The 5 of us convened at Terminal 2 and before we knew it, we were on a plane to Hanoi. We previously researched about the weather and the good eats that were recommended by the Lonely Planet and other websites, though Evonne did most of the work, being arguably one of the more meticulous ones. Hence we knew that the weather was going to be slightly lower than Singapore’s, which was precisely what we experienced as we stepped out of Hanoi’s airport. It was cool, but not to the extent that we required light jackets. We boarded a chartered bus to our hotel, “Hanoi Guesthouse”. It had very good ratings on tripadvisor, so we knew we were in good hands.
The transition from the suburban regions to the urban town was apparent as padi fields and thatched houses located diffusely apart subtly morphed into more congested living- traffic lights, houses stacked like little lego bricks, brimming with culture and French influence, THE TRAFFIC.
Hanoi’s main mode of transportation is via scooter. Our tour guide on the 2nd day told us that a luxury scooter could go as high as 8000 singapore dollars (The Vespa, I presume) while the regular scooter that the vast majority of commuters would rather opt for, costs a reasonable 1000 singapore dollars.
Cars are relatively rare, owing to the fact that there are hardly any carparks in the city centre and the fact that the taxation for cars is high.
It was a culture shock for me because the traffic was relatively chaotic. The scooters flanked the roads like the ocean ebbed by the tides, embellished with the occasional floating log (Ie, the larger vehicles). The pedestrian crossings were almost irrelevant with the congestion, with pedestrian’s weaving in between the scooters and the often-heard horning of different vehicles in various frequencies, almost like an orchestrated song of the city. And yet, there was order in the chaos, -the vehicles knew exactly where to go, which junction to turn and where to safely park their trusted steed. The culture of giving way to other vehicles was apparent and reflected the patience of the Vietnamese, which was nice to witness.
At 430pm. We arrived at our destination and the guesthouse was lovely- the rooms were spacious and clean, with the iridescence of the chandelier in the hotel lobby radiating through the translucent curtains in our room. Stella, Evonne and I shared a room while Gideon and Sam took the other room. We unpacked and went out to explore Old Quarters looking for dinner.
We wanted to experience the authentic Vietnamese lifestyle so we looked for a place where majority of the locals gathered for their meals- in the end we settled for an eatery by the road where the patrons sat on little precarious stools and barbequed raw meat on a grill. It was a cosy experience and I really enjoyed the food, though we were approached numerous times by peddlers, and it was really a gutwrenching feeling having to say no, though some of us would discreetly slip change into older peddler’s hands as the night grew older. We then helped ourselves to the best green tea lattes we had ever tasted in our lives. It was the true blue lifestyle as the stall was patronized by the locals, sitting in the chairs facing the bustling roads and sipping on their drinks.
We attempted to walk off our tummies by coursing through the Old Quarter’s on foot and ended up by the “Lake of the Restored Sword”, adhering to Sam’s favourite phrase which he probably lives by: “ YOLO”. It was a most agreeable walk, where we witnessed the locals sitting by the lake and watching the world go by on a Tuesday night. Couples, young and old, held hands and watched the spectrum of lights reflected into the dark waters as little birds pecked at crumbs under the shade of the cool evening sky. There was even a little parade square where couples waltz as the clock ticked closer to midnight. Old songs rang through the night as did our hearts, mixed with a profound sense of happiness and envy at their lifestyle- without technology, care and worry.
We woke up to my alarm playing Sherlock’s and Adventure Time’s theme song in succession (which Evonne finds annoying), got ready and went downstairs for breakfast at 715am. The Hanoi Guesthouse serves either a Western or Vietnamese set breakfast menu with a free flow of drinks. I ended up ordering the scrambled eggs, as I figured that my cravings were calling out more desperately as compared to my tastebud’s sense of adventure. The temperature on this day was surprisingly cold as we scrambled to put on our coats. I googled it to be 19 degrees.
