Tag Archives: Hanoi

Hanoi: In the Company of Strangers (Day 4)

It was a rather uneventful ride back to the hotel from Halong City and got dropped off at the hotel by 5PM and happily chatted with the couple I met over breakfast the other day. Over that bit of chat, they invited me out for a night out after we have rested for a bit. I was hesitant to go because I was billeted at a different hotel, given I checked out of Thaison Hotel for the Halong Bay tour, and upon my return, there’s no spare room and they will put into one of their ‘sister hotels’, the Parkson Hotel.

While our hotels are fairly near each other, I was unsure whether to go with them or not. They’re probably just being nice. But when Celine said that they really want to hang out, we decided to meet at about 8; watch the fireworks by the lake to celebrate Hanoi’s 60th Liberation Day; grab dinner; shop maybe or just head to a local bar.

That settled, Thaison Hotel offered to take me to Parkson Hotel via a motorbike. Seriously. It may be a short ride but I can brag and say, “I rode a motorbike in Vietnam and lived to tell the tale!”

The Saturday night crowd was huge and overflowing from the bars and the makeshift outdoor bars gulping on bia hoi, the local beer that costs less than P10/cup, or enjoying a bowl of pho.

The Saturday night crowd was huge and overflowing from the bars and the makeshift outdoor bars gulping on bia hoi, the local beer that costs less than P10/cup, or enjoying a bowl of pho.

Celine's boyfriend, Ryan has that look on his face that he really wants to head to a bar but didn't want to impose it on us. So when Celine and I finally agreed, he was like a kid whose gift came in October.

Celine’s boyfriend, Ryan has that look on his face that he really wants to head to a bar but didn’t want to impose it on us. So when Celine and I finally agreed, he was like a kid whose gift came in October.

What we saw in that bar will stay with us for a very long time. I was so surprised that it was the Asian women who were acting like the westerners  while it was the westerners who were acting like Asians. Those Asians were so wild it’s so hard to look at them. It was nowhere near sexy at all; it was downright sl***y.  Ugh.

But we got to give  it to them for entertaining us like so; all that’s missing is a tub of buttered popcorn to munch on.

Even with all that live rated-R show, that was not the highlight of the night. It never occurred to us that the 12AM curfew was strictly observed in Hanoi as it seemed to be non-existent in Ho Chi Minh City. The police usually do their rounds around that time and  remind bars to close down but because it was 1AM, we were ushered out by no less than the police themselves. It was a crazy experience but it was all good. What was unexpected was Ryan and Celine walked me back to my hotel before they headed to theirs. So sweet.

My room looked like an upgrade from my previous hotel, well it should be. It was a tad inconvenient to be transferring hotels for just a night but I was thrilled at how HUGE the bed was and I have it all to myself. I love it!

My room looked like an upgrade from my previous hotel, well it should be. It was a tad inconvenient to be transferring hotels for just a night but I was thrilled at how HUGE the bed was and I have it all to myself. I love it!

I woke up early to have breakfast before the tour guide picks me up for the city tour. Minutes later, we arrived at our first stop.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

The Tran Quoc Pagoda is located in the West Lake and the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi; it was built in the sixth century.

Two of the ten shrines flanking the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Two of the ten shrines flanking the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

The temple is home to a number of valuable statues.

The temple is home to a number of valuable statues.

The bodhi tree giving shade to the meditating golden Buddha statue is said to be a gift from the Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat who visited the temple in 1959.

The bodhi tree giving shade to the meditating golden Buddha statue is said to be a gift from the Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat who visited the temple in 1959.

The gorgeous wooden hallway inside the compound of the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

The gorgeous wooden hallway inside the compound of the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Next stop is the Ho Chi Minh Complex that houses the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, House on Stilts and the One Pillar Pagoda.

Next stop is the Ho Chi Minh Complex that houses the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, House on Stilts and the One Pillar Pagoda.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum taken from the back.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum taken from the back.

The One Pillar Pagoda is another historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It's located within the  compound of the Parliament House. Locals believe that praying here will bless one with prosperity.

The One Pillar Pagoda is another historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It’s located within the compound of the Parliament House. Locals believe that praying here will bless one with prosperity.

With the group slowly drifting on their own, the tour guide designated a meeting spot and with the hot weather, I decided to go there early and found fellow tourist, Floja (I’m not sure I got the spelling right). She’s French and works for the government and was assigned for a week in Hanoi on business trip. We may be strangers but  we have same thoughts on traveling; going solo has its perks and we both love it.

Next stop is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which doubles as a research center and a museum.

Next stop is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which doubles as a research center and a museum.

