Sat Jul 6, 2013th
A leisurely start today as our flight leaves at 1430 this afternoon. What to pack? We know that Vietnam will be hot around Ha Noi – 40C – and humid as it is low lying river territory dominated by rice plantations. We settle for the minimum of light clothing plus wash kit and cameras. We don’t bother with local currency. The Vietnamese Dong (yes really) is in a similar state to the Weimar Mark. Twenty thousand Dong = One US dollar. I guess you can’t buy much for 10 Dong. We are advised that the local economy functions predominantly on dollars, so we carry a (small) wad of those.
To KL centre again where we find we can check in our bags at the station before we board the train to the airport. So much more convenient than humping luggage. I recall that one used to be able to do that in London at BEA/ BOAC terminal in Gloucester Road wherefrom it was whisked to Heathrow in a trailer attached to the airport bus. I fear the Provisional IRA did for that service as one is not allowed to be separated from ones bags any more. Aren’t terrorists such dull people?
We board our Boeing 737 800 to Hanoi International Airport and settle in for the 2½ hour flight.
Jubilate! David gets the window seat in row 12 with the extra leg room. Now I wonder if you recall a musical offering by (I think) The Orb, called Little Fluffy Clouds? It was a narrative in breathless tones about big skies and said clouds laid over a compelling, pulse speed rhythm. Quite pleasant. Well, It is sometimes amusing to look out the aircraft window at Little Fluffy Clouds as we soar through them. Not today! The clouds over the Gulf of Thailand are fearsome beasts. They are neither little nor fluffy, but great big cumulo nimbus things that soar in vertical stacks in a vicious boiling maelstrom of airborne energy. They tower well above our aircraft and the vertical winds in these clouds can reach 60 mph – quite capable of overturning a modern jet aircraft if it gets one wing in and one wing out.
Our driver seems to know this and we steer a gentle zig zag around these monsters like a lofty pin ball. Even so, the turbulence is considerable and there are endless disquieting thuds as we bounce through clumps of rapidly moving air. The driver requires the crew to strap in too and I slink down into my seat and try to think of all the nice things in my life – just in case. I really don’t like flying round here. At last we are flying over land – all the way up Vietnam to Hanoi. The land mass is one thousand miles long and quite narrow – a sort of string bean of a country. Things steady down a bit until we are over the sea in the Gulf of Tonkin (Vietnam is curved) when it all starts up again.
At last we are down. Lots of green paddy fields lie below for Vietnam is a farming and agricultural economy, still poor compared to the Tiger economies of other Asian countries. The terminal is Spartan and a little care-worn and the air temperature is 38C and more, for we are bathed in sweat immediately. The Immigration people are elaborately uniformed, short men with large official looking caps. Like their kind the world over they are curt and unsmiling, but they relieve us quite efficiently of photographs, letters of admittance and, most importantly, $45 each.
To quote from our Berlitz pocket guide: Vietnam is culturally very close to China. Its name is Chinese for “people of the south” and has for 2000 years spent much effort and many lives in fighting off Chinese domination. It has a very distinct identity and has adopted a modern slogan, Vietnam is a country not a war. That said, the late part of the twentieth century is synonymous with the French and then the American attempts to keep the northern communists at bay. Vestiges of war remain in the bomb craters (now fish ponds), the abandoned military hardware (now museum pieces) and the sappers’ tunnels (now tourist attractions) for Vietnam is keen to shed its recent past and open up its economy to tourism which earns it hard currency. It has yet to acquire the more sophisticated trappings of an open society (free press, political opposition, open debate etc.)
We are met (for this is a purchased tour for we four) and whisked to our hotel for a shower. From here there is no respite and we are to be on parade for meals ( too many and too big), trips around the city and so on.