The Budget Terminal is the spitting image of most modern European airports and quite unlike Changi terminals 1 or 2 in look and feel. I haven’t a clue why other budget airlines wouldn’t want to use it – they’ve said to the media that their passengers won’t want to walk on the tarmac in the open to the plane, but this smacks of extreme muppetry.
Upon arrival we take the Vietnam Airlines minibus to central Hanoi (32,000D each). During the journey, we promptly fall in love with Hanoi’s vitality and charm even on our very first glimpses of it. The traffic is chaotic by Singaporean standards of course, but with none of the hair’s breadth brinksmanship I remember about Istanbul. Dust-bathed fruit sellers stand hopefully on the highway shoulder; a passing truck zooms past, then pulls over and reverses 20 metres along the shoulder for some bananas. Later that night, as we walk in the Old Quarter, kids playing badminton at the side of the road dart into multi-directional traffic to retrieve stray shuttlecocks without a moment’s hesitation.
It’s already dark when we reach central Hanoi. (Our plane landed at 1820.) As expected we’re mobbed by motorcycle/taxi/cyclo drivers the minute we step out of the minibus, but fend them off and walk some distance down the road to get our bearings. It only takes about half an hour to walk from there to our hotel in the Old Quarter, and if we were more familiar with the route and weren’t dragging luggage it would have been even faster. It’s a lovely first meeting with Hanoi – all along the length of Hoan Kiem lake, and then into the Old Quarter to Hang Bac, where we check into the awesome Queen Hotel¹.
It’s late when we set out for dinner, so unfortunately Cha Ca La Vong isn’t taking any more new diners. We eat at the only other place still open along the same road (Golden something or other). It looks like a tourist trap, but surprises us with perfectly cooked crispy squid in dill sauce and tender, flavourful beef grilled in honey. Bottles of Hanoi bia wash everything down well. Bill: about 140,000D. Singapore feels a million miles away.
¹ Review: Queen Hotel
We could have gone for cheaper places than this, but we haven’t been on a proper holiday together in ages and had decided we deserved something just a tiny bit better than usual. For US$35 per night in this place, we got a room with attached bathroom, aircon, small balcony, TV with most cable channels, DVD player, free Internet (note that this doesn’t even mean you have to bring your laptop – they have a freaking computer in the room with unlimited Internet access for you to use!), buffet breakfast brought to your room every day, and silk covers on the bed. Great service and attention to detail in beautifying even the common areas suggest this is a well-managed place across the board. If there’s a better room deal in Hanoi, I’d love to hear about it.