Posts Tagged 'Hanoi'

Vietnam Travelogue: Hanoi – First Impressions

Hanoi – First impressions

Travelling from Hanoi airport into the city what becomes immediately apparent is that the city is surrounded by agricultural lands,  mainly geared toward rice production.  I pass vast swathes of rice fields with farmers in conical hats, along with buffalo, tending the fields.

The French influence is everywhere – the houses are narrow but tall with verandahs,  green wooden window shutters and balustrades.

I am staying at the Hanoi Legend hotel in the heart of the Old Quarter – a quaint warren of tiny streets full of hotels, restaurants, tourist offices and hordes of street vendors selling everything from food to trinkets to old Viet Cong army caps with their Vietnamese red star emblem.

The tourist offices are everywhere selling trips up into the northern mountains, out to the karst rocks of beautiful Halong Bay where, for a $100 or so you can book a two day trip touring the islands, swimming, eating and spending the night on board in splendidly furnished wood panelled bedrooms. You can also book an overnight train south along the coast to the old imperial capital of the Nguyen dynasty at Hue.

In the Old Quarter, there are motorbike taxis, car taxis and cyclos everywhere all looking for your business  – “You wan moto bike, you wan taxi”

A crowd drinking Bia Hoi on a street corner

There are food stalls where you can snatch a quick Beef Pho for 50 cents,  order your own sit down BBQ for a little more or simply sit on a street corner bar on foot high tiny plastic stools sipping Bia Hoi, the local draught brew which sells at a mere 15 cents a glass.

Vegetable seller along a Hanoi street

Why do they let cars up these tiny streets?

And if you want you can go upmarket to a Grafton Street-style area that sells all the top international brands.  There you’ll also find  five star hotels, excellent restaurants in an area resplendent with attractively dressed men and women driving Porsches and four wheel drives accentuating the obvious gap between rich and poor in this new open market-led economy.

Those motorbikes again!

Wow, I travelled three thousand kilometres and this is what I'm confronted with - where's that Louis Walsh fella?!

What differentiates Hanoi from HCM city, among others,  is its lake system, in particular nearby Hoan  Kiem lake, which, as a centre-piece, tends to have an overall calming affect on this teeming city.

This second instalment of my trip will concentrate on environmental issues, meeting up with environmental and forestry expert Dr Phung Tuu Boi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then a 20 kilometre trip out of the city to visit the Friendship Village, ending with a meeting at the Catholic Relief  Services Agency office in the suburbs of the city.

Travel to Vietnam to do story on Agent Orange

C123 US army planes spraying Agent Orange

I’ve been commissioned to do a story on the legacy of  the spraying of the defoliant toxic chemical Agent Orange by the US Army across the Vietnamese countryside.  Apart from the use of conventional weapons, chemical weapons were used to defoliate the forests in a bid to flush out the Vietcong.   Over  a ten year period from 1961, toxic rains poured down continuously over Central and South Vietnam defoliating mountains, plains and crops, destroying clean water resources and upsetting the delicate ecological balance.  Its a legacy of devastating environmental damage and serious public health issues which still have a profound effect today.

Flying to Ho Chi Minh city via Bangkok, I will concentrate on health issues and meet with the Victims of Agent Orange Association (VAVA), with Dr Phuong of the Peace Village at Tu Du hospital where AO victims reside and will travel up into the Cu Chi area to visit three families who have seriously deformed children as a result of AO.  From HCM I travel to Hanoi to cover environmental issues and  interview an environmental expert and visit the Friendship Village.

This is a staged travelogue of the journey.

Arived jetlagged after a Dublin–Frankfurt/ Frankfurt BKK flight.  Enjoyed Frankfurt stop-off for a few cold German beers before the second leg of the journey.  Lufthansa flight food was really poor.  I expected more from a Gernam airline. There is absolutely no excuse for producing food of this low quality for long haul flights. The inflight media entertainment was also limited in its choices.

Qatar and Etihad,  who also fly this route daily, are streets ahead in nearly every department – quality of jet used, ambience, comfort, efficiency and friendliness of staff, inflight entertainment choices includingfood and drink.

The only reason I flew Lufthansa was the competitive price and the expectation that German standards would be high.   They were barely sufficient.

I left Dublin at 18.00 hours and arrived in Bangkok around 14.30 (8.30 am Irish time) so the trip took 12 hours.  After a mere five hours in-flight sleep,  I ended up stuck in a massive tragic jam in downtown BKK and didn’t check into the hotel until about 17.30 hrs.

Exhausted, I sleep, shower, eat and more sleep again into Sunday morning.  Sunday is taken up with Skyping and Emails finalising arranging for the Ho Chi Minh city start of the trip.

My main concern is Monday down at the Vietnamese Embassy.  I have been granted a work visa from theVietnam Minister of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and have a letter from them to that effect.  However I must have my visa stamped before I can enter the country so I’ve a 7.00 am start to get across town  in heavy traffic. (I’m staying in Banglampoo along the river on the north west side but the embassy belt is over by Lumpini Park along Wireless Road).  I want to be first in the queue.  With memories of the queuing at the Dublin Passport office this could be a difficult day.   I’m first in the door only to be told the stamp will be ready on Wednesday.  “Too bad”, I said.  “My flight to Ho Chi Minh City leaves at 7.00 am in the morning.”  “Well then come back between 3.30 and 4.00 ”, she replied.

I  arrive back at 3.30 pm on the nail and go up to the same woman I met earlier with my docket to Window 3.  There are 3 numbered glass windows, all within a couple of feet of each other – one for tourists, two for business, three for special trips.  She looks at me blankly, waves the docket back at me and sternly tells me to go to Window 1.  I move two feet to her colleague at Window 1 and hand him the docket.  He breaks into a broad smile and tells me to move back to Window 3.  I take a few  steps back to Window 3 as the colleague hands the docket back to the woman.  He’s in stitches while she stares at me blankly then looks down at my application and passport which is lying face up on her desk.  There is absolutely no communication.  She leaves me standing as she flicks through folders, writes two receipts and each time very slowly and deliberately inserts a sheet of carbon paper into two differently coloured  receipt books.  Finally after what seems like an interminable wait, she turns to me blankly, stares through me and hands me MY STAMPED PASSPORT.  I move a few feet back to her colleague and ask:  “Is it always like this on Mondays?” He breaks into a huge grin.

The whole day has been spent focused on getting the passport stamped.

I celebrate by heading to a nearby bar for a cold Singha.  Its all systems go for Vietnam.

US Army soldier spraying Agent Orange

November 2020