Our journey from Hanoi airport to the centre of town and our hotel couldn’t have been any different to the journey in Laos. In Laos the road trip was tranquil and without incident. The main Laos Road was narrow and fairly free of traffic and the airport layback and free of unnecessary administration. Indeed we were checked in and passed through immigration in less than 10 minutes. By contrast, even with our pre-arranged letter of entry we had to be processed.
We were directed to one end of a long office where we had to present our letter of entry (visa approval) to the official alongside our passports and photographs. Each official had their own clearly defined task – so the first one took the passport and letter from us, then they were handed over to another who checked the passport and photos before printing off a visa. This bundle of papers was then given to another who stuck the visa into the passport and stamped and dated the visa before passing the whole lot across to the next person in the chain who entered the information on to the computer data base. The final step was for another official to check the complete passport and visa photograph against our "true likeness", collect our $25 a person and then present the passport back to us. What a time consuming process!
Next we head off to immigration control where our passport is again checked and stamped. We’re then home and dry, through baggage reclaim and customs where we are met by the guide who will look after us for our whole stay in Hanoi and the surrounding area. Efficiently we are guided towards the awaiting people carrier and settle down for the 50 minute ride to our hotel.
It was warm but the rain was persistent so we were able to appreciate or indeed see much of the countryside. Our guide told us that the rice in the Paddy fields on this stretch of the road had been recently harvested. This was the second harvest of the year and the fields would now remain dormant until next year’s planting.
We had now had a glimpse of the simple farming existence of many Vietnamese but soon our senses would be bombarded with brash advertising hoardings.
Signs of the world of capitalism. Now we were beginning to understand the contradictions that a "People’s republic" offers to its people. Once the free economy was introduced then people’s wealth varied dependent on how hard they worked. The country was available to offer manufacturing services to the wealthier world and business came the way to many Vietnamese people. But the country is still governed by communist party members.
Vietnam offers that interesting insight into two contradictions working alongside each other. It’s up to you to decide what you think about that!
The traffic congestion was horrendous and this was emphasised by drivers recklessly ignoring traffic lights, disregarding one way systems and generally lacking in driving courtesy or protocol. Or perhaps the protocol is that you just do your best to avoid others!
After our 2 hour journey we couldn’t help but admire and respect the driving skills of our driver who had got us, unscathed into the centre of Hanoi in driving rain.
What an interesting start to our stay in Vietnam.