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.
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