Monday, May 11, 2015

Fie x Hanoi: City to Countryside

Venturing out from the bustling Saigon streets and into the quieter, more serene countryside of Hanoi posed a huge change for me. Yes, the streets were still traffic-filled, and the little nooks and crannies that housed backpackers and little night markets alike were still filled with the sounds of bargaining and lively nightlife. In the midst of all of that, the greenery and the calm waters that I so fortunately had the chance to experience during my short stint there was what left me with the most lasting impression. 

Before my entire trip began, I had booked all the flights, including the connecting one from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. My first experience with Jetstar was, seemly. I’m not sure if it applies to all of Jetstars’ flights or just the domestic flights, so I don’t have the right to pass judgement. I was really early at the airport, and I accompanied myself with social media (thanks to the unlimited data I had). Finally, boarding time came, and I queued up like any normal person would do, except there’s no belief in systems back in Vietnam. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the rigid-ness of Singapore, and how organized our airport systems are. We had to go down a few flights of escalators before ending up onto the tarmac. Then all of us would board a shuttle bus that would take us to the plane itself. 

This old lady was sitting on the floor because everywhere else was full of suitcases and bags, and every seat was occupied. Well, nobody seemed to mind. The flight was slightly over an hour, and I was thankful that my seat was fixed because the entire flight was full. Now I make a point to book my seats even if it means paying an extra fee. I rather have a good seat than not. I slept most of the way to Hanoi, which was a good thing. The windows were too dusty to see anything out of, which is a real pet peeve of mine because I believe in looking out to see the transition in scenery. I was so thankful to land in Hanoi safely. Took yet another shuttle bus that led us to the terminal where we passed through immigration and out to grab our bags. 

The airport was pretty empty, and I just sat waiting for Dino who had informed me he was going to be late. I didn’t mind, since I could soak myself in the atmosphere of a whole new environment.

I was so glad when he finally arrived, because I was starving. We managed to grab a taxi on the outskirts of the airport for a slightly cheaper fee (because we sorta cheated, woops). Usually taxis exiting the domestic airport are costlier, since they have a basic fee to meet (like the ones in SG), but a kind airport assistant actually took both Dino and I, as well as another family out to the outskirts of the airport where another driver was waiting for us. Dino took me to have an amazing lunch. I learnt that if you want the best food, don’t go to the restaurants, go to the streets. I swear I loved all the food that i had in Hanoi. I mean all of it. 

I prefer the spring rolls in Hanoi because of the soft skin, and it being chock full of filling and seafood goodness. In addition to that, their noodles (they have a million different kinds, I’ve lost track of all their names), oh god, if I ever wanted noodles, I’d go to Hanoi just for it. 

This crispy noodle tasted similar to hor fun in Singapore, but loads better. Soaked in all its gorgeous gravy glory, I’m salivating just thinking about it. 

This is where I ate, and everything is obviously really cheap, so just eat and grow fat. I think that’s the main purpose of everyone’s travel journey. Most of the time HAHA. I managed to roam around and take a few photographs of the surroundings; something I didn’t get to do while I was in Saigon. 

Sidenote: Editing pictures makes your blog look wayyyyyyyy prettier. A camera can only do so much yknow 

Apparently they have Uber in Hanoi/Vietnam, which I had completely no clue about. I mean, does it run the same way? Even Dino was confused, and assumed he booked an Uber, but he actually boarded a cab instead. LOL. So much for trying to save money…..

We finally got to the hostel where he had booked a small room (i lie, they upgraded me hehehehe) just enough for my 2D1N stay in Hanoi.

My first time crashing in a travelers’ hostel was pretty exciting. Located close to the Downtown area in Luong Ngoc Quyen, the entrance to the Discovery Hotel is hidden in an alleyway between two buildings. Guess you have to “discover” where it is ….. ;) HAHA. Okay.

It’s really family-run-ish in my opinion. The concierge or front desk is run by two Vietnamese boys, and occasionally a little girl runs around and interacts with people from afar with her innocent eyes.

Didn’t take any photographs (reference photographs from Google) of the interior, so this is basically what the room looks like after they upgraded me. It’s mad clean, and the bed and pillows are demons that pin you down and soak you in comfortable downy goodness.

Because I have crazy friends who adore taking me out and stuffing me like the fat spring roll that I already am, I never got to have a meal in the hostel and meet people as much as I wanted to. Especially since my stay in Hanoi was so short.

Okay, back from sidetracking.

