KUL-HAN on Malaysian Airlines
After being dropped off at the airport by our outstanding Kuala Lumpur driver, we had some time to kill. Timmy had a business ticket, so we headed to the Malaysian Airline lounge where I was promptly denied entry. I don’t know their lounge access rules, but it was less than an hour before boarding in any case. There is a Priority Pass lounge at KUL, but it’s in a different terminal. I passed.
While I browsed the [overpriced] Duty Free offerings, Timmy chilled out in the lounge with specific instructions to take a few shots so I could report on his findings. All he came up with is right here.
What the hell is this, you ask? I’d like to know that too! No food, no booze, I don’t know what’s wrong with this guy, he has no priorities to guide him. He said it was OK. Oh well.
My 2-hour flight was perfectly fine, and I finished watching Selfless that I started on the BKK-KUL flight.
Vietnam Visa on Arrival at Hanoi Airport
There used to be times when you had to request visa at the Vietnamese Embassy and consulates, but it’s no longer necessary. I must say I got very lucky, because my Facebook group friend gave me a contact of a local travel agent who turned out to be a real find! She worked with me diligently, answering all my questions, helping to complete the booking when my payment went berserk, and she also sent me all the paperwork that I brought with me in order to get the Vietnam Visa on Arrival. Everything except transmitting the payment (which worked eventually) was smooth, easy and painless. The visa process took about 20 minutes with just a few people in front of us. It took us another 30 minutes or so to clear immigration.
Keep in mind that travel agencies in Vietnam will charge you 3% or so for using a credit card. I really hate it, and I’m sure you do too, but that’s they way a lot of companies operate around the world. I dread the day when this “trend” becomes the norm here, at home.
Using the Vietnam Visa on Arrival counters was easy, too. You give them your paperwork and photos, wait for about 10 minutes, get your stamp, then breeze through the immigration located in the same hall. Here is the video (not mine) that explains the process.
How to Visit Halong Bay
If you have been to Halong Bay, feel free to skip this section, but if you are considering the trip for the first time, you might find it useful.
There are different ways of visiting Halong Bay. Most people go there from Hanoi by either a hotel shuttle, or minivan booked at the local agency. We chose to go to Halong Bay straight from the airport. I believe it’s an optimal way to visit the area especially if your scheduling allows you to get there by a seaplane. We couldn’t make it, unfortunately, since their last seaplane departs at 1:50PM, just 40 minutes after we landed. There is no way in hell we would’ve made it in time.
Hai Ai Aviation sell package tours to Halong Bay, which might be a good deal under the right circumstances. However, the company also sells standalone flights to or from Halong Bay. So i f you can take advantage of this, you can get from Hanoi Airport to Halong Bay in just about 40 minutes (vs. 4-5 hour by ground transportation), and enjoy unbelievable scenery. The price might feel a little steep for such a short flight, but consider what you get. You get to save four hours on the road and enjoy the views that promise to be nothing short of spectacular!
Since we wouldn’t have made it in time, we booked a private transfer to Halong for $60, which, I believe, is a great value for such a long ride. The driver met us with a sign with my name on it in the arrival hall and we proceeded to a new and comfortable van waiting for us outside. If you are a T-Mobile user, you might want to know that the T-Mobile 20-cents-per-minute plan doesn’t work in Vietnam, and the roaming charges there are outrageous. Get a local SIM card, that’s the only way to avoid them.
Approximately half-way between Hanoi and Halong Bay, there was this huge artisan factory/store/cafe/bathroom stop called Hong Ngoc Handicraft Center with clean toilets, western comfort, and, of course, the prices to match. They say the stuff is made by handicapped people, but it’s up to you whether or not you choose to believe that. They have some beautiful stuff, but cynical me, I chose not to buy any trinkets there and was rewarded for my restrain with much friendlier prices for exactly the same souvenirs in Hanoi. Although, it would’ve been even more rewarding to give those damn trinkets a miss.
We grabbed some coffee, and spent enjoyable 30 minutes in that tourist trap before going on our merry way. You are not allowed to photograph there, but what can I say—we are rebels! 🙂
The road to Halong Bay is reasonably good, although we had to slow down passing small towns and villages. After the 4.5 hour drive, we finally entered Halong.
When I researched the trip, I was told by everyone that the only way to do it properly was on a 2- or 3-day cruise. I totally believe it to be true. While you can save loads of money just taking a day boat trips, it’s simply ridiculous to come all the way down there to be a cheap ass. We had chosen to stay our first night ashore to get our bearing. The agent we booked the cruise with highly recommended the Paradise Suite Hotel. I wholeheartedly second her recommendation—the hotel is gorgeous and right around the corner from the bay departure point.
When we pulled over at the hotel, it was kind of eerie. Wide streets lined with beautiful new buildings, and pretty much no people in sight. It almost felt like a movie set.
Next: Halong Bay Paradise Suites Hotel review and how to choose the right Halong Bay cruise