Vietnam seems to be the marmite of backpackers. With every 'horror' story, I've heard how spectacular the country is. So prior to arriving I was filled with excitement, but also slightly anxious as I didn't know what to expect.
We flew from Luang Prabang as we had managed to find cheap flights for £58 in February and we didn't fancy the lengthy sleeper bus journey. Before we left the UK we used Vietnam visa pro and paid £13 each for our arrival letter - you need to have this when you pay for your stamp in Vietnam, along with a passport photo ( we only needed 1 each) and US dollars to pay for the visa. If you don't have passport photographs don't worry as they can do it in the airport.
After we got off the plane we walked to the back of the visa on arrival counter and handed our passports in with the passport picture. The staff told us to go to the front and wait there. The process would have been really quick (10 minutes) but we released when he handed us the visa that we had only been given a 1 month visa, not the 3 we wanted, so they had to be redone. Check your visa is for the correct length of time before leaving the airport. The cost of the 3 month single entry visa was £26.50 $45.
A series of unfortunate events...
They say bad luck comes in three.
1) After passing through immigration Joe realised he had left his phone on the plane. Luckily, after waiting around for a very long time the staff from Vietnam Airlines where able to recover the phone.
2) Taxi services are notorious for scamming tourists and over charging; I'd been warned to arrange a taxi from the hotel rather than doing it myself when I got there. Unfortunately when we got to the entrance our pick up hadn't arrived, and so we were left to find a taxi at a reasonable price which I had read should be between $16 - $18. Our first quote was $40 - we laughed and walked away. Eventually we managed to get one for $18. Success.
3) At 10pm we arrived at the hotel, Hanoi Lucky Guest house, all we wanted to do was get in our room. But the boy on reception had other ideas and so we had our first negative experience in Vietnam. We had booked the hotel and paid for 3 nights because of its glowing reviews on Trip Advisor. The receptionist told us he was sending us to his other hotel 'Lucky Guesthouse 2' because it was much nicer. We asked why we couldn't stay there and he was unable to give us an answer, but insisted we go to the 'better' hotel. We tried refusing and said we wanted to stay there, but this only fueled him to show us photographs of the other hotel and before you know it the 'taxi' had arrived to take us. We quickly realised taxi in Hanoi can also mean motorbike, so the driver, me, Joe, 2 backs packs and 2 little bags all got on the bike.
I'm not entirely sure what the scam was that he was trying to pull, but we were not taken to the hotel he had shown us. The hotel we arrived at was called Glory hotel. Tired and angry we refused to stay at the hotel - I don't think this usually happens as the man wasn't sure what to do with us - we walked back to the original hotel. When we arrived the receptionist was smiling and laughing whilst waving a room key. We demanded a refund, which through some miracle we got, and just stayed there for the one night. Luckily that was our only bad experience in Hanoi and after finding Hanoi Stars Hotel we had a good stay in the city.