Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Hanoi - Maison Centrale a.k.a. Hanoi Hilton

22-Nov-2017, Hanoi - The old jail of Hanoi is opened to the public early in the morning at 9am. Pay a normal fee and you can visit this historical site in the middle of Hanoi city. Above is one of the wall inside the jail. Kinda reminds me of Attack of Titan somehow.... Anyway, I wanted to visit this place mainly due to the Vietnam War, and also that I have never actually visited a jail before. And since this place was nearby, open in the early morning, and not too expensive, I thought why not. It would be educational!

The name of this jail is so pretty too - Maison Centrale. It was also known as the Hanoi Hilton as it houses mainly American soldiers during the war. I don't really know or cared much about war, so everything inside was new to me. Interestingly I have visited the Hiroshima Museum before too. This visit was kinda similar in terms of feel and emotion, Hiroshima being a more emotional sad one. This jail was rather brightly coloured in yellow, and with beautiful tiles inside, and lovely solid looking dark green door. 

But don't be fooled. According to this sign above, this is one of the most secured jail in South East Asia during it's time. And although it looks rather small in all these photos here, the actual ground has actually been release for commercial use, and they have just left the core building for historical sake. 

Inside there are replica to help you imagine what it was like to be held as a prisoner here. One crowded hall with prisoners of war, and just one toilet with no privacy in one end of the room.

Or solitary confinement cells which is dark and small. Kinda look like a scene from some horror movie doesn't it? It doesn't really feel eery or scary for me. There was no echo not any goosebumps on my skin while I was there. It was just educational....

There were cells holding people who were sentence to death as well. Again, nothing unusual about their cells either. It was just boring walls and bars of keeping human inside.

There was a shrine at one end of the cells for people to pay respect. The whole place was for vietnamese people to come and pay respect of the people who fight for vietnam during the war. How even though they were prisoner, their spirit was high and patriotism was strong among comrades. 

I can't really read proper Vietnamese except food signs and coffee signs, but I bet above is some message to keep the spirit high. I bet it's about keeping the independence of Vietnam and it's people. The whole place may be a one-sided story kind of place, but it was still new to me, and interesting. I am easily fooled by propaganda

There is even a framed new year message from Uncle Ho inside. It looks kinda, well... non-official. 

But all in all, I do recommend people to visit this place, to learn a bit about the history of Vietnam and Hanoi. If you want to read up more on the truth of what happened here after that, there is always the internet or history book you can reference too. Just remember, history is written by the victor.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hanoi - Stop-over Day

22-Nov-2017, Hanoi - Our train pulled into Hanoi around 5am? We waited for someone to pick us up to send us to our hotel, but nobody ever came. So we decided to walk to our hotel instead before the traffic started to get crazy. It was quite a long walk, mainly due to us having to drag our luggage with us on the road with us. Luckily it was a straight road to our hotel and we managed to reach there really early. Unfortunately although they say check-in is anytime, they ask us to pay half a day's fee to check-in early. Note that this was the most expensive hotel that we were staying in our entire trip, and the service was pretty lousy on first impression. We decided not to pay, and said we'll come back later. Leaving our bags there, we went out to look for breakfast. The hotel was situated on a big main road where a lot of embassies were located. I even managed to find my bank branch there and snapped a photo of it for my collection. Above is one of the sights on the road. 

First thing first, breakfast! And after dragging my husband around looking for a few pho, I drag him into an alley and had a squad down sitting type of pho. Lady selling it couldn't communicate with us, so she showed us whether we wanted chicken or pork and showing us the actual meat. We pick chicken and sat down and wait for the food. Above is what was served. It was yummy but too herb-ish for me. It cost less than SGD2. I can't quite remember how much it cost actually. Maybe 30k VND?

Even after breakfast, it was still too early to visit any attraction. I wanted to visit the jail there since I've never been to a jail before. But it opens at 9am. So we decided to spend some time in a cafe drinking coffee. Above is one of the cafe we went to. This is the 2nd floor view, and we sat at the edge looking over the cross street. I really really love it cause the weather was lovely and cold, but it was apparently too cold for my husband, so we moved indoor downstairs where he took a nap while I read the newspaper. Finally after 930am, we made our way to the jail which was just 5 minutes walk away.

