Last minute preparations for our trip home . . . Final part

 14:15:24.4970000 | 12.14.2010
Our hotel was supposed to be letting us stay til 7pm for a half-day's rate so we could shower & relax before heading to the airport for our 11:30pm flight to Tokyo. But we learned last night that the room is now booked for someone coming in at 4pm so we must vacate by 3pm. How we will manage I haven't yet figured out. I think we may need to find a room nearby as even a few hours of shopping or wandering the streets of Hanoi will leave us dirty and sweaty and anxious for a shower.

Our flight to Tokyo is about 6-7 hours (a seemingly short hop at this point) where we will have a 13 hour layover. We are contemplating trying to leave the airport to visit Norita, a small town nearby. There is, interestingly enough, a website that tells you how to do this. Then we have the long leg - 13 hours from Tokyo to NYC. Fortunately we do have a driver arranged to pick us up and bring us back to New Haven. We land at 8pm so I expect, with luck, we should be home by 11 or 12 midnight.

I am arming myself with Excedrin PM in hopes I can sleep most of the way from Tokyo. We've been unable to connect with Japan Airlines so we don't yet have our seat assignments. We've gone on-line but don't seem to have the 4 digit "code" required to request our seats. And we've been unable to find an office. So we've more or less resigned ourselves to the fact that we may again end up in center seats in the center row on some wide-body jet as we did on our outbound flight. I keep telling myself it won't be so bad if only I can sleep. And I must admit on the flight over, I felt well treated, well fed and well fortified with movies and other in-flight entertainment. I'm trying to convince myself it won't be so bad!

Good News from Japan Air Lines
We managed to find JAL offices this morning and learned that if we pay a $100 change fee there is an earlier flight from Tokyo to NYC meaning we will only have a 4 hour layover instead of 13 - Yippee - it's worth most anything at this point. We also got out seats for the first leg of the journed from Hanoi to Tokyo but for whatever crazy reason they were unable to book our seats for the Tokyo-NYC leg. Well, we'll be in Tokyo in plenty enough time to do that and hopefully the flight will not be full.

We also managed to book a room for the afternoon/evening for US$25 back at the Splendid Star where we had stayed our first night in Hanoi when the Cinnamon Hotel was unavailable so we will get a chance to relax and shower before heading to the airport.

Last Minute Shopping
Of course we managed to get lost leaving the JAL office. I normally have pretty good bearings but this city reminds me of London - so many twisty, curvy streets such that while you think you're heading in one direction, you're actually wandering off in just the opposite direction of where you want to go! So we stumbled around for several blocks before realizing we were heading AWAY from the lake, instead of towards it. But no worries. We found more interesting sites - including the Hanoi Opera House, a beautiful French Colonial style building from the early 1900s. We also happened upon one of the many charming "street" barbers who we've taken a fancy to. These guys seem to find a spot that like, set up a mirror mounted to a wall, set out a chair and wait for passers-by to sit down and they start clipping away. This fellow had a beautiful little bird in a bamboo cage and showed us the live crickets he had stored in a little plastic bag (with some greenery to keep them happy) which he would feed the bird throughout the day. He also had a little tiny jar of some worms. The Vietnamese do care for their birds properly, I'll give them that!

We eventually found the main street on the eastern side of the lake that we'd been searching for. Kelly was on a mission to buy a duffle bag. We've purchased so many trinkets and gifts on this trip she's now overweight on her on medium size suitcase and needs a second. I think I'm going to be ok, in site of the fact that most of my purchases are small but heavy - a couple of wood carvings, chopsticks, etc. We're really getting into the haggling now. Kelly found exactly the bag she wanted at the first shop (except it was red which she wasn't too keen on) but it was a little dirty & shopworn so even tho she beat the guy down to about US$8, we decided to keep looking. Well, we hit every suitcase store in about a 5 block area. Plenty of suitcases, duffle bags, backpacks - you name it, they got it - but couldn't find this exact one. At least not until we were practically back where we started. But Kelly couldn't get the guy down lower than about US$10. So back to the first place. Low & behold not only did they still have the style she wanted but they'd managed to find a brand new, clean one in blue (the color she also wanted!). I think our luck is finally changing - so far today all of our desires have been met!

We kept wandering around, shopping for more last minute gifts & bargains. Silk robes for US$10, brightly colored raw silk scarves for US$5, last minute postcards for my collection. I found a greeting card that opened to feature a laser cut out of the Petronas Towers that popped open to stand about 3 inches high. Since this famous building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (which was the tallest building in the world for a short while before the Saudis managed to build something higher) was designed in New Haven by the famous Cesar Pelli, I thought it only fitting that I buy this for Cesar in case he didn't realize it existed. I also bought a pretty little card with a silkscreen picture of two young Vietnamese girls in traditional white dresses seated with a piece of piercing red watermelon. A beautiful little piece, perfect for framing.

After a quick lunch at "Thai Express", a fast food Thai restaurant that serves us the best mango salad with toasted coconut and chicken for about $3 (yummy!) we headed back to the Cinnamon Hotel so we could check out and move to the Splendid Star for our few remaining hours in Hanoi. What a surprise we got when we moved into our new digs - not only did it have a huge bathroom with a whirlpool tub - but it was bright & airy, with its own computer, lots of sunshine, two large beds, a sofa and coffee table (and a free bottle of wine) and brand new flat screen TV. As content as I'd been in our little rabbit warren of darkness in the Cinnamon hotel (at $70/night I thought it was a good deal to be staying in such a "quaint, historic" hotel) I would have happily foregone the quaint for this bright & airy room at $50 night. (since we were only staying til 8:30pm, we only had to pay $25 - what a deal).

Once moved in we set out for our absolute final tour of the town. The last of our shopping now done, we were back at the Splendid Star (actually this is Splendid Star 2 - the original SS is 3 door away) by 6pm in time to shower, relax, repack and watch a little TV before checking out in time for our 8:30 taxi to Hanoi Airport. We said our good-byes to Peter at SS2, and back at Cinnamon (where we'd left our main suitcases & arranged to meet our driver) said our farewells to Mr. Cuong before climbing into our very comfortable sedan for the 45 minute trip to the Hanoi Airport.

I was sad to say my Good-bye to Vietnam. It's been a marvelous two weeks. Sweaty and exhausting, at times dirty, frustrating and confusing, but always a marvel, always a wonder, almost always a delight. I have over 1000 photos now to go thru and when combined with Kelly's - which probably also numbers about 1000 - I'll have a lot of vivid memories for a long time to come. We met some of the kindest, most patient people I have ever encountered who really touched my heart and make me want to come back soon. Vietnam is an amazing place. In spite of its war-torn heritage, its poverty and struggles, the natural beauty of the place is breathtaking and the people sincere and sublime. This trip will stay in my heart for always and I look forward to my return.