Hubby · Travel · Words

Hanoi/HLB/Sapa – Part I

Decided on visiting a SEA country this year for our couple trip, because the hub wants to go somewhere scenic (think mountains and forests..thanks to a photography bug) instead of a city. So after a few recommendations from his friends, we planned a visit to Vietnam.

Our plan is simple: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay and Sapa.

DAY 1 (16 Apr 2017, Sunday) Hanoi
Our flight was about three hours and we reached Noi Bai Aiport at about 3:30pm. After getting a 12GB data plan for VND300,000 (SGD 18.75), we grabbed a Banh Mi (one of the best I had) and hopped onto our Uber ride.

Please, please don’t take any of the taxis offered by the “Tourist Information” counters at the airport. They tried to charge us USD 23 (SGD 32.20) to our hotel. We paid about SGD 17 using Uber.

Hanoi is a really chaotic city. When our driver pulled up abruptly on a busy, narrow street we thought he’d brought us to the wrong place. But our hotel’s door was really across the street and stepping into Oriental Central Hotel, we were pleasantly surprised by its clean decor and warm service. It’s such a contrast! I continually get this feeling over the days we were here.

We had three dinners that night. 😛
Bun Cha Ta – Grilled pork and rice noodles

Although the place was packed with expats, food was authentic and affordable. Just a little more that those from a local restaurant coffee shop.
Walked the night market but it was barely open at 6:30pm and ended up at Bia Hoi aka Beer Corner.

It was a street lined with bars and everyone was just sitting on their little stools with beer and bar bites, outward facing. Very French.
We sat at one of them with good rating from Trip Advisor and ordered our food and drinks when the authorities came and we were chased away, “No beer, sorry, no beer!”

Apparently our stools were placed outside the licensed boundary of the store and they had to evacuate the customers. Thank God we hadn’t paid! Popped over to another random bar that was not nearly as full and ordered our beers and some bites. The beers are VND 30,000 (SGD 1.80)! Too cheap, seriously.

Walking back to the hotel we saw Xoi Yen, a bustling food store with a long queue of locals and still coming in waves on their motorbikes.

Staff preparing orders at breakneck speed

Of course we had to order – Corn with mung bean and shallots topped with egg and char siew. (We were googling as we ate, figuring out what was what, haha)

DAY 2 (17 Apr 2017, Monday) Hanoi
We had a huge breakfast at the hotel.
Other than cooked food, cereal and fruits from the buffet, we could place our orders with the cook! Check out the menu card.

Took a morning stroll at Hoan Kiem Lake and went to the Vietnam Women’s Museum.
We learnt about the roles of Vietnamese women through the ages, from child bearing to education of children to providers of the home and engaging in guerrilla warfare.

Then we went to the Ho Loa Prison museum. It’s quite depressing seeing how the prisoners were tortured for political reasons.

Lunch at Mr Bay Mien Tay after the educational morning.
Again, noob us ordered whatever looked good on the menu and were presented with an overflowing table of food.

Walked along the French Quarter and ended up having a massage at Van Xuan from all that walking. Possibly cheapest massage in Hanoi at VND 190,000 (SGD 11.55) for 70mins full body massage!
Pampered ourselves again with a mani and pedicure then dinner at Pho Suong. Our hotel reception claims it’s the best Beef Pho in town, and we agree!
I relaxed at the room for the night while Ks went for yet another massage! He loved it so much he couldn’t stop raving about it. (More about it later)

DAY 3 (18 Apr 2017, Tuesday) – Ha Long Bay
After breakfast, we were picked up by a minivan to the jetty to board our Bhaya Classic Cruise.

Lunch was sumptuous and views were so pretty!

First Kayaking adventure (for me) at Light and Dark cave

We also went swimming on a platform. The water was warm and cold at the same time! It’s such an odd sensation, you’ve got to try it to understand. As one other guest put it, it’s like someone peed in there, haha!
There was a cooking class where you get to try your hand at wrapping spring rolls and sample the delicious freshly fried rolls.

Happy hour was also ongoing and we were chilling at the deck with our beautiful cocktails.
Dinner was a 5-course set and we were extremely stuffed at the end of it.

Squid fishing was available in the night but it started raining after a while and we didn’t get to do it.

DAY 4 (19 Apr 2017, Wednesday) – Ha Long Bay/ Hanoi
There was a Tai chi class in the soft morning rain and a light breakfast before we were whisked off to the Sung Sot cave or Surprise cave.

There we learnt the ancient legend of Ha Long Bay which means Bay of the Descending Dragon. Walked up and down the 700 odd steps and the cave was delightful. The play with lights on the limestone is amazing.

Packed up and loaded up at Brunch to begin the 3 hour bus ride back to Hanoi.
Note that the bus rides to and from cruises are rather horrible, especially so for our from leg. Weak wifi was available, but the bus was old and creaky, seats were uncomfortable, windows dirty, and roads were so bumpy. Worst of all, they bring you to tourist stops getting you buy snacks/ handicrafts and make you spend half an hour there. Then our bus driver decided he wanted to wash the car after the half hour.. so there we were, 8 of us from the minibus, waiting in the sun, for him to scrub the vehicle. Complete waste of an hour added to the journey.

Craving some Banh Mi after the bad travelling and tried out Banh My Pho Co.
Here’s our with beef, pate and egg. Only cost us VND 50,000 (SGD 3.02)

Decided to check out Cafe Pho Co since we had time before our massage booking. It’s a really interesting cafe and Ks and I vote that it serves the best egg coffee out of the ones we’ve tried.

Be sure to climb all the way up to enjoy the view!

Ks really wanted me to try the awesome massage at Spas Hanoi, so here we are! Rated a whopping 4.8 stars on Google, it’s service really was exceptional. They took a survey to check the parts of the body you needed more attention to and also the strength preference.

Had our dinner at Bum Bo Nam Bo

This joint is a few doors from Mr Bay. It serves the same dish but tastes quite different. While it’s cheaper and more worth it because there’s more beef in the bowl, the other one has more crunch from the shallots and peanuts.
Sure, different preferences for different people!

Continue on our journey right here!


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