Previously known as Thang Long, Hanoi is the cultural capital of Vietnam where scenes like swarming motorbikes, locals drinking bin hoi (beer) on the roadside pavements and French-inspired architecture are the norm. Located on the riverbank of the Red River, Hanoi has existed for more than 1,000 years. To commemorate and celebrate its 1,000th year of establishment in 2010, an amazing ceramic mosaic mural six kilometres in length depicting the history and culture of the Vietnamese people was put together by local artists.
It is often said that being in a different country with different language and culture, situations could either be fun or disaster. Therefore, travelling with good travel company is the best choice, as they would provide professional guides and transportation for you to move around with ease and confidence.
Discovering Hanoi the City
After undergoing through the arrival formalities, we headed straight for the city tour. We were first brought to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the embalmed remains of Ho Chi Minh can be viewed by the public, but no photography is allowed. Placed in a 70 feet high and 135 wide mausoleum, the edifice looms over the Ba Dinh Square, where President Ho once declared the independence of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. This historical place is closed every Monday and Friday, all afternoon and from early September until mid-November. However, do take note that visitors are bound by strict behavioural rules and dress code upon entering the mausoleum as mark of respect towards Ho Chi Minh, who was also fondly referred to as Uncle Ho among the Vietnamese.
Close to the mausoleum is Vietnam’s most iconic temples, the One Pillar Pagoda. This temple was built by Emperor Ly Thai Tong as his gratitude towards God who appeared in his dream sitting on a lotus flower and handed him a son, which later turned into reality. The temple sits on an erected pillar in the middle of a lotus pond similar to the Emperor’s dream. This beautiful temple was built from wood on a single stone pillar, designed to resemble Buddhist’s purity symbol, the lotus flower.
Still grasping in awe of the One Pillar Pagoda, we headed to the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s revered first national university. Founded by Emperor Ly Thai Tong in 1070, this traditional Vietnamese architecture temple was specially dedicated to Confucius and Vietnam’s finest scholars. Before 1442, only those of noble birth are allowed to enter the temple. However, after 1442 it was open to all Vietnamese.
People from all parts of Vietnam thronged to the temple, in the hope of being part of the temple, as being successful here would change their fate and future. To honour the scholars, the name and details of those who passed the examination were carved in stones so that their names will be remembered forever. Eighty-two stelae remain standing with 1.306 names on them. Besides that, this temple also consists of classrooms, dormitories for the students, ponds, pavillion and a pagoda. The complete facilities provided by Emperor Ly Thai Tong managed to attract the people of Vietnam from different backgrounds to help develop themselves and improve their future. Being in the Temple of Literature and listening to Mr. Thang’s explanation about this place brought my imagination to an ancient Chinese drama where people travel from different parts of the country to the palace, to sit for the examination to be a scholar. The atmosphere is exactly similar at the Temple of Literature.
Later in the evening, we went to the Old Quarter, where tangled web of streets are filled with motorbikes and cars from all directions. At first, Old Quarter was a group of workshop villages that surrounds the royal palace and later evolved into craft cooperatives, or guilds that soon became a trading area. Consisting of 36 old streets. Old Quarter does not only attracts the locals, this place is also very popular among tourists. You can get almost anything at the Old Quarter; from jeweleries, shoes, silk, jars, street food – almost everything! Old Quarter is definitely a paradise for those who like to shop. In order to get a good price for your item, remember to bargain smartly and the best part of shopping here is that most of the shops accept both the Vietnamese Dong (VND) and the US Dollar (USD).
Old Quarter is an amazing place that should not be missed. The best way to explore Old Quarter is by walking and if you do not want to go through the sea of humans, you can always opt for the trishaws that are readily available at every corner. The roads are always busy and seemed impossible to cross. The trick in crossing busy roads in Vietnam is to walk slowly so that the drivers could estimate the right speed to drive their vehicles so that they won’t run into you. Being a first timer in Vietnam, we almost got hit by a motorcycle as we were running when crossing the road.
We sure learnt a good lesson after that and crossed slowly from then on.
While we were strolling in the Old Quarter, we stumbled upon a halal Indian restaurant, Khazanna, which serves delicious and spicy Indian cuisine that suits our Malaysian taste buds! After almost four hours of walking, we certainly deserved a good dinner and our favourite pick was the samosa. The samosa at Khazanna is slightly bigger than the ones found in Malaysian night market called pasar malam and the fillings are so rich with spices.