We then set off on the tour bus to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc. On the bus we were told that Hoa Lu was the ancient capital of Vietnam long before it got shifted to present day Hanoi, more than 1000 years ago under the Monarchy. The tales of kingdoms in chaos after the assassination of the King were almost like a realistic rehash of Hamlet, with probably an equal proportion of drama and tragedy. It was nice to get teleported back in time, to almost imagine the hustle and bustle of an ancient civilization that is lost to the world. The rulers of the dynasty were very much revered, with temples being built in honour of them. It was interesting to note that there was a carved dragon with relatively higher concrete borders to keep water in the centre where the dragon was, as majority of the citizens made their living out of harvesting crops, which needed water to thrive. Hence they wanted to ensure that water touched the dragon for the most part, just like how they wanted the water to shower their crops. I find such little nuggets of trivia oddly satisfying.
About 10km away from Hoa Lu was Tam Coc, which is a tourist resort. We had a buffet lunch there but I tried to stay away from carbohydrates as much as I could, while Sam went back for seconds (this dude has the appetite of Jughead Jones). We took a water taxi to explore a few caverns and lakeside houses. With the 19 degree air caressing my unkempt locks, and living quite literally on the edge (of the boat) it was a refreshing experience, especially for one who loves the water.
What I did not quite enjoy, was the harrowing cycling journey through the village. My bicycle, which my inner bimbo picked because it was pink, had a few screws loose (yeah, like yours truly) and I could not ride it properly. That, and I put on a lot of weight and had not ridden a bicycle since last year. I didn’t fall, but I certainly wasn’t skilled enough to manouvre it through the muddy roads with potholes, so I dismounted and pushed for some distance till we reached a more concrete path. And the tour guide kept moving along without checking back. I understand that he probably had his hands full with quite a big tour group, but there were some forks in the road, one of which led to a graveyard, and one could easily get lost in the terrain. So…minus points!! But it was fun, for the most part, I’ll have to admit.
We got back to civilization after the 1.5 hr bus ride back, and scurried to find some of the food items recommended online, but much to our chagrin, they were closed, so we settled with some random beef noodles near the shutters of the café we could have been in. BUT IT WAS GOOD 😀 and our bellies were most satisfied.
On arrival in Hanoi, we initially wanted to reserve this day for some other activities and to see other attractions, but the receptionist at the Hotel suggested we tried Halong Bay- one of the MUST GO to places in Vietnam. So we relented. We boarded the 730am bus and took the 5 hour bus ride to one of the prettiest taverns in the world.
We booked the 2 day 1 night package, where we’d spend the night on board a ship, a cruise of sorts, if you may. The first day was spent scaling a cave, one of the loveliest in the world, with even phallic rocks to boast of. Tourists pointed and giggled, some ladies blushed, I just minded my step cos I’m clumsy and decrepit. After which the gang tried kayaking and climbing more cliffs. I just sat by the beach and spent more time arguing with the water kiosk dude after he tried to rip me off by selling me a coconut for 8 singapore dollars.
Jokes aside, it was a good day. I reflected a lot about life so far, the direction I was heading in, the things that happened and whether I was ready to cast aside everything and move on gracefully. Wrote stuff into the sand and watched the tides take the pain away. I liked it. I teared, sand got into my eye.
We then boarded the ship, took a shower and went for food prep classes. We learned how to make spring rolls, Sam made a monster roll and took extreme pride in his conquest. Stella and I just made small little rolls and secretly competed. Nah we didn’t. We just decided to throw the loser overboard.
Evonne was too happy with the happy hour deals on Tequila and Uncle Gideon was on patrol, and trying not to be seasick and regretting not taking prophylaxis.
We then had a really lovely dinner catered by the friendly staff (this is an ultimate girly statement. All hold up your floral fans and chuckle softly now, in feminine solidarity)
I took a nap in my cabin and was awoken by Sam the Kraken, Who knocked in the door and shouted, “EH SINGING KARAOKE ALREADY HURRY COME OUT!”
