Travel Journal: Hanoi, Vietnam 2012

At around this time last year, I was touring around a place I never thought I’d plan on visiting. Some travelers would usually prioritize countries which are famous for a landmark or an activity or a theme park, say Hong Kong because of Disneyland, Singapore because of Universal Studios, Thailand to go shopping in Bangkok, or Malaysia for a picture in front of the famous Petronas Towers. Out of sheer curiosity, I booked a flight for me, my brother, his girlfriend, my aunt, and cousin to Hanoi, Vietnam.

hanoi airport, noi bai airport
Noi Bai airport. Not as nice as Changi Airport or Hong Kong International Airport so don’t expect much.

For five days, we explored Hanoi and realized how it resembled the Philippines in so many ways. We stayed in a small hotel in the Dong Xuan market area, which is in the Hoan Kiem district. Hoan Kiem district is named after the placid lake which is one of the scenic spots in the city. We availed of two tour packages from a nearby hotel – one to tour the tourist spots in Hoan Kiem and in Hanoi such as The Old Quarter, National Museum of Vietnam History, and the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. The other one was of course to see for ourselves Ha Long Bay. It’s interesting to know why the UNESCO World Heritage Site made it to the list of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

Walking around the Dong Xuan market area, we felt like we weren’t in a foreign land at all! Well except that they were speaking a different language, which is Vietnamese or tiếng Việt. I was mistaken for a Vietnamese twice – at the hotel where we booked our tour packages and when we started the tour. The tour guide said that I look like them because I’m petite and tan.

Hoan kiem district, aldo, swarovski, highlands coffee, starbucks in vietnam
One of the large establishments in Hoan Kiem housing boutiques such Aldo and Swarovski. They also have Highlands Coffee here.
motorcycles, motorcycle in vietnam, motorcycle hanoi
One of the reasons Hanoi reminded me of Manila – the MANY motorcycles on the streets which made it hard to cross to the other side.
motorcycle in hanoi
Most people get around by motorcycle.
pimped motorcycle, hanoi, motorcycle
They pimp their motorcycles!
hanoi, pirated dvd
Pirated DVDs and back issues of magazines – just like in the Philippines.
cyclo. cyclo in vietnam
Cyclo or the three wheeled bicycle taxi is what most tourists take to tour the city.
Cyclo in vietnam
So in the afternoon of our Hanoi City Tour, we rode cyclos to explore the rest of the place.
Nón lá, conical asian hat
The local peddlers wear the conical Asian hat or in Vietnamese – Nón lá. This peddler sells pineapples, which were really sweet!
Nón lá
Another Vietnamese peddler selling bread.
sidewalk eating in hanoi
This is how most of their local and cheap “restaurants” look like. They set up small tables and chairs on the sidewalk. These foreigners don’t seem to have any issues eating at the sidewalk at all.
vietnamese omelette
They usually serve meat, fish, and this Vietnamese omelette.
This reminds me of our lechon kawali. Oh and that's the Vietnamese omelette again.
This reminds me of our lechon kawali. Oh and that’s the Vietnamese omelette again.
I never got to ask what this is called, but it kind of looked like a shawarma. It tasted better though.
I never got to ask what this is called, but it kind of looked like a shawarma. It tasted better though.
contiti ice cream, ice cream in hanoi
Move over, Magnum! Contiti ice cream is the best! 😀

We usually stroll around the Hoan Kiem lake after our tour or to while away time.

hoan kiem lake
Hoan Kiem lake in the afternoon.
hoan kiem lake
Time for some wacky pics with my aunt, cousin, and brother’s girlfriend.
hoan kiem lake at night
A view from the Hoan Kiem lake bridge at night.
The streets of Hoan Kiem are relatively peaceful, so we took a nightly stroll around the lake before turning in for the day.
The streets of Hoan Kiem are relatively peaceful, so we took a nightly stroll around the lake before turning in for the day.
We found this cute Vietnamese boy wandering in the park and who willingly had his picture taken with us.
We found this cute Vietnamese boy wandering in the park and who willingly had his picture taken with us.

