Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hanoi - Emerald Water Hotel

23-Nov-2017, Hanoi - With the Halong Bay trip behind us, I have achieved what I wanted to achieve in Hanoi, which is tracking in Sapa, and a seeing Halong Bay. Now it was time to just relax, do a little bit of shopping, and wait for our flight back to Singapore. So I purposely choose the best hotel in my option to spend the next 2 nights in, which happens to be Emerald Water Hotel in Hanoi Old District area. At an average of SGD70 per night, it was slightly more expensive, but have great review about the place. 

Check-in was a breeze. While you wait, they treated you to a welcome drink which was so refreshing, it was actually made of turnip! Never tried it before, it was delightful. They also serve us a fruit platter each. The receptionist handed us a map of the area, and what made the service above the rest was, he actually took the time to explained to us what was around, what we like to do, and suggested places to visit etc. I thought that was just wow! So I went to my room and wrote an awesome review for them. It was kinda embarrassing cause when I went back down to book airport transfer, they already knew about my review and thank me and made the rest of the trip really wonderful!

The room was rather small, and the lift was under maintenance when we reach. Luckily we were on the 2nd floor, and the hotel staff offered to bring up our luggage. The bed was decorated with towels folded into dragonflies! It reminded me of our cruise trip. So the first photo was what the bedroom  looked like. The toilet itself has beautiful colourful mosaic walls. 

I don't know whether it was the great review or not, but on the next day, this was what we came back to! A bed full of love and rose petals! I think this is the first time someone decorated my bed with rose petal! I was so delighted! Thank you! And in case I forgot to mention, I super love the bedsheets they use in this hotel. It was super comfortable that I would have love spending my whole holiday just sleeping in them!

Apart from the location, the great service etc, breakfast was also provided, and it is served at the top floor. If you are early, you can sit at the table outdoor and the patio over looking the neighbourhood. The spread was not too bad either, and the service was just excellent. We also splurged on a massage while we were there since they gave hotel guest a 40% off. I had a 1 hour body massage and 30 minutes of foot reflexology I think. It cost around SGD40 for that. The massage was just ok. I preferred the massage I had in Ho Chi Minh anytime, not only for the price, but also for the service. Plus, I preferred an non-aircon room massage place cause it somehow makes the massage more effective. 

I highly recommend staying at this hotel, for its wonderful service, and great location, and lovely everything! It's small, but neat and classy. Will definitely come back here again the next time I am in Hanoi!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Hanoi - Halong Bay Cave Exploration

24-Nov-2017, Halong Bay - The next morning, after breakfast, we took the tender boat out again and this time, to some cave exploration activities. Above is a photo taken from inside the cave looking out. I just love the silhouettes feel of the whole picture. Anyway, the tender boat let us off at another small island, and even though we were quite early, it was already crowded with people queueing up to go into the cave. In order to enter the cave, you first have to climb up some steps to the mouth of the cave. And that was another moment which I remind myself that it is always to go travelling when you are still young and your body is able! Don't wait!

There are steps going down. Some part of the cave is natural, and some has been reinforced by humans to hold up the structure. It was well lit inside. I would have appreciate it if it was only white or yellow light, but as you see later on, they got kinda creative and included some coloured lights as well, which kinda makes it cheesy looking.

There are guided path which you just follow, easy enough. But it was amazing how beautiful it was inside, and really really huge and deep too! As you go deeper and deeper, the whole place just opens up like another world inside. And then you get a Journey to the Centre of the Earth kinda feel to it. I just love it!

The cave was so huge you could fit a few village inside here! And you also start to wonder how dark would it be without all those artificial lightings. Would it be cold too? Any dark creatures dwelling inside? So super awesome!

Can you get lost inside? 

Where does it all lead to?

But all to soon, the walk came to an end and the stairs started leading you towards day light. Even the ending was a beautiful journey and you started to see sunlight and greens. 

