The day finally came for us to end our Northern Vietnam vacation. We woke up rather early because we needed to be at the airport by 8.40 am. The journey from the Old Quarter to the airport would take an hour. By 6.30 am we were already at the restaurant. Unfortunately breakfast was not ready. So we waited and eventually had one last round of pho and more western breakfast sets and of course Vietnamese coffee to send us on our way. We made a quick trip back to our rooms to brush up and then we brought all our bags down to the lobby to check out.
Near to 7.30 am, Tien appeared and waited outside the hotel making phone calls probably to the driver for our transfer. I went up to him to settle our outstanding payment for the Hoa Lu and Tam Coc day tour for 28 USD per person. I tried to pay him before the trip but he was in no hurry to collect payment. I seldom come across tour agents tardy in collecting payment upfront for tour bookings but Halong Sapa Tours would prefer to operate on goodwill and trust basis. In addition, Tien brought along two boxes of macarons and another Vietnamese souvenir as a parting gift for us and to thank us for the business. Very nice gesture indeed and this showed they meant business and that they were here to do long term business with their customers.
Soon a minibus came and we were helped into the vehicle after loading all our bags and Tien waved us off and wished us a safe trip home. It was great doing business with them. Their tour prices were very reasonable and the value added service they provided such as free transfer between the airport and the hotel in the Old Quarter was quite substantial in cost. Few years back when my wife and I took a transfer arranged by the hotel, the cost was 20 USD each way. Transfer cost would be much higher for six of us but we got it free from our tour agent. Not forgetting the arrangement of sending us and picking us up from the train station for our Sapa tour as well as a nice room to shower and rest between the return leg of our Sapa tour and the Halong Bay cruise which included free breakfast as well. This would result in another cost savings for us and moreover this also relieved us from the headache of having to manage all these logistic issues so that we could just simply enjoy our holiday. We would definitely use them again the next time we take another vacation in North Vietnam. An hour was almost up as we drove along the highway towards the airport on a cold and misty winter morning. I told the driver we were taking an international flight but he replied there was only one terminal building in Noi Bai International Airport. So he dropped us off at the busy terminal building when we arrived and we dragged our many bags into the building looking for the counter to check in our bags. Lo and behold, there was pandemonium in the terminal building. Passengers were arriving and leaving the terminal building where many looked really frustrated. We just found out the airport had opened a new terminal building for international flights just a few days' ago. Vietnam Airlines staff were taking the brunt for all the complaints for lack of information provided to passengers flying with them beforehand. We were told to exit the building and board a waiting shuttle bus to ferry us to the new terminal building minutes away.
So we followed the instruction given and boarded the shuttle bus just outside this old terminal building together with some very unhappy passengers who seemed to be in a hurry to catch their flights out of Hanoi. After a few minutes, we arrived this spanking new terminal building. It was so new and quite empty.
We proceeded to join the queue at the counter operated by Vietnam Airlines. We were glad we did our online check-in the night before. The helpful staff at Eclipse Legend Hotel helped print out our boarding passes. Check out rate for this friendly and helpful hotel: Eclipse Legend Hotel Soon we had all our bags checked in and we went around to have a quick look at this new building. Only one café and one souvenir shop at each end of this terminal were open for business. With not much to do, we cleared immigration and went into the secured area of the airport to wait for our flight home.
Quite a bit of renovation work was still going on. There were a few shops inside the secured area of the airport open and being new attracted quite a crowd of passengers. They were also installing water dispensers so passengers could refill their bottles.
Soon it was time to board our flight home. Flying Vietnam Airline was still better than budget airlines. However, onboard entertainment was non existence unless you wished to strain your neck to look at the tiny screen above the seats under the overhead locker and watch commercials and promotional videos on different destinations in Vietnam. At least, the meal onboard was decent. Time flew as we flew south and landed at our familiar friendly shopping mall-like Changi Airport. A quick round to inspect some duty free shops for offers and we were out with all our bags approaching the maxi-cab counter to book a cab home for the six of us. On the way back, we talked and laughed about how much we enjoyed our family trip to Northern Vietnam over Christmas. From the quaint and unique town and villages in Sapa to the refreshing and relaxing Halong Bay cruise and another dose of Halong Bay inland at Ninh Binh and then back to historic and charming Hanoi, we had had a great and wonderful time enjoying ourselves together as a complete family. The next vacation with the entire family seemed impossible with our older boy now tied down with national service duty for the next two years and our two girls busy with their work as well as our younger boy studying feverishly to prepare for his Cambridge A level examinations in two years' time. Perhaps end of 2016 might still be possible for us to try to work out something as we hope to get away again to do something special. Until then, only my loving wife and myself would continue with our rejuvenating breaks and from time to time grab one or two of our children along for a break to break the monotony of the hectic life in our urban city state. So it was mission accomplished for a great getaway with the entire family and our wish was certainly fulfilled to bring the children to Halong Bay which brought immense satisfaction for all of us. Will be looking forward to more great times in more great breaks in the months ahead.