Tag Archive: Hanoi



A fellow blogger once asked how many countries I have visited. A friend once “humble-bragged” by advising I should start planning to cover all 7 continents to “round up my travels”.  Unfortunately, I don’t keep count. Why do they, I wonder? Nor does it matter to me what others think I missed or should have done. I go where it pleases.  And beyond the sights, my memorable experiences are always characterized by the people I interacted with. That includes the people I traveled with. I have the good fortune of traveling with many, varied circles of friends outside of family. The foodies, the sightseers, the adventurers, the history buffs, the art and culture vultures, the hikers, as well as those who just long for some R & R. Not stuck with any single group, I relish the company of each. That includes a peculiar group I’d call the “losers” — people who don’t care getting LOST, seeing the ”mishap’ as another opportunity to explore! 






In Bhutan, I found a very admirable tour and hiking guide. My friend Beth and I “adopted” Sonam whom we referred to as our godson. We are still in touch, thanks to Facebook. We were updated with Sonam’s adventures from a young man to bridesgroom to young father, moving from Bhutan to Australia. I credit Sonam for making it possible for me to hike up to Taktshang Monastery aka Tiger’s Nest. The hike is quite dramatic considering you see the site high up in the mountain from the base where pilgrims and tourists commence the hike or horseback ride for the first 1 hour. I chose the latter to conserve my energy for the hike and met Tring, the old man whose horse is likewise called Tring. Don’t ask why. Meanwhile, I left my friend Beth with our driver who grew years older (again, don’t ask me why 🙄) accompanying my friend up to the Halfway Station. Tashi Delek!





Still on Bhutan, I have to say I’ve been so impressed with how kind and caring their people are. Whenever I stopped for oxygen breaks, there were locals eyeing me as if asking if I need some help. They’d only stop staring and got on with whatever they were doing when I smiled to reassure them I’m still alive 😊 Also, I never found a race so detached from material wealth as these Bhutanese. Sure there were poor people around, but I never once felt that money mattered most to them. I sure hope that didn’t change over the years since I’ve been there. 






Because I run a blog site, one of my followers learned I was staying in Madrid for nearly 3 months back in 2013. He messaged to invite me to a good Cocido de Madrileño lunch plus an afternoon tour of the city’s hidden gems. The best tour I ever had! Under the tourist radar sites included trespassing on strangers’ apartments to view better preserved medieval walls of Madrid. Well not exactly trespassing — Marco actually knocked on strangers’ apartment doors to view the walls from their porches!  And these locals were most accommodating. 




Because I made many solo trips in and around Spain, I met a lot of new friends and interacted with many locals. Before getting off a bus, I’d ask the driver which is the best way to reach the Plaza Mayor. Invariably, the bus driver will advise me he’d be back on that dropoff by a certain time for my ride back. Better than riding a cab! On that New Year’s Eve I was in Madrid, I jumped up and down with the locals,shared drinks with them, and even hugged them as the clock struck 12. My niece and them locals were family 😘




In Mongolia, my friends and I had a chance to visit a ger, eat an authentic lunch, and observe how a typical Mongolian family lead a nomadic lifestyle. I parted with my locally-crafted necklace to give to the “lady of the ger” who cooked and served us some dumplings and tea right inside the ger. We didn’t sleep in a ger. I don’t think I could unless one goes to the gers put up for tourists with modern conveniences 😜 






In Hanoi, I found children playing “sipa” which literally translates to kick. It’s a native game in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other Asian countries. I joined those kids for a game in my wedged sandals while carrying my bag. Beat that! Then in India, I strayed from our travel group and found ourselves in the kitchen of a Sikh Temple where they were preparing to feed a long line of devotees. The volunteer cooks looked tired but friendly. And locally? I remember spotting a fellow blogger in a Masskara festival in Bacolod City. I approached Enrico and here’s our photo before the parade started! Listen to the drum roll… 




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HANOI: Not A Persnickety Trip


Well, NOT all trips need to be planned.  My young friend Paula Peralejo-Fernandez of Our Restless Feet  meticulously arranged our first 3 days of adventure off Hanoi with visits to Hoa Lu, Tam Coc and a heavenly 2-day cruise along Halong Bay via Paradise Cruises, but our last 2 days in Hanoi was meant to simply meet up, dine and shop with friends. We ended doing that, plus more. So much more spontaneity, ditched plans, instant meet-ups, unplanned discoveries, and more unplanned shopping. 

 

 

 

Every night after dinner,  we'd go in search of our favorite custard apple ("atis") .

Every night after dinner, we’d go in search of our favorite custard apple (“atis”) .

 

 

Our eyes brightened up each time we meet fruit peddlers on bikes.

Our eyes brightened up each time we meet fruit peddlers on bikes.

 

 

 

Before our first day in Hanoi was over, we’ve acquired the requisite skill of crossing streets, dodging bikes and cars, while keeping an eye on fruit stands and shops. Multi-taskers to the core. A former colleague now based in Hanoi learned we were in town and promptly whisked us away after our hotel brekkie to give us a city tour and food trip. (Thank you, Bing!) The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum stands tall and proud in the vast square, but no HCM because the body is off somewhere for “re-waxing (???). In the same square, we found the Prime Minister’s Office, which looks really grand. 

