Many things have happened since we booked our trip to Hanoi. We thought four of us would be going on a trip to Vietnam but it turned out that the two actually booked a flight to Ho Chi Minh. A lot of planning resulted into the decision of meeting halfway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh which are 15 hours apart. But that plan also failed since the two ended up not going at all.
So it’s down to Jinky and me, and being short on cash, a week before our flight we were still contemplating whether we’d go through the plan or scrap it altogether. After much guilt-tripping, we decided to just go and hope that our budget will suffice. A day before our trip, we still didn’t have an itinerary. At least we already booked a hotel, and at least someone would pick us up at the airport.
We arrived in Noi Bai airport at around 1AM. It’s an ungodly hour so it was no surprise that the airport was almost abandoned, and there were barely any cars in the parking lot. It was a good choice to have availed the airport transfer service of the hotel. We were picked up by a good-looking driver dressed in a dress shirt, slacks, and leather shoes. He looked as if he’s on his way to a party, but no, he was just going to drive us to our hostel. Heehee.
We had a really good first impression of Hanoi, because once arriving at our hotel, we were told that we’re given a deluxe room, instead of a standard one, for the same price! So we were pampered immediately. The room was amazing! I was in love with that room for four days, and mainly it’s the reason why I didn’t want to leave Hanoi.
We woke up to the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. We woke up quite late since we didn’t have strict plans for the day. We had an itinerary but it’s open to all sorts of changes. We were served breakfast in the hotel and were glad to see the variety of food choices! We seriously had the best hotel okay. I have nothing but praises for Camelia 6 Hotel and Mrs. Phuong who’s an incredible hostess. We corresponded by email, and I think it was a lot more convenient than booking through Agoda.
Hanoi reminded me of the Philippines due to the messy electric wires. Even the sight of the rooftops was reminiscent of home. But it’s the abundance of motorcycles in the streets that reminded me that I wasn’t in Manila. There’s one everywhere you look, even when we look down from our balcony. Motorcycles manage to weave their way even in narrow alleyways.
(What makes Vietnam different is how there’s a cute guy in every freaking corner. Jinky and I were amazed at how we passed by a cute boy every hour or so. It’s the most cute boys populated country ever! It’s also the number one thing I miss. Huhu. I walk around Makati thinking how I don’t see a single cute person everyday day. Bleh.)
Our first day in Hanoi was spent touring around the Old Quarter and the French Quarter. Our hotel was located at the very heart of the Old Quarter so it was pretty convenient. We spent a great deal of time getting lost in the bustling streets of the Hoan Kiem District. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though. By the time we were done with the trip, I feel like I knew the Old Quarter like the back of my hand! Heh.
The first thing we did was look for the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. To our surprise, it was just a few blocks from our hostel. It wasn’t far but we got lost for a bit so it felt like we walked a lot. Hehe. We booked for a 6:30 PM show, and was only planning to buy the 60,000 VND ticket but the cashier gave us the 100,000 VND ticket! She said there’s no 60,000VND ticket but I think they’re just trying to sell out the pricier ticket first. So my tip is to not buy a ticket early if you don’t want to spend an additional 40,000VND.
Just right across the theater is the Hoan Kiem Lake! We were also surprised to learn that it’s so near?? Hee. The lake is as beautiful in person as it is in the photos. There’s a clean and peaceful park around the lake, and it’s just lovely to walk around it any time of the day. But just as we approached the red bridge, it started drizzling! It didn’t stop us, though, since we had a huge umbrella borrowed from the hostel. It also didn’t stop other locals and tourists from visiting the temple since the place was packed.
Right in the middle of the lake is the Ngoc Son Temple. You have to pay 20,000VND to get inside, and I’m not sure if it’s worth it? There’s nothing much to see unless you’re a Buddhist I guess. I observed during that temple visit that turtles are revered (?) in Vietnam. I learned during the later part of the trip that locals visit the temple every start of the moment to pray for good luck.
Just right after our short trip to the temple, it started raining so hard! We were in a bit of a trouble since we only had one umbrella and there’s no near shelter in sight. The temple entrance that has a roof was already filled with so many people. So to cut the story short, we were drenched and were in desperate need of a lifesaver. That’s when we succumbed to buying a raincoats!
I had never owned a raincoat in my life since I never found a need for it. Then I found myself being soak in the rain in Vietnam, and there was someone conveniently selling raincoat near the gates of Ngoc Son temple. It was raining hard. There were so many people selling umbrellas, but this one lady’s the only one selling raincoats.
