Hanoi’s Charm

Lake-2

One reason I love Hanoi is this stunning lake. Serene, spellbinding, and picture-perfect – makes for a pleasant walk, and you will definitely walk by it more than once a day.  And because the Old Quarter surrounds it, it is a good reference point when navigating the city.

The-Old-Quarters

Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi.  Everything happens around it, from early morning workouts (think yoga, tai chi and even aerobics) to old men whiling away time playing mahjong and vendors selling their stuff.

Fruit-Vendors

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shops

Not to mention the wandering tourists that flock to this mesmerizing lake. Never a dull moment in this part of the city, that’s for sure.

What makes the lake so smashing is the striking red bridge called The Huc Bridge leaping out of the serene blue-green water.

The-Huc-Bridge

It connects the shore to the Jade Island on the northern coast of the lake.

jade-island

On the island stands the Ngoc Son Temple (the Temple of the Jade Mountain).

Legend has it that in the mid 15th century, Heaven sent Emperor Le Loi a magical sword, which he used to battle against the neighboring countries, driving away the Chinese from Vietnam. When peace prevailed, a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared in the depths of the lake (named Thuy Qua then) inspiring the name Hoan Kiem , which means Lake of the Restored Sword.

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Hanoi At Night

We’re not big on night outs but the mere mention of a “beer corner” got our attention. We learned about it by chance at the hotel lobby and, of course, we had to go.

Beer Corner

Hanoi’s Beer Corner is a strip of a makeshift outdoor bar that spills over from Luong Noc Quyen to Ta Hien Street.

outdoor-bar

It is packed with people (locals and foreigners) sitting on small stools gathered around a little table on the street enjoying their beers. Many also people watch by sitting on stools facing the street.

beer-corner

So there we were in our little corner, sitting (almost squatting) on small wooden chairs, enjoying our beer with food that keeps coming.

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studentsInternational School student (out for a birthday party with friends) explains and recommends to Anton a street food.

We chatted with locals who introduced us to a string of sumptuous street food from the various vendors that scatter the area offering local favorites.

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street-food

hanoi-beer

Night Market

If you find yourself there on a weekend, before heading out to the Beer Corner, the weekend night market might interest you.

night-market

The Dong Xuan Night Market spreads along Hang Giay to Hang Dao Streets, splitting through the center of the Old Quarter. The streets transform into vehicle-free pedestrian lanes (but some motorbikes are seen navigating the streets still) as stalls are set up in the middle of the road.

ceramic-wares

friendly-vendor

I find nothing spectacular with this market, truth to tell – you’ll find a myriad of stalls selling merchandise from clothes to souvenirs to food of all kinds. Having said that, it is still interesting to at least pass through, you never know what you might find – we did get a few of these.

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We went for a quick Banh Mi dinner before exploring the market

banh-miBanh Mi: A Vietnamese sandwich of a combination of pork, eggs, pâté on a baguette.  Usually found on small shops or stalls by the road.

but what we should have done instead was to go there for the food.

food

It is a fabulous place to explore some street food.

coconut-crepeShredded coconut flavoured with sugar and sesame seed, rolled in some sort of crêpe or a spring roll wrapper.  Can make for a lovely dessert.

View from the Top

Our favorite spot to while away the time before dinner is at any of the terrace cafes atop a building overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake and the plaza below.

cocktails

We like it because it is the best place to enjoy a few drinks while we amuse ourselves with the crazy traffic of Hanoi.

hanoi-trafficPedestrians, cars, vendors and motorbikes — all going their own way.

