So long, Halong!

18 January 2019

I was woken up rudely by next door’s alarm clock going off at 04:00. Unfortunately, it didn’t wake THEM up! At 04:45, as Ian was now awake, I rang their room phone and waited until I heard them stumble about before hanging up. The alarm sounded for a moment longer, until they’d fumbled around, found it and switched it off at long last! The good part of me hoped that they wouldn’t miss whatever it was that required them to be up at 04:00, whereas the not-so-kind part of me hoped that they’d absolutely screwed up their day!

The repetitive melody had driven me quite bonkers and it took me a while to go back to sleep, and then all too soon, Ian’s 07:00 alarm went off, and we grumbled a bit before getting up to shower. Cornelia was helpful and got herself dressed without any delaying tactics and we went to breakfast to be greeted by the manager there, who adores Cornelia so much. She scooped Cornelia up for a cuddle, and then showed her the photos she’d taken of her the other day. She had photoshopped them to include funny ears and a nose etc and was clearly delighted with the results! She was lovely, but probably just a bit too “in your face” for Bugsy’s liking. Anyway, she smiled her way through, whilst giving me the “Mummy, what is going on?!” look! We were seated in the “outdoor” area again, and I went off straightaway to get watermelon and a chocolate croissant for Cornelia, who wanted to come with me. Once I’d returned her to the table with her two plates of food, I whizzed off for my scrambled eggs, and Ian has his usual muesli and banana. We quickly become creatures of habit in each country, when it comes to breakfast time!

With final goodbyes and cuddles with the manager, we left for the slow walk back to our room – it was only slow because Cornelia was saying “cam on” and “tam biet” to all the staff and explaining that we were leaving today (thank you and goodbye).

Ian rang up for someone to help with the luggage and he arrived almost immediately. I was still brushing my teeth when he turned up and had to quickly shove the bathroom bag into my suitcase before it was all whisked away to the mainland for us. We checked out, signing off our bill for nearly 10,000,000 Dong, and saying our goodbyes to the friendly staff. We had a short wait for the boat, and on the other side, we found the same driver who’d picked us up from Hanoi airport, Cuong (not Gunz as I had previously spelled his name!), waiting for us.

We had contacted the company which arranged the driver to request that our return journey took the expressway, which should reduce our journey time from five hours to about two and a half, which was agreed for the princely sum of $13. Apparently it’s not used much yet, as the drivers receive a kickback from the shops where they stop (like the huge craft store with restaurant, where we stopped on the way up to Halong), despite it taking so much longer!

The expressway only opened four months again and the aim is to open it all the way to China. It was in perfect condition, and running alongside the brand new expressway were signs of centuries old ways of life: rice paddies, fishing boats and little huts. We crossed over the Bach Dang River, famous because 1,000 years ago in the China v Vietnam war, the Vietnamese King beat them here in the river. The bridge across the river is huge and rises up steeply to a peak before dropping back down again. Apparently, in the typhoon season, it can be pretty scary crossing it!

We stopped off to use the loo at one of the two service stations on the way, and they were immaculate. It looks as if there will be a big shop development here in a couple of years, but for now, all the brand new buildings are empty. Continuing our journey, we passed a huge new development which will become Vin City (same owner as our Vin Pearl Hotel). Cuong told us that you can buy an apartment for 20% and then spread the payments of the remaining 80% over the next 35 years. It will massively increase the already vast sprawl of Hanoi.

Hanoi Airport was delightfully quiet by contrast to the city bustle, and despite expecting to pay for our extra luggage (we could only get 20kgs each when the tickets were bought), we weren’t charged for the additional five kilos. We couldn’t believe it! We had a discussion with the check in woman about our car seat – she wouldn’t take it and said it would count as hand luggage and we would have to leave it at the gate, but her supervisor arrived with impeccable timing and agreed that it should go with the rest of our checked bags and there wasn’t an extra charge. Blimey! We still thought that we’d probably have to pay for our overweight hand luggage but decided not to say anything at that moment in time.

At security, we needed to remove our shoes and all electronic devices, as well as watches, keys etc, something we haven’t had to do anywhere else so far. But we weren’t held up at all, and were soon in the departure lounge where Cornelia was delighted by a) the travelators and b) a little play area. Ian supervised her there, while I went off to source lunch: a chicken burger combo for Ian, and a ham & cheese sandwich for Cornelia. I ordered Ian an iced tea to go with his combo, but hadn’t appreciated that the only drink we could have was a Pepsi. Bleurgh, never mind! At least there were water fountains available so we could top up our bottles. We had nearly three hours before our flight left for Siem Reap, which was just as well, because it took nearly that long to fill the bottles, with the slow trickle of water!

We had realised that we needed US$ for our visa entry into Cambodia and I went to the Currency Exchange at Hanoi to purchase some, but it was a cash only desk. Ian went on a hunt for an ATM, so he could withdraw some Dong, then make the exchange, but was unsuccessful. There are no ATMs on this side of security. D’oh! On the plus side, we boarded without having our hand luggage weighed. Simple things, but we couldn’t believe our luck!

On arrival in Siem Reap, just under two hours later, we found an ATM as soon as we entered the arrivals hall. Having completed our immigration forms on the flight, we then had to fill in visa application forms, and wait in a line to be seen by the visa officer. It was all very quick and efficient. It cost $US90 plus and extra $6 because we didn’t have a passport photo for each application. As it happened, he knocked off $1 as the ATM had only given me a $100 bill, and he didn’t have any smaller than a fiver by way of change. Then we waited at the end of the desk, where the other visa officials passed down the passports and forms, before calling out our names, and collecting our visas.

Our driver was waiting for us once we had collected our bags, and drove us quickly to the wonderful Koulen Hotel. The traffic is crazy, as we’d expected, but it seems to have a method to it, and there were no “white knuckle” moments! It is a sign of the hugely increased development that there is a Starbucks and Dominos pizza next to our hotel, but you would never know it from the terrific haven that was our hotel. We were greeted by Chun, would could not have been kinder, more interested in us and our well-being, and more helpful if he tried. We sipped our lemongrass welcome drinks while he sat with us, describing everything in the hotel in great detail, before bringing out a local map and showing us the best places to walk, eat, shop and explore. We were then shown to our room. To call it a room would be an understatement. Good old had given us a free upgrade and we had a magnificent and huge two bed apartment. The living space was enormous, and there were two bathrooms as well. Such luxury! We couldn’t believe the good fortune we’ve enjoyed today.

It was already nearly 18:30, and we went straight down to the hotel restaurant for supper. We were the only guests there, and once we’d browsed the menu, we ordered our food. Informing us that it would take about 25 minutes to arrive, we relaxed with our beers, explaining fashion, modelling and advertising to Bugsy, who was watching the TV screen in fascination, which was showing the making of a Mercedes Benz advert! It’s harder than it sounds to describe fashion and models to a four year old, especially when I’m trying to reinforce that it’s not what you look like that matters, but who you are on the inside that counts.

Ian and I were both tired from being woken up early by THAT alarm, and as we had a very early start tomorrow, I was keen to get Cornelia to bed as quickly as possible. We wolfed down our nasi goreng (me) and beef lok lak (Ian) and got our little girlie into bed. She was in a bit of a Mummy mood, so Daddy was dismissed once he’d read her a chapter of her Hot Dog book, and I cuddled her for the ten minutes it took her to fall asleep.

Alarm set for the morning (and hoping that we wouldn’t sleep through it like our neighbours in Vietnam this morning), I was in bed by 22:00. Result!

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