Hanoi Heritage

Hanoi-HeritageCredits: Papers by Shabby Miss Jenn Designs, Sahlin Studio and Scrapmuss Designs; Name Tag by Pri Rocha and Vellum Floral Sticker by Shabby Miss Jenn Designs

It was a quick trip to Hanoi… just four days. Got to admit, it was way too short, but a quick getaway was all we can spare. There will be a next time (that’s for sure) when I eventually make my way to Hoi An and Hue.

Before I end this short series on Hanoi, let me leave you with a few more cultural highlights to consider.

Water Puppetry

Not exactly an award-winning performance but it is a tradition that dates back as far as the 11th century and interesting insight into its theatre culture, which the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater attempts to keep alive.  A unique variation on the ancient Asian puppet tradition that involves the water, the Mua Roi Nuoc uses nature as the theme with ponds and flooded rice paddies after harvest in their acts to satisfy the spirits.

water-puppetThe puppeteer stand behind a screen and control the wooden and lacquered puppets through rods and string mechanism hidden beneath a waist deep pool that is also the stage.

Thang-Long-Water-Puppet-TheaterLocated near the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake, the theater offers several performances every day from 16:15 to 21:15. Book in advance because it often gets filled. Most lodgings can help in that area.

Hoa Lo Prison

maison-centraleThis one piqued my interest. Popularly know as the Hanoi Hilton, this museum was once a prison. The Maison Centrale was first used by the French to house political prisoners, and later by the North Vietnam for prisoners of war. And because of this, the American POW sarcastically gave it its famous name.

hoa-lo-prisonThe museum provided some insight on the gruesomeness that might have taken place in the POW camps. Guillotine and guns remained in the hall. Albeit gory, it was an engaging stop over from a day of wandering around the city.

guillotineOne of the two guillotine that the French Colonialist used to behead revolutionary patriotic soldiers imprisoned in Hoa Lo Prison.

In Hanoi, most establishments have narrow frontages and are built beside each other; Hoa Lo Street is the only street with only one address – the prison. It occupies the length of Pho Hoa Lo, right at the corner of Pho Ha Ba Trung on the edge of the French Quarter.

Electric Cars

inside-the-e-carFor 15,000 VND, these cars are an easy and a green way to get a grip on the surroundings.

touring-by-e-carIt takes you to places of interests in the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake area, which provides a wonderful overview of the area and highlights sections you want to explore more. e-carsEach car can carry up to 7 passengers at one time and takes about 45 mins to an hour (depending how long you stop at each attraction).

E-car-ticket-stallTickets are sold at a stall in Dinh Tien Hoang Street – the tree-lined boulevard right next to Hoan Kiem Lake, opposite the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater. With the number of e-cars parked nearby, it is easy to spot.

Vietnamese Brew

vietnamese-brewAnd if coffee is your thing, you know that you can’t pass a day without enjoying a cup of slow drip Vietnamese-style coffee, hot or cold.

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

crippled-vendor

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.

lake-3

lake-4

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.

group

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.

bo-bia-ngot

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.

3D-cards-and-bookmarks

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

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,

posh-hotel

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

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:

extends-out-to-side-walk

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.

PhotoHunt: Bridge(s)

photohunter7iq

Red Bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi


hoan-kiem-lake

Hoan Kiem Lake flaunting the distinctive Huc (or red) bridge is located in the heart of the Old Quarters of Hanoi, around the lake are cute little cafes where you can just sit for hours and watch the people crossing the chaotic street.

Legend has it that Heaven sent Emperor Le Thai To a magical sword, which he used to drive out  the Chinese in Vietnam.  A golden tortoise emerged and grabbed the sword and disappeared in the lake.  Since then, the lake has beem know as Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword).

Hoan Kiem’s life is bustling at the break of dawn as serious joggers take on the streets, paths are crowed with people doing taichi.

Summing Up the Year That Was

I am blessed.  Blessed to be able to explore the world, albeit not as extensive as I want to but I’ve had some fair share of adventure and fun last year.  So I’m not complaining.  Last year was a good mix of local and international travels, small and big trips. Rounding them up, there were highs and lows, great satisfactions and some disappointments.  Here’s a run down of my best and not so best experiences of 2008.

The Disappointment

waitingdonsol

Donsol – in pursuit of the elusive whale sharks (Feb)

We were ready to jump anytime but the whale sharks were scarce.  There were way too many boats, way too disorganized and so we caught a glimpse of its… tail.  Oh well… this calls for another trip sometime in the future.

One Miserable Climb

pulag-rained-out

Mt. Pulag – rained out! (Feb)

We started the trek with just overcast clouds, then it drizzled and when we reached the campsite, it poured.  It let up a bit just so we can go to the loo and cook our dinner.  Then it started again.  Rained the whole night and the whole day, next day.  Needless to say, the summit was foggy and really, really cold!  No sunrise, just slippery, flooded trails.  Good thing this was not my first time here and I’ve seen a glorious sunrise in 2002.  But we still had fun.

