Friday, May 29, 2015

LAST DECEMBER: VIETNAM


Hi, Internet friends! *waves*
Hope that each and everyone of you are doing fine this May. The Summer holiday is just around the corner, and for some it has already begun (a.k.a me hehe)! Have you guys made any plans yet? If not, maybe this long overdue Vietnam trip entry will inspire you to get out there and find yourself a dose of adventure *winks*

It was a one-week long holiday from 11 - 18 December in Hanoi (Northern Vietnam). Thank you to all who helped with the planning, including Isabelle Kim who sent me a guide to Hanoi with lots of amazing recommendations and other lovely Instagrammers (@sharerll and @habajaa) who introduced delicious local delicacies to Yi Ming and I while we were there!  As such, I was well-prepped for my trip (except for the wardrobe department - it turned out to be a lot colder than I thought). If you'd like to know more, Isabelle Kim blogged about her trip too, here.


For those who've emailed me for the itinerary, I'm sorry that I didn't reply because we honestly thought we had misplaced the itinerary or didn't even have one in the first place. I've found it though - JUST. It looks rather pathetic; maybe that's why I didn't recall having one anyway haha. Yi Ming had been to Hanoi before, which explains why our itinerary was really brief because everything there was to know was already in his head and I trusted him. 


Don't worry so much about the itinerary. I'm just pasting it here for those who asked and may find useful. I think the photos and my vlog (yes, vlog!) will do a better job of explaining and supporting our itinerary decisions as we go along.

So this is "bun cha." It's Yi Ming's favourite. It is really really nice if you land yourself at the correct place to eat because there are A LOT of self-proclaimed "legit" buncha places that extort tourists. 


So, as the itinerary stated, Day 1 was free and easy after we checked into our Airbnb. I'll admit that our first Airbnb wasn't the most spacious of apartments (because we booked it rather late) but it had a good and central location (near the excellent Bun Cha kopitiam - refer above! Ask the hotel staff for the recommendation if you're interested). We made do with what we had anyway, and we were perfectly fine with it :-)
It's just for one night, so it's cool. No fuss.

link is here if you intend to book *wink*: https://www.airbnb.com/hanoihotel

The weather turned out to be much much colder than I expected. Please do your homework on the weather and never overestimate your ability to weather the cold haha. 

We had a real good time getting tickled by the names of places.
"Impressive Hotel" "Awesome Restaurant"
Singaporeans be like, 'really meh?'

I wish we had more time to spend in Hanoi. I didn't expect to like it that much. It's like a slower, less humid and cooler (in terms of climate) version of Bangkok. I really enjoyed walking through the alleys of blocks and watching the locals going about their day. Check out the photo above and the people chilling outside the balcony. The Vietnamese love tea. They love sitting on small low stools surrounding a small table while savouring the tea and engaging in nice conversation. 


Hanoi has a lot of beauty for one to take in. Look at the details above hung on a tree. Vietnam was a former French colony and hence, the buildings in Hanoi had a Parisian taste to them. The architecture was messy but pleasing to the eyes (at least to mine). I loved that no matter how cluttered the buildings looked, there remained a profound beauty in the mess. There was just something very comforting about it. 

(like I said, it's not for everyone)
If you're ONLY into modern architecture, then Hanoi is probably not for you.


This place was a highly recommended by Yi Ming - the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. He loved it there the last time he went. We walked a great distance from the heart of Hanoi only to find out that most parts of the place was closed for army training or something. Damn. So, once again, do your homework well ha ha. 

Went to this place for dinner because it was highly recommended and it was amazing!!!!!!!!!!! The food there was truly value for money. The menu has a great variety of cuisines; from local to western to eastern. This was no doubt one of the best meals I had in Vietnam and set the bar high for the rest of the trip since it was only the first day ha ha. 
when boyfriend loses a bet?
 To have laid me eyes on something so different to Singapore was refreshing and, at the same time, left me feeling very grateful. 
 This is Day 2 where we set out to Halong Bay! 
The bus from the cruise company picked us from our hotel - amazing service. 

