Home is where the ho­tel is

Viet­nam proves to be a breath of fresh air for our colum­nist as she meets friendly fel­low Malaysians and warm ho­tel staff.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - By NOORAINI MYDIN star2­travel@thes­tar.com.my

CHINA was such a strain for me, emo­tion­ally, af­ter be­ing scammed and cheated in Beijing and Shang­hai, that I could have kissed the ground when I ar­rived in Hanoi.

Ar­riv­ing at 5.30am, I was pleased to be met on the plat­form by some­one from my ho­tel and tax­ied there. Even at that hour, re­cep­tion­ist Lily Pham was wel­com­ing and ar­ranged for me to use an­other room to shower and rest while wait­ing for my room to be­come avail­able.

Pham was both ef­fi­cient and per­sua­sive and while I was still bleary-eyed, I se­lected two trips – to Ha Long Bay, and the north­ern hill sta­tion of Sa Pa, famed for its rice ter­races.

My first night co­in­cided with the MidAu­tumn fes­ti­val, with ac­tiv­i­ties right at my doorstep. Pham ad­vised against go­ing out alone in the crowds for fear of snatch thieves. Thanks to the huge teak bed and my ex­haus­tion from the long train ride from Nan­ning, I was out like a light de­spite the drums bang­ing just be­low my bal­cony.

At break­fast, I met a fel­low Malaysian named Usha Rani and her Sin­ga­porean friend Sarah Thong who warned me about grap­pling with the Viet­namese cur­rency (Dong) with so many ze­ros (RM1 = VND5,300), which could lead to po­ten­tial mis­takes or even get­ting cheated when we made pay­ments. Pham had al­ready stated the ac­cept­able prices for cof­fee so I knew what to ex­pect.

I saw lon­gans be­ing sold in the street and Pham told me it was RM4.70 per kilo but, when I en­quired, they wanted VND100,000 Dong (RM19). It was the same price for a small pa­paya.

In the end, Pham got one of her col­leagues to buy them for me. Malaysians com­plain so much about our coun­try but those who travel will re­alise how won­der­ful Malaysia re­ally is.

It took four hours by coach to Ha Long Bay, a Unesco World Her­itage Site, in the Gulf of Tonkin, 180km from Hanoi. It con­sists of more than 1,600 is­lands and islets, which make for great pho­to­graphs.

I opted to stay one night on the boat. There were only eight of us the first day. We had a good lunch on board and they even or­gan­ised some meat­less food for me.

In the af­ter­noon, we cruised around and set an­chor in the open seas and did some kayak­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, we had no coach­ing what­so­ever and were just given life vests and low­ered into the kayaks.

The oth­ers – three Aussies and a Cana­dian cou­ple – seemed adept. I paired up with Su Go, a Tai­wanese woman, who was also a novice. We fol­lowed the

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