Falling in love with Hanoi the second time around

The first time I went to Hanoi was in 2010. It was the last stop in my 10-day trip in Vietnam, and after going from Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, and Hue, I’m ready to just take it easy. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Toy Story 3 just came out, so instead of sightseeing as all the travelers are doing, I did what the locals do on a Saturday afternoon: I watched a movie. Apart from that and my day trip to Halong Bay, I did nothing else in Hanoi.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

That’s why when I got the invite from Cebu Pacific to visit Hanoi, I jumped on the chance to really see what Hanoi has to offer.

Cebu Pacific flies to Hanoi three times a week from Manila. The flight arrives in Hanoi just past midnight, and flies back at 1 am, giving tourists an entire day to explore the city after and before their flight. Perfect for a weekend getaway.

Though the trip was just a tad longer than my previous trip to Hanoi, I was able to see and do a lot more. Here are the things I loved about this city:
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Vietnamese Encounters

I forgot about my hunger when I got off the taxi in front of my hotel in Hoi An. I was excited to be in a new place, and after checking in and dumping my things into my room, I was out in the streets, eager to explore. I turned left in a crucial intersection, towards the opposite direction of Hoi An’s old quater. There was nary a tailor in sight, just houses and shops catering to the local’s needs.

Riding in Ho Chi Minh
Morning traffic in Ho Chi Minh city

She was standing on the curb, about to ride her scooter, when she called out to me in English. “I saw you on the other street,” she said. “You’re in the wrong part of town. Did you just arrive in Hoi An?” I was never the type to start a conversation when I travel, so to have someone engage me in conversation can be a treat, specially after traveling solo for a couple of days. I was just to ecstatic to be talking to somebody that even when the word “tailoring shop” was thrown into the conversation, I shrugged it off, and instead hopped into the back of the scooter when she offered to take me to the Central Market, where her shop was.
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Travel Expense: Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia

It’s not the cheapest of trips (specially if you see the version where my personal shopping was included), but relative to how much I spent on previous trips, this is pretty good for a 2-week jaunt across three countries. The tickets I hoarded last year played a big part in keeping the budget low. For a total of Php 5,275.85, I was able to fly to Saigon from Manila, Saigon to Da Nang, Hanoi to Bangkok, Bangkok to Krabi, Krabi to Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to Manila.

Vietnam was pretty cheap. Dining at the restaurants can set you back around Php 300, while dining in the streets or markets can go as low as Php 40. Accommodation is also relatively inexpensive. My rooms range from $15 to $18, all with air conditioning and a fan, with ensuite toilet & bath, cable TV, a closet and even a small fridge. While the xe om is the most popular way to getting around town, I prefer to hop on a cab. The taxis in Vietnam are well kept with good air conditioning. Meter starts at VND 9,000 for the small cars, VND 10,000 for the sedans and VND 12,000 for the vans (depends on the company). Be careful about the taxis though; there are rogue taxis that use a very fast meter! They use the same name as the big cab companies, only changing one letter and using almost identical hotline numbers.

Krabi, on the otherhand, is pretty expensive (as expected). However, in the midst of the Thai and Italian restaurants, there are small street stalls selling noodles and rice. I stayed in Ao Nang beach, and it’s small enough to walk around. You can take the tuktuk around town, but to go beyond, you’d either have to ride the government songtheow (with routes to Krabi and other places) or hire a taxi (taxis in Krabi are Toyota Fortuner. Sosyal!)

Bangkok and Kuala lumpur are only in the itinerary for transit and shopping.
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Vietnam Diaries: Hanoi and Halong

I’m at the Hanoi airport, sitting on the floor while waiting for Air Asia’s check-in counters to open. It’s my last hour and some stray minutes in Vietnam.

Hanoi has been… interesting. The city has an old world charm. The streets are small in the Old Quarter, lined with shop houses with French and Chinese influences. Sidewalks are nearly non-existent as some shops extend their wares, while most use it as a parking spot for their motorcycles.
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Vietnam Diaries: I’m in love with Hue

I can’t stop saying it — Hue is awesome. Sure it’s freaking hot and the electricity goes out in some areas in the morning, but there are airconditioned mini malls with wi-fi. Like Ho Chi Minh City, there are also plenty of parks around that overlook the Perfume river.

Sayuri at the Imperial City
Sayuri celebrated her birthday at the Imperial City

A visit to Hue is not complete without going to the Imperial City. Enclosed in a citadel across the Huong River, the walls are imposing and thick. When you pass through the arch that serves as a gate, it’s like you stepped back to a different time.
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