Gail & I have just spent 5 days in Vietnam. I was presenting at a conference for work, so we chipped in the extra cash (an exorbitant HK$5141 for the airfare!) so that Gail could come with too. Whilst there, I took a few days off and we spent some time looking around, getting the feel of the city and taking a cruise out to Halong Bay.
On Thursday morning we eagerly set off for the airport. We decided to eschew our usual car from the Huang Gang border crossing to the Hong Kong Airport and try the Hong Kong local A43 bus that leaves from Sheung Shui, the first stop on the KCR after crossing the Luo Hu border. After a few last minute running around to get some more money and buy a pair of thongs we headed for the Airport. All the travel was made a bit slower by Gail's ankle, which was still bothering her. The Shenzhen Metro and Hong Kong KCR were fairly quiet but the A43 bus was absolutely chock-a-block full. We had to stand for the 1 1/4 hour journey to the airport. Still, for HK$28 (AU$4.50) for the bus and HK$18 for the train (AU$3) it was hard to complain. Whilst not as convenient as the Sky Limo service from Huang Gang it certainly was a lot cheaper.
This was the first time I'd flown with Vietnamese Airlines and overall they were very good. The plane was very new and clean, the food was OK and the staff treated us well. The pilot was a little erratic on the throttle at times during the climb-out but he made up for that with a super-smooth landing at the end of the 2 hour flight.
We had a hotel car waiting for us, so after a quick exchange of some RMB into Vietnamese Dong (pronounced Dom) we headed for the hotel. On the way it became very clear that Vietnam doesn't have the money of a country like China. The men & women dressed quite differently. In fact 99% of the women had long hair, so you never got someone's gender wrong. Men wore simple work clothes and women wore simple floral work clothes, usually long-sleeved. Nearly all women and many men wore hats. There were lovely large areas of green, growing rice, with people working away in the fields.
Hanoi is a relatively flat city. The land doesn't rise or fall much and most buildings are 3 to 6 stories high, with the odd exception here or there such as our hotel.
Click the above picture for a short video of the bikes on the streets of Hanoi. I have never seen so many bikes vying for the same piece of road before! The favourite form of local transport is clearly the small motorbike. The seemed to be split between familiar 50cc scooters and the more common motorbikes varying from 70cc to 125cc, a 110cc Honda Dream being the most common. Everyone here uses their horn as if it's their mouth. The city is just a mass of tooting horns as people race through to get to their target. Some cars even have multi-tone musical horns, just to keep things interesting. Apparently 14,000 people die on the roads in Vietnam every year, but that statistic is a bit misleading because it only covers people who die at the scene of the accident, not those who die sometime later. Witnessing the chaos on the streets, I believe it.
Lots of the people on bikes were wearing face masks, particularly the women. The pollution levels here in Hanoi seemed lower than back in Shenzhen however the locals still used masks. The reason for this became apparent later. Because motor bikes don't have catalytic converters like cars to the burnt petrol fumes everywhere are very strong. Even walking along the street one could feel the slight sting in the nostrils caused by burned and un-burned petrol, and for me, in the throat too. Long live the Chinese lozenges!
Before leaving China I checked to see if I'd have mobile access. My dual-zone China Mobile SIM, which switches back and forth automatically when I cross between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, can't have international roaming, according to HR. Not yet defeated, I checked Vodafone's website before leaving Australia to see if I'd have mobile phone coverage. It seemed it would work; after all, it worked in Hong Kong. The reality was different . So, for the whole time in Vietnam we had no mobile phone coverage, despite bringing 2 phones.
For the first 2 nights we stayed at the 5-star Melia Hanoi hotel which was also where the conference was held. This hotel was a real oasis, like a world that was separate from the world going on outside. There are a few other similar hotels in Hanoi. I was actually glad that for the last few days we'd be in a local hotel, where we would be closer to the real life in the city.