My first destination for 2014 was Hanoi: Vietnam’s capital, second largest city and main cultural center. For this trip, I was accompanied by Jacq and it was our first time to travel together. We had a red-eye flight and we arrived in Hanoi a little bit before 1:00am local time where I had the fastest and most painless arrival processing ever. We didn’t even have to fill out any arrival card and the immigration officer barely glanced at me. I think it’s her way of saying, “Welcome to Hanoi!” and I loved it.
After claiming our baggage, we headed outside where our hotel pickup was already waiting for us. It was the second half of winter in Hanoi so it was cold and humid. We walked to the parking area under a light drizzle that would apparently follow us wherever we went during the day. The ride was mostly uneventful, but we did get to see those motorcycles performing amazing feats of balance by carrying various bulky goods. Upon arrival at our street, the driver escorted us to the Hibiscus Hotel where we paid 16 USD or 353,600 VND for the airport pickup. We then trudged up the stairs and found ourselves in a room at the fourth floor where we slept the rest of the night away. Morning came and as much as we wanted to stay in and sleep the cold day away, we dragged ourselves from the room and went in search of breakfast. Amongst the cafés near our hotel, we chose the Sunrise Cafe (over the Playstation Café) where we ordered from a very limited menu composed of sandwich ca ngu (tuna sandwich), banh mi op la (bread with fried egg) and banh mi thit nguoi (bread with butter and sugar). We went with the banh mi op la and ordered a cup of cafe nau or coffee with milk.
Hanoi Walking Tour
After breakfast, we started our walking tour, heading towards the direction of the Flag Tower of Hanoi. We passed by the Vietnam Military History Museum along the way, but didn’t get to enter as they were still closed. We then got to the Flag Tower of Hanoi where we just took a few photos while standing on the sidewalk. Then, we went up the road to the famous Ba Dinh Square and took photos of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We no longer entered it and headed straight to the Ho Chi Minh Museum where the entrance fee was 25,000 VND per head.
We walked around inside the Ho Chi Minh Museum and it was fairly disappointing to find that the first set of exhibit was purely in Vietnamese. We could not understand any of the display at all. But things got a bit better on the next floor where the displays were explained in Vietnamese, French and English. I found myself checking if the translations were correct, hehehe.
After we were done with the museum, we started our hunt for lunch. We began to circle the museum compound when we noticed that a lot of people were gathering over at a temple near the museum, off to the side of the store where we bought some postcards. We followed them and it turned out that we stumbled upon the One Pillar Pagoda, one of Vietnam’s most iconic temples. One of the postcards I bought shows the One Pillar Pagoda in all its summer glory. But as it was winter, it only looked drab and unimpressive.
After taking some pictures of the non-picturesque pagoda, we continued our search for lunch. We knocked on all the places labelled “Café Fast Food” but at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the kitchens were closed and they were only serving coffee. Thus, we found ourselves in one of those eateries that only serve pho (pronounced as /fa/). We had our fill of pho bo (beef noodles) and then headed to the Temple of Literature.
The Temple of Literature is one of Vietnam’s many temples that is dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. It is composed of five courtyards and the entire area covers a whole block. There are many statues of turtles inside the premises which serve to honor talent and encourage study. The turtle is one of the nation’s four holy creatures. The others are the dragon, phoenix and unicorn and all four figure prominently everywhere.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel, dodging motorcycles and cars all the way. When we got back to the hotel, we were supposed to ask the receptionist for a day tour at the Halong Bay (they pronounce it as /Halong Bye/). Unfortunately for him, he was on the phone, so we ended up going next door to Anna’s Booking where we got the following deal: 22 USD or 462,000 VND for a day trip to Halong Bay, inclusive of transfer, lunch, and tourguide. She gave us a 2000 VND discount each, so she’ll have it easier in giving us our change.
Having taken care of our Day 2 itinerary in Hanoi, we went in search of a clothing store where I could buy some sleeping clothes, which I forgot to pack, just like I forgot my Chapstick. We ended up in this factory outlet store where I bought some jogging pants for 260,000 VND. I also scored this white Banana Republic dress for 550,000 VND. Jacq assured me that it’s really cheaper than what I could get in the Philippines. And with that, our Day 1 in Hanoi ended.