My Favorite Asian Destination (thus far)

luang-prabang

Luang Prabang, Laos (Mar)

The jewel of Indochina and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by mountains at the junction of the Mekong and its tributary, the Khan River, Luang Prabang to me is a city where time stood still.

It was a wonderful 5 days of various adventures. One day was spent trekking to the Kwang Si falls, another learning to cook Lao dishes. There were a lot of walking, eating (Lao and French meals), sunset cocktails and we even had a taste of a traditional Khamu massage. It was fantastic.

A Delightful Road Trip

ugo-display

Viaje del Sol (Apr) – a blend of good food and the arts.  From Kusina ni Salud (for dinner) to Ugu Bigyan (for lunch and his potteries) to Carlito’s (for coffee, mangoes and his sculptures) in one weekend resulting to another follow-up weekend.  This time, we stayed in Casa San Pablo, checked out Kinabuhayan Café, and had a satisfying lunch at Sulyap Gallery Café, a restaurant cum antique gallery.  There definitely will be a 3rd trip to this Viaje del Sol sometime in the future.  Perhaps we’ll try a meal at Kinabuhayan Café, try that famous buko pie locals are raving about and do an overnight at Sitio de Amor.

Wonderfully Surprised

dolphins

Dolphins Galore at Puerto Bay (May)

Didn’t even know that they had a lot in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  There were tons of ’em.  What we didn’t see in Donsol, these dolphins made up for.  We didn’t even need a spotter as they were all over the place.  Never saw so much in my life.  Tons and tons of them.  Hope to dive there someday.

A Junk Experience

halong-bay

Cruisin’ Halong Bay, Hanoi (Jul)

When in Hanoi, one must experience cruising along Halong Bay in a junk at least once. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the bay features calm water and thousands of limestone karsts and islets in various shapes and size.  Something like Palawan.

A Star-strucked Moment

bobby-chin

Dinner at Restaurant Bobby Chinn, Hanoi (Jul)

Even if he wasn’t around, I was excited to be there.  Totally am infatuated with this celebrity chef of Travel and Living’s World Asia Café series.  And the food did not disappoint.  Maybe because I’m so infatuated. Hee Hee! Expensive but superb.  Sorry but no photos of the food and the place except from across the street.  It was a treat from DBF to cap our Hanoi adventure and we agreed no cameras, besides the place was too dark to get even one decent photo.

Great Amusement

honoi-traffic

Watching the traffic of Hanoi at the Old Quarter (Jul)

We spent hours atop a restaurant sipping beer, relaxing and watching the traffic below with amazement.  The chaos of Vietnam traffic just amused us no end.  Watch and be amused.

The Best Reunion Ever

sf-reunion

A San Francisco get-together with my high school buddies (Aug)… some I haven’t seen in 26 years.  It was a trip down memory lane but more importantly, it was literally a food trip as well.  Our friend and classmate, JT, now a chef cooked a superb dinner for us!  They’re actually planning another one this year… a US trip 2 years in a row is out of my budget if I want to explore other new places as well, so boohoo for me.

A Cove Truly Breathtaking

anawangin

Anawangin Cove (Sep)

This could pass as my runner-up for the Most Miserable Climb too.  I am a clumsy person and more often than not, I fall and hurt myself.  So during the trek I was already asking “why do I do this to myself”? when I banged my knee in the course of what I thought was an easy trek. I’ve seen beautiful pixes, read and heard so much about this “not so secret” place and finally am hours away from it. Thrilled and excited as I started the 7.3 km trek to Anawangin Cove, I was 3rd to arrive at the saddle (which had an awesome view of the cove, by the way). Not bad, if I may brag… Many months of lifting, walking on a machine (that goes nowhere), puffing and pushing is finally paying off.  THEN… without warning, I slipped and fell about 30 minutes through our descent, all because I was not paying attention to the trail. It was agony from then on. Let’s just say that I trudged downhill, passing rocky streams for another 2+ hours before I reached the camp… From 3rd to last! Thirsty, tired and in pain but dampen my spirits it did not as it was indeed so BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL! Picture this, Agojo (imagine pine trees as it looked so much like it) forest on the beach with a meandering fresh water stream that flows out to the sea. And that is why I keep doing this to myself.

An Adrenalin-filled Birthday Weekend

rafting-chico

Rafting the Chico (Oct)

Been doing this for almost a decade but never on my birthday.  So that’s new.  If you’ve never tried this, you should!  You will experience one heck of a weekend, a totally worked out upper body, and the thrill of a lifetime.  Contact Anton Carag of AEPI for bookings.

An Incredible Underwater Experience

2-mantas

Mantas and Sharks up close in Yap (Nov)

Amazing… is all I can say.  An experience of a lifetime.  Read more about it here.