So here's the story: Yi Ming booked a room on the Golden Lotus Cruise but we got upgraded to a 5-star cruise. They're still trying out the cruise and training the staff for service so we were basically their guinea pigs. The cabin was so so beautiful?? We even had a tube in the room and it was very spacious. Lucky us!

video
(lost the actual video so introducing...... the Snapchat version)
(also, if you've watched Happy Ending before, you'd get the amaaaazing lingo)
(if you haven't, you should watch it)

Sneakers got trashed so bad
From dawn to dusk, the sky was simply magnificent :')

The very next day, we got an option to go either hiking or kayaking. By that time, I knew the cold had gotten to me good and I didn't even try to opt for the kayak though I knew I'd enjoy it. The thought of the water being so so cold.... I can't, I just can't. 
The brave souls who chose to kayak haha
Saw the outline of the 1969 islands that make up Halong Bay at the end destination of our hike.
Saw the odd sky with an overcast cloud on one end and bright sun on the other.
Feel so heart pain seeing them working so hard, but damn... women pride. 

After Halong Bay, we went around exploring Hanoi for a bit before catching our overnight train to Sapa - very beautiful place, you'd be in awe. While we had time to kill, we went to check out SEN restaurant, also recommended by the lovely local Instagrammer- and it was amazing! The buffet was so cheap?! It was less than $25 per person, omg. SECOND BEST MEAL EVER. 

Yi Ming: I'm glad that she enjoyed it so much - I had food poisoning since the afternoon and so I just sat there and watched her as she...decimated the buffet. Didn't know one girl could cram so many desserts into her mouth; 8th wonder of the world, indeed. 


So, right here is where I decide to plonk my Vietnam Vlog.
Watch it to get a better idea of places I'd been!
It's always easier when you can put visuals to things I say.

I admit the video quality isn't the best but iPhone is just the most convenient thing ever isn't it?

So, we arrived at Sapa and decided to stay at this place we found on Airbnb: Topas Ecolodge. We stumbled upon it. The place looked absolutely stunning and we thought it was a little too good to be true. What was scarier was that it didn't have any reviews! So we thought, should we risk it? And yeah, we did and made what seem to be the best decision ever.

link is here if you wish to experience Sapa's beauty first hand: https://www.airbnb.com.sg/topasecolodge

 Basically we were just surrounded by nature's beauty. This is how it is like in Fall/Winter. In Summer, it'll ought to be more interesting. The natives will be busy with their harvest :-)

 Speaking of natives, we met them as they gathered outside our hotel. 

They're eager to show tourists around Sapa in the hopes that they will buy a thing or two from them. This is how they make money: by being an unofficial but undisputedly authentic tour guide. 

They're so cute. Along the way, they'd pluck random branches, twigs etc. to make something that'd make me so ashamed of my own hands. These people are so amazing. Without even going to school, they manage recognise plants from their own personal experience.  Really back to basics. 

Then, they generously offered us a tour of their home. I was so touched by the gesture. Of course, I was eager and delighted till I saw their home (as seen in vlog); then, I was crushed. The living conditions weren't what I had expected at all. I know Sapa is a rather backward town; our electricity got cut off in the day and would only resume at 7PM, but I didn't expect the natives to live with a floor covered with dust and.... my heart was breaking, especially after the temporary bond we had formed over the last 3 hours. 

I am really glad to have taken the risk to stay at Topas Ecolodge, despite the inconvenience and  the location being rather inaccessible, Yi Ming and I had the chance to experience something so genuine and authentic - something we would remember a lifetime. 

If you guys have a chance to go there again and meet these ladies, do let me know!
This cat was so comical and clingy.... I loved it. 
The breakfast buffet was decent!
Wore 5 layers. Doesn't seem like it, but it was very cold. 
Yi Ming who was used to the cold by then, said I was exaggerating - I shit you not.

Yi Ming: She is. 