An old Viet house. The exhibit inside the museum is very informative, but I found it a bit boring so after i gave the two floors a once over, I went out to explore the grounds and found the exhibits there more engaging.

An old Viet house. The exhibit inside the museum is very informative, but I found it a bit boring so after I gave the two floors a once over, I went out to explore the grounds and found the exhibits there more engaging.

Jarai Tomb House. This was built in 1998 by men from the Jarai tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups in Central Highlands. This tomb house can fit 30 dead people; broken plates, cups are placed inside because they believe in providing necessities for the departed in the after life.

Jarai Tomb House. This was built in 1998 by five men from the Jarai tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups in Central Highlands. This tomb house can fit 30 dead people; broken plates, cups are placed inside because they believe in providing necessities for the departed in the after life.

Surrounding the tomb house are sexually explicit wooden sculptures that depicts fertility and birth. These are sculpted using axes, chisels and knives.

Surrounding the tomb house are sexually explicit wooden sculptures that depicts fertility and birth. These are sculpted using axes, chisels and knives.

By now the midday sun has unleashed its fury and we’re just thankful that next stop is the Blue Butterfly restaurant back at the Old District for lunch. I sat with Floja, and Riza and Aiza, who are Filipina nurses on holiday. It was a hodgepodge of conversation amid a delicious meal that’s too much for four girls.

This is the main gate of the Temple of Literature; built in 1070 and one of the many temples dedicated to Confucius.

This is the main gate of the Temple of Literature; built in 1070 and one of the many temples dedicated to Confucius.

During our visit, there were a loads of students having a pictorial. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars. During our visit, there were a loads of students having their pictorial for graduation. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars.

During our visit, there were a loads of students having a pictorial. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars.

The Temple of Literature has five courtyards and it would’ve been nice to explore it all at leisure but since this is a guided tour, we’re pressed for time. Soon enough we found ourselves back in the Old Quarter to explore Hoan Kiem Lake. I’ve been here on my first day so I skipped this and went shopping with Riza and Aiza. 🙂

That was the last in the itinerary and I was finally dropped me off at the hotel. I freshened up for a bit and fixed my stuff and went to the last place on my list.

St. Joseph's Cathedral, also known as the Hanoi Cathedral, was built in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. The structure resembles that of Notre Dame de Paris.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, also known as the Hanoi Cathedral, was built in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. The structure resembles that of Notre Dame de Paris.

The stained glass windows were produced in France before it was transported to Hanoi.

The stained glass windows were produced in France before it was transported to Hanoi.

The cathedral is a short walk  from the Hoan Kiem Lake and is part of my itinerary. I thought it’s the perfect way to conclude this four-day solo trip; to be thankful that I was safe and had an experience that will stay with me for a very long time.

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Hanoi: In the Company of Strangers (Days 2 and 3)

I woke up early for the cruise the next day, had my breakfast, checked out from the hotel and waited for the bus to pick me up. I decided to check out since I’ll be staying overnight on the boat and paid for my entire stay as well. In total, I paid US$200 for 3D/2N at the hotel (inclusive of breakfast) and the overnight stay on the boat, inclusive of welcome drinks; lunch & dinner for the first day; and breakfast & lunch the next day. *Pats myself on the back for such  a steal of a holiday.*

Tips:

  • TripAdvisor.com is your best bet for legit reviews of hotels and sample itineraries. 
  • Whatever hotels you find on agoda.com, booking.com or similar sites, cross-check it with TripAdvisor. So far, this site has not let me down yet. 
  • Feel free to bring your swimsuit and sunscreen.

Instead of me blabbing away on the 2D/1N Halong Bay itinerary,  I’ll post photos to take you through my overnight journey to one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.

After about 1.5 hours of traversing the road to Halong City, the bus will make a mandatory stop  at a handicraft store for about 20 minutes.

Pier

More than an hour later, we arrived at the Bai Chay Pier in Halong City.

After the tour guide has purchased the tickets, passengers will then proceed to the wharf to be transferred to the Viet Beauty Cruise via a small ferry.

After our tour guide has purchased the tickets, we proceeded to the wharf to be transferred to the Viet Beauty Cruise via a small ferry.

The boat doesn't come to you. You come to the boat. And you do it via these small ferries. And no matter how short the distance, wear the life jacket. It's a hard rule.

The boat doesn’t come to you. You come to the boat. And you do it via these small ferries. And no matter how short the distance, wear the life jacket. It’s a hard rule.

This is the view from the dining hall. While there is a wifi onboard, it's very unstable since we're in the middle of the bay. I barely cared. I have my camera. I'm good.

