Family Trip to Vietnam - Around Hanoi

Part 1: Hanoi, Part 2: Ha Long Bay, Part 3: Sapa

Our first overseas family trip to Hanoi,Vietnam!! Woohoo!!

We stayed at Indochina Queen II Hotel, Thuoc Bac Street in Hanot.

1. Hanoi City Tour

Places: Ho Chi Minh Complex (Mausoleum, Museum, One Pillar Pagoda) -- Ethnology Museum -- Literature Temple (Quoc Tu Giam) -- Hoan Kime Lake 还剑湖 -- Water puppet show

Tour guide of the day:  Benjamin

We arrived Hanoi International Airport at about 9am local time, and the tour guide of the day, Benjamin, picked us up.

Some facts about the city told by the guide that I managed to jot down: Northern Vietnam is known as 'Rising Dragon City'; The former name of Hanoi is Thang Long, means 上龙 Rising Dragon; Hanoi (located at the North) is the second biggest city in Vietnam (the biggest city is Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon); Hanoi (or, I think, any other cities in the country) is known as the motorbike city, as out of an almost 7mil population, there are approximately 4mil motorbikes, so the place is literally swamp with motorbikes; in Hanoi city centre, the street names start with the word 'Hang', and each street serves/sells different purposes/merchants, eg they sell chicken on the 'Hang Ga' street, as 'Ga' is chicken in Vietnamese...

Our first stop after we arrived Hanoi was, not the hotel, Ho Chi Minh Complex. It started to rain so we had a hassle taking out umbrellas and rain coats and the baby and blah blah. The Mausoleum is closed from September to November to restore and preserve the body of Uncle Ho, so it's misfortune for us to miss it. The Presidential Palace Area is located behind the Mausoleum, where the office, garden and residences of Uncle Ho are at.

Next, the Ethnology Museum where it displays the exhibits of the ethnic groups in Vietnam.

We went to the hotel for check in, had lunch, threw our stuff in it and took a break.

In the evening, we proceeded to the Literature Temple (Quoc Tu Giam) - Vietnam's first University where they worship Uncle Confucius. There are few rolls of Turtle stelea displayed at the side of the temple to commemorate the emperor Le Loi and the graduates, and there's a tradition of touching the turtle's head for success in study - being the only student in our group, I was 'encouraged' to touch. Bless me turtle!!

Next was the Hoan Kiem Lake 还剑湖 - direct translate would be Lake of Returning the Sword. The story/legend behind this lake is pretty straightforward: The emperor Le Loi was fighting against foreign invasions, he was granted a sword by a turtle, he won the fight, he was boating on a lake when a turtle appeared to claim the sword, he returned the sword - end of story. Nice right? But, I was soooo sleepy, I was sleeping at the pagoda where the rest of them inquired Benjamin the city roads and discussed the way to the water puppet show at night.

At night, we went for our dinner at Mam Restaurant (highly recommended by Benjamin), and headed our way to the water pupper show theater. All this while, I thought the puppeteers control the puppets 'under water'!! The show was amazing! Some of the puppets' moves were amusing too, I couldn't take my eyes off the stage.

After the show, we took a stroll around town, buying dinner for dad who was in hotel accompanying the baby, and I was nearly robbed! When we waited to cross the street, I sensed my bag was being pulled, I assumed it's from my sister or mom holding my bag but I stood behind everyone, so I looked behind and saw a local aunty, caught red-handed, holding my bad's zippers while opening my bag! Noticed I turned around, she quickly let go the zippers and turned to the side looking at stuff on a bicycle stall, like nothing happened!! I stared at her with my deadly gaze, and put my bag in front of me. Luckily she opened the pocket that has the least valuable stuff. Such a bad experience on the first day -_-

2. Perfume Pagoda

This is one of two 1day-tour-outside-Hanoi recommendations Tino received from the hotel, which she thought of ditching one while planning the itinerary but didn't do so as she decided to give it a try and present the findings/result of visiting later (for me to write in my blog hahaha). Another one being HoaLu - Tamcoc.

I personally think that ditch this one and opt for Hoalu - Tamcoc instead, as the hassle of getting to the Perfume Pagoda was rather tormenting. This is why...

The Perfume Pagoda is one of the highlights of Hanoi area and one of the most important religious sites in Buddhist Vietnam. Thousands of Vietnamese come here to pray during the Vietnamese New Year. The pagoda is built into limestone cliffs and can only be reached by boat and foot.

It takes about 2 hour road trip to the 'jetty' from Hanoi. From there, we took on a row boat ride - noted: ONE HOUR on a aluminium 'open air' row boat, no overhead cover, nothing - through the stream to Thien Tru harbour. It was fascinating for the first five minutes as you awed the scenic view, took countless photos of the stream and hills, the view is awesome as the water is still and you get great reflections on the water of the hill... ... ...

... ... ...then you growled for the next 55 minutes, from the view getting boring as it's almost the same along the stream, and you pray quietly in your heart for the rower to go faster - it's all man-power row boat here, so it's all hard work.

Once we arrived the Thien Tru harbor, we had lunch at a restaurant inside the pagoda compound.

