Sunday, June 26, 2011

Waking up in Hanoi, Vietnam

Good Morning Vietnam! This trip to Hanoi was completed with Tiger Airways from Singapore. Flight cost was S$338/pax and hotel was booked on Agoda for S$39/pax/night. As a side note. there are several "hidden" costs when flying with Tiger. Should you wish to sit in a specific seat, that will cost you an additional S$10-30. Early check-in aka BoardMeFirst will be S$6 (is there really a need to board first?) and convenience fees of S$28 are chargeable (I guess you need to pay to use the toilet on board and for them to roll out the stairs to the plane).

Hanoi is a mere 3h flight from Singapore and is 1h behind Singapore time. Upon arrival at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, you will be greeted by a decent immigration counter and do check if you should be checking out from Gate A or B on the screens provided. Your driver, should you have engaged one, will be waiting for you at the respective arrival gate. I'd arranged a driver from the hotel for US$18 (1-way) as the incidence of taxi touting in Hanoi is on a high. On average, the cab ride to your hotel should be US$10-16 for 40-50mins.

The cab ride to the Hanoi Elegance Diamond in the Old Quarters took 40min. At first glance, the Old Quarters seems like an old, derelict and smelly place. Do not be fooled by this first impression; there is much character and activity in this area. A word of advice: if you arrive early in the morning and intend to go to Halong Bay the next day, do book your trip as early as possible and buy tickets to the Water Puppet Show as they sell out early.

Map of The Old Quarters courtesy of Hanoi Elegance Diamond. Click to Enlarge.

As the Old Quarters is a mere 5mins walk to Hoan Kim Lake, visit the lake like the locals do. Sit around, go into Ngoc Soc Temple (VND10,000) and view the Turtle Tower from afar. Ngoc Soc temple is a Chinese-Buddhist temple with large Chinese gods statues inside. In the evenings, Hoan Kim Lake turns into the go-to place for local lovebirds to date and dog owners to congregate.

Turtle Tower in Hoan Kiem Lake

Inside Ngoc Soc Temple

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a MUST SEE in Hanoi. Inside this Stalin-esque building lies beloved Uncle Ho's emblamed body. Entry is only available in the morning from 9-12pm and no shorts/singlets are allowed. Cameras have to be deposited as well. The HCM Mausoleum is very imposing from the outside and heavily guarded by security who will whistle at you should you cross the designated security line. Do go early if you want to pay your respects to Uncle Ho. Queues can get very long although it is free to enter.

HCM Mausoleum

The One Pillar Pagoda can be found between the HCM Mausoleum and the HCM Complex. This is a place of worship for the predominantly Buddhist population. Viewing is free but no shorts are allowed if you want to go up to the prayer area. Unfortunately, I did not make it into the HCM Complex as it started storming. Hanoi in June is very hot but also storms a lot so do bring your umbrellas and ponchos out.

One Pillar Pagoda and the HCM Complex

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is located in the Old Quarters (57B Dinh Tien Hoang St) and the 50min show at 8pm will showcase singing, instruments and of course, the famous water puppets. A first-class ticket will cost VND100,000. Do get this ticket as you get a better view in the theatre. Language is in Vietnamese only.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Other sight see in Hanoi include the Temple of Literature, Fine Art Museum and The Hoa Lo prison.

For tourists, most navigate around Hanoi in cabs. Typical cost of travel from Old Quarters to HCM Mausoleum will be VND40-60,000. There are many taxi crooks in Hanoi and if you do get onto these cabs, do watch if the meter jumps uncontrollably. Immediately ask the driver to stop and if brave enough, don't pay the driver or pay him minimal. This comes from a personal experience where in a desperate situation, I took a crook taxi and the meter jumped to almost VND200,000. The driver was asked to stop and insisted that the fare on his meter be paid. Either start haggling, open the taxi door and start stepping out. DO NOT and i repeat DO NOT ever pay him the fare on the meter.

The only metered cabs in Hanoi that can be taken are from Hanoi, Hanoi Tourist or Mailinh. The rest of the cab companies like CP, Vietnam etc are all rigged taxis. Your hotel should also be able to advise which cabs can be taken.

Fast food in Hanoi is quite a rarity so don't expect to find a MacDonalds or Starbucks littered along the streets. There are quite alot of Koreans in Hanoi so it wasn't surprising to find a Lotteria in the Old Quarters. A simple Lotteria meal of cheeseburger and fries will set you back VND52,000. And yes, it tastes the same as in Seoul.

Through TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet reviews, I came to know of this restaurant called The Green Tangerine in the Old Quarters. This well reviewed restaurant is a few streets from the Water Puppet Theatre and serves primarily French foods. Prices start from VND130,000 up. A simple main course will set you back US$20-30. Truth be told, the menu was really unappetizing and I couldn't find a thing to eat and many of the Caucasians who came in after us were taking a long time to decide on what to eat as well (some walked out). The menu consists mainly of fish and meats. There are no pastas or antipasti. In the end, I had dessert here for US$10 as it was already late and I had to rush to the Water Puppet Show. If the Green Tangerine is not your cup of tea or not within your budget, there are 2 pubs right across from it which serves pizzas and pastas.

Despite the disappointment of The Green Tangerine, a must try chain in Hanoi is Pho 24. This rice noodle chain serves up delicious pho and spring rolls. A meal here will only cost VND100,000/pax.

Lotteria and The Green Tangerine

Vietnam is well known for their coffee and there are many coffee chains in Hanoi (no Starbucks). Highlands Coffee is 1 of those chains which serves coffee in many styles and a full food menu too.

Ciao Cafe along Hang Bai Road (2, Hàng Bài, Q.Hoàn Kiếm) near Hoan Kim Lake is another go to place for reasonably priced meals. Here, you can get a good selection of pastas, local foods, drinks and desserts for VND100-150,000/pax.

Last recommendation in Hanoi would be Fanny Ice Cream (48 Le Thai To, Hoan Kiem District). This really popular ice cream joint is owned by a Caucasian and there are tons of people and families who come here for reasonably priced ice cream and sorbets. A single scoop of strawberry or mango sorbet will cost VND30,000 and the popular choice here is the multi-scoops platter; suitable for families. Fanny is air-conditioned (thank GOD) and parking of bikes is available outside.

Pretty non-existent unless you are interested in fake North Face bags and straw hats.

Hotel: Hanoi Elegance Diamond
Hotel Review: Very clean boutique hotel with flat screen TV and DVD Player in the room. Staff speak English and are friendly. Rooms are made up twice a day and towels changed twice a day. Laptop and free WIFI in room. Breakfast is included with a small but full selection of International Breakfast.
Weather: 30-36c

Posted by fongie on 6/26/2011 01:01:00 PM in , , , , ,