Hanoi: In the Company of Strangers (Day 1)

To travel solo on a vacation has always been on my imaginary bucket list. While I may have conquered Hong Kong and Sydney on my own, these were for work and I’ve no choice but be alone. It was early this year when I finally decided to do this deliberate solitary trip as a birthday gift to myself. So two days after my birthday, I was on a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Cebu Pacific Airlines has the red eye flights to Vietnam (both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi); I was on the 1030PM flight and arrived in Hanoi at 1230AM (an hour behind Philippine time). Arriving alone in an unfamiliar place at an ungodly hour is a common plot in movies, so I decided to book a cab through the hotel I’m staying at just to be safe.

Tip:
The Noi Bai International Airport is about 35 kms away (estimated 45 minutes travel) from the city center. Save yourself the stress and book your cab through the hotel. It should cost you about US$16-18 for a private 4-seater cab. Therefore, if you travel in a group, it is way cheaper.

Some minutes later, I was dropped off in front of Thaison Palace Hotel. While it lacks the grandiose of a real palace, their warm reception pretty much made up for it plus the room they gave me is so huge for one person! I prepped for bed because I’ve yet to decide if I’ll go with the itinerary I prepared or take on the hotel’s suggestion.

For less than a P900 per night, this room is beyond my expectations.

For less than a P900 per night, this room is beyond my expectations.

The room was so spacious, I got a little too paranoid that I locked the closet and felt thankful that the tv was screwed up the wall that if ever Sadako comes out of it, she will fall. Hard.

The room was so spacious, I got a little too paranoid that I locked the closet and felt thankful that the tv was screwed up the wall that if ever Sadako comes out of it, she will fall. Hard.

I woke up early and headed to the dining hall for breakfast, expecting to have some quiet time to ponder on my itinerary for the day. To my surprise, the place was packed with Filipinos (with the exception of a lonesome Thai on a business). They were the ‘experienced’ group of Ed & Rose; Secenio & Linda; and Lourdes; the couple Celine & Ryan; and two more Filipino businessmen, whose names I wasn’t able to get.

It was a flurry of conversation about traveling, politics, schools, and just about anything in between. I knew from then, this is going to be a pleasantly different experience for me. I’ve always been wary of bumping into Filipinos abroad because some tend to be a little snooty and a tad too annoying. May angking kayabangan kasi ang ilang Pilipino kapag nasa ibang bansa. But this group? They are the reason why this is one of the most remarkable trips I’ve had. The group cannot be more diverse yet it was those differences that made the exchange of stories flowing and interesting.

Breakfast was such a delight that we had to pull ourselves out just so we can start our first day already. And before heading out, I thought to check the Halong Bay tour offered at the hotel. I was wheedled into getting the overnight stay (2D/1N instead of the full day tour) onboard The Viet Beauty Cruises and in the process, they computed my 2D/2N at the hotel and it all amounted to just US$200. They didn’t charge me for the very early check in at 2AM. Sweet deal!

With my itinerary on hand, I headed out and of course, managed to get myself lost several times in the first few hours of exploring the city by myself. I am the worst with directions. So I stopped by a coffee shop to mooch off their wifi, downloaded the map and saved it offline so I can just use the GPS. Worked perfectly!

Thaison Palace Hotel is within The Old Quarter but situated some 10 minutes away from the center, which is good because it's close enough to all the happenings but still give you the solitude you need at night.

Thaison Palace Hotel is within The Old Quarter but situated some 10 minutes away from the center, which is good because it’s close enough to all the happenings but still give you the solitude you need at night.

A mere 10-minute walk from the hotel is the Hoan Kiem Lake or the Lake of the Restored Sword and right in the middle of it is the Turtle Tower.

A mere 10-minute walk from the hotel is the Hoan Kiem Lake or the Lake of the Restored Sword and right in the middle of it is the Turtle Tower.

The Huc Bridge leads to the entrance of the 18th century Buddhist temple, The Temple of the Jade Mountain.

The Huc Bridge leads to the entrance of the 18th century Buddhist temple, The Ngoc Son Temple or The Temple of the Jade Mountain.

Main gate of the Ngoc Son Temple

Main gate of the Ngoc Son Temple.

I chanced upon some cute students wending their way to the temple.

I chanced upon some cute students wending their way to the temple.

To the left of the main gate, you will find this 1o-meter high stone structure. The symbols on the stone mean “Ta Thanh Thien”, which translates to “Writing on the clear blue sky”.

To the left of the main gate, you will find this 1o-meter high stone structure. The symbols on the stone mean “Ta Thanh Thien”, which translates to “Writing on the clear blue sky”. 

Taoist symbols guard the second gate to the temple; a tiger on the left and a Vietnamese dragon on the right. The temple may be closed at night but it sure is more gorgeous at this time.

Taoist symbols guard the second gate to the temple; a tiger on the left and a Vietnamese dragon on the right. The temple may be closed at night but it sure is more gorgeous at this time.

The third gate to the temple is closed at night but you can visit in the morning and pay US$1 or VND20,000. Meanwhile, enjoy the beauty and peace of this place at this time when there are less tourists to vie with for a good shot.

The third gate to the temple is closed at night but you can visit in the morning and pay US$1 or VND20,000. Meanwhile, enjoy the beauty and peace of this place at this time when there are less tourists to vie with for a good shot.

Just when you think you've seen enough of Hoan Kiem Lake, visit at night and be mesmerized. Locals and tourists abound the side of the lake to jog, eat, date, take photos, or just sit and take in the beauty of the place.

Just when you think you’ve seen enough of Hoan Kiem Lake, visit at night and be mesmerized. Locals and tourists abound the side of the lake to jog, eat, date, take photos, or just sit and take in the beauty of the place.

The Huc Bridge is one gorgeous sight at night.

The Huc Bridge is one gorgeous sight at night.

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