For US citizens (and several other nationalities) going to Vietnam requires a visa. Some places you can just do all the visa work at the airport, other places require you to get a letter of approval before hand. Vietnam is one of those.
Before Vietnam I’d really only done one intense visa process and it was done easily in Chicago for South Korea. For Vietnam you need a passport photo (or two), money (either in ₫ (Vietnamese Dong) or in $ USD). I applied for my approval letter ahead of time online and received an e-mail a couple days later with paperwork for me to print and take with me.
Everything worked out so that I was running late, during rush hour, to meet my tour group. Rush hour sucks no matter where you are. Hanoi traffic is filled with bikes, which added to the madness. Motorcyles and scooters everywhere, on all sides, cramming around taxis, buses, and cars of all sorts. Men and women dressed for work, some transporting trees or flowers on the backs of their bikes, some with kids sleeping or watching the traffic from their laps. People ride sharing. I saw one bike with three grown men on it weaving through traffic, another that looked like the whole family was on board, mom, dad, and three kids. We passed beautiful buildings and fields with cows wandering about.
Eventually, finally, a couple minutes late for my meeting, we arrived at our hotel. It was Hong Ngoc Tonkin that was booked for us through the tour. The owner/manager met me at the door, knowing my name and led me towards the kitchen area where I could meet the tour guide, or our CEO. He looked at me, stressed and weighed down under a heavy carry-on backpack and asked if I would like to check into my room first. I was so relieved. I had been mildly panicking about going to dinner and not missing it, but also not wanting to lug my backpack around. I checked into my room, expecting a roommate and was a bit concerned that there had been some sort of mix up and I had ended up with two roommates. There were bags on both beds, two pairs of shoes and the bathroom was a mess. The room was decent, but with only one electrical outlet for us to use and pretty thin walls. I set my bag down, cleaned up, and hurried back.
My CEO (Chief Experience Officer) was waiting where I’d left him with another young woman. He introduced himself, made sure we had everything in order (stuff for our next visa and travel insurance which was required) and he gave us a map of the area, our overall itinerary and our day itinerary. He had pushed back our dinner a bit so there was no need to worry or stress. He also told us that the rest of the group had been traveling together for awhile, almost twenty or so, if not more who had started in Bangkok, gone through Cambodia and up through Vietnam. For some they would be leaving the following morning, and the rest of us would continue on our way to the airport in the afternoon. Which meant all of my delays had added up to me only having less than 24 hours in Hanoi.
I learned fairly quickly that my roommate hadn’t realized she would have a roommate and was packed for traveling the whole year, thus the bag explosion in our room that looked like enough stuff for at least two people.
I did’t spend enough time in Hanoi. There was plenty of things I didn’t get a chance to see and hopefully I’ll get a chance to go back. There’s a ton of delicious Vietnamese food I didn’t have time to try. One thing you should note though is that walking around in Hanoi can be scary, you never know when to cross the street with all the motorcycles crossing the road. If you sit and watch people for a bit you’ll see that you just need to be brave. When you need to cross the street just go. Don’t run, walk slowly, a bit like the grandmother in “Mulan”, only with your eyes open and without the lucky cricket. The motorcycles will go around you. If there is a crossing light, obey that, but if there’s not then go ahead and cross at the crosswalk.