Visa on Arrival
US citizens need a visa to travel to Vietnam, and in order to obtain one you need to either apply for one through the embassy or go for an alternate route in which you get a visa on arrival in the country. So before leaving the US, we did the necessary research and decided that we would just go with the visa on arrival option because it seemed much more hassle free.
While on our travels, we applied through the Vietnam government website for a pre-approval letter (which of course had a processing fee), and asked my parents to bring us a print out of the pre-approval letter, as well as a few entry and exit forms, when they visited us in Spain.
With the pre-approval letter, a few filled out entry and exit forms (children can be included on one of the parents' forms thankfully, as it was a lot of paperwork), passport size photos for everyone, and enough cash to pay for the visa fee, we walked into the Hanoi airport.
The visa on arrival section was packed with people, and at first it all seemed very confusing. Honestly after flying for 11 hours, even straight forward directions would seem confusing to me! There was someone there to help the crowd, and after we stood for a few minutes in the wrong place he guided us to the correct section, where we handed over all the required items, including our passports. I am convinced that he went into the office and told them that we have children with us, because as soon as we came around to the waiting area and sat down our name was called, while many others ahead of us were still waiting! We paid for the visas (about 4 million Vietnamese Dongs, which is $188!), grabbed our passports and headed to baggage claim.
We got the bags without any problem, walked out, and our taxi driver was waiting for us. Hurrah!
First Impression of Hanoi
We had heard about the motorcycles in Vietnam, but boy we still weren't prepared for just how many there would be on the streets! On our drive from the airport to the apartment we are staying in, we saw all sorts of motorcycles and motorcyclists! We also saw a lot of bicycles mixed in the crowd, but many many more motorbikes than anything else!
It wasn't the women on the motorbikes that surprised me the most, I know many women ride motorcycles, and if I hadn't seen enough in the US, I definitely saw plenty in South of France and Barcelona. It was the number of children that was the most shocking. Children of all ages! I even saw a baby in a baby-carrier in front of a mom who was riding the motorcycle! We also saw a few women who were riding in the back and because of their short skirts had to sit sideways! I am not sure how they were not falling off!! But they all seemed very skilled, and you can even see passengers eating, drinking, and using their phone while sitting in the back.
In addition to seeing many women and families (sometimes mom and dad and 2 kids), you also see many people transporting very heavy and large objects (fruit, boxes, plants, etc) on motorcycles. I really don't know how they don't tip over!
A lot of the people on the motorcycles wear masks, and this has a lot to do with the pollution in this city and the fact that the motorcyclists drive amongst more buses and trucks than just cars. It is pretty rare to see pedestrians in masks though.
Just in case the pictures below, don't paint a picture well enough of the number of motorcycles in this city, take a look at the 4 second time lapse video. That should help!! :)
We arrived at the apartment in somewhat of a daze. Hannah had already fallen asleep in the taxi. We were really hungry, so as soon as we settled down a bit, we were going to head out and grab some breakfast. I had every intention of waking Hannah up, but instead we all fell asleep in different places in the living room!! We were tired and jet lagged and exhaustion won over hunger!
We woke up around 2PM (which is 8AM in Spain) very very hungry! Since we hadn't had any time to explore the neighborhood around us and were all too grumpy to just go and see what we would find, we decided to check out a nearby restaurant recommended by the person from whom we are renting the apartment from.
This was our first meal in Vietnam. It was delicious and definitely hit the spot (but, since I am writing this 5 days after the event, I have to say that we have had much much better food since then!). It was also pretty amazing to witness some of the Vietnam prices, as our entire meal, which was quite large, cost less than $10. Also, our cab ride from the airport, which was about 45 minutes, only cost about $17. These are prices I can get used to after several months in Europe :)
Can't wait to explore this city over the next couple of weeks! But for now, we need a bit more rest.