Friday, 19-12-2014. Day 121.
Another Day of Travel, Another Border Crossing
We ate our last free Chinese breakfast and took our time packing before the Noon checkout deadline. Candy met us with our driver in the lobby right after check-out, and were off to the airport to get on a plane to Vietnam.
Again, leaving through the Shanghai airport, our bags were flagged for physical inspection, just like last time. I'd accidentally left a small lipstick-style charger (a fantastic piece of gear) in our day pack, which was packed inside one of our checked bags. It showed up on the x-ray machine, and the inspector pretty much unpacked the whole bag—without much caring about the contents he was removing—before we figured out what the culprit was.
All batteries have to be in carry-on luggage and rated for less than 160wh (watt-hours), and, where possible (like with AA batteries), the terminals have to be taped over to prevent any sort of accidental reaction.
Then, as we were unpacking everything in the bag and subsequently repacking it, the inspector saw Frankie's soccer ball. He seemed alarmed by it, picked it up, and told us (through Candy) that we had to deflate it. I told him we couldn't; it was self-inflating (we're traveling with a One World Futbol). I don't think he understood, so I showed him how it worked.
So he started bouncing it with much delight and said something to Candy in Chinese. She looked at me, not saying anything, like I was supposed to reply. Eventually, after a period of uncomfortable silence, he stopped bouncing it and tossed it back to me. I repacked it in the luggage and zipped it up, happy we got to keep our ball. Hopefully it would be in our bag when we got to Vietnam.
The flight itself, on Vietnam Airlines, was fine. It took about four hours to get from Shanghai to Hanoi, and we landed without incident—exactly how we like our flights.
Getting into Vietnam takes time
Upon arrival in Vietnam, you have to fill out an immigration form (one per person). This in itself is not unusual—every country requires one of these, but most give them to passengers on the incoming plane. For entering Vietnam, however, we had to fill out these forms at the immigration area of the Hanoi airport.
After the forms are complete, you take them, along with your passport and an extra passport picture (be sure to bring a few of these with you) to a window and hand it all over. Someone takes it from you and tosses it on a pile with all the other passports and entry forms, then you stand around along with the dozens of other waiting to get their entry visas.
Every few minutes a barely recognizable passport picture and an often mangled name are displayed together on a television screen high up on the wall. An announcement accompanies this, but with a combination of someone pronouncing unfamiliar names and a terrible loudspeaker system, it's all pretty unintelligible.
You really need to stand right in front of the immigration office booth and watch every face and name as it comes up. It's not the most efficient way of processing entries. At any given time, there were six to seven employees in the booth, but not only a few of them seemed to be actively processing passports. There doesn't seem to be any sort of procedure involved.
Some people ahead of us said theirs only took 20 minutes, some other groups who were there when we arrived were still waiting when we left.
We got ours in about 40 minutes, but we almost missed it. For some reason, they picked Jackie's passport photo to be displayed, but her name was "B Jack F" or something equally strange.
Once your name is called, you pony up U.S. funds for your entry visa. The amount varies depending on what type of visa you get. We applied for a single-entry, one-month visas, which are $45 each, so it cost us $180 to enter Vietnam. After the fee is paid, you go through another immigration line where your visa is confirmed and you get your official entry stamp.
Once we were through all of that, we found our bags (they were sitting off the carousel in a corner of the airport; mildly concerning) and met up with the driver of the van that our hotel had sent for us. We climbed in and settled in for a hour-long ride into the city.
As you may have heard, the traffic in Vietnam is pretty intense. I'm sure there will be more written about this here in the coming days, but in general, lane markers are a polite suggestion and stoplights are almost universally ignored (except at the busiest intersections). But somehow it all works.
We arrived at our hotel in central Hanoi around 8:00 p.m. Travel days are energy draining, so we didn't do much but unpack our goods and plan for the next day's adventure, which would be spent exploring.