From my last visit 7 years ago, nothing much has changed (including the traffic) except for a few more cafes to choose from.

view-from-coffee-club

We were at the City View Cafe every night 7 years ago, but we made sure to check out the Coffee Club (under construction then) across so we could enjoy the view from a different perspective.

view-from-city-view-cafeUseful Info:

City View Cafe:  1-3-5 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District

Coffee Club: 3B Le Thai To, Hang Trong Ward, Hoan Kiem District

Banh My Pho Co: 38 Dinh Liet Street, Hoan Kiem District

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Streets of Hanoi: The French Quarter

The-French-QuarterCredits: 

Ba Dinh District also called the French quarter is a pleasant interlude from the chaos of the Old Quarter (especially if you are staying in the Old Quarter like we were).

tree-lined-boulevard

The area is home to wide tree-lined streets, French colonial buildings,

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posh hotels, fancy restaurants and swanky shops.

swanky-shops

On our way to lunch, we walked through Trang Tien, the main artery of the French Quarter, walking pass (but never entered) the famous ice cream store, Kem Trang Tien.

Trang-Tien-Street

Elegant French style buildings and villas replaced the old Vietnamese buildings in this section (as the name suggests) when the French occupied Hanoi in the last 19th century.

Opera-House

At the end of Trang Tien, on the August Revolutionary Square, the Hanoi Opera House, stand proudly as an architectural, political and cultural symbol of the capital.

Lunch at Au Lac House along Tran Hung Dao was a pleasant default. We were headed to La Badiane (which we never got to try but came highly recommended) but were unfortunately closed for the day.   The reason is a blur to me now but because we were there during the Lunar New Year, it could be because of that, but I digress.

Au-Lac-House

So, just a few steps away from La Badiane is Au Lac House, a large French Style garden house built during the French colonial period restored into an elegant dining venue.

Bun-Cha

snails

The food was Vietnamese Specialty (a sudden mind-shift from the expected French lunch at La Badiane) and quite impressive too.  Truth to tell, Vietnam is always a gastronomical delight whether it be hole in a wall or high-end.

spring-rolls

You can walk through the different stations with your server and point and choose and the food will be prepared and served accordingly.

Au-Lac-interior

The beautiful house and stunning interior with old photographs were icing on our cake.

Useful Info:

Au Lac House13 Tran Hung Dao

Opera House:  1 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem

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The Streets of Hanoi: Old Quarter Immersion

The capital of Vietnam and perhaps one of Asia’s most nostalgic. A sleepy town, Hanoi is not. On our arrival at midnight, the street was still or maybe already bustling with flower vendors unloading flowers for transport. The alley near our hotel, though seemingly winding down, scatters with people. And, of course, during the day, it is chaos.

coming-from-all-directions

Motorbikes, bicycles, cars, peddlers, and pedestrians whiz by in different directions, honking, and pushing.

street-of-hanoi

I anxiously brave through this confusion at first but comfortably got into the groove. “Just walk in a steady pace, do not stop.” We were advised. “Speeding up or stopping confuses the driver and you might end up getting bumped.”

traffic-at-the-plazaWe like watching this organized chaos from the balcony of a coffee shop .

Somewhat similar (but not as crazy) to how we Filipinos cross our streets and highways, actually.

flower-seller

Hanoi is noisy, busy and clogged with motorbikes as it is serene, cultured and delightful.

tranquil-lake

The tranquil lakes, excellent food scene, beautiful architecture, the old quarter and colonial architecture offset the madness.

excellent-food

This wasn’t my first time to Hanoi but coming back was something I knew would happen again and again. Seven years and I notice some changes, more charming boutique hotels for one and the night scene has gotten more packed. But many has remained the same.

We stayed in the Old Quarter, a nice boutique hotel in an alley too narrow for cars.

Le-Beaute-de-Hanoi

This district is the soul of Hanoi where travelers go to immerse in its historical labyrinth of 36 streets, each named after the trade it specializes in.

Lady-peddler

Similar to Morocco’s markets, streets in the Old Quarter are named Silk Street, Herbal Medicine Street, Appliance Street, Blacksmith Street, etc… you get the drift.

