run and do not stop until you get to the other side. If you must stop, scream."
Today we had our city tour of Hanoi. The highlight of the day was shuffling with hundreds, in orderly communist fashion, under a blue canopy against the blazing sun, passing the guards in white uniforms, who did a toe pointed changing of the guards as we got near, through the massive and air-conditioned Ho Chi Min mausoleum, past the yellowed body of the man himself, before reentering the heat. Seeing a dead man spoke to the imagination of the children. The other highlight was Fanny's ice cream parlor after dinner.
Tomorrow to Halong Bay. Will keep you posted.