Met Dawson at the hostel, and Dino had to leave for work. Rested for awhile before he took me to the Hoan Kiem lake.

Oh, right forgot about the famous ice-cream.

It’s not just any ice-cream. It’s generations of generations of generations of goodness. Not overly milky or creamy, it’s surprisingly light, and the cone I adored.

(credits to
35 Tràng Tiền Hoàn Kiếm Hà Nội, Vietnam

It’s a drive-in ice cream place where everyone just gets their ice cream from over the counter, and sits on their motorbikes in the open space indoors to chill and eat.

Dawson and I were trying in vain to make the ice-creams last as long as possible without spilling a drop. 

almost succeeded 
Took a walk to the Hoan Kiem Lake after battling the wild and unruly, yet strangely organized traffic. I’ll never really understand. I think traffic in itself should be considered a language. Locals seem to understand what the various sounds of the motorbike horn means. Like short means “move!” or three short sharp horns mean “get out of the way!” for example. I don’t know…… Someone please explain this.

Just look at this epitome of serenity.

Amidst the crowds of locals running, playing badminton or yes, playing capteh (a similar form of our local traditional game), the lake is just clear, calm and undisturbed.

Of course there’s a legend to this lake.

The legend of the Hoan Kiem turtle.
Dragons connecting Saigon and Hanoi, and now turtle gods.
I’m slightly amused.

If you happen to see the legendary Hoan Kiem turtle, you’d be deemed extremely lucky apparently.
And no, to answer your question, I didn’t happen to see one. But Dawson did, once in his life. Heh.

Back to Hoan Kiem lake…

It’s surroundings are dotted by endless greenery and historical monuments and statues are in various corners of the park surrounding the lake. It has become one of the most popular tourist attractions of course.

Ngoc San Pagoda. Didn’t cost very much to enter, but its quite a pity such a historical site has been turned into a huge tourist attraction. Now people have to pay to see history. Meh.

Just a monk strolling around in his robes with a camera around his neck making a phonecall. Nothing too shocking.

Dawson brought me through the interior of the pagoda after paying his respects. We managed to see the huge preserved body of a Hoan Kiem turtle in this glass case. It was massive, i swear.

Note that I don’t exactly have photographs of myself in Hanoi because I thoroughly enjoyed the surroundings and what they had to offer me. I think I soaked so much of the atmosphere in, I’m Hanoi-sick right now.

Our walk was surprisingly fruitful, and it made it even better that Dawson and I had alot in common to talk about. Mainly photography and Harry Potter surprisingly.

He took me to a quaint cafe in a shophouse for a rest; Cong Caphe, and it was nice to just relax and enjoy a cuppa while having good ol’ conversation.

Huy and Dino came to bring me out dinner . Noodles. :3 (Dawson didn’t get to join us though since he had some assignments to complete.)

Ended my first night in Hanoi with my media bi*ches and the doctor with smoothies and heart to heart conversations.

Back to the hostel at near 12am, and I just slept like a baby till the next morning.
Stay tuned for my next post on how my visit to Ha Long Bay went!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Fie x Saigon: Pink is the new black, hair.

The last full day in beautiful Saigon left me sitting in a salon for almost four hours, and letting Tue the hairdresser attend to my horrible black and orange hair.

I suddenly wish I had done a timelapse of the whole process, but regardless, I had the most gorgeous hot pink/red ombre locks after that. Never in my right mind would I have thought I’d ever dye my hair a bright pink, but it was only about SGD25-30? Yes, I know.

I can’t seem to find the address, but when I do, it’ll be down below!
Mai came home from her interview, and we both needed to get out of the house just to relax and spend some time together doing nothing before I left HCMC.

We finally managed to locate the NYX store, and I got my eyebrow pencil and lip cream. And no, price wise, it’s about the same as it is in Singapore (just that they obviously have more stock as compared to the ones in Sephora here).

Luxe. Again.

I can’t get enough of how gorgeous that hair colour really is.
It’s a pain to maintain definitely, and I’ve been bleeding pink all over my pillows for awhile, but it’s totally worth it.
Dinner was a rustic barbecue place on a rooftop somewhere.

The unique thing is it’s barbecue on a tile, and good god the food captured all of the smoky charr and it was delicious. I got full pretty quickly, especially after the milk tea at Luxe.

Bell joined us, and then they had another round of hotpot.

We ended the night simply by chilling at a bar downtown and singing (more like screaming) our heads off to the beautiful voice of this amazing Filipino singer who basically accepted all our song requests.

