Vacation Photos: Hanoi

As usual, I’m terribly late in posting vacation photos, but better late than never! V and I took a trip to Hanoi and Ha Long Bay early last month. It was Ylsa and Ligia’s last weekend in Asia, so the whole Rincones family came along. Here is us at the airport gate, with Ylsa proudly displaying her colorful accessories and bag from Bangkok!

We arrived in Hanoi at lunchtime. The hotel was nice enough to pick us up at the airport. Because V and I never see the point of paying too much for our accommodation (after all, we’re only there to sleep after full days of exploring and both of us are good sleepers), and at the time not knowing that the Rinconeses would join us, we chose a 2/3-star hotel at the heart of the Hong Kiem district. As it turned out, the hotel is located on a really narrow, chaotic alley! Ylsa even made a few jokes about the amazing and exotic Marigold hotel (Have you seen the movie? It’s awesome! If you haven’t, all you need to know now is that it is about an old, abandoned hotel which is neither exotic nor amazing).

It’s not so bad, by the way. Our rooms are small but clean. Through the recommendation of the really perky receptionist at our hotel (we now get why so many reviews of the hotel cited the friendly staff), we had lunch at Bun Cha. Just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel, Bun Cha is a street-side eatery serving authentic Vietnamese pork noodles. That’s all they have on the menu, by the way, so we didn’t have to order! The foods were all laid out before us the moment we sat down.

I was initially happy to see so much greens, but the leaves left an unpleasant aftertaste, so after a while I stopped eating it. The noodles, the pork, and the broth tasted light and fresh, but I didn’t think they were that special. I guess Vietnamese food is not up my narrow alley. And call me crazy, but I am quite certain we were cheated here. When we finished eating, we were asked to pay 500,000 Vietnamese Dong! Granted, it’s 30 Singapore dollars, but in a street-side eatery in Vietnam, that is hugely expensive! So remember guys, be not as stupid. Knowing the price before you sit down and eat is always a good idea.

Our bellies full, we then took to the streets. We passed by an old cathedral bearing a resemblance to Notre Dame, walked along the French quarter (and wondered what was French about it), spotted a vintage car parked in front of an equally vintage (and luxurious!) hotel, and arrived at the city square. What the photos may not show you is HOW MANY, COUNTLESS motorcycles on the street, and the streetlights and traffic rules in general did not seem to apply to them. To cross the street, you need to throw your common sense and self-preservation out the window and trust the complete strangers on their motorcycles not to hit you. Perfect therapy for control freaks.

We also passed by Hoan Kiem Lake, where, legend has it, a man retrieved a magical sword, promised to return it once he became king of the land, and made good on his promise. Perhaps that’s why there’s a temple in the middle of the lake?

It was a hot, hot day, and Lygia was sweating buckets! The cacophony around us didn’t help. I got a little stressed just looking around, but the locals were very nonchalant and they seemed to enjoy a relatively slow-paced life. At one point in our walk, a fruitseller approached us and let Ylsa try the weight of her wares. She even passed her her wooden hat!

In the evening, it cooled down a little and I took the chance to wear my blue maxi dress out. We made friends with a German girl named Katrin (She went backpacking around the world by herself!) and ended up having Vietnamese beef noodles for dinner, stopping at a cafe for ice cream, and closing the night with a few cups of coffee.

I am quite proud that I tried the local weasel coffee. The coffee beans used in the making were secreted by weasels, and apparently the digestive juices of the weasels enhanced their aroma and flavor. I’m no coffee connoiseur, but the coffee did smell really good. It tasted too strong for my liking though. Ever the sweet tooth, I love my coffee sweet and creamy.

And of course, the caffeine didn’t get in the way of me and my good night sleep. They never do.