vietnam chronicles: old quarter in hanoi

the old quarter in hanoi is a mix of the old and the new.  i think it’s a natural phenomenon (!) to get lost on its busy streets where motorbikes and cyclos dominate.  i almost got hit by a careening bike as i was crossing the street, it is something that one should be cautious of when walking along on these streets.

motorcycles is the primary mode of transport in major cities of  vietnam.  it accounts for 60 – 65 percent of vehicular trips, with bicycles accounting for another 25 percent (sourced from

i almost got scammed by one taxi driver when i noticed his meter was “running” too fast for a short distance ride.  though we were shouting at each other – him telling something in vietnamese, me saying “i would not pay for that” and gave him the supposed correct fare that left him a bewildered look.

i accidentally passed by this shop selling trendy shirts and are “originally vietnam”.

ginkgo was established in ho chi minh city in 2007.  their shirt designs represents vietnam pop culture.

their shirts have a very reasonable price.  i got three shirts for myself and one for my good friend, docgelo.

these designs are “star” and the comic book design, “saigon story”.  ginkgo is available online for international orders.  check their website here.

interestingly, the ginkgo shop in hanoi has an art gallery upstairs.

an impressive canvas painting on the floor.

locals doing their daily life routines.

do you think she looks vietnamese?  one thing i noticed with hanoi is that most of their women have porcelein-like skin and beautiful features.

women wearing ao dai, their national costume.

i left the shop with a grumbling tummy and searched for a nice restaurant for lunch and found little hanoi.

the restaurant offers vietnamese and western dishes and of course i was craving to taste some local food.

as an appetizer, i ordered some fresh spring rolls, succulent shrimps wrapped in rice paper.

the original recipe has pork on it but i requested the waiter not to put any.

i also had some pho ga (chicken noodles), hanoi specialty.  it’s a big serving but still i was able to finish it.

it has mixed positive and negative reviews back at tripadvisor website and some found it pricey but personally i enjoyed what i ordered and it satisfied me.  the service was also good with their friendly staff but they do not accept credit cards.

little hanoi is in 14 ta hien street, in hoan kiem district.

vietnam chronicles: a walk around hoan kiem lake

it was a saturday morning when i went to hear mass at saint joseph cathedral in hanoi.  the mass was scheduled at 5:30 and i was about some minutes early.  i walked around the cathedral and took pictures of its façade.

built in 1886, it is neo-gothic in style similar to indonesia’s gereja katedral jakarta which i was able to visit last march.

the cathedral was closed in 1975 upon reunification of vietnam and was not reopened until 1985.

i have read some reviews about it being inaccessible due to the locked high fence and closed doors, likely it is only open during mass.

the cathedral is located in hoan kiem district.  it creates an interesting fact that between the busy streets and the bustling of people and many motorbikes of the old quarter, a solemn, beautiful edifice exists.

i was reluctant at first to take pictures of the altar when i was inside for it might be prohibited.  a novena was ongoing so i simply just took a few shots.  i then took a seat on the last pew near the main entrance door of the cathedral.  the mass started and it was in vietnamese, though i did not understand a single word there was still the part of the mass when they sang the lord’s prayer with the church goers hands slightly lifted.  when the mass has ended, most of the interior lights were shut off.  about 7% of vietnam’s total population are catholics.

midday i walked around hoan kiem lake, which is near the old quarter of hanoi and a walking distance from the hotel i was staying on.  it is said to be one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.

the welcoming morning sunlight bridge (cau da huc) is a red wooden bridge that connects a small islet in the lake to the shore.

there is a small entry fee to get into the islet.  inside is a temple and some souvenir shops.

this structure is the main gate.

a preserved specimen of the hoan kiem turtle is on display in the temple.  these endemic, soft-shelled turtle specie was known before to be extinct but was then found out that there is one elusive female that still thrives in the lake.

the turtle tower, a small pagoda erected at an islet in the middle of the lake.

it is a tower honoring the mystic turtle of hoan kiem.

the turtle tower (thap rua, in vietnamese) was built in the mid-18th century.

vietnam chronicles: ha long bay day cruise

ha long bay, a unesco world heritage site and one of the new 7 wonders of nature is found about three hours ride away from hanoi.  mr. duc, the manager from the hotel i was staying on, arranged a day cruise for me which costs $25.00 that included the tour, transport and lunch.  i was ready by 8:00 in the morning and the tour guide personally fetched me in the waiting area of charming hotel and directed me to a van parked nearby.  when i boarded the vehicle, there were already other tourists inside because it was a group tour.  we were asked by the guide to introduce ourselves and which country we were from.  our group consisted of a french couple with their three adolescent children, a middle-aged british guy  and some local vietnamese.  about mid-way to our destination, we had a short stop at a restaurant and souvenir shop where some handicrafts are mostly made by disabled people.  it was not allowed to take pictures but when i was in the lacquerware workshop, they let me snap a few shots.

made from inlaid duck egg shells, these lacquer finished paintings are a work of art.

i would have bought a piece but i did not want to go beyond my travel budget.

this snake and scorpion wine was along the oreos and other chocolate cookies in the snack bar of the restaurant.  it is actually fermented rice liquor (plus a preserved dead snake and scorpion, lol!) and is supposedly health beneficial.

we continued our travel to ha long and we arrived the port.  the tour guide distributed our tickets and we waited for our boat.

our tour boat, manhan.

we boarded the boat and it started to slowly ply the waters of the bay.  i enjoyed the scenic view of these limestone karsts and cliffs in various sizes and shapes.  they were similar to the ones found  in puerto princesa in palawan which i visited almost two years ago, the difference is these are many.

we were served lunch and stopped by in one small fishing village.  i took a picture of one local woman selling some fruits and vegetables from a wooden boat.

some of the villagers also sell fresh seafood that they farm which can be prepared in the boat.

we then visited one of the caves of ha long and before that the tour guide gave us an introduction about ha long bay itself.

the cave we visited is named as thien cung , a recent discovery as told by our guide.  it was illuminated with different colors of lights.

there were shops selling souvenir items outside the cave where i bought some ref magnets.

we then travelled back to the port and started a three-hour ride by bus back to hanoi where i was dropped off near the hotel i was staying in hoan kiem district.