When you have an eight hour (five of those hours do not have to be behind boarding gates) layover at the Noi Bai International airport in Hanoi, Vietnam (en-route to Cambodia from Seoul) why sit in the airport?– Go sight-seeing in Hanoi.
Before departing on your flight; apply online for a day visa, the cost is $100. This takes about 48 hours to be approved, and your name will get added to a list of applicants, and this list will be emailed to you. Take this list along with a few 4 x 6 passport size photos with you. When arriving at the immigration in the Noi Bai airport, go to the immigration counter and show the confirmation email. You will be handed a form to complete (really this is simply for your signature – if you make a mistake it’s not a train smash.) Hand the form with your photo to the immigration officer and wait till your name gets called. When your name is called, you will be handed your passport with your visa in it. Then you may proceed to the last checkout which is the immigration entry; they will stamp your passport, and off you go to see this fascinating city. The whole process takes about half an hour.
Rather than lug our large carry-on backpacks around with us, we paid 80000 Vietnamese dong, ($3.50) and stored them at the airport. Your bags get put into a black security bag and padlocked. You will have to go with the officer to an x-ray section and have your bag scanned, all you have to do is witness that they accept there are no illegal or terrorist threats in your bag.
You cannot miss the taxis when you exit the airport; the drivers speak enough English to understand where or what you want to do. Having a deeper conversation like the living conditions etc. is trickier. We were fortunate to have a very pleasant driver and knew what we wanted. Since we only had five hours and already the first hour was almost up, we went to the closest tourist destination; the Hoàn Kiếm Lake.
The drive took about thirty to forty minutes; I cannot remember exactly as I was too busy looking at the scenery and taking photos. But, I must warn you, if you are not used to hundreds of determined scooter drivers going in all directions in fashionably organized chaos, this might just become a nightmare for you, and you will have to close your eyes. Fortunately for me living on an Island in Mexico, I am familiar with this; but still, the traffic in Vietnam is far more chaotic than in Mexico. It is something to experience.
The lake is beautiful and peaceful and boasts its years of existence and trials with pride. Standing in the middle of the lake is The Thap Rua Turtle tower (also called Tortoise tower). The tower was built in 1886 in honor of Le Loi who in 1425 was instrumental in bringing the Vietnamese out of the captivity of the Chinese forces. Legend has it that Le Loi was aided by a dragon king who gave him a sword. This sword instilled strength and power in Le Loi whereby he was able to overcome the Chinese. Sometime after the fight against the Chinese apparently the dragon king reclaimed the sword from a turtle. Hoàn Kiếm Lake means lake of the Returned Sword.
The Turtle tower is not accessible to the public but can be viewed from all sides of the lake, however I was not able to get a good clear photo of it.
The Ngoc Son temple (Jade Mountain temple) is well maintained with beautiful Vietnamese architecture. It was built in the 19th century, and in 1985 the remodeling of the temple was initiated by Confucian Nguyen Van Sieu. There is still a lot of renovation happening on the temple; the back was closed off to the public for this reason. Inside the temple, a preserved giant turtle weighing 250kg can be viewed. It is a spectacular specimen of these magnificent creatures.
It does not take long to view all that this beautiful Islet has to offer and then you can walk the streets of Hanoi and eat their delicious food. Talking about food – do not go to Vietnam and not eat their famous “morning glory.” It looks like a combination of kale and spinach but goodness the tastes is all its own; simply delicious. Whatever we ate in Vietnam was a pleasure to our taste buds.
To see the traditional way of life; people wearing the grass hats and carrying trays of food on their shoulders, amid the market stalls is wonderful to see. The old blends in with the new equally and perfectly. Don’t be surprised to see people lighting up a bong on the sidewalks – it’s all in their way of life and just a normal day in Hanoi Vietnam.
You can get FREE WiFi anywhere. The signal is excellent; the restaurants and shops have a sign on the walls or near their registers of the name and passwords.
The drive back to the airport (we arranged with the same taxi driver to take us back) was as interesting and chaotic as the first trip – it was fabulous. The taxi fare was $25 each trip.
I am determined to return here in the near future to spend a lot more time visiting this fascinating country and of course enjoy their delicious food.
To enjoy more photos from our short visit please visit my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/aileen.friedmannaude/media_set?set=a.10160503223315262&type=3