Why? The Old Quarter became a crafts area when King Ly Thai built his palace there after Vietnam’s independence. Not long after, craftsmen clustered around the palace according to their skills. These artists who worked and lived close together formed their respective cooperatives and the streets consequently earned its names, according to skills.

lacquer

These rows exist to this day and still buzz with commerce.  You can find about anything from the traditional down to the knock-offs.

Buzzling-commerce

Another quirk that remained unchanged:

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The people of Hanoi do a lot of their living and working outside of their small tube houses or stores.

parked-motorcycles

And they make use of the sidewalk, which, of course, is also where they park their motorcycles and bicycles. People tend to walk along moving vehicles… on the street.

traffic-at-night

With its idiosyncrasies and all, Hanoi is easy to love. Stay with me and you’ll see why.

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Segovia: An immersion in Architecture and Historic Treasures

SegoviaCredits:  Elements by Haynay Designs, Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, Sahlin Studio, Trixie Scarp Designs, Wimpy Chompers; Paper by Wimpy Chompers; Alpha by MissBehaving 2011

A visit to picturesque old city Segovia was an excellent way to cap off this month-long West Mediterranean trip. We spent the day exploring a castle, devouring a roasted suckling pig, taking lots of photographs and people watching.

tourists

This once sleepy Castilian town had a lot to offer and had us in awe at every turn, suffice it to say that we had a fun stroll.

wandering

A UNESCO World Heritage City, visitors fill the twisting alleyways wandering around a multitude of historic buildings, churches, and monuments.

Located just 80 kilometers from Madrid, it is only a 30-minute high-speed train ride away. If you have the time, seize the opportunity and take a trip to the walled old town of Segovia.

town

It is a good way to travel back in time, explore the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage-listed city by foot.

The Aqueduct

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An impressive aqueduct built sometime in the 1st or 2nd century supplied water to the small town of Segovia, perched on a steep isolated hill and joined by two rivers.

aqueduct

The magnificent aqueduct bridge carried water from the Fuente Frio River traversing about 15km before entering this town.

Aqueduct-4Today its boasts of being one of the most significant and best-preserved works of Roman engineering on the Iberico Peninsula.

Segovia Cathedral

Cathedral

On the highest point in the old town, fronting the historic Plaza Mayor (Segovia’s main square) stands the Cathedral of Segovia, one of the last Gothic Cathedral built in Spain and Europe.

Plaza-Mayor-and-cathedral

The construction began in the early 16th century to replace an earlier cathedral destroyed during the war of the comuneros, a revolt against the King. I am awed by the details of this church.

cathedral-up-close

Alcazar

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Now, this looks like a castle straight out of a Disney fairytale.

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The castle rises out on a rock between the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers, a testament to its original military status. Being the favorite residence for Kings of Castile, the Alcazar was transformed from a small castle into an extraordinary palace.

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It played a crucial role in Spanish history because it was used in various ways throughout history.

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Originally built as a fortress, it had served as home to royals before it became a state prison, a Royal Artillery College, and a military academy. Currently, it is a museum and home to the Spanish General Military Archive.

Lunch at the Meson de Candido Restaurant

Plaza de Azoguejo 5, 40001  +34 921 425911

Meson-de-Candido

An attraction in itself, the restaurant was declared a national monument in 1941. Set in a delightful 18th-century building next to the aqueduct, it is most famous today for its wood-fire roasted suckling pig, cochinillo.

cochinillo-ritual

Served with a short speech and a ceremonial cutting of the pig with a plate,

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this famous dish was a delight—crispy skin and flavorful and fork tender meat is hard to beat. Also, worth noting is their Sepulveda-Style Roasted Lamb.

Rich in architecture treasures, it was a joy to wander through this town. Presenting below a few more photos to delight in.

