The uneventful trip was so until we reached Hanoi, where customs agents would not let us get money from an ATM so that we could pay in USD the pre arranged visa we had prepared through an online travel agency. Fortunately, a portuguese tour operator who was escorting a group of travellers saw our situation and was kind enough to give us and another Venezuelan female traveller the money to make our way into the country- 25 USD per person.
Once inside the country we headed to the bus stop, the cheapest way there is to get into town, and were soon on our way to the Hanoi Phoenix II Hotel, and excellent choice and deal according to the internet reviews we had read.
Along the way a friendly vietnamese girl told us that she had called the hotel without us knowing and they were now waiting for us despite our late arrival at 2 am.
The way there is quite quick, or perhaps so it seemed because we were busy looking out the window of the crowded van in an attempt to get a glimpse of what Vietnam could be during day time. At night, and in the wee hours of the morning there was not much to see in the dimly lit streets of Hanoi other than taxi drivers, the occacional food stall, and people sitting on the sidewalks talking and sometimes drinking.
Once we made it to the hotel we noticed that it was not the super deal we had expected to find. It was simply OK, and since we were very much dead beat by then we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep and some well deserved rest.
Ha! Less than three hours later loudspeakers were blaring music and speeches in the street, a neighbor was screaming into her cell phone that did not stop ringing and you could begin to hear the scooters speeding along the near by streets. Ear plugs and ducking under the pillow proved useless, so by 8 am we gave up and went for breakfast.
We soon learned that in Vietnam it is normal to have loudspeakers at full volume at a central square or in the streets to wake people up sometime between 5 and 6:30 am with the latest news and traditional music. To this date I still do not understand the reasoning behind it.
That day we visited Hanoi (here’s a great one day Hanoi itinerary), including the prison where US senator John McCain had attempted suicide twice while held captive during the Vietnam war and because of which he can no longer raise his arms above his head due to the torture he was subject to, and were mesmerized about the scooter traffic omnipresent en all Hanoi.
We also booked a 2 day- 2 night visit to the world famous Halong Bay (45 USD/person all included) where we would sleep in a traditional Vietnamese junk boat and in Cat Ba island the following day before making our way to what would probably be our next destination: Sapa and the hill tribes of NW Vietnam.