So we checked into another hotel in the main town of Sapa, about an hour's from Topas Ecolodge.
Look at that view from our room!
once again, link is here for you convenience: http://www.booking.com/bamboosapahotel


This market has lots of stalls selling amazing food. Just ask any locals or hotel receptionist where to go for food and I'm sure they'll refer you to here. Yi Ming and I actually spent quite a bit of time there from lunch to supper. Did you notice in the vlog where Yi Ming and I were playing chess? Yeap, that was in the market. We made acquaintances with the vendors there and it felt nice, I must say. They amiably taught us the way to eat their local delicacies; which condiment or chilli went well with which dish etc. 

In Sapa, there is Baguette & Chocolat Cafe where they serve - you guessed it - baguettes and nice cuppas of hot the chocolate - perfect for cold end of year weather.

THIRD BEST MEAL EVER: a super delish piping hot hotpot in such weather in the market mentioned above - walking distance from Bamboo Sapa Hotel

We decided to go for a trek though it had been drizzling quite a bit. We were told by the motorcyclist that our destination was quite near, so we thought, "ok why not." Guess what? We were on the bike for a good 20-30minutes and we were almost soaked. The motorcyclist tried offering us ponchos but they only helped that much. Still, I would do it again because we were laughing so much from the complaints we spewed to each other to and fro the place. 

"Fuck. It's been like 10 minutes, no?"
"I think there's a hole in my poncho"
"Omg. It's so cold my teeth are clattering"
"He said that it was JUST round the corner like 15 minutes ago"
"I swear there's a hole in my poncho"
"On a serious note: do you think we turn back?!?!?!?!"
"But that's like another wasted 15 minutes!??!!?!?"
"Eh, I found the hole"

When the sun finally showed itself, we went on to explore Katkat Village. That was on the last day  of our Sapa expedition, before we headed back to Hanoi to catch a flight back to Singapore.

Well, that's about it for my Hanoi trip. It's been very very lovely travelling with you, Mr. Yi Ming. Thank you for being the wonderful man you're, taking proper care of me during the trip and sweeping me off my feet with the simple gift of a rose stalk (the other stalk was given by the florist himself ha ha). Thank you very much, and I look forward damn well to our Summer adventure together.

27 more days to go.


And thank you guys for still popping by this space though the frequency of my updates has been quite erratic of late. You guys are honestly the best. I do hope this entry has managed to tickle the wanderlust bug in you a little bit at least and hopefully egg you on to get out there for on adventure of discovery! Also, if you guys intend to book the Airbnb apartments I've recommended (you totally should because they're really one of the best among the lot - Yi Ming and I did our research), then the first time Airbnb users (all nationalities are welcomed) should use this link below to get yourself $36 OFF* your first booking. That's like.......... almost a FREE ONE-NIGHT STAY at the first apartment I was in. That's a really good bargain, huh?


The link is right here: www.airbnb.com.sg/irinatyt

Just claim the $36* off first, even if you're not going anywhere (yet) *wink*



* the value changes according to the exchange rate





P/S: Gonna be more active here than Instagram from hereon (fingers-crossed) so stay tuned!







22 comments :

  1. Looks amazing! What I love about travelling is definitely exploring these lesser known places and seeing the nature (which Singapore is very limited with). Awaiting more stories/ updates. :)

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  2. Yay for the update!! Your photos look amazing and it's always wonderful to see places with people that have different stories and lives. It seems like air bnb is a good alternative for hotels and i'll be trying it soon! Is the coupon code limited to singapore?

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    1. Good news: its international, my dear!

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  3. Aww thank you for the shout out <3 Haha I'm glad I could help. Looks like you had a blast!
    Next stop: Korea...? :)

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  4. Irina may I know what kind of lens for iPhone u used to film with (wide eye/fish eye)? :-) And what app did u use for video editing?

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    1. Hi Nic! It's wide lends :-)
      I used iMovie. Basic stuff for amateur like me ha ha.

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  5. Planning to go to Vietnam next year so thank you so much for the airbnb recommendations!