Segovia-CathedralThe Cathedral from afar.
alcazar-interiorStained Glass wall at the Alcazar
view-from-the-alcazarA view from the Alcazar
Aqueduct-3The Aqueduct up close
plaza-medina-del-campoPlaza Medina del Campo
Azoguejo-Square-2The Azoguejo Square with the Aqueduct as backdrop
Plaza-MayorPlaza Mayor of Segovia
from-the-castleA view from the castle
peddlersPeddlers line the periphery of the aqueduct
Iglesia-de-San-Martin-2Iglesia de San Martin
narrow-roadNarrow winding road of Segovia
Iglesia-de-San-MartinIglesia de San Martin
Juan-BravoA statue of Juan Bravo: a leader of the rebel Comuneros in the Castilian Revolt of the Comuneros.
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Bullfighting

arena

One April evening, enthusiast and curious tourists from around the world enter the massive arena of Las Ventas to witness a bullfight. I was there too, sitting in the Sombra (shaded) section, quite close to the action.

bullfighting

Bullfighting or a corrida is an ancient tradition that goes back four millennia, practiced by many different cultures. Three toreros (matadors) fighting six bulls, each with 6 assistants: two picadors (lancers) mounted on horseback, three banderilleros (flagmen) and a mozo de Espada (sword servant). Together, they form a cuadrillo or an entourage.

opening-parade

The trumpet sounds and in flamboyant bullfighter costumes, the entourage parades into the arena. The corrida starts with the first bull entering the field from the Puerta de las Toriles, where it waited.

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The picadors mounted on heavily padded horses follow. Bull attacks the horse, the picador stabs its neck, the bull weakens.

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Then three banderilleros enters as the picadors leave, plants spiked flag sticks into the bull’s shoulder.

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When the bull is deemed weak enough, the torero appears and works the bull with several runs at the cape. The whole spectacle comes to an end with the torero killing the bull with his sword. This was repeated six times.

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Did I enjoy it? Many times I cringed, especially when the puncture wasn’t clean. No, I will not watch it again. Just once, I told myself.   Hard as it may be to watch, I could not deny that it was a cultural experience hard to forget.

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The Palawan Mystic and A Coupon

Mystic-PalawanCredits: A quick page template  was created by Michelle Seizys / Shell 

It’s the middle of summer and I’m at my desk staring at the computer itching to be somewhere but the metro. Just a week after a long weekend spent outdoors, I’m missing the outdoors already. That’s what summer can do to me. So I reminisce. Of toes sinking in the sand, of the cold waves taking me by surprise, of the sun warming my body after, and of the sea wind blowing me dry.

Speaking of last weekend, a friend’s daughter tagged along. She does not travel much around the Philippines and is excited to see another part of the country outside of where she lives, which is Manila, and where she has ties, which is Pampanga and Boracay. “Boracay,” she said, “is where I go if I want to get away.” She’s there once or twice a year and knows it like the back of her hand. She needs a change of scenery (I thought) so we brought her to the river.

Pinacanauan

The Pinacanuan River in Peñablanca, Cagayan is a favorite in the area because it reminds of Palawan in a way.

The image in my mind of the sand and the sea usually come with karst limestone in the background.

El-Nido-Island-Hopping

Yes, Palawan. I love how it is diverse – white sand, blue sea, stunning landscape,

good-eats

incredible food scene, breathtaking underwater world,

snorkeling-port-barton

dense forests, waterfalls, a world-heritage listed cave, etc.

waterfalls

El Nido is a top choice and will be for a while.

El-Nido-town

I love it for its charming town, its ruggedness, its simplicity, its raw yet sophisticated food options.

serene

Then you have the outlying beaches of San Vicente off Port Barton for those who want to get away from it all—quiet, tranquil and serene.

If, like my niece, your idea of a getaway is limited to the same old stuff, a change of scenery will do you good. Why not Palawan? And here’s a chance.

For a limited time offer, Let’s Palawan is offering a $30 off on their packages. To avail, all you have to do is click on their “get a quote” page and type in this coupon code: zeal4adventureC003. I urge you to grab it if you can, try something new. Palawan will do you good.

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