This is the view from the dining hall. While there is a wifi onboard, it’s very unstable since we’re in the middle of the bay. I barely cared. I have my camera. I’m good.

Right outside the dining hall are small tables lining up the lower deck.

Right outside the dining hall are small tables lining up the lower deck.

The cabin in The Viet Beauty Cruises is cozy and equipped with hotel grade bathroom facilities. Except for the water taking a bit of time to go down the drain, I've no issues with the room.

The cabin in The Viet Beauty Cruises is cozy and equipped with hotel grade bathroom facilities. Except for the water taking a bit of time to go down the drain, I’ve no issues with the room.

Since I was travelling alone, they gave me the option of adding US$40 so I don’t have to share the cabin with a stranger. I scrimped and decided to tough it out and go for the shared cabin. It’s just for a night anyway. I wasn’t prepared to share it with a late 50-ish English guy. I thought that since I’m a girl, they’ll pair me off with a girl too. Unfortunately, there was no other girl travelling solo so, I’m stuck with him. Thankfully he was decent and that the only time we were in the cabin together was when it was time to doze off for the night.

Once we’ve freshen up, we started our tour and first stop is the Sung Sot Cave or the Amazing Cave.

Sung Sot Cave is a famous tourist stop in Halong Bay and since it's peak season, you can just imagine how busy this place is.

Sung Sot Cave is a famous tourist stop in Halong Bay and since it’s peak season, you can just imagine how busy this place is.

So maybe, this is why it's called the Amazing Cave. *insert naughty grin* And of all the colors to light up this VERY interesting rock formation, they choose red.

So maybe, this is why it’s called the Amazing Cave. *insert naughty grin* And of all the colors to light up this VERY interesting rock formation, they choose red.

We spent about an hour going through the different caves, with our tour guide pointing at more interestingly shaped rocks and stalagmites. In my head, no other rock formation can be as interesting as that photo above.

The tour is finally done and we headed back to the boat again to go to a spot for kayaking. I decided to skip this out because the heat got me and I don’t feel good anymore.

I decided to nap and about 20 minutes later, I decided to go up the sundeck and enjoy some quiet time.

I decided to nap and about 20 minutes later, I decided to go up the sundeck and enjoy some quiet time.

The local vendors make for an interesting addition to the Halong Bay scenery. They sell chips, cigarettes and sweets.

The local vendors make for an interesting addition to the Halong Bay scenery. They sell chips, cigarettes and sweets.

As we wait for our dinner, we had cooking class and they taught us to prepare fresh spring rolls.

As we wait for our dinner, we had cooking class and they taught us to prepare fresh spring rolls.

I was the lone Asian in the cruise, save for the Vietnamese junk crew and tour guide. I thought I will feel awkward but it was so much fun chatting with Irish travelbugs Emma and Karen; her mom, Helen; and Jeremy, the Englishman in Hanoi. 🙂 After chatting some more, we headed to our respective cabins and called it a night.

The following day, those who were able to wake up early joined the Tai Chi class held at the sundeck. I skipped that and headed straight to a light breakfast. Few minutes later, we are on our way to Soi Sim Island, a mere five-minute ferry ride from where the boat anchored for the night.

Soi Sim Island is ok but having been to our glorious beaches, the beach did not impress me. It was a small stretch and the water doesn't look inviting; maybe Cat Ba Island is better but it's not included in our itinerary.

Soi Sim Island is ok but having been to our glorious beaches, the beach did not impress me. It was a small stretch and the water doesn’t look inviting; maybe Cat Ba Island is better but it’s not included in our itinerary.

For me, Palawan sets the bar for gorgeous beaches and the Conde Nast Traveler placed a stamp on that for naming Palawan as the top island in the world for 2014.

And so I decided to hike towards Soi Sim Hill.

It's a 400+ steps up this hill and while the sign discourages older people from hiking, I still found some elderly couples heading up the cemented steps.

It’s a 400+ steps up this hill and while the sign discourages older people from hiking, I still found some elderly couples heading up the cemented steps.

The elderly people hiking up inspired me to get to the top but with the lack of exercise, I was catching my breath by the time I reached the top.

The elderly people hiking up inspired me to get to the top but with the lack of exercise, I was catching my breath by the time I reached the top. But the haze that morning diluted the beauty of the beach from the top. Oh well.

An hour later, we’re back on the boat to check out and have our buffet lunch. At this time, we have new companions onboard as they are the ones checking in for the night. After lunch, we headed back to the pier to board the bus back to Hanoi. Back to the crazy city of speeding motorcycles but this time, I went back with new Twitter and Instagram friends.

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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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