The karaoke machine on the deck had really old songs that only Uncle Gideon would be familiar with. Nonetheless we had fun, and made new Indonesian friends singing in drunken unison. The other tourists didn’t seem very amused, unfortunately…maybe they don’t sing karaoke.
We retired back into the cabins, but Stella and I couldn’t sleep, so we climbed to the top deck and found Sam and Gideon lying on the deck chairs in the cold. Boys.
We joined them and crashed their HTHT and all 4 of us tried looking at stars, but it was too cloudy. So after half an hour of comforting silence, we decided to sleep for real.
I ended up dreaming of Jack. Oh Jack. Draw me like one of your girls.
We woke up bright and early to head to the oyster farm where we learnt how they harvest pearls. I never knew it took 18 months before a pearl forms. Even so, not all pearls formed are perfectly rounded and those get rejected. It’s little wonder why pearls are so expensive! But I was always under the impression that pearls were gently pried from the oyster, which is then released into its natural habitat. Turns out that for every pearl they harvest, an oyster dies from it, which made me kind of sad. Poor things L But I learnt a lot from how they made pearls and how the selection and production process is, it’s tiring and a very tedious process. Hats off to the workers who work very hard to ensure the farm is up and running.
After which it was lunch and we headed back to the mainlands where we checked back into the hotel and I went for an aromatic spa We went downstairs to the hotel dining area and the friendly staff catered an awesome meal for us, we were touched from all the limb and precordial leads of our myocardium. They were so hospitable and lovely. We drank some beer and were having fun until Gid started turning red and adding random Caucasian dudes on my instagram -_-.
We then went to the Dong Xuan market to buy stuff and souvenirs as we were heading back to Singapore the next day. I bought 2 work shoes and managed to bargain down the price as they jacked it up a little. I then felt bad about it because they weren’t earning much and half of me wanted to return them the money I bargained. Then I saw an old lady peddling tissue papers in the cold with a walking stick and I melted. It was really really sad, she should be at home resting and enjoying life instead of standing for hours with a tray around her neck. I don’t remember what happened next, but it involved me shoving all the money I saved that night and a chunk of emergency cash I had left into her hands. I felt a bit better, especially when some teenage boys started buying stuff from her too. I didn’t talk too much about it, because I didn’t want the guys to think I was a wuss. But deep down, I was really heartbroken and I walked around trying to keep myself preoccupied with the sights and sounds so as to not think about this harsh reality.
All I could do was pray that she would be taken care of at home and that life would be kinder to her.
Nonetheless we bought some stuff back for our loved ones and Gid bought this really cute soft toy for his sis, though we secretly pictured him cuddling it at night. We kid, Gid, you’re still the man.
It was our last day and we woke up early to ensure that we saw some attractions before we left for the airport so we went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, entrance was free but we had to make one big round to collect the stuff we dropped off at the entrance because of a communication barrier but the ice lollies we bought made up for the extra walk
We then went to a park for a stroll in the cool weather and saw some really cool swings and a couple of peacocks. Nothing much over there, to be honest.
We then took a chartered bus to the airport and ate some Vietnamese food with our remaining currency before we boarded the flight back.
In all, it was a lovely trip. We bonded a lot and learnt to appreciate each other’s strengths- Sam was amazing at navigation and never failed to make us laugh, Gid was always our very much loved Uncle Gid and we always felt safe when he was around. Stells was just the most accommodating person ever and was super easygoing and fun to be with. Evonne was always decisive and buying a lot of food (which is awesome) so we could try them out (except for the rice cakes, which Sam described as “you just bought a whole packet of gastroenteritis” and pushing for us to go for a massage They say you learn a whole deal about a person by travelling with them, I couldn’t agree more.
To more trips ahead! Let’s stick together and always be there for each other no matter what.
Love you guys ❤