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    1. No worries! Hope you've had an enjoyable trip!!!! ^^

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  6. Hey Irina!
    Which train did you take to Sapa? Also, Is SENS restaurant Maison Sen in below link? I actually found another Sen restaurant that provides buffet so I was a bit confused. https://www.tripadvisor.com.my/Restaurant_Review-g293924-d3376845-Reviews-Maison_Sen-Hanoi.html

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    1. Hi Yi Lian!!! I'm sorry to only get back to you now! I just got back from Korea ytd.
      HMMMM If I'm not wrong, I think the restaurant is Sen Tay Ho West Lake. This is their official website: http://sentayho.com.vn/ and Maison Sen happens to be under the same company!! So you might be right! Just see which is the most convenient branch for you :-)

      Train wise, that'd have to ask Ming! He'll get back to you shortly! HAVE A GREAT TRIP!!

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  7. Hey Irina,

    Loving the post! Very detail orientated! Looking forward to my first trip to Vietnam!! (:

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    1. Hey Rudy,

      I'm glad you like the post!!! Rly appreciate the comment! Have fun! Feel free to ask if you need any other info! :-)

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  8. What a lovely blogpost so enjoyed reading it and how wonderfully personal and authentic....so enjoyed.THANK YOU

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  9. Hi, thanks so much for the detailed itinerary. It helps a lot with my planning! :) Could you let me know how you went about booking your train ride to and fro Sapa? Can't seem to find much information online. Thanks for the help! :)

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    1. I'll ask Ming to get back to you about it! He handled the train booking :-)

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  10. Heyy, could you let me know how you went about booking your return train ride from Hanoi to Sapa? Thank You!(:

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    1. Hi J LeeWQ, sorry that we're getting back to you so late. We understand that you'd emailed us as well, but Irina has been busy w school and I with work!

      Since I was the one in charge of the train booking, let me be the one to tell you about it. We booked our trains on https://www.hanoisapatrain.com, and took the Livitran Express option. The ticketing agent's service was good (They were doing the best we can), but if I remember correctly we had to go down to their office to collect the train tickets. However, the office is quite central so the entire affair is not too inconvenient.

      The train is overnight (About 7 hours long, if I recall correctly). We shared a cabin with 2 others, but I'm sure you can get a private cabin if you spring for the more expensive options.

      Here are the details of our tickets (the sapa train station is called Lao Cai, FYI, and SP7 and 8 are the names of the trains for those specific timings)

      Itinerary 1
      Itinerary: Hanoi to Lao Cai on Livitran Express
      Departure: 13-12-2014
      Start time: 20:25
      Train: SP7
      Type of tickets: Soft Berth (4)

      Itinerary 2
      Itinerary: Lao Cai to Hanoi on Livitran Express
      Departure: 17-12-2014
      Start time: 18:50
      Train: SP8
      Type of tickets: Soft Berth (4)
      Trip Details
      Number of passenger: 2
      Payment Information
      Ticket fare : 168 USD
      Booking Fee: 0 USD
      Other Taxes & Fees: 6.72 USD
      Extra services fee: 0 USD
      Total Amount 174.72 USD

      Since it was quite a while back, I may not be getting this right. However, if I remember rightly, we had to redeem the "ticket vouchers" that we got from our agent in Hanoi for actual tickets at the Hanoi train station. I'm not too clear on this, so you might want to ask the ticketing agent again and arrive early for your train.

      Hope this helps!

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  11. I think this trip was really Adventurous for both of you, and you both really enjoyed your one-week long holiday in cold. Beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing with us.

    Places to Visit in Hanoi

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  12. Hello, hope you are doing fine? Well, thank you so much for all the details. This is a great share. I also love travelling and I am an adventure freak. The pictures are really beautiful. Thanks a lot for this. Visit here if you are a travel lover details- https://www.bravewomentravel.com/.

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  13. Hi, it is easy to move around in Hanoi? Or you walking distance?

    Its seems public transportation is a problem overthere.

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  14. You mean specifically in Hanoi? We walked quite a bit. Mainly because we wanted to see the town. Otherwise, we took the bikes!

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