In terms of religious belief, 70% of the population are Buddhists and only 0.1% are Muslims. Although Muslims are a minority in Hanoi, we came across a mosque in the Old Quarter. The Al-Noor Mosque is small mosque located in the busy street of Hang Luoc. It is said that Muslim ambassadors in Hanoi together with the local Muslims utilise this mosque for
Friday prayers, Eid celebrations and occasional gatherings. This well-maintained mosque is a blessing for Muslims in Hanoi as being the minority in a non-Muslim country pose challenges such as in finding a suitable place to perform prayers and obtain get halal food.
Despite the crazy traffic, we absolutely love the atmosphere in the Old Quarter. The old and rustic buildings, some with French influence, locals drinking local beer by the streets, tourists walking around, everything feels so lively yet intimate. Although Old Quarter is an amazing place to shop and walk around, always be careful with your belongings.
For the night, we stayed at the comfortable four-star Sunway Hotel Hanoi located in Pham Dinh Ho Street, popular among Malaysians.
Exploring Ha Long Bay Through Bhaiya Classic Cruises
After a distance of 165km or three hours and a half drive from Hanoi, we finally arrived at one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, the Ha Long Bay. Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay has been visited by countless tourists for its breath-taking views of its sunset, grottoes, caves, lagoons and over 3,000 surrounding islands. Ha Long Bay is also home to an amazing range of biodiversity for those who seek to connect with nature.
Being in Ha Long Bay, what other better way to spend your time other than cruising? We boarded onto the Bhaya Classic Cruises, an exclusive four-star cruise that sails daily through beautiful hidden lagoons and the amazing landscape of geological rock formations along Ha Long Bay.
The Bhaya Classic Cruises is ideal for the languid as well as for the adrenaline junkies. The vessel provides a spacious sundeck for guests to just laze around and sunbathe while being mesmerised by the views. It also comes with spas for guests to relax and enjoy Vietnamese massage while cruising.
For those who seek adventurous activities, Bhaya Classic Cruise allows guest to go kayaking into the lagoons, caves and tunnels, swim in the open sea or explore a nearby fishing village and its surroundings on boats rowed by the villagers for 45 minutes. We climbed up to Hang Sut Sot, also known as the Surprise Cave, and were indeed surprised: we learned that the various geographical phases experienced by Ha Long Bay had been taking place for over 500 million years! Hang Sung Sot is definitely worth the climb and sweat.
For those who love food, Bhaya Classic Cruises also offer cooking class managed by the cruise’s Chef such as how to make Vietnam’s famous spring rolls. Guests are also invited to try their hand on squid jigging, which can only be done during the night. We therefore took the opportunity to try squid jigging after dinner. Although we were not lucky enough to even get any squid, it was a fun experience nonetheless.
After a full day of fun, we were happy to be back in our cabins.
Although Bhaya Classic Cruises looks like a classic cruise in a James Bond movie, this exclusive cruise offers complete facilities like a five-star hotel. Each cabin is air-conditioned and comes with a comfy bed, a closet, a refrigerator and a bathroom with hot shower, including window to the breathtaking views of Ha Long Bay.
We really enjoyed cruising on this Wi-Fi equipped vessel as not only that we were able to witness
God’s fine creations and nature, but as Muslim travellers, we were also thankful that we were offered delicious choices of vegetarian food on board.
Cruising with Bhaya Classic Cruise is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip to Hanoi – the hospitality shown by the crew was impeccable. Two days and one night on board did not seem enough and we hope we can experience the cruise again in the future.
On our way back to Hanoi, we dropped by at the Dai Viet Centre where we get to see the disabled in Vietnam work as craftsmen. Marble and stone carving, pottery and a variety of crafts made by disabled yet talented Vietnamese craftsmen sold at affordable prices. Dai Viet Centre is a good place for those who appreciate and love to shop for crafts.
As we reached Hanoi in the evening, we had a walk in the city. It was our last day in Hanoi; therefore, we wanted to enjoy our last moments wisely. We had a walk in the Old Quarter (again, because we could never have enough of its old streets!) before decided to sit at a bench in front of Hoan Kiem Lake, which is one of the popular recreational areas in the city where locals jog or play badminton. As we walked around the lake, we saw many children roller skating across the streets. A pavilion across the street became the place for the locals to skate and socialise.
On the other side of the pavilion, there were also youngsters dancing to hip hop tunes, playing guitars and singing famous fast numbers, while middle-aged women did aerobics with their group of friends. After noticing how physically active the Vietnamese were, we now know how they get to be slim and slender.
Watching the Vietnamese doing their daily activities and having fun with their loved ones was a priceless experience – the people of Vietnam seem happy and enjoy life to the fullest that even money can’t buy.
Discovering Hanoi in three days was definitely not enough. We do wish we had more time to explore this unique and lively city and pray that we get to return to Hanoi soon. Our gratitude goes to Sunway Hotel Hanoi for making our experience in Hanoi remarkable.
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