Remember my post on the Top 5 Things To Do in Hanoi? I mentioned in number 5 how going for a cruise on Ha Long Bay is one of the most common day trip / excursions to take whilst in Hanoi, Vietnam. I've never been on a cruise, unless you count my fjord cruise ride experience with Norway in A Nutshell, this was my first time sleeping on a bed in a boat. Of course, I was a bundle of excitement despite the fact that we had to wake up at 6, leave the hotel by 7.30am, and got news from the hotel staff that it has been rather stormy in Ha Long Bay.
Booking the Tour was really easy because our hotel offered several packages we could choose from (you can also find these packages online). We left the hotel around 7.30am in the morning on a bus with about 15 other people, and after a 4-hour drive, got to the port. On our way there, we passed by a shop selling all sorts of souvenirs, more importantly, there were selling hand woven cloth pictures done by the death and mute. This was a company that only hired these people so as to create jobs for them. Since I didn't have that much money, I bought a few small Cotton string woven ones instead of those done in Silk.
Eventually, we reached the port, and took a small boat to our cruise. Although the cruise ship was smaller than I had expected, our cruise was the most luxurious one because it was a partnership between 2 different companies. After getting our rooms, J and I immediately headed up to the deck to take some pictures before lunch was served. Thankfully, the weather was great, and the view was just stunning. It is no wonder Ha Long Bay is such a tourist favourite.
I was pleasantly surprised by all the various activities the tour had despite being only a short 2 day 1 night (technically it was only 1 day since we arrived on the boat in the afternoon and left then next afternoon) cruise. Our first island stop was this place called Ti Top Island where we could either climb up a small hill to get an awesome view of Ha Long Bay or have a swim in the waters by the beach. The water was actually rather dirty in my opinion, so I opted for the view instead. Although the steep stone steps were a challenge for my short legs, the view up on the top was INCREDIBLE.
After getting back from Ti Top Island, we went back on the boat to change and freshen up and had a short cooking class! It wasn't much of a Cooking Class than it was a cooking demonstration. But we did get a chance to roll our own Vietnamese Spring Rolls and then have them afterwards, so that was awesome!
In the evening, we had a short Kayaking Session where we could kayak around Ha Long Bay and then to a Pearl Farm there were loads of lovely pearl jewellery at the pearl farm, but sadly as I was kayaking on what seemed to be a rather unstable kayak, I left my valuables on the boat and so, there was no chance of me getting any pearl souvenirs. It was interesting to walk around the farm and see how they harvested the pearls, although I wished there was some sort of introduction or a tour.
Eventually, we headed back on the boat for dinner and spent the night on the deck attempting to count the stars of spot the lights from other cruise ships out on the bay.
Oh and Fun Fact: Our guide informed us that the reason why Ha Long Bay has this individual mountain like structure was because they were made out of limestone and got eroded over the years and are still being eroded slowly to this day! What an impressive natural phenomenon. I'm always impressed when I find out how mother nature forms these wonders.
The Ha Long Bay cruise was surprisingly more entertaining that I though it would be. As it wasn't a huge cruise ship, I knew there wouldn't be any of your typical games room or entertainment facilities up on the boat. But the fact that there were a few fun activities planned for us throughout the entire time was great!
There was one thing I wasn't too pleased about though, was that I had an assignment to submit, and despite requesting for cruise with wifi - and we paid more for that, there wasn't any on board. Although the boat had a wifi modem, there was no way any of its guest could connect on to it. So it was incredibly agonising when I had to rush to submit my assignment the next day. Guess I should have thought about that before hand, I mean we're in the middle of a huge bay after all, what signal could there be right?
But judging the cruise for its activities, Ha Long Bay was definitely worth it and I really enjoyed myself!
8 October 2015 Ha Long Bay, Hạ Long, tp. Hạ Long, Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam
Hanoi's Hoàn Kiếm Lake is situated in the centre of the Vietnamese Capital, and is probably one of my favourite places in Hanoi. I'm sure many - locals and tourists — would agree that the Hoàn Kiếm Lake is one of the most peaceful and serene places in Hanoi.
Half the time we were walking along the streets of Hanoi, we were busy dodging motorcycles and cars and stressing out over crossing the streets. Having a clear pedestrian path to walk around the lake without the need to worry of oncoming vehicles was such a huge plus! It makes it so much more enjoyable. One can really walk at an idyllic place and appreciate the lake for its beauty.
As we were there in the later part of summer (perhaps early autumn) the weather was still pretty warm, and the flowers were in full bloom. Those orange, yellow and red hues added a nice lively contrast to the greenery all around the lake. From the MANY MANY couples we saw, to people wearing traditional Vietnamese hats, kids playing by the lake and families brunching in nearby cafés, people watching is something I couldn't help doing when we were by the lake.
When you're by the lake, don't forget to walk to the temple in the middle of it. Crossing a red bridge to get to the temple, and then getting a full view of the lake from the middle, is definitely something worth doing. We even spotted a man playing some traditional instrument by the pavilion in the temple!
Peaceful. Calm. Tranquil.
Those adjectives best describe the experience one would have walking around Hanoi Lake. It is no wonder couples and even families enjoy hanging out by the lake, evading the chaos of the streets and enjoying the simple pleasures in life in the company of loved ones.
If you want to find out more of my Vietnam trip, check out my travel diary video and Vietnam Lookbook!