 

 

 

HCM is out.

HCM is out.

 

 

 

The Prime Minister is in.

The Prime Minister is in.

 

 

Museum of National History

Museum of National History

 

 

We found time to visit the National Museum of History. Well-curated museum that we all feel jealous for this piece of Vietnamese pride. More national pride to be found in the War Museum where downed American bomber-planes are proudly displayed. Here, I drew a good laugh from local kids playing a game of “sipa” (kick), a game I played when I was a kid. Feeling still adept at this game, I asked them if I could join the game. In wedged sandals and a bag in one hand, I must have given them quite an entertainment that drew laughs till the sun set in Hanoi. Enjoyed that!

 

 

 

War Museum

War Museum

 

 

On wedged sandals and bag in one hand, I happily kicked the afternoon away!

On wedged sandals and bag in one hand, I happily kicked the afternoon away!

 

 

 

The Maison Centrale or Hoa Lo Prison in the French Quarter reminded us of the horrors of war. Much of the exhibits were of the French-era prisoners. Ergo, it’s by and large about the Vietnamese revolutionaries held behind bars, many executed using the guillotine, here. The Americans call it “Hanoi Hilton” because 200-300 captured American pilots were interrogated and tortured here. Their “experiences” were not however documented and exhibited here.

 

 

 

Maison Centrale or Hanoi Hilton?

Maison Centrale or Hanoi Hilton?

 

 

Under French rule, Vietnamese revolutionaries were jailed, shackled, and tortured here in Hoa Lo.

Under French rule, Vietnamese revolutionaries were jailed, shackled, and tortured here in Hoa Lo.

 

 

 

Quite depressing to see how humans can inflict inhumane punishment during war. “Tortured” by these images, our friend cum “local guide” brought us to the real, modern Hanoi Hilton for a cuppa and some sweet pastries before driving us home. And home is this boutique hotel near Hoan Kiem Lake bordered by many stalls and shops selling everything from shirts, bags, coats, slippers, souvenirs, fruits, coffee, tea, even turtles! Mind you, those turtles are for sale NOT as pets but as food. Yay!

 

 

 

The real Hanoi Hilton all dressed up for Christmas!

The real Hanoi Hilton all dressed up for Christmas!

 

 

 

Turtles sold in markets and supermarkets. NOT as pets, but as dinner on your table!

Turtles sold in markets and supermarkets. NOT as pets, but as dinner on your table!

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More retail therapy and more food porn in 48 hours in this city. No meticulous planning, but surely, a fully-booked but relaxing holiday for us all. The sampan and cruise boat rides, the Hoan Kiem lake view provided the nerve-soothing experiences. The retail therapy provided the haggling experience with the locals. The food trips satiated our belly cravings and another dimension of this memorable travel experience.

 

 

 

The newly-opened Royal City with its 7-storey undeground mall!  Kichi-Kichi rotary hotpot was quite a dining experience here!

The newly-opened Royal City with its 7-storey undeground mall! Kichi-Kichi rotary hotpot was quite a dining experience here!

 

 

 

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake


It was a late flight and an hour past midnight arrival. Yet we managed to sleep well and enjoy a hearty breakfast in the few hours left before our mid-morning pick-up for the Hoa Lu and Tam Coc trip. The drive was comfortable, and our guide Húng gave us a good introduction to Vietnam’s glorious past.

Hoa Lu, just a 2-hour drive from Hanoi.

Hoa Lu, just a 2-hour drive from Hanoi.

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Hoa Lu is an ancient capital in the 10th – 11th century before the capital was moved to Hanoi. There were only 5 rulers under this dynasty, but 5 may seem many considering the dynasty reigned for less than half a century. Most interesting were the stories involving an emperor who was succeeded by a 6-year old son, replaced by his regent and top general who then married the first emperor’s widow. Just 3 square kilometers in size, the site featured palaces, shrines and temples to honor these emperors : Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh, their sons, and Queen Duong Van Nga.

Temples are dedicated to people;  Pagodas to Buddha. Something new I learned from Hung.

Temples are dedicated to people; Pagodas to Buddha. Something new I learned from Hung.

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Vietnamese lunch was served just before our boat ride in Tam Coc. So we were so full while enduring a 1 1/2 hour sampan boat ride that stretched into 2 because the heavens opened up and we took cover under one of the natural cave “tunnels” while it poured. Still, the giant limestone karst formations jutting out of the rice paddies provided an impressive site. It’s like Halong Bay on land, or rather between rice paddies. Too bad they just harvested the rice when we paddled our way through the Ngo Dong River. We made our way back with newly-bought raincoats and braved the rain while our boat man paddled the boat using his feet in a fast-paced rhythm.

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The Sampan Ride along the river hemmed by rice paddies, dotted by limestone rock formations.

The Sampan Ride along the river hemmed by rice paddies, dotted by limestone rock formations.

It was a no-brainer to decide to cancel the biking around rice paddies after the boat ride. Instead, we dried ourselves and made our way on a 2 1/2 van ride back to the city. Not complaining here. We had a wonderful time despite the rain.

Look Ma, no hands!

Look Ma, no hands!

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Fishing?

Fishing?