Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hanoi 河內 Hà Nội

Hanoi 河內 - if the traffic doesn't drive you over the wall, the constant fear of getting fleeced or led down the wrong alley would certainly get to you. Find comfort and peace before 6 am around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Our journey in the airport shuttle from Hanoi Airport to city centre. 

The plane carrying mum and dad touched down in Noi Bai International Airport, Hanoi. Decision was made not to take a taxi to the city. Instead they got on the official Vietnam Airlines airport shuttle and for US$4 pax they got dropped off near the hotel they stayed in. No amount of research would prepare you for the traffic in the city centre.

Jay Walk in Hanoi (the norm)

Six on Sixteen was a small hotel with 6 rooms located near Hoan Kiem Lake. Decor was basic and the room simply had a large hardwood bed and a shower cum toilet, but its location was perfect. Mum decided to seek advice from one of the staff at the hotel regarding where to have lunch. The guy printed a black and white map and directed mum to a nearby restaurant (Cha Ga La Vong). After 15 minutes of walk in sultry heat, they arrived at their destination. Before they even crossed the street, a gentleman from the restaurant waved and tried to get them to go into the restaurant. Instinct told them to be wary of the place. They thought it couldn't be the place they were looking for. So they walk around for another 10 minutes to look   in vain. They concluded that the earlier restaurant was the place they were meant to have gone. They went into check the place out and 30 seconds later, they came back out.

They went to Quan An Ngon (apparently the first one was in Ho Chi Min) as per their earlier research.   A collection of little food stalls, surrounds the outdoor tables, serving a good selection of traditional vietnamese food.  It isn't cheap but reasonably priced. A great alternative to the road side stalls.

After lunch, they went to have a coffee at Hapro Bon Mua by Hoan Kiem Lake. Iced Vietnamese coffee was perfect for the weather and it was a perfect haven from the bustle of the city.

Panoramic view of Hoan Kiem Lake

Smoke & Ride - another way to relax in the streets of Hanoi

They set out to find local food in the Old Quarter for dinner. Dad literally couldn't stomach them seeing how the dishes were prepared and consumed. Piles of steamed crabs were laid at street level and eaten right there. Beef was being sliced on a chopping board lying on the pavement under the dimmest light imaginable. No internet research could prepare your mind.

They ended up eating at Little Hanoi, which was purportedly recommended by Lonely Planet (even thought there seemed to be a Little Hanoi at every street corners.) Inside the restaurant, they saw the pair of young Australian ladies who they met earlier in the airport shuttle. Hanoi was small indeed. The fried eggplant and the spring rolls were not bad, but the steam rice weren't cooked through.

The following morning after a simple breakfast at the hotel, they went out to see some of the tourist sites in Hanoi. Lunch was at the Rooftop in Pacific Place. Lunch sets were fantastic and great value. And you got the skyline view of Hanoi for free!! Highly recommended. Perhaps the only thing that they would wholeheartedly recommend in Hanoi.

Built almost 1000 years ago, One Pillar Pagoda is considered one of 2 Vietnam's most iconic temples. 

After visiting the One Pillar Pagoda, they finally conjured up the courage to take a taxi back to Hoan Kiem Lake. They tried their best to avoid all the cabs loitering around the area soliciting tourists for business (piranhas and great white sharks sprang to mind). As soon as they saw a Mai Linh cab stopped and dropped some passengers off, they jumped on the cab. Only to be told that they need to get off the taxi before the taxi meter could be reset. After a little bit of shopping, they went back to the hotel and got ready for their overnight train journey to Sapa.

The Hanoi train station was packed. Platforms were basic and unlike what you expect in the west, they were not raised platforms and the paths to the designated platform was uneven and dimly lit.
An old lady selling provisions to passengers getting on the overnight trains.

Platforms were not raised, so the first step up the train carriage seemed particularly steep at the Hanoi Railway Station.

==> Sapa

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