5 October 2015 Hoàn Kiếm Lake, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam
In my last post, I talked about the 5 things visitors should do when they are in Hanoi, Vietnam. However, we all know that traveling isn't about just doing things and going to attractions in a foreign place, right? One of my favourite things to do when I'm abroad is eat their local food. FOOD.
FOOD is one of my secret passions. There must have been countless of times when I said I absolutely loved a city just because of the food. When food in a country/city is good, half the battle is won!
South East Asian countries are always known for their incredible cuisine and Vietnam is no exception. Plus, I can't write about what to do in Hanoi and leave out it's awesome food, so here is part 2 of my Hanoi Travel Guide featuring, interesting Sights and great FOOD!
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BY THE STREETS | BUN BO NAM BO
Walking along the streets of Hanoi you'll see a lot of street food shops, people selling food items and fruits out of a basket, and a multitude of Pho shops.
NOTE: PHO IS BEST EATEN BY THE STREETS.
Street stalls are not to be missed when in Vietnam. In fact, they probably serve the most flavourful dishes. Even though the restaurants in Hanoi serve pretty good food, I was so glad I tried their street food from both the night markets and the regular street side stalls. Jerald and I shared a large bowl of Pho from a random street side stall, and it is the best bowl of noodle's i've ever tasted in my life! The soup was clear, light, and incredibly flavourful. The portions were great, the noodles were the right texture, I was more than surprised.
Bun Bo Nam Bo is another street side shop we went to. It is named after one of Hanoi's famous street food. This stall was one of my favourite food places in Hanoi! Affordable, simple, and delicious. Plus, they have proper tables and chairs. If crouching down and eating is not your cup of tea, and you rather have a decent sitting height whilst eating, this shop is perfect!
One thing to note though, their menu is in the form of a large canvas sheet on the wall, and the shop owners don't speak english. But that can be easily fixed with some pointing and hand signals.
Food to try: Bun Bo Nam Bo, Gio.
CAFÉS | KAFE BOX
Hanoi has so many different cafes, from those along the streets, to fancier ones in the shopping centres, or some only accessible through dingy alley ways. Even though the café culture is permeating the local food scene, what I love about the cafés in Hanoi, is that they maintain their own local flair. The have the same short tables and chairs for street side dining, and food served in a box like how street food would typically be served.
Food to try: Zucchini Fritters and any of their snack boxes
DINING WITH A VIEW | CITY VIEW CAFÉ
If you don't have a strong stomach, or aren't as adventurous when it comes to asian food/street side dining, another way to enjoy Hanoi, is to see it from above. Hanoi has several cafés located on the 4th or 5th floors of different buildings allowing tourist to dine with a great view of the city, and escape the chaotic noise and traffic on the ground.
The only I enjoyed the most was City View Café, located near the centre facing one of hanoi's busiest streets and overseeing the beautiful Hanoi Lake.
However, food isn't as fantastic and cheap as compared to those you get by the streets. Still, it is very much affordable, and for the view, I would say its worth it to have a meal in these cafés!
S E E
COLOURFUL STREETS | Day vs. Night
The colorful buildings, the flags, the umbrellas of makeshift street food stalls, all add to the atmosphere of Hanoi. This is especially true when you're in the Old Town area of Hanoi.
What I loved about the streets of Hanoi is how different they look in the day and night. At night, when all the sign boards are lighted up in various colours, it gives off a slight party atmosphere. But, in the day, it takes you right back to a typical old town/asian style village - rustic, authentic, and just slightly chaotic.
Also, remember to occasionally look up, for you'd see what they call the Hanoi Spaghetti - tons of electrical wires being knotted up near a lamp post resembling spaghetti!
HANOI TRAFFIC | Motorcycles/Trishaws/Cars/People All On the Road
When you stop at a crossroad, or just walking along the Old Town in Hanoi, you get to experience how insane the traffic is. With the crazy number of motorcycles, its almost impossible to cross the road. I remember breaking out in a little cold sweat because of the blazing horns and chaotic traffic.
The traffic doesn't stop, there aren't many traffic lights, apparently, one should just walk at a constant pace whilst crossing the road, and somehow, motorcyclist and cars will just manoeuvre around you.
The vietnamese are extremely used to the insane traffic. We saw women crossing the roads in heels while vehicles were zooming by them on both sides, as well as people in hats carrying baskets of food walking along side the cars and motorbikes with no fear!
STREET ART | 4KM MOSAIC WALL
Near the Oldest Bridge in Hanoi - Long Bien (a sight in itself), is a long stretch of road covered in mosaic tiles. It was donated to Hanoi by a woman who fell in love with the city. It stretches 4 kilometeres long, adding colour to the streets of Hanoi.
Since the traffic in Hanoi is pretty insane, it makes getting right to the Mosaic Wall a great challenge. Furthermore, the sidewalks were quite narrow, which meant that it was almost impossible to photograph the wall. But, this is still a sight to catch. Look out for it when you're entering into the city by car. You'd definitely pass by a stretch of the mosaic art wall!
Honestly though, there is so much to see in Hanoi itself. The sights and sounds are unlike any other. The streets are filled with motorcycles, everything is vibrant, exciting, and just constantly moving. Despite the hustle and bustle, when you get to a quiet part of the city, you get a deep sense of serenity and you can really appreciate the architecture, the rustic charm, and old vibes Hanoi brings.
Not to mention, food everywhere is great. I've been craving a bowl of street side Pho ever since I left. Food in Singapore is good, but the Pho here can never compare to the $2-3 dollar massive bowls I got from the streets of Hanoi!
If you want to find out what else I got up to in Hanoi and what I wore watch the 2 videos below!