Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Notes on Ha Long Bay and Hanoi, Vietnam

Old cities that have withstood time always draw my attention. Especially if the city hides behind the shadow of a bigger and more famous one, Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam. Yet Ho Chi Minh City seems to be the destination favoured by many tourists. Although I have never been to HCMC, I was told that it is more developed than the city capital. But then I still chose to go to Hanoi with two of my friends because of Ha Long Bay. The bay is famous for its limestone islands and rock cliffs scattered along that north eastern coast of Vietnam and almost close to the border of China. Everything you need to know about getting there and going around can be found in several internet sites but I would like to share is how enigmatic Ha Long Bay is which is quite the same thing I felt with Hanoi City. If you are the type who enjoys laid back atmosphere and to be in a city that still possess the magic of olden days. Head to Hanoi and visit the Old Quarter and the French Quarter. Although luxury shops and boutique hotels are scattered in the French Quarter area, many of these establishments are housed in French-inspired buildings in the olden days. The tallest buildings probably reaches only up to 5th and 6th storeys in these area (you can correct me if I am wrong and I am only referring to that area in the French and Old Quarters). The absence of western capitalism is very evident considering this is the capital city of the country. In the Old Quarter you can visit shop houses anywhere in the streets. At night, they also have night markets which sells cheaper than the shop houses that are open anytime of the day.

Hanoi Opera House, one of the best preserved French-Colonial Building in Hanoi

Hoan Kiem Lake

St. Joseph's Cathedral, Old Quarter

The most striking part for me in the city is how people hang out together in the streets seating in low plastic benches surrounding each other while feasting on pumpkin seeds, pho hoa (local noodles) and Hanoi beer. Although it messes up the city because of the dirt scattered all over, I still feel like it is an important part of their tradition to have this kind of gathering like after work or during their breaks.

People hanging out in small plastic chairs just outside the St. Joseph Cathedral

You can also visit some of the important sites in the city. I recommend walking to tour the city if you are up to it. Renting motor bikes are also recommended although the streets are infested with tons of motorbikes that you can count the cars and buses rather than motorbikes.

Junction between the night market and Hoan Kiem Lake

Opposite the junction between the night market and Hoan Kiem Lake

The majestic and old Temple of Literature

A common sight to see in the streets. A bread vendor in her bike.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Presidential Palace

Their traditional rickshaw or tuktuk

A fruit vendor with her bike

It just taste right

Ha Long Bay is lovely. I recommend it for a couple who wants to have a longer stay and sleep in the boat overnight. But be careful of choosing the operator of your tour. The locals may take advantage of you. We stayed in The Time Hotel in the Old Quarter and they recommended us a day tour but unfortunately, our tour operator and the boat sucks big time. Do not expect those brown boats you see on the internet as they no longer exist. If you want to have a pleasant stay, I suggest you enquire at this operator:
If you are on couples tour, spend a little more and go for the luxury ones to avoid disappointments. Remember, you only get what you paid for on a budget so do not expect. Our tour operator used the same boat as published here in darianculbert.com (Day Cruise US$45). So if you have a little extra go on a more expensive one to enjoy the ride.

With Roshele and Ian

Docking area

One of the scenic island in Ha Long Bay and it appears in their 200,000 Vietnam Dong

Ha Long Bay

Aerial view of Ha Long Bay from a postcard

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay

We still did enjoy our day cruise although the food was quite disorganized. It’s like they just served whatever they have in the kitchen without thinking of the combination. 

Hanoi and Ha Long, Vietnam
April 5 - 7, 2013

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