Greetings from Hanoi and another edition of Where I’m At; a monthly update of what I’ve been up to and general site news.
Where I’ve Been
The month began in Katowice where I stayed for a few days while waiting for a flight. Katowice is one of the biggest hubs for the low cost airline Wizzair, and it was close enough to the conference I was at in the Czech Republic to consider flying out of.
What I like about Katowice is that it’s a nice enough city to hang out in, but a place to go sightseeing. I like visiting these secondary cities as an antidote to overtourism. Of course everyone should see the Krakow’s of the world, but its good to balance out the overrun cities with places that don’t get many visitors.
In Katowice I enjoyed the Soviet-era architecture such as the Spodek building, which is shaped like a UFO (or what we think a UFO should look like).
And the Galeria Skarbek looks like it hasn’t changed since the Iron Curtain fell, and I love it for that. There are of course modern malls in the city, though a good city should have a variety of architectural styles from different eras.
My plan for this trip was to visit a European country I haven’t been to before. Most of the Mediterranean remains unexplored for me (a single visit to Rhodes being the only island I’ve been to) so Cyprus was my new country of choice.
I had been trying for some time to fit Beirut into my travel schedule. When I was planning my trip to Cyprus I had forgotten how close Cyprus is to Lebanon. It’s so close that it seemed rude not to go. I was also on the way to Dubai next, so I couldn’t pass this opportunity to visit Beirut on the way there. I spent four days in Beirut, which was better than nothing, but I left feeling like it’s the sort of place I’d like to stay longer. The city is still recovering from the civil war, with some buildings still in ruins and a modern city being built around it.
Stay tuned for a blog post this month.
Sharjah / Dubai
Finishing up my Europe trip I did a stopover in the UAE on the way back to Vietnam. This was part of my travel strategy to hop back to Asia via short flights, avoiding overnight flights. I did that on the way to Europe with a stopover in Almaty and Astana in Kazakhstan.
It had been about 10 years since I was last in Dubai (outside the airport) so I was overdue for a revisit. From Beirut I got a flight to Sharjah, which is the emirate next door to Dubai. I stayed in Sharjah and then Dubai, so I will be posting about my trip later.
After a full month away it was good to return to my adopted home base and unpack for a little while. Whenever I return I do the rounds of my favourite cafes and street vendors, and I get asked where I’ve been at my most regular places.
While I was away the Landmark 81 tower was finished and is now open for business. At 461.2 metres it’s the tallest building in Vietnam, and is nearly 10 metres taller than the Petronas Towers in KL.
There is a mall at the base with shops, cinemas, and food courts. There is also an ice skating rink, which is great to see the city accumulating more things to do.
I had two weeks between trips, and my plan while back in Saigon was to apply for a China visa. The visa office at the consulate is open from 8.30 to 11.30. I got there at 8.15, which turned out to be too late. The door closes at 11am, so if you aren’t inside by 11 then you are out of luck. I was about 10 people away from the door, and the queue moved slowly all morning. I’m told I should start queueing at 6.30 to get in.
When I went to China for 2 months in 2010 I applied for a visa in Melbourne, where there is a dedicated building with a ticketing system and seats.
I used a visa agent in 2012, but things have changed since then. I was willing to pay another $80 on top of the $109 for Australian passports, but you still have to go with the agent to the office, which seems to defeat the purpose.
I had planned to go back the next day, but as I kept thinking about queueing up outside for 4 hours, I had talked myself out of taking the trip. I don’t desire to go to China that much, so I would rather go somewhere easier.
Given how modern China has become it’s surprising they still rely on such tedious paperwork. There were four pages to fill out, and I ran out of space where they ask how many countries you’ve been to in the last year.
It’s not like they don’t know who we are. Once you are in China your face is surveilled the moment you arrive. I’m surprised the whole visa process isn’t done online, where you can just scan you WeChat QR Code.
The China trip wasn’t urgent so I’ve changed my plan. At least I have that option. Most of the people in the queue were Vietnamese, who have to go through this circus for most countries outside of Southeast Asia.
My China plan was to get the train from Hanoi to Kunming, where the China-Laos railway begins, and then travel around Yunnan Province. I will now wait until the railway is open and visit via Laos. I suspect applying for a China visa would be easier in a smaller city, and I would be interested to know where is the easiest place in Southeast Asia to get a visa for China.
I’m kind of relieved that the trip fell through as I have a lot of work to do, and going behind the Great Firewall of China is a pain (even with a VPN). Instead, I have extended my trip in Hanoi, which is always a good thing.