January 15, 2007

Family trip to Hanoi

We've planned for this trip since August as dear old dad had wanted to visit Vietnam. Since both my sisters had been to Ho Chi Minh City, we decided on Hanoi. After dad's passing, we were not sure if mum would still be up to it. When we asked her about it, she felt that we should go ahead with the trip and so we did.

It wasn't a smooth journey from the very beginning, flight wise. The timing of the flights has been changed compared to the time when we booked our flights in September. The KL – Hanoi flight was supposed to depart at 0950 from KL and arrive in Hanoi at 1155 but would now depart at 1500 and arriving in Hanoi at 1725. The return flight was supposed to depart Hanoi at 1235 and arrive in KL at 1700 but that has also been rescheduled to arrive in KL at 2230. We didn't quite like the new timing as we would be arriving very late at night but there was really nothing much we can do.

Anyhow, we left KL on Jan 8 on Air Asia flight AK762. By the time we reached Noi Bai International Airport, cleared immigration and collected our luggage, it was almost 1830 and pretty much dark outside. We took the pre-arranged airport transfer to our hotel, Hanoi Plaza Hotel, located in the Old Quarter. The owner's son who runs the hotel turns out to be a helpful chap and ensured a very quick check-in for our group. The rooms are adequately furnished and well equipped. There are even three computers at the lobby where guests can surf the Net for free. We then proceeded to dinner at Quan An Ngon. The restaurant has really nice ambience and we could see that it's very popular with locals as well. It has a unique concept whereby foods are prepared by the numerous stalls in the compound of the restaurant, which also serves as the alfresco dining area. Luckily the menu was written in both English and Vietnamese as we would not be able to order, as the waiters and waitresses hardly spoke any English. There was a good selection of local foods and we tried different varieties of Vietnamese noodles, and the famous Vietnamese coffee.

Front facade of Quan An Ngon

Stalls in the compound

The next day, we went on a city tour in a private van. Our guide, Danny, has a reasonably good command of English, and the icing on the cake was he spoke Malay too. Apparently he worked four years in Penang and that's where he picked up the language. Our tour started with Ho Chi Minh Complex, which encompasses the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Presidential Palace and the Museum. Our next stop was the One Pillar Pagoda, Temple of Literature, Hoan Kiem Lake with the adjacent Ngoc Son Temple. The tour ended with a trip to the local Dong Xuan Market. It was only about 3pm then and we wanted to visit the Museum of Ethnology, which was 16km away from the city but Danny said that it would be closed by the time we arrived. So we just went back to the hotel.

After the children woke up from their nap, we walked around the Old Quarter, browsing at the many souvenir shops. Brother in law suggested that we have local steamboat for dinner and the hotel helped called a taxi and gave directions to the driver. We were taken to a street where "Lau" or steamboat shops lined both sides of the street. We dined Vietnamese style, sitting on low stools by the road. That was really quite an experience.

Steamboat, Vietnamese style

Early the next morning, we took a private van to Halong City, about three hours away from Hanoi. Upon arrival at Halong Port, we boarded a boat for a tour around Halong Bay. I felt it was rather wasteful that the huge double decked boat with a capacity of at least 20 persons was occupied only by our family. But as we saw other boats, we realized that it's normal practice for the huge boat to be occupied by only a handful of people. Our first stop was at a floating fishing village and the owner of the fish farm where we docked persuaded us to buy a fish from him to be cooked on the boat for our lunch. As we were the only ones there, we felt obliged and against our judgment, paid USD30 for a garoupa. Lunch was served on board the boat and we asked the boat operator to steam our garoupa. It turned out overcooked, so the flesh was rather hard and our USD30 was for naught. We proceeded with our cruise after lunch and made another stop at Thien Cung Cave before the boat took us back to the port. We reached Hanoi after another three hours journey at about 8pm.

Inside the cruise boat

On the upper deck

Villagers selling fresh produce at the floating village

Dinner was at Little Hanoi, a restaurant that comes highly recommended from Yahoo travel site. I should have expected that the restaurant catered mainly to Westerners and the selection of local foods was limited. The quality of food did not disappoint though, and mum was particularly pleased with her braised sweet and sour chicken with rice. The spring rolls and rice paper rolls were excellent too.

We had three-quarter of a day before our flight so we decided to visit the Museum of Ethnology. Upon checking, we found out that it's closed every Monday. However, we discovered that it only takes 15 minutes and from Hanoi and it closes at 5.30pm so we could have made it there on Saturday! Oh well, I guess it was just not meant to be. Anyway, we whiled our time shopping. We bought a huge abstract oil painting for the new house, while sis got some lacquer paintings. These, along with other souvenir items, made the day worthwhile. We returned to for lunch at Quan An Ngon.

We reached the airport at about 1600 for our 1805 flight home. There was a long queue at the check-in counter as many tour groups were leaving on the same flight. The flight was also delayed. After checking in, we had dinner at the airport café. We were surprised to find that the prices were reasonable, and the food delicious, unlike the inflated prices and substandard quality of foods at airports back home. Flight AK763 finally took off at 1930, and we stepped into our house at 0145.

1 comment:

Hijackqueen said...

Wow! The cruise boat indeed looks marvellous! Makes me wanna go to Hanoi.