Wednesday, March 20, 2013

my travel notes: hanoi and halong, vietnam

i exactly don't know how to begin with this travel note. i may even have gone a little overboard that i prepared a good number of 30 photos for this travel note! beware, i show no mercy for bandwidth!

but first, let me organize my thoughts by having an outline. this outline consists of the basic things that i normally start to cross out when planning on going somewhere. sigh. i wish i could do it more often but it doesn't mean i'm not grateful. i can be a little nice and all that, you know.

Getting There (Singapore to Hanoi)

Vietnam Airlines

Vietnam Airlines Meal Vietnam Airlines Meal

vietnam airlines was the best deal that we could avail, given that our intended dates included a singapore holiday. of course with the holiday, the budget airlines that ply the singapore - hanoi route had raised accordingly their fares.

the flagship airline of vietnam actually has many direct flights to europe so, it couldn't be all that bad, right? it has even a direct flight to moscow! that mere fact made me quite giddy with new child-like aspirations!

however, our flight from SIN to HAN left a dent mark on our first impression because our plane had that pungent smell which reminded us of old clothes that had been kept away for decades. we had to endure that kind of smell for 3 hours, but i got used to it halfway through our flight that when we stepped out of the plane, i found the smell outside weird. nah, i'm bluffing.

on our way back from HAN to SIN, vietnam airlines redeemed their reputation with their airbus 321 that looked spanking new. the one-hour delay was forgivable because that could happen anytime. just as long as i'll have a safe flight, i'm fine with it. (a connecting flight is however, another story.)

in both flights, the food was okay although like usual, economy seats don't have that much choice. i'm not complaining but only stating a fact. haha

Getting to Hanoi from Noi Bai International Airport

Airport Taxi at Noi Bai International Aiport

i totally understand why airports are usually located in a far off distance from a city and that is called airspace. similarly, noi bai international airport is located 45km away from the center and it takes roughly an hour to get to the city with no considerable traffic in between.

the advantage of traveling in two(s) or three(s) is that you can share the cab fare. what we did though, was we arranged an airport transfer with our hotel and we paid a reasonable amount of USD17 (one way). we also booked the same airport transfer when we got back to the airport for our outbound flight.

★ Where to stay?

Rising Dragon Palace Hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam Rising Dragon Palace Hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam

in hanoi, we stayed at rising dragon palace hotel which is located in the old quarter. location-wise, it was very favorable and much more, since we only had a very limited time in hanoi. they had good staff, helpful hotel manager and the most splendid of all was they had scrumptious breakfast buffet with many choices. one flaw which was of my own doing was not informing them that we were three so on our first night, we had to contend with one queen-size bed.

Ky Moi Hotel, Halong, Vietnam

in halong, we had an overnight stay in ky moi hotel. this is rather a less popular choice compared to the many people who usually go for an overnight cruise. the hotel's location is convenient, just a walking distance to the beach. there was a night market and a number of restaurants, sprawled around the area. most importantly, it was also a 10-minute cab ride to the bus terminal.

the downsides? the receptionist/owner? couldn't speak english and he couldn't figure out how to tell us the correct password of the hotel's wifi. he even wrote something down but to no avail. good thing, adjacent hotels were generous of their unsecured wifi. the lobby was spic and span and so as our room. but! our bed linens were disgusting because it smelt of mold. i'm not really very particular with small details because i can even survive camping out. well, except on dirty linens. so i guess, we got what we paid for our SGD27 (total room rate for one night). moreover, the beds were solid as rock but to console us, we had a huge bathroom with a working heater for a cold morning in halong.


Fresh Spring Roll in Hanoi, Vietnam

Pho Noodle in Hanoi, Vietnam

Tropical Fruits in Hanoi, Vietman

we clearly went to touristy food places which most probably cater to tourists with fat wallets. spending a meal in hanoi, that's equivalent to a meal in singapore, was an obvious telltale sign for that. we even had this crazy idea about the restaurants, having a separate menu with different prices for locals and another one for tourists. possible? well, your guess is as good as mine.

however, we took advantage of the fact that such places are used to deal with tourists on a daily basis. the café where we got that delectable-looking fresh spring rolls, must be a tourist haven since it has an overlooking view of the hoan kiem lake. the café s manager was extra chatty when he came to know we're filipinos and he even mentioned the recent visit of our country's president. that friendly conversation we had, did us a favor eventually when we went back to the café after we realized the change we received was not enough. after we explained the situation, he agreed to give back the lacking change because for him, we were all friends. how cool is that?

Seashells in Halong, Vietnam

Coffee in Halong, Vietnam

the above two photos were from halong. interestingly, halong turned out to be a different experience for us. we had a hard time looking for a place to eat, not because there was none but because we got the impression they're not used to deal with foreigners who don't speak their language. we even got a blank stare one instance.

with our brain cells rapidly dying, we settled at a chinese restaurant (not a typo) for our dinner. after our sparse dinner, we found ourselves at a drink stand near the bay where there was a projected soccer game, completed with monobloc seats and as well as reclined bamboo chairs.

we decided to stay for a while and just relax our weary selves with the night breeze by the bay. we ordered coffee which vietnam is famous for and we were surprised we only had that small portion as in the photo! was it an espresso shot? we had no idea! the locals were however more surprised when we added hot water almost to the brim! haha

coffee culture in vietnam is actually big and they are mighty proud of that.

★ Getting Around

Taxi in Halong, Vietnam

Transportation from Halong to Hanoi

Transportation from Halong to Hanoi

in hanoi, we went around mostly by walking except that single motorbike ride and the most unforgettable of all, was taking a rip off taxi from the bus terminal to our hotel. the bus terminal was already near the old quarter but we paid almost the same amount as our airport transfer. i was beyond fuming that time but in hindsight, i should be more in control of my temper. i shouldn't forget that i'm a girl and i'm in a foreign country at that. so, it was an experience well noted.

for halong, it gave off a safer vibe. we took a metered taxi from the hotel to the bus terminal and our taxi driver even made sure we got the right tickets to hanoi and we got on the right vehicle.

the commute from halong to hanoi was also quite an experience. i was on one of the single seats and the turmoil of the small vehicle when passengers got in and out of it created such a hilarious scene. it was really in chaos when for instance, a passenger at the backseat would already get off so, the passengers in the aisle seats would stand up to give way. this happened several times all throughout the journey. watching this and vietnam's countryside was like a bittersweet reminder of home. 


Hanoi, Vietnam

Halong, Vietnam

there were hordes of locals and tourists at the old quarter in hanoi (as seen in the first photo above) and as there's safety in numbers, it wasn't scary even at night. beware though of your things because as i was being sandwiched in the midst of people, i felt someone fumbling around my waist and found my main zip of my bag opened. it was a good thing that just in time, i noticed that there was something not right.

in the case for halong, it was close to being deserted at night except for the few cafés with one common activity which was the televised soccer game.


in conclusion, hanoi and halong are two different places and each offers a unique experience over the other. yes, we had a few glitches along the way but we knew that we didn't sign up to anything perfect either. embracing whatever comes to you and making the most out of it, make up to an equation that we carry on for what's next.

oops! this is already a lengthy post and i should better stop now before this turns into a whole chapter of a book. besides, i have come up with enough posts for hanoi and halong and it's high time for me to move on. and since i still find mercy on you, i didn't post all the 30 photos. ;)


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