Amazing Vietnam Day 1: The Beginning

We never know what will future bring us, as I never predict that my dream to visit Halong Bay would be realized this year. It was started with a single click in a website, then the journey began...


Preparations

March 2013, I saw a promo offer from Groupon Indonesia about Halong Bay cruise. Dunno why, I suddenly decided to click its BUY button. The cruise package included 2D/1N tour in Halong Bay and 2N free 'n easy at Hanoi hotel. This voucher will be valid till the end of September 2013. I estimated 6 month will be enough for preparation, but time flies so fast.
As a non-ordinary tourist, I never want to follow the commercial tour package which usually offered by famous tourist agency in Indonesia. I just want something different, unique, and of course it must be a private tour, only for me. Idealist? Yes, I am.

I arranged my own itinerary using references from Vietnamese local tourist agencies' website, then the result was a truly customized one. I took more than 3 months asked here 'n there, went to travel fairs, and wrote email to some tourist agencies, but I got nothing! Gosh, it was not easy to find an Indonesian-based tourist agency who can fulfil my arrangement. At this half-desperate stage, I remembered a friend whom I met at culinary gathering. She is Magda, who work for a tourist agency and she travels a lot. I contacted her and hope she could help me. God is good, He sent the right person at the right time. Magda works for Platinum Holiday, a tourist agency who only serve customize requests, and she specially handles Vietnam area. This was perfect as I need, thanks God!

Magda gave me some alternative programmes to choose and combined with my previously-bought cruise package. After some revisions, I got a fixed land arrangement for 25th September to 5th October (see detailed itinerary here). I chose Tiger Airways to be our carrier from Jakarta to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), and Vietjet Airlines from HCMC to Hanoi, both were return flight. I found those airlines provided the best flight timing with affordable price. I prepared everything for two as I wanna take my mom (again) as my travel companion. She's the best one so far, due to her flexibility with any kind of 'adventure' while travelling. The other reason is to treat her with a holiday, as a refreshment from mommy's daily routine at least once a year.

It was partly done, till the next 'challenge' came. By mid August, IDR rate fell down around Rp 11.500,- for USD 1. Even worse, when it came the due date to pay tour package, it became Rp 11.760,- for USD 1! Hell yeah.. with total amount of more than USD 2k, it wasn't small at all… but I refused to step back. Holiday must go on!


Get Set.. Go!!
25th September 2013 - Early morning around 4.30 AM my mom and I headed to Soekarno Hatta Int'l Airport with excitement. We packed so damn light as I only bought 15 kg prepaid baggage for 1 passenger. We brought one hard case suitcase (weight 5 kgs-empty) and a cabin size trolley bag for 2 persons.. yeah, we did it! To cut it short, everything ran smoothly that morning. Our TR227 flight was on schedule, and the weather was nice during our 1 hr 15 mins flight to Singapore. Take a look at the blue sky I'd captured from the window!


Tiger on the sky


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S'pore welcomed us with rain
"Where do we go?"




10.15 AM (Singapore time) - Landed at Changi International Airport for transit before our next flight to HCMC. It was raining outside, made a gloomy feeling. Arrived at Gate F, we walked to Transit Lounge E to exchange our boarding pass with the new one. We passed thru Changi's transit mall with so many shops, restos and cafes, some relaxing lounges, and a beautiful "garden" with a fish pond. Lovely!


Comfy lounge for free!



          



We had no hassle to exchange our boarding pass 'coz we used TigerConnect facility that automatically bought with our flight tickets. For the next flight to HCMC we will embark from Gate E6. On the way there, we found a rest area with long-comfy couches, we could even sleep tight on it. Some couches equipped with charging outlet both for electricity plug or USB. Wow… this is beyond expectation for a free-of-charge rest area in an airport. We stretched our legs for about one hour, while charging my iPhone and ate our light lunch there.
Later on we knew, this comfy place only found at transfer E area (near Gate E), so don't expect the same if you depart from Gate F *grin*.
Stretched legs at comfy rest area

Out connecting flight to HCMC took about 2 hours, and the weather was good. When we saw meandering wide river from above, means we were close enough to the destination. Vietnam, wait for us!


Vietnam from above

Is that Mekong River?

Touch down Vietnam!
HCMC airport


2.20 PM (Vietnam time, same with Jakarta) - Landed smoothly at Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport in HCMC. Yes, it was smooth in real meaning, two thumbs up for Tiger Air's pilot. Their int'l terminal is quite spacious with modern architectural style. We decided to stay here for a while 'coz our next flight to Hanoi would be at 7.45 PM. Blame to my highly anticipate about "delay tradition", I chose long waiting time between 2 flights just to make sure we won't miss the next flight. 



I believe I was in Vietnam

Around 4 PM we started to walk about 150 meters to domestic terminal for our flight with domestic airlines, Vietjet. We absolutely came much earlier, even the check-in counter refused us 'coz they still serve the previous flight. We had to wait again, and suddenly regretted that we moved here too fast. Compare to the other one, this terminal is a bit awful, more dirty, lots of people moving here and there, soo crowded! We boarded to the plane around 8 PM with tiredness and sleepy eyes. Just couldn't wait our VJ8672 landed in Hanoi, went to hotel, and zzzzz… Of course, we slept in the plane too.

10.30 PM - Finally, we went out from Nội Bài International Airport arrival gate, then easily found our tour guide brought a paper with my name on it. He introduced himself as Duy (pronounced as Zuy) or his english name, Anthony.
 He immediately helped us to bring the luggage and called the driver to pick us up. According to Anthony, normally it took about one hour ride by car from airport to city centre, but late at night we could arrive in half an hour as we could see there were lack of vehicle on the road. Anthony explained that Hanoi's citizen mostly are family person. They are more likely enjoying the time with their family at home after work.

It was light raining outside, made our night a bit cold. Talking about cold, then we felt hungry. Aha! We remembered that dinner included in our list this day. Anthony didn't notice that detail at first, but he realized after checking the list again. We suggested to buy take away foods to make it simple, but Anthony said he had to give us good food as part of the company's service. It wasn't that easy to find a resto (or even just a food stall) which open till late. Lucky us, our guide knows the street so well. He took us to a small resto and offered us to try phở, the very famous Vietnamese dish. Hmm.. warm noodle soup at this rainy night, how could we resist? 

This resto looks like a traditional-family owned resto which located along the street. I saw messy things everywhere, but thankfully the dining tables were clean enough. Two bowls of phở served in minutes, and we immediately ate them. Slurrpp.. so yummy! I'll explain the details of our 1st dinner in another article (read the review here), but here are some pictures to make you all feel hungry…


Left the resto with full tummy 'n happy feeling

At the very end of the day, we reached our last destination. Quoc Hoa, our 1st hotel in Hanoi, located at Old Quarter area which considered as the most crowded one. When we entered the lobby, it's good that we got a "good night" greeting not a "good morning". We slept tight around 1 AM and ready for tomorrow's journey!



Read the next day: Amazing Vietnam Day 2: Explore Hanoi


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