Walking around the lake is relaxing, plus I always have fun looking at signs and names of establishments in the area.

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Our tours were tiring but equally fun and of course, we learned about the history of Vietnam.

ho chi minh, ho chi minh mausoleum
Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed entry to the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh to see his remains because I was wearing shorts. So I just had a picture taken in front of it with our tour guide.
ho chi minh
I got to avoid lining up though. Students, tourists, and people from all walks of life queuing to get a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh’s body.
temple of literature hanoi, temple of confucius
The Temple of Literature or Temple of Confucius.
temple of literature, hanoi
A big book at the Temple of Literature.
Another structure made of flowers in the garden at the Temple of Literature.
A writing tablet made out of flowers in the garden at the Temple of Literature.
old houses in vietnam
How old houses in Hanoi looked like – with high, thatched roofs and a steep ladder at the entrance.
Inside the houses are relics of carvings and other art forms.
Inside the houses are relics of carvings and other art forms.
tombs in hanoi, wood carvings
Shocked. These are wood carvings on tombs. Hmmm…
A pond beside the old houses where there are puppet like carvings and miniature houses to relive the history of Hanoi.
A pond beside the old houses where there are puppet-like carvings and miniature houses to relive the history of Hanoi.
ho chi minh house
We also visited Ho Chi Minh’s old house. It was pretty and peaceful, and the tour guide said he used to catch fish in this lake.
Another stop was made at the first ever temple built in Hanoi.
Another stop was made at the first ever temple built in Hanoi…
oldest pagoda in hanoi, vietnam
…and the oldest pagoda as well.
There were smaller buildings around the pagoda, housing these elegant structures and statues.
There were smaller buildings around the pagoda, housing these elegant structures and statues.
embroidery shop of people with disabilities
Another part of the tour is a visit to the Embroidery Shop of People with Disabilities.
You'll be struck with awe because the disabled people are so talented - they created all these embroideries!
You’ll be struck with awe because the disabled people are so talented – they created all these embroideries and crafts despite lacking in some of the vital functions or parts of the body.
tha long water puppet theater, hanoi
We got to watch a show in this theater in the evening.
thang long water puppet show
A story is being narrated while the puppets are moving on the stage, yes, with water!
water puppet show
Curtain call. It has got to be one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen.

The highlight of the trip was our Ha Long Bay tour. Ha Long literally means “descending dragon bay.” It was around two hours away by bus from Hoan Kiem. We went inside caves and saw some of the many islets in the entire area of the bay. It was exhausting but worth it. A visit to Hanoi would be incomplete if you don’t see for yourself the beauty of Ha Long Bay.

Here we go, Ha Long Bay.
Here we go, Ha Long Bay.
ha long bay, hanoi
The weather was a bit overcast but that didn’t stop us from seeing more of Ha Long Bay.
(From L-R): My aunt Mommy Tess, my cousin Regine, that's me in the middle, my brother's girlfriend Kat, and my brother Louie.
(From L-R): My aunt Mommy Tess, my cousin Regine, that’s me in the middle, my brother’s girlfriend Kat, and my brother Louie.
ha long bay
Most of the islets in the bay are made of limestone.
The weather got better as we continued.
The weather got better as we continued.
Heading off to the caves...
Heading off to the caves…
boatmen in ha long bay
Boatmen waiting for tourists to take a boat tour to the caves.
A small platform which serves as a port and stopover in the middle of the bay.
A small platform which serves as a port and stopover in the middle of the bay.
floating market, hanoi, halong bay
Floating fruit market – you’ve got to try the dragon fruit in Hanoi.
fighting cock islands hanoi, halong bay
Fighting cock islands which can also be found imprinted on a 200,000 Vietnam dong.
Cave exploration guidelines - in Vietnamese, English, and Chinese.
Cave exploration guidelines – in Vietnamese, English, and Chinese.
caves in halong bay
There was an amazing display of different colored lights reflecting on the limestone.
Green and orange lights on the stalactites. Beautiful sight.
Green and orange lights on the stalactites. Beautiful sight.
I imagine... jellyfish!
I imagine… jellyfish!
It was cold and damp inside the caves, but not really scary. It was very relaxing inside. It was a visual feast.
It was cold and damp inside the caves, but not really scary. It was very relaxing inside. It was a visual feast.
Majestic formations inside the cave. Something that will always make me in awe of God's creations.
Majestic formations inside the cave. Something that will always remind me of God’s wonderful creations.

For the rest of our stay in Hanoi, we walked around the area and with the help of an iPhone map, located some of the landmarks that we should also stop by at.

A temple across Hoan Kiem lake which is open to the public.
A temple across Hoan Kiem lake which is open to the public.
The text was in Vietnamese so we really weren't able to figure out if this was a government office of some sort. It looked straight out of a postcard.
The text was in Vietnamese so we really weren’t able to figure out if this was a government office of some sort. It looked like a photo straight out of a postcard.
st. joseph's cathedral, hoan kiem lake, hanoi
St. Joseph’s Cathedral near Hoan Kiem lake.
shabu shabu in hanoi
On our last day, we tried Shabu-shabu, Hanoi style.

I never regret having toured around Hanoi despite its simplicity and likeness to the streets of Manila. In fact, that made everything a bit easier for us. The people in generally were friendly, but expect that not everyone understands straight English.

I’d like to share some tips if and when you plan on seeing the country for yourself:

When buying something, you just point and ask how much. Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask because they will tell you how much. Just make sure you check your money carefully before paying because the many zeros on the paper bills make it confusing at times.

Bring US dollars with you because there are no money changers in the area which can convert Philippine Peso to Vietnam Dong. (current conversion: Php1.00 = 508.57VND)

Bring an umbrella with you in case your trip is scheduled during Hanoi’s winter season (November to April). During my visit there, it was cold at night and even drizzling at times.

Bring or download a map, or better yet, activate your phone’s GPS. In Dong Xuan, there are many streets and alleyways which might confuse you so you better have a handy map to check if you get lost.

There’s no Starbucks in Hanoi so if you’re craving for coffee, you have to settle for the other coffee shops. There’s a Highlands Coffee shop branch in front of Hoan Kiem lake.

Be careful when crossing! Motorcycles are all over the place. They don’t mind sometimes even if the traffic light signals them to stop.

Hanoi is where Kipling and The North Face bags are manufactured, so bring extra money for shopping! Authentic bags are sold even in tiangge-looking areas so make sure you know how to differentiate an original from a fake one. They’re about PHP1-2k cheaper than the ones sold here.

Bring rubber shoes and flip-flops for walking around the city. Sunnies and caps will also be useful in the afternoon. You’ll do a lot of walking around the city if you take the Hanoi City tour.

Hanoi is one hour behind Manila. Flight duration from Manila to Hanoi is about 2 hours and 30 minutes. For this trip, I spent around Php15,000 which included all my expenses (except for the unreasonably high travel tax and airport fees in NAIA).

Check out their tourism website here for more information. You can also read articles from http://www.selectiveasia.com/vietnam-holidays which can help you plan your Vietnam trip.

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9 thoughts on “Travel Journal: Hanoi, Vietnam 2012

  1. J.B.

    This was awesome! I enjoyed it very much. I’ve been to Saigon before and I’m planning to go to Hanoi in December. I look forward to it.
    And you are a such a cutie! Enjoyed your pictures a lot. Thank you! — J.B.

      1. I’d also recommend Macau… I guess I just fell in love with it. The architecture, old churches, museums… And I enjoyed walking around aimlessly, people watching, 🙂

      2. J.B.

        Ohhh you’re a people watcher? Me too.
        I’ve been to Hong Kong, but not Macau.
        Have you been to Indonesia? If yes, where – and did you enjoy it?

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