It was a good night, and Mai and I got home pretty late. Had to frantically pack my bags in preparation for an early flight out to Hanoi. Legit less than three hours of sleep, and I was up to shower at 5am, and out of the house by 7am?

In the end, I was way early for my flight to Hanoi, and waited for two hours. Thank goodness for the SIM Card i bought. I could entertain myself with social media and videos.

I had no idea what to expect in Hanoi, but I had thoroughly enjoyed myself in Ho Chi Minh.

Of course, I have my wonderful hosts to thank; Mai and her family who lovingly hosted me in their humble abode, and provided me with the best chicken noodle soup, and greeted me with iced coffees every morning. The VPYs, and my dearest friends who took the time to meet me for a short catch up session, and making me feel at home.

I’ll be back.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fie x Saigon: History come alive

The next two days brought me to the roots of Ho Chi Minh City. The first stop for me on the third day of my trip was the Reunification Palace or Independence Palace. Home and workplace of the South President of old Saigon during the Vietnam war, it signifies the end of the war when a North Army Vietnamese army tank crashed through the front gates. The palace itself were surrounded by greenery, all well-kept. In certain areas of the palace grounds stood fighter jets, and even the tank that crashed through the gates was on display. 

Completely a postcard worthy picture. The light was ridiculously good; filtering through the uniquely designed windows. Mai and I ended up taking endless amounts of photographs (most of which I’ve had to filter out) just because of the lighting. 

The palace preserved all the rooms really well, and the place was chock full of tourists. I could have sworn I heard a few Singaporeans (it’s the slang….) walking around. We passed by endless conference rooms draped in red and gold finery on the first and second floor, dining rooms and even their living quarters on the upper floors. In the extremely humid weather, we climbed all the way up to the rooftop. Thankfully there was a slight breeze on the top floor. At first I thought, “Oh that’s it?”, until Mai told me there were basements i.e. war bunkers. 

We got lost looking for the stairs that would lead down to the bunkers, and we got there, it was eerily quiet (with the exception of the swarm of curious tourists). From communication centers to sleeping quarters for the President, there was even a fully equipped kitchen right above the bunkers. The rooms were small, mainly rectangular, and probably measured about the size of an average HDB toilet. We finally escaped the cold of down-under, and up we went to the historical gallery which housed hundreds of old documentations of the war. 

Mai told me about a particular monk that burnt himself in the middle of the crossroads in protest.
Read the full legend about what happened to him, here:

The view of the Reunification Palace from the back of the grounds. Just look at those windows; they look like slits, and yet they let in an amazing amount of light. I’m in awe.

I swear the weather was mad. I’m not the only one who thinks that, apparently.
We made our way to the War Remnants Museum straight after, since the museum would close around 5pm.

Look at the price difference between my ticket and Mai’s. 2000 VND (which is like a dollar or less in Singapore currency) is how much it costs for local students to enter the museum, and 15,000 VND is how much it cost for me to enter.

Upon entering the museum, it brought all those long history lessons to life. When they say remnants, they are not kidding. Replicas of atomic bombs, guns, documentation in the form of graphic photographs and newspaper articles were everywhere. All four floors of the museum was chock full of information. I found it even more fascinating in comparison to the Palace visit, and I definitely learnt so much more.

I decided that photographs weren’t going to do the exhibitions justice, so I shot as many footages of the exhibition on video as I could. I promise that video/vlog will be up soon, I hope.

Two floors of ‘The Effects of Agent Orange’ later left Mai and I pretty distraught, but not distraught enough for her to drag me into the torture chamber located in the backyard of the museum.

Taking history to a whole other level.

This building housed all the torture apparatus that they used back then. From spiked cages to guillotine and sand burials, the place oozed eerie.

You can actually go into the various rooms and look at the apparatus up close like I did. I was fascinated, and slightly creeped out.

After that quick exploration, Mai and I decided to head to Luxe to meet Bell.
Managed to catch a wedding happening across the street; a pretty grand affair involving a white stretch limousine.

They took me to the Diamond Plaza, similar to our Tangs or our more high-end malls. Prices of makeup and other goods there are more or less similar to that of Singapore’s, so I really spent my money reluctantly. I think I only bought one Etude House concealer (which I hardly use now, because it doesn’t suit my skin tone one damn bit).

That basically summed up the second and third day venturing around Ho Chi Minh City. Just one more day left, before we drown in the beauty that is Hanoi.

Watch my full Ho Chi Minh travel vlog here: