or more properly, to Hà Nội, Việt Nam on February 18-26, 2016
Several friends have recommended Vietnam – the people are nice, they like Americans (almost no reference to the “American War” of 50 years ago), the scenery is pretty, and the prices are cheap. We had originally planned to go to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Southern Vietnam but when we found tickets for $985 to Hanoi, in Northern Vietnam, (about $200 less than Saigon), we switched cities. Hanoi has 7 million people (fun chaos), Saigon has 20 million and reportedly more pollution, so we like having ended up in Hanoi.
Where in Hanoi? If you want a feel of the city (like staying in the French Quarter in New Orleans or staying in Manhattan in New York), stay near the small Hoàn Kiém Lake. The “Old Quarter” touches the North end of the lake, the “French Quarter” includes the south end of the lake, and the “Cathedral District” is the west side of the lake. You can easily walk around the lake, only a few blocks long, for a great cross section of Hanoi. Our hotel was in the Old Quarter, a couple blocks from the lake. Most of the larger and “name brand” hotels were not within convenient walking distance.
Visa: Americans are required to get a visa to enter Vietnam. There are many types – the simplest is a tourist one month single entry visa (single entry means no side trips to Laos or wherever). You may send your passport off to a Vietnamese consulate and get the visa for a rumored charge of about $100 each plus postage and handling, but there is a widely used commercial Vietnam Visa service that breaks it into two parts. For less than $20 each, they get the government approval for your visa (our names were on the third page of the approval letter). When you arrive (with a copy of the approval) the actual visa is entered in your passport for a “stamping fee” of $25 each (cash, US Dollars) in the airport, just prior to immigration. As convoluted as this may sound, it works quickly and efficiently, and costs less than half as much as the traditional approach through a consulate.
Language: The most common language is, of course, Vietnamese (Viet is the largest of 54 ethnic groups identified in the country, with 86% of the population), but English and French are common secondary languages. We never had a problem “getting by” with our English, but did not find any natives (other than tour guides) with whom you could casually chat in English.
This was an absolutely wonderful trip. Not a trip to see in life what you saw in school textbooks, but the exploration of a different culture with very amazing history and very kind and friendly people. (Jenny was tired, and rested her foot on a doorstep to tie her shoe. As the homeowner came out, she bent down, and tied Jenny’s shoe for her, expecting nothing but a smile. Can you imagine that kindness anywhere else?) It is a communist country that has more capitalism than anywhere we have been. Most people are not rich, but they are happy, well clothed, well fed, and good workers. We always felt safe. We recommend it highly for any experienced travelers.
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