After a bit of a wait
at the Ventiane Airport we boarded the Lao Airlines jetliner at 2:30 for
the hour-long flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Once we got off the ground, the
stewardesses in lovely blue uniforms served lunch -- a box with a sandwich
cut into three triangles: cheese, tuna, and chicken, and a little cup of
OJ. Quite refreshing actually. We landed at the newly-built Hanoi Airport,
financed by China and opened in time for Chinese New Year. Quite impressive.
This is one of two airports in the city.
Our driver met us at the airport
after we collected our luggage and exchanged our Amerian dollars for "dongs"
-- 1 USD is = to 21, 000 dongs! SO confusing with all the zeros! Bill got
2,000,000.00 dongs for $100 USD and Sue-On got 1,060,000 for $50.00. Never
felt so rich ;-)
Once out of the airport building,
our driver led us to our bus where we had to pass our luggage through a
window at the back of the bus for storage! As we started off, we could
already see the immense difference in this country from the private homes
that may be five stories high for a family, to mega buildings as hotels.
Houses are VERY close together. If they are separated by a space wider
than a specific number of meters, the owners have to pay a special tax.
There is an attempt to limit urban sprawl since wherever possible the land
is preserved for agriculture.
Before we got to the city proper,
there were many uniquely Vietnamese houses, not quite as garish as in Laos
and Thailand. There was a lot of market gardening and we saw women with
their cone-shaped straw hats working in the plots. The highway from the
airport was very modern and divided by a lovely manicured boulevard, maintained
by an army of squatting women who were planting, pulling weeds or using
long bamboo strip rakes. As we got closer to the city the buildings were
even closer together and so were the people!
Hanoi, a city of 4 million is
Vietnamís capital and lies in the North of the country. The city has much
to offer the tourist: modern high rise buildings, French-colonial and traditional
architecture, a rich food culture and a long history (the city celebrated
its millennium in 2010.) We were headed for our hotel in the Hoan Kiem
District (aka the Old Quarter) which is considered the cityís business
hub and main tourist destination. One thing we noticed about many
of the tall houses in the city was that they had no ordinary doors, rather
the entire width of the street frontage was open for business activities.
A large overhead door could be pulled down for security. The rest of the
building was living quarters.