I initially wanted to booked a tour that has dining in a cave, but they were all over my budget. So having to visit at least one cave in my Halong Bay tour was really special to me. Actually when I was looking through all the photos of my Vietnam trip, I found that I looked the happiest and most excited while I was going through these maze of underground cave! The excitement in my eyes were unmistaken showing how I felt inside. This trip alone was worth it. It was a ticket to explore another world within this Earth we live in :)

Finally, another cheesy ending of chinese looking bridges leading us out into the pier again where our boat awaits us. And so ends our trip of Halong Bay as our cruise make its way back to the harbour. We still have a few days left in Hanoi before we headed home to our mundane life. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Hanoi - Legacy Cruise Room and Dinner

23-Nov-2017, Halong Bay - Let me share a bit on our room on board the Legacy Cruise. We got the more expensive room - Ocean View. But I kinda regret it cause the only window view was out to the corridor, so you don't really get that much privacy. Although there weren't many people walking by, still, no privacy. But it was cool to just stand outside. I love the wood feel of the whole ship. Very Mississippi. 

This is what the room inside looked like, with toilet attached. There is actually a double bed and a single bed. So it was rather spacious. Water bottled was provided, as well as toiletries. I think we paid around USD150 per person for the cruise, which includes return ride from Hanoi, 2D1N and all meals provided, including all the activities and admission tickets. It was kinda the cheapest I could find. Feel free to bargain the price! I sure did! 

This is our room number and room key. 

On the first and only night, the dinner was nice. Above was actually a very delicious prawn. But limited to 2 per person. It was more of a communal kind of dining. The food wasn't really that great, but you can't say you will go hungry either. For some reason, they always serve the meat first, and the vegetable last which kinda irritates me. Most of the dishes were fried, cause I guess it is easier to prepare.

Tour guide also taught us how to make Vietnamese spring rolls. If you know how to make popiah, you sure can make spring rolls. I don't really like Vietnamese spring rolls unless they are deep fried!

I guess because the ingredient are kinda too healthy for me. I prefer popiah or kueh pie-tee!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hanoi - Kayaking at Halong Bay

23-Nov-2017, Halong Bay - The 2nd stop of our cruise was for kayaking activities. Although we weren't going for the kayaking, we decided to tag along anyway since there wasn't much to do on the cruise. So the tender boat took us to a floating hut-kinda island-like platform for there others to go kayaking from. Above is just a view from the island. 

All the kayaking equipment were provided for. If you don't feel like joining, you can hang around and wait while just admiring the view. We just stood there in the cold talking to new friends we made and getting to know people. 

Most of them went off to kayak, some for the first time. They were allowed to kayak all the way our, lead by the tour guide, and make their way back only when it was dark, which was like 6pm.

This photo shows the other side of the island. There is a hut there with what looks like a bar inside, but there was nobody there to entertain us cause well, winter. I think it would have been nice to have drinks and bbq here on a warmer weather. It look so kokomo!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hanoi - Ti-Top Island

23-Nov-2017, Halong Bay - Above is the classic photo shot of Halong Bay, beautiful, serene, peaceful, green, surreal etc. This was taken at the top of Ti-Top Island, one of the very first stop of our Halong Bay cruise. But don't be fooled by the photo. Continue to read on and I will explain.

Above is a GPS map photo of what Halong Bay actually looks like, a few 1069 islands in a cluster? It is a maze of limestone island. You have to be there to believe how massive it is. You can surely get lost in it. 

And this is Ti-Top Island. Looks pretty Chinese-HongKong-ish to me. The goal was to attempt to climb to the peak to get the most beautiful view of Halong Bay. So everyone kinda made a bee line towards the steps leading up. These are the few trips I am glad I didn't wait until I am old to make. The steps were steep! And slippery due to the sand. And there wasn't mush hand rail for you either. The fact that I hurt my hand while jumping across a river in Sapa didn't help at all as my thumb was more or less like jelly. Every time I accidentally bang into it, it goes the other way like a broken sausage. But still, we made the climb, so that we can share the beautiful view with you all!

Above are all the tourist tender boat parking to let their passenger off Ti-Top Island. After which they have to move out so other boat can also come ashore. There was a lot of horning, so it wasn't actually that peaceful on the island at all.

And this is what the beach actually looks like! To me, this was too crowded!