Though we knew we could have gotten a cheaper one in the market, we bought raincoats from her anyway. Trouble ensued when she went away after giving us the raincoats, and we discovered an extra one! So we ended up chasing after her in the rain, and we had no idea how to catch her attention. She had trouble understanding English already, so it was a surprise when she looked back when I kept calling, “Ate!”
On that rainy day, we discovered the diligence of the Vietnamese people. It was pouring but many of them continued to tend to the park’s garden. I guess they felt invincible wearing a raincoat! Well, we sure did since we continued our walk around the lake.
In one of our walks, we decided to enter the Tourist Information Center just right across the lake. Then we moved on to other travel agencies that can provide us a good deal for Ninh Binh trip. Once we’re finished going from one travel agency after another, it stopped raining!
My shoes were so ugly-looking by then, but who the hell cares, right?
Thanks to our handy map, we learned that we could just walk to the French Quarter. It’s on the other side of the lake so we saw more of the lake and the park. We also saw so many photoshoots happening, and it’s just the first of the many photoshoots we would witness in our whole stay in Hanoi. We’re not sure if it’s a pre-nup or a school project or a contest? IDK. But there were just so many I lost count.
Turned out French Quarter is a lovely neighborhood that’s highly influenced by French architecture. The buildings looked so old, too, but it made them more beautiful for me. I think I fell in love every time I saw a little veranda brimming with flower pots and vines crawling to the roof.
There were tons of historical places and museums in the French Quarter, but we only headed for the Opera House, which was a grand structure in the heart of the neighborhood. We should have scheduled a tour with the Hanoi Kids or Hanoi Free Walking Tours but we didn’t have enough time to plan for the trip. We could have understood the place more and probably discovered more amazing structures.
We have walked around so much it was surprising that it was only around lunch time! We look for Ngo Trang Tien, reportedly a street that’s just filled with food stalls. It’s just across the Opera House so it was quite easy to find. It really was just food stalls, and we were intimidated by the amount of vegetables on the tables! We were also a bit self-conscious because we weren’t ready just yet to dine in the street. Hehe. So we looked for one that would let us eat inside, and I wonder if it was the right choice? We made the wrong order, though. Heh.
After lunch, we walked back to the Old Quarter for a bit of shopping! I know it was just our first day, but Jinky wanted to buy a backpack she could use for the trip. I’m pretty much a sucker for backpacks so I ended up buying one, too. What I loved about Hanoi is how it’s so convenient for tourists. They accept VND and USD so shopping can be easy. But of course, you’d end up spending less if you use VND. They tend to round off the value to the nearest dollar when you ask for the price in USD.
We went back to out hostel once we finished shopping. We were wholly and fully captivated by our room that sometimes, we just want to spend an entire day in it! Our room was lovely, really.
Later in the afternoon, we walked around the Old Quarter looking for a coffee shop. We had so much time before the puppet show that we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t really have a hard time looking for a coffee shop since there’s one in every corner. But we reached a street that’s lined up with traditional and modern coffee shops! I can’t bring myself to call them cafes because it’s just really a place with small tables and chairs without the interior design and gimmicks of the cafes I usually visit.
We also noticed how the beautiful coffee shops had very little visitors but the ones that look old were filled with youngsters. We chose the one with the most people inside. Just like during lunch, we chose to sit inside instead of in the sidewalk. Hehe.
It was a really nice experience. I love the atmosphere for the very simple reason that it’s laid-back and had no sense of superiority at all. I actually prefer it over the classy and well-decorated cafes we have in the metro.
As for the rest of the afternoon, we spent it sitting in the park next to the lake. While waiting for the puppet show to start, we had a relaxing time watching the sun set. It’s probably my favorite moment during the entire trip, and that little sunset over Hoan Kiem Lake deserves an entry on its own.
As for the puppet show, it was okay. We supposedly had the best seats, but we couldn’t understand a thing. It’s also supposedly one of the must-try’s in Hanoi, but it didn’t really stand out for me. Maybe I’m just not into musicals and puppet shows, but mostly because there were no subtitles. I wonder if the viewers who were 90% foreigners appreciated it though. There were good parts and there were meh parts. Thus, I advice you to get the cheaper ticket.
After the show, we tried to look for best Bun Cha in Hanoi, but learned when we got there that it closes at 6:30PM. So we walked back to our hostel and asked Mrs. Phuong where we could eat rice. The rice-eater in us were getting devastated due to the fact there’s mostly noodles being sold in the streets. She directed us to the place where we could eat normal, non-sticky rice. It was filling, but not for the books.
Overall, it was a good first day, and just one of the many good days we’d have in Vietnam.