Going up from the foot hill to the cable car station is quite a challenge. The steps are rocky, stoney and uneven. Please note if you bring along children and elders. The cable car is the usual ones you'll get at Genting, Langkawi etc.

We were told during the big frolic festive days, Perfume Pagoda would be flooded by hundreds and thousands of Vietnamese, the boat would be sardine-canned maximum of 20 Vietnamese (7 on usual days) and maximum of 10 Vietnamese on cable car (6 on usual days).

Once we hopped off the cable car, the climb to Huong Tich cave is utmost exhausting. Steep stairs assembling those at Batu Caves (which I never been to, use it as metaphor), dad was breathless coming down halfway. Being to Marble Mountain at Da Nang, I would say, the cave is not as magnificent, you can skip this.

We went downhill via trekking where the parents and baby got down by cable car. Going down was at ease.

Oh yeah, the locals work really hard to earn a living, even those selling drinks and snacks. There's this aunty who I labelled her '不屈不挠', followed us from the bus stop to the foot hill, just to sell some drinks! On the way trekking down, I told Er Jie that if she showed up, I would definitely buy a Coke from her, and she did show up! Her price was cheap in fact, so I kept my promise.

I got on a boat separately from my family, according to Chen, Shirlyn was screaming and yelling with loud cry throughout the one hour boat ride, made the boat person very gan jeong and rowed faster! Poor baby was fever and sick that night.

3. Hoa Lu & Tamcoc

Mom, Da Jie and Shirlyn stayed at hotel as the baby was fever and tired.

Tour guide of the day: Huy

Hoa Lu is located 100km south of Hanoi, it took us around 2 hours to arrive the place. It is the harvest season, along the way, after harvesting, the locals performed the paddy process thingy BY THE ROAD. They threw in the harvested rice shoots into a machine and the machine would 'spit out' the empty shoots ON THE ROAD! They also sun-dried the shoots ON THE ROAD for fertilizer. Several times, we had to stop the van as the road was full with shoots or they were shooting the shoots.

Hoa Lu was the capital city of Vietnam under the Dinh Dynasty between 10th - 11th century. It is also the shooting location of Running Man episode 136 featuring Lee Dong Wook and Han Hye Jin as guests. I was on the hyper mode as I went on and on of "Hey Running Man ran around!"; "Hey they played name tag ripping here!"; "Hey that's where the jail is!"; "AH that's the buffalo Suk Jin sat on!"; "AHHhhhhHHH!!"... ... ... I nearly got slapped by Chen from all this Running Man nonsense.

We visited the tombs and sanctuaries of the King and tried to understand the English of Huy, our tour guide. There are two separate tombs/temples for two Kings, which are located next to each other. King Dinh, the first emperor who planned and built this capital, was murdered, and the throne was succeeded by King Le, a general. When Huy explained about this and the tale of the Queen was positioned in the temple and how was she related to both the kings and about the King Dinh's murder, I was still in hyper mode and said:

"OH! The first king was killed? Second king was a general? OH! The general killed the first king!!"

Huy went wide-eyed at my response (and I talked rather loud) and shushed me, but it gave him a good laugh, as unlike a knowledgeable brat on the same van, I didn't asked weird and irrelevant questions like ... I forgot... -_-

Next, we moved to the town for lunch and boat ride around Tamcoc. Tamcoc means three caves and is also referred to as the Ha Long Bay on land. The caves and boat ride was indeed breathtaking, but I gonna talk about the tourist trap thingy.

At the beginning of the tour, Huy warned us about the camera person who offers to take picture of you with a charge, but what he 'chose to forget' to mention was the LITERAL tourist traps on the Tamcoc boat ride. Two person per boat, I was on same boat with dad, Chen with Keong, and Er Jie with a Vietnamese girl. The beginning of the ride was OK, nice, beautiful, serene. The paddlers gave us a paddle to 'assist'. Right after the third cave, we saw dozens of the 'predators' boats waiting for the 'prey' tourists to arrive, trying to sell drinks and snacks. When you do not buy for yourselves, they would ask you to buy for your rower. As naive as I am, dad and I agreed that we would buy drink and snack for our rower and no tips afterwards just for the sake of wanting her to row away from the place. Too bad she doesn't speak English AT ALL, so she didn't get what we mean.

On our way back, we saw few boats were 'dragged' to the side of the way with ladies hogging around them selling needlework and clothes. Coincidentally, all of the tourists on those boats were Malaysians. There was this two Malaysian guys on the boat who the ladies won't let them go easily and some arguments were made. I showed some grumpy face signaling our rower and she smiled while rowing away. At the end of the ride, our rower stopped in the middle of the stream and asking for tips. Frustrated, we gave her VND20,000 (USD 1) just to get us to the jetty. 

Total damage: Boat 1 (Dad and I) = VND 120,000 ; Boat 2 (Chen and Keong) = VND 100,000; Boat 3 (Er Jie) = VND20,000

We got on a bicycle tour around town for about 30 minutes afterwards. It wasn't a compensation lah, we took the tour.

I will summarize the trip (like tips, things to take note etc) at a separate post.


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