Vietnam is the kind of an exotic country that will always leave a huge impression to all of its visitors.
However on your first day, it’s going to be a real adjustment; and sometimes, you might have this vague and disturbing thoughts into your mind like,
“What am I doing here?” or “What have I gotten myself into?”
Well that kind of impression is quite normal on day one, and don’t worry, as you go along on your stay there, you will realize that it may seem a bit chaotic at first, but, it is a beautiful and authentic country. Plus, you will insanely and hopelessly fall in love of the place.
But if someone is going to ask me as to why I have chosen this country as my next trip abroad. The answer is, I still don’t know. It’s just that, when I had the chance to book a promo fare online, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I just booked some round-trip tickets from Manila to Hanoi for me and my younger sister, and that’s it; even I was surprised after I did it. And since we still have months to prepare for it, we’ve both decided to slowly do some research about Vietnam, then plan and finalize everything.
It was a sisterhood team-up that took months and months of researching and planning in order to hopefully make sure that we will be able to make the most out of our trip. For my part, I did the booking of airline tickets, hotel accommodations, arranging of our day tours, planning our itineraries from day one to five, and budgeting our finances. Then for my younger sister, she mostly did the navigating (which is a huge weakness on my part), finding the best spots for our food trip, checking out some useful information from other Vietnam visitors, my partner in taking photos (cause she’s really good at it), and of course, the bargainer for our pasalubong (souvenirs) for our friends and family back home.
After all the planning and preparing, we were officially on our way to Vietnam, and we arrived at the Noi Bai International Airport Terminal 2 at around 12mn. By the way, in terms of its time difference, Hanoi is one hour behind in Manila.
Moreover, one advantage of the Philippines as part of the ASEAN is that Filipinos can go to Vietnam without having to apply for its Visa on Arrival. Just set off straight to the immigration and look for the ASEAN sign as to where you will go to present your passport.
Then at the arrival area, we were quite surprised to know that the driver who was supposed to pick us did not arrive. So I contacted the hotel staff with regards to it, and he gave us an option to just take a taxi from the airport going to Hanoi HM Boutique Hotel, and also informed us that he is going to pay for our fare. The journey took for about 30-40 minutes, and upon arrival, we were so beyond exhausted that we had slept right away at 3 am. Then we woke up at 6am to get ready for the day, and ate some breakfast at the hotel’s small dining area with an overlooking view of the Hoan Kiem Lake. After eating our buffet meals, we went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater to buy our tickets in advance for the 6:30pm schedule; in which I recommend to buy the tickets way too earlier since it’s mostly a full pack show, and also to get the best seats.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Since we’ve already planned our itineraries, my sister and I already know what to do on our first day; so the first site that we’ve chosen to explore was the Hoan Kiem Lake. The reason is that if you will decide to go there in the late morning and beyond. Tendency is that you will bump into a lot of foreign visitors. After that we went to the Café Giang 39 to try its famous egg coffee, a place that can only be found in the middle of an old alley. For our next stop, we went to Café Pho to try its other version.
Both were very delicious, so it’s kind of hard to say as to which one is our favorite. The only thing that I could say about it is that each coffee is so fluffy, so foamy, and so yummy. Definitely worth trying.
Old Quarter, Hanoi
For our lunch, we ate at the Green Tangerine – an old restaurant in which the place looks like a touch of Paris in Hanoi. I must say, the food and its dessert taste delicious; and while eating you’ll really enjoy the ambiance of the area.
But before I move forward into our story, I would like to share some insights on our first morning of exploring in the old quarter, and that is, one of the surprising things that we’ve observed is that Hanoi is a very old fashioned type of city, and the locals there are kind of laid back. Well it’s just that, they don’t seem to be like the kind of people who are in such a hurry. But the ironic thing is, in terms of crossing the street, you have to be very alert because they ride their scooters way too fast. So if you’re someone who lives in a place in where crossing the street is too convenient for you, then be prepared to be surprise, and master the art of doing it.
Another useful tip for future Vietnam visitors, when buying a drinking water, or other important items. I suggest that you purchase it at a grocery or convenience store that has an actual price tag. It is because there are some local sellers who tends to take advantage of its foreign visitors. One example from our many encounters was that when my sister was trying to purchase one liter of drinking water at a street vendor, she was informed that it cost for about 200,000 dong (P450 or $9), and then it was lowered to an amount of 50,000 dong (P110 or $2). But when we went inside a convenience store like Circle K, we were so glad to know that such an item was only 10,000 dong (P20). So we bought a gallon for refill purposes (cause I had a tumbler with me), and it only cost for about 25,000 dong (P56 or $1.36). Which is definitely the right price.
Plus, it’s a good thing that they we’ve made a note by doing a list on certain amounts of dong if it would be converted into Philippine peso; something that we did so that we would not be scam by some local sellers, and of course to know how much to bargain.
And that covers up our first morning of exploring.
In the afternoon, we went to explore every nook and corner of the French Quarter. A beautiful district in where you can see tons of houses and buildings in the French style. And for one moment we thought that we were actually in Paris. Which was totally awesome.
Although it did rain in the middle of the afternoon, but it still didn’t stop us to wander around. As long as we have our umbrella and offline Google map, then we’re good. So while we were walking from one block to another. Little did we know that we were already near the place in where it sells a Beef Pho. In which according to my younger sister is definitely one of the yummiest noodle soups in the country. So we went there to try it, and I tell you, it taste so good.
Also, one of the places that we’ve passed by was the small restaurant in where my idol Anthony Bourdain ate some Bun Cha, and drank some local beer while conversing with former US President Barack Obama. Wish we could go inside, but we were sort of in a hurry since it was already past 5pm, and we have to walked back again to the Hoan Kiem District, in order to catch up on the Water Puppet Show. And my goodness, upon arrival, we were soaking wet due to all the walking that we did in the rain. However, we still have 30 minutes to change, so we first dropped by at the hotel, went to our rooms to change in our dry clothes, and when we’ve arrived at the Theater, we were just in time for the next show to start.
French Quarter, Hanoi
The Water Puppet Show is about the day to day living of the locals in Vietnam during the old times, with some local background music that makes it so enjoyable to watch. Since the dialogues are in Vietnamese, my advice is to read some information about the program before heading off to the theater. And one of the things that I really enjoyed there was that I was so amazed of its audience; so many foreigners from different countries all over the world. Plus, to hear them talking in their own native language was definitely a cool experience especially when it’s all blending as one.
By the way, please avoid taking too much photos or videos while the show is ongoing. It is because you will miss the real essence of being there. Moreover, you’re supposed to be watching the actual live show, and not through your gadgets. Trust me; it’s worth putting aside your phone or camera for one moment.
French Quarter, Hanoi
After that, we still had some time to explore the district, so we walked around the area before we head back to the hotel to sleep, since we really need to have an early start in preparation for our long journey to Halong Bay. And that’s it, our very exhausting and exciting first day in Hanoi.
Thank you so much for reading! 🙂
Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
Hoan Kiem District