Above is what the jail looked like. It was called Maison Centrale, which reminded me of Japan (Maison Ikkouku), and Italy (Centrale means Central, like Terminal Centrale) both at the same time. Which actually doesn't make sense for the Japan part cause Maison is actually a French word... Anyway, I will post about the jail in a separate post. Stay tune.

So apart of visiting the jail, we also wondered around town a bit looking for lunch. I will blog about lunch in a separate post too. But past forward to our check-in, we finally managed to check-in to our hotel at around 230pm. I was so sleepy I just took a bath and nap all the way. I didn't even went out for dinner. It was like a solid staycation for me.

Above is what our room looked like. It was nicer than the rest of the hotel, but there was a permanent smell of fried food in the room. I suspect the kitchen or restaurant was nearby, and the smell was really stagnant in the room. My husband actually went out for a massage and dinner without me. But I was too tired and just slept all the way.

Above is what the lobby of the hotel looked like, all woody and kinda european looking. The name of the hotel was De Sylvia Hotel. I actually wrote a bad review about them, which they email back to apologies for the misunderstanding on the 24hour check-in issue and promptly updated the website information in accordingly. But overall, the damaged had been done. I guess they cater to a  more upper class business client. I felt pretty much ignored through out my stay. Even the breakfast staff's service in the restaurant the next morning was quite bad, with hardly any service. Which goes to show that expensive doesn't always mean the best. The only thing I am glad about this place was that I didn't leave the hotel the moment I checked in till the moment I checked out, which makes it kinda value for money. Lol. Make sense?

And although the mini bar is not free, it was rather well stocked. And I really love the tea set and coffee set available. If only it had better view, or if I weren't so tired, I would have love to just spend some time sipping coffee or drinking tea with those adorable drink sets! Will I be back here staying in this luke warm hotel? Hell no! I found an awesome hotel on our last two night stay in Hanoi which I will write about later on!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Hanoi - Sapa Hotel Day 2

21-Nov-2017, Sapa - Our last stop is back to the first hotel we arrived at, Panorama Hotel. The tour agency is actually at the ground floor of this hotel, along with a hiking lobby where you can store your luggage, take a bath, freshen up, get a massage etc. Convenient. And they serve breakfast when we first arrived in Sapa here, and our last meal of dinner would also be here. The start and end of our journey.

Above is basically what the breakfast buffet would look like. You can just go to the corner at the right side and load up anything you like and get a seat. Wifi is available although a bit weak at times. The place was beautifully decorated. Kinda reminded me of some Korean country resort. 

This is actually the hotel reception area. We weren't staying here, so never used the service before. But it just looks so cosy.

And I just love it when there are beautiful art pieces decorating the place.

And cosy corner with fresh flower is always a thumbs up!

They also have this whole wall of pickles and preserved stuff. Apparently some are actually local alcohol! We did ordered one glass for dinner, and it felt and taste like gasoline if ever I imagine what gasoline taste like! Super strong!

There was significantly less people when we came here for our dinner. We were actually early, having dinner at around 5pm. Dinner was provided, and they were rather generous with the food. Below is what we got: one starter which we both ordered spring rolls, a main consisting of meat/fish teppanyaki style and rice, and dessert which I ordered pancakes! The food was too oily and strong in seasoning for me after having village food for the past two days. But it was value for money!

To close of the entry on Sapa, I will share that our whole trip of 4 night 3 day in Sapa cost us around SGD350 per person which is inclusive of: 
  • Return night sleeper train to and from Hanoi
  • Train station transfer by car at Hanoi
  • Train station transfer by car at Sapa
  • 1 breakfast
  • 2 lunch
  • 1 dinner
  • 2 days guided hike
  • entry tickets to villages
  • 1 night hotel stay

Just to note, nobody pick us up when we arrive via train at Hanoi. We waited about half and hour and decided to walk to our hotels instead. I thought that was kind of a wasted ending to an other wise quite an enjoyable tour. To fail at the last leg seems to put to waste all the effort that everyone have put in for the whole trip. I didn't feedback to them officially since they didn't follow up with a post trip survey either. Yes the package was expensive. We could have probably found a cheaper alternative. But I have no regret selecting this tour, especially if the locals learn from our trip, I am OK with it.

Sapa Tour Reference

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Hanoi - Sapa Village Day 2

21-Nov-2017, Sapa - The last stop we visited was a slightly bigger village. Above is the village name. This was taken in the main road of the village. An American friend of mine told me it looked like the Wild Wild West. Allow me to zoom out a bit more for you to see better.

So this is what the whole main street look like. I was taking it outside a grocery store at the start/end of the main street. On the left you can see ladies with red head cloth gathering. They are making handicraft to sell to tourist who visit the town. Since it was rainy and muddy, the whole town was rather quiet.

There was a butcher shop in town as well. Above is what it looked like. It reminded me of the Stephen Chow movie titled "To Beijing With Love" featuring the spy who was undercover as a butcher. That was the reason I took this picture.

Here again are the beautiful ladies of Sapa.

And this is what they do when a tour bus drives into the village! They run up to them and trying to sell them everything! I was grateful I look asian that they can ignore me :)

I was talking about the grocery shop where I was taking all these photos from. Well above is what the store look like. It also sell food and drink, herbs and whatever. While waiting for our ride, we just look around, and my husband saw what looked like raw honey. We requested to taste it. So the guide help us pour it out. It was quite good! So we bought a bottle of it back.

Around 4pm our ride came to fetch us back to the 1st hotel to freshen up and have dinner before dropping us to the Lao Cai train station to catch the night train back to Hanoi. The ride back was really really bumpy and muddy! We were in a van like mini bus. And when we reach Sapa town, the traffic was also horrible. I prefer the village anytime! 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Hanoi - Lunch Break at Sapa Day 2

21-Nov-2017, Sapa - Since today's hike was rather relaxing after dragging my guide into the river water with me the day before, we reached our midway point quite early, around 1030am. So we decided to have an early slow lunch at this small home restaurant located at the crossroad of a small village. Above is what the 2nd floor where we were seated look like. You'll be grad to know, they have free Wi-fi here! So we weren't bored at all just sitting here waiting for our lunch.

So basically what we did was ordered coffee (duh) while waiting for lunch, and sat next to the window over looking the village crossroad. There was a school nearby cause I keep seeing kids running around outside. Some who look as young as twelve were also riding motorcycles and ferrying their friends as well! We also find it amusing to watch tourist tracking through. This is call people watching! A fine art I have learned to appreciate and can keep me entertain for hours. 

Finally lunch arrived! It was chicken fried noodles! It was also delicious although I still prefer the lunch from the previous day. But I love these ee fu mee kind of noodles and grew quite addicted to it in my stay in Vietnam. So much so that I would eat plates of it if it was served in the hotel breakfast. And if not, I get kinda disappointed. Maybe I should buy some home and try cooking them. They are really fragrant and delicious. Bananas were provided as dessert. 

Here's a coffee-high picture of me. They serve the coffee black, and provided a small serving of condense milk so that you can adjust how much you like it. What I did was remember the condense milk they use, and actually bought some back from the supermarket when we were in Hanoi! I still have them at home. My husband have already finished his, but I haven't made a single Vietnamese coffee since I came back yet as I wanted to purge all the caffeine and alcohol from my body first! Lol. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Hanoi - Tracking in Beautiful Sapa Day 2

21-Nov-2017, Sapa - We woke up and had a great breakfast, and by 9am our guide fetch us from the hotel and off we went again to explore the mysterious Sapa valley. It was still misty, but it kinda added to the mystery of the whole place. Take for instant the photo above of a buffalo in the mist, kinda reminds me of those very typical painting of Vietnam or China where there is one lone buffalo in the rice fields. So beautiful. Like coming out of some poetry book or something. 

But coming back to reality, we actually have to pay an entrance fee to enter some of the villages in Sapa. Apparently these entrance fee was setup by the government, and it was supposed to help the villages. But it doesn't seems to be so effective as I heard this ticket booth itself was actually destroyed by the villages 3 times before and rebuild. Above is our guide purchasing the tickets for us, while I chatted with an aborigine lady who accompany me on our hike. I gave her a rose petal and she told me they use it to make tea to help with tummy upset. One piece of rose petal for information! Totally worth it. 

The village we hike through felt like they were from some Miyazaki anime. Lovely wood cottages, with overrun greeneries, and mist everywhere! I felt like I was in an anime itself. The air was so fresh, and I felt so free just walking around these beautiful villages. To some, all these maybe a bit too much for them, walking on a holiday in the mist on muddy ground? But to me, this is heavenly!

There was one section that has bamboo growing all over. Above is at the edge of where we walk pass just next to the small bamboo forest. It looked like something out of a Japan Kyoto travel broacher.

Here above is a better shot minus the two hikers :P 

We hiked over a lot of open spaces that also reminded me of the chalks of England. Above is overloading the rice fields on top of a slope.

And here are our two hikers walking through the rice terrance in the mist. It's such a National Geography kind of photo eh?

There were kids walking alone or with their friends up and down the muddy path, going home, going to school, going to the shops. Who knows. Can you imagine living here?

And narrow path that lead to more village houses, and little black pig just minding their own business look so cute in this shot! Yes. These are the best of Sapa for me, for this trip. No regret whatsoever that the mist was all over the place. It made it special, it made it our own special trip. Most people will only see the colourful valleys, but we saw the mysterious magical valley of Sapa, and we were very happy with it. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Hanoi - Sapa Kids, Food and Hotel

20-Nov-2017, Sapa - One of the unforgettable things I love about Sapa is how free the children are. They are not really tied down by school and homework and exam. They just roam freely and use play everywhere. They had rosy cheeks and messy hair, and a spirit that I would love in my children if I had any. Wild and free.

They played everywhere. On the slope, on the road, in the mud, with the animals. It was fun watching how carefree they were. I talked to some of the aborigine ladies, and most of them have children when they are 20 or 21 years old. The kids do go to school, but may study only primary school level. Kids as young as twelve could also be seen riding on moto up and down the village steep roads. There is just a sense of freedom that city people can never experience....

Our guide took us via a more challenging route when he saw we were comfortable with the hike. After around 30mins of steep hiking, we stopped by this midway drink shop that also act as a restaurant and grocery shop. They sold ice drinks, but we just got some mineral water to drink. The shop over looks the valley, so it was kinda neat. Our guide had a drink of tea with the owner as we were the only one there, and they offered some to me as well. It was jasmine tea, but very very bitter, served in a small cup just like how they do in China villages. 

Our guide also show us how to smoke using the traditional pipe. This was a communal pipe where you light it up and pass it around. 

We continued our walk, and after I happily feel into the river, it was a short walk before we reach a village were we stopped for lunch. As we stepped into the restaurant, more local folks turn up trying to sell us stuff. But since we are Asians, and there was another table of Caucasian next to us, we were left much to our own except this girl maybe 10 years old who stood beside me all the way trying to send me handbags. She kept repeating 1 bag for 50, 3 bags for 100. But I didn't need any bags. So I told her I wasn't buying. But she stood by anyway, and she was so pretty too I keep looking at her and laughing at her.

I would say I enjoyed the meal here the most. It was a simple village dish, of vegetable, tofu, and meat, but everything was so darn tasty we finished everything except for maybe the rice. 

We call it a day around 5pm and went back to the first hotel to collect our luggage. They then transfer us to our hotel where we would be spending the night. The name was Freesia Hotel, and it looked quite grand, seated on a slope. It was rather misty when we arrive. We were told we would be upgraded to a hill view room. Hurray!

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the view of our upgraded hotel room! lol. I was just happy to be able to change out of my wet dirty clothing. Dinner was not included, so we have to make our way our and find food. I'll write a separate post on that next. 

Here is the view the next morning when it cleared a bit. But still.... lol. Breakfast was included, and it was lovely. The hotel was rather nice actually, except for a kind of traditional smell through out the common area, kinda like cinnamon smell. 

Anyway, look how happy I am! Taken outside the hotel after we had a nice dinner of just snacks and street food! More on that in the next post! I had my hoodie on cause it was still misty and cold.