And from the top, you can actually see so many cruise dotting the water all over Halong Bay! Just remember, this is low season due to the cold weather! Even then, we had to queue to climb up the peak! Can you imagine how crowded it would get during peak season! Ya, no thanks. I am glad I came in winter! I don't do well in crowd.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Hanoi - 2D1N Halong Legacy Cruise

23-Nov-2017, Halong Bay - Around 9am, a bus came and picked us from our hotel and off we headed to Halong Bay! I have booked us a 2D1N cruise recommended by an ex-colleague. The name of the cruise is shown in the photo above - Legacy Cruise! All meals included too! The bus ride there was around 3 hours, with a toilet break at a cheesy factory outlet in the middle selling souvenirs etc.

When we finally reached the bay area, we were transferred into a smaller tender boat. Above is our young captain and the registered number of the boat.

We were required to wear life-jackets whenever we are on the boat. And above are all the people whom we will be spending our cruise with. The guy standing is Mr Can, and he is our tour guide for the trip. 

This is still our travel companion, but on a more relaxing mode headed somewhere. There was a mixed of people. Interestingly female travellers made up the majority, with even a solo female Canadian nurse we befriend.

On the cruise ship, everything is made of wood. Above is what the dining area look like. There is also a bar there so you can have drinks and snack, seated there while looking out at the beautiful Halong Bay.

The ship is equipped with a kitchen where all our meals are prepared. It looked like a typical chinese kitchen. The door you see here leads right into the sea. Chinese tea cups are there for the workers attending to us on this trip.

Here's a different view of the kitchen. 

The ship has 3 level. The bottom level is where most of the rooms are located. The 2nd level is where the dining area is. Our room was also located at the 2nd level cause I decided on a sea view room. And at the 3rd level is just an open deck where you can sit and relax and watch Halong Bay cruises by.

It was actually very pleasant to just sit there and watch the world go by, if only it wasn't so bloody cold. We went during the winter turning time, so the temperature was rather low. And when the wind blows, it is better to find cover. Even then,  I spend most of my 2nd day here in the freezing wind just to enjoy the beautiful lime stone island and small floating boats all around. 

Here is a view from outside our room. You can see the tender boat docking near it to let us in and out.  There is another cruise just beside us. You can't imagine how crowded Halong is until you are really there. Note we went during the low season too! I will post more photos of the Halong Bay boat traffic in my future entries. Stay tune!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Hanoi - Pizza 4P

22-Nov-2017, Hanoi - After visiting the Maison Centrale, we walked towards the Old Quarter's again, and just could't decide what to eat. So we decided to walk around the lake again, and could't find anything that interest us. I have been craving Pizza 4P since a week ago in HCM, so I suggested to go there since there is one in Hanoi within walking distance. The magic word to get people to go where you want is to say "I treat you". And ta-dah, we are here! And the shop in Hanoi is so much more awesome than the one in HCM. Yes, everything in Hanoi is truly better than in HCM! Lol.

First of all, the whole deco of the shop, double story, was so spacious and industrial like that it looked like something out of a designer magazine. The lighting was also beautiful. And since it is a pizza place, you can actually see the cook making pizza right in front of you. There is also two huge stone oven in the store. Everything so modern and chic! I'm glad I drag my husband in here!

First thing first, solve the craving! Carbonara! Above is carbonara with seaweed. It was a lot stronger than the HCM version, and it didn't quite hit the spot for me. I think it was too salty and seaweedy. I did finish it. It wasn't half bad. I suspect I might have ordered the wrong dish. I recall the one I had in HCM was creamier and meatier and cheesier.... 

My husband went for the crab pasta since he was getting a free treat. It looked impressive enough. He said it tasted good too! Bonus point.

I also recommended parma ham. We ordered two. I had these in HCM and it was delicious cause the herbs was somehow so freaking fresh. It was the same here. 

Instead of Ginger Ale, I had Lemonade, and this is how they serve them. So if you order their home made soft drinks, you actually get fresh juice with tonic water served, which is kinda awesome for me. Cause I hate soft drinks and artificial flavouring. Here you can adjust the syrup to your drink based on your own liking. This is a plus plus plus point for me!

My husband of course, had a beer. In bill in total was rather cheap, maybe less than SGD50 for all the above? My pasta is around SGD12 to SGD15, can't quite remember, but it was so much better than whatever you can get in Singapore for that price. I also found out that the "P" in Pizza 4P actually stands of "Peace". Will I come again? Heck yes! I love the food here!

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.