Sunday, January 15, 2017

Motykas in Asia 2016 - Part 1 Hanoi

Do you remember my posts a while ago about Motykas in Asia 2015? It was the first time that they visited us ever on this side of the world. Well we missed them so much after they went home we convinced them to come back in the following year! :D

This time, it was a shorter trip and we planned to visit places that neither of us had been to. I planned a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. A bit of culture, a bit of nature, and a bit of beach. The plan was supposed to be a meet up at Hanoi airport a few days after Christmas, with one flight arriving an hour after the other. Alas, North American weather was not friendly on Christmas Day when they were supposed to leave and their domestic flight was cancelled. What a disaster! I was really worried that they would not make it at all to meet us, but luckily the airlines were able to arrange an alternative flight 2 days later.

It's better than not coming at all, but they had to miss the first two days of our itinerary and that was the Ha Long Bay Cruise! I felt really sad for them... :(

DH, Miss Kiki, and I started our trip from Jakarta as planned. We left with Thai Airways in the evening with an overnight stay in Bangkok. I booked a hotel about 15 minutes away from the Suvarnabhumi International Airport through Traveloka. For a room that cost less than US $40 per night, it wasn't too bad at all! Clean, spacious, and cute! They provided a shuttle bus for THB 150 per room, not expensive at all. They provided the usual amenities and even cup noodles complete with disposable chopsticks. I took them with us the next morning just in case...

We arrived in Hanoi the next morning with Thai Airways as scheduled. I had booked The Golden Moon Hotel in Hanoi's Old Quarter through Agoda, and I had been communicating by e-mail with Peter the manager to make arrangements. I ordered airport transfer to the hotel that costed us US $18 and I read on Trip Advisor that it was the ongoing rate. Before we went in the car, we bought SIM cards for each of us. The cost was US$ 7 each for data SIM cards and no SMS nor calling.

Hanoi Airport looked new, it was large and clean. The toilets were spacious and clean, I got a little embarrassed when I thought of our toilets in Jakarta airport :(

Hanoi Airport

Hanoi Airport
The temperature was 19 degree Celsius when we arrived, it was very comfortable. Unfortunately, the sky was hazy. It seemed like smog to me... not any better than Jakarta sky some days. The roads near the airport were super wide and not too many cars were around. However, on that very road, I encountered the first taste of Vietnam-style traffic. A person crossed the road nonchalantly right in front of us, forcing our driver to slam the brakes and blare is horns. Later on I found out that this was quite normal in Hanoi.

The trip to the hotel took approximately 40 minutes. Peter was already waiting for us at the lobby and we were seated on the sofa and served some drinks and sweets. Miss Kiki really liked the Lotus Seed Candies they gave us. She also loved the swirly straws they used for the drinks. These straws seemed really popular in Hanoi.

Lotus Candy
Peter explained that our room was not ready yet as their check-in time was at 2 pm, but he had prepared a map for us with itinerary recommendations for the day. It was around lunch time so we decided to venture out for lunch. We asked Peter for restaurant recommendations, and he suggested a restaurant called Red Bean. We checked it out on Foursquare but decided to find street food instead.

As we walked around, we passed by this noodle soup restaurant and decided to walk in. No one spoke English there, but the server brought us a piece of laminated paper that said "Pork Meatball Noodle Soup". I tried asking if they had other options but no one understood. In the end we settled with 2 bowls of that soup. The taste was a bit disappointing, but we were hungry. The other tables seemed to have other toppings in their soup but we were not given that option. Oh well....

After lunch, we walked around the Old Quarter some more. It was quite a challenge to walk there especially with a child in tow. I would say the conditions are worse than Jakarta, though DH disagreed. Mind you, I mostly drive in Jakarta and he was the one who walked more often. Motorbikes and scooters were everywhere in Hanoi's Old Quarter, riding at high speed, regardless of the lanes and sometimes on the sidewalk. It took some getting used to even for us. I could only imagine how challenging it would have been for someone who came from a more rule and system driven society.

The streets were decorated nicely, and I still see a lot of people wearing the traditional cone-shaped hat. Not uncommon in Jakarta either, but the way they were made were different. There were many stores and street vendors around offering all sorts of things to the people passing by. Food, flowers, souvenirs, and more. Check out the chairs they set up for the street. They were stool size and they looked like they were made for children. Except that adults were sitting on them and that was normal.

 Having been disappointed by the first street food, I wasn't keen on trying more. I wanted coffee though, so we walked towards the lake and I insisted that we had coffee at a nicer cafe. I chose Haka Cafe. We still sat on the sidewalk but the cafe looked much nicer than the previous eatery. Mind you, a cup of coffee at this cafe cost the same as 3 bowls of noodles earlier. We tried the famous Vietnamese Coffee and Egg Coffee. Both were very good! We found that in Cafes in Vietnam they always give either a glass of water or ice tea for every customer.

Egg Coffee

Vietnamese Coffee

After a while, DH got tired of sitting around so he invited Miss Kiki to walk around and explore with him. Miss Kiki accepted the invitation with delight. I am very blessed that DH is quite involved with teaching and playing with Miss Kiki. He covers for where I lack and vice versa. 

So here are some pictures they brought back...

After coffee we walked back to the hotel to check in to our room. The room was clean even though it was a bit tight compared to the one we stayed at in Bangkok the night prior. At less than US $40 per night, I can not complain. It was good enough. We rested for a while and then ventured out again to try some Banh Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich. This time, DH got to choose. The sandwiches weren't as spectacular as we had expected, but they were still pretty good. It was difficult to find good food when you don't know any locals who knew the area well.

Here Miss Kiki got a hold of the map and she started making plans for herself. She made a list of places she wanted to visit. Unfortunately, they were all rather far (not walking distance) and the only one we could do from the list was the Water Puppet show. I felt a bit guilty for saying no to most of her list but she was a very good sport about it.

As promised to Miss Kiki, we went to the Water Puppet show right by the lake. Alas, the tickets were sold out. Poor Miss Kiki didn't get to see it. She was quite disappointed but agreed to go for a walk around the lake instead. 

There were many people around the lake. It seemed like a popular spot for locals to gather too. Some were exercising on the equipment available, some were playing a game similar to hackey sack but with a feathery thing instead of a sack, some were just sitting around on the benches, quite a few jogging around, and many more.


Rat hole. I saw the rat too!

The windows and doors on this building are just paintings.

Miss Kiki got tired after a full circle so DH kindly offered a ride. I said better enjoy this while it's still possible!

We walked back towards the hotel while searching for dinner. On the way, I bought grilled corn because I usually like them. Well, the corn they had in Hanoi tasted very different. It had a strange starchy texture I couldn't bring myself to finish it. 

Near our hotel, there was a boutique that had a very nice dress on display. I had been eyeing it since the afternoon. I decided to check it out only to find out that it cost US $ 2500. Unbelievable!

So we settled for dinner in a restaurant across from the hotel. It was not bad at all.

We turned in after dinner and checked out the next morning. Right before we left, Peter came and gave Miss Kiki this souvenir and a big hug. How nice!

Next was our trip to Ha Long Bay.