Nov 11, 2013

North to South

Although Halong Bay is the big draw to Vietnam for most tourists, there are plenty of other parts of the country that have a lot to offer. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are loaded with history, delicious food, and even a little bit of charm. 

Unfortunately, my time spent in Hanoi was accompanied by a typhoon, so I hid under my raincoat for a good portion of my visit. I stayed at the Essence Hotel, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting. This place has top notch service, a great location in the Old Quarter near Hoan Kiem Lake, a killer breakfast spread, and is a steal at a mere $60/night. For those looking for a one or two night stop over before heading to Halong Bay, this is a great pick.

After Halong Bay, I headed down to Ho Chi Minh City. I stayed at the Lotte Legend Saigon, which was very conveniently located, and I walked just about everywhere on my stay. After a good nights rest, my first stop was the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, which is one of the many architectural manifestations of the French influence in Vietnam. 

After that, it was just a short walk to the Reunification Palace. I would definitely recommend taking one of the free tours that they offer at the main entrance. It lasts about an hour and the tour guide has a lot of interesting information, but may only be meaningful if you have a basic understanding of the history behind the war. 

For a more thought provoking experience, I headed over the the War Remnants Museum. It is a bit emotional wandering through the halls looking at pictures of everything from the My Lai Massacre to the victims of Agent Orange. But, all in all, I think the experience helps put the culture and overall feeling of Vietnam in better perspective. 

Almost everyday I was in Saigon I ate lunch at Quan An Ngon on Pasteur St. in District 1. The pho, vermicelli, and rice dumplings were some of my favorites, but everything was delicious and they have something on the menu for everyone. My dinner highlight would be my meal at Opera located in the Park Hyatt. While it's not traditional Vietnamese cuisine, it's still absolutely delicious and worth a visit.

Nov 5, 2013

Cruising Halong Bay: Part II

After our amazing bike ride on Cat Ba Island, it was off to another set of small islands, in Ho Ba Ham, where we could swim up to a beautiful beach, go kayaking and jump off of the roof of the boat into the water. We were provided a delicious 5 course lunch with very traditional Vietnamese dishes, and there was also a full bar on the boat, at your convenience, if you felt like indulging with a mango lassi or something a little stronger. 

The next morning I rallied before the daily tai chi class to check out the sunrise. A few other early birds joined me on the roof deck to catch the sun peaking over the landscape. Apparently, it is usually quite hazy in the mornings, so it is often hard to get a good shot, but after messing around with my camera settings for a while I captured some really pretty images. 

Once the sun was up and I got a cup of tea (or four) and some croissants in me, it was off to another island for our final excursion before we headed back to shore. A small tender boat dropped us off at the beach and we climbed to the top of the mountain, well more like hill, to soak in the last few moments in Halong Bay.

After rinsing off in the bay, we got back on the junk boat where we were slowly brought back to the mainland. I really loved my stay in Halong Bay and I would recommend booking with Heritage Cruise Lines. They took amazing care of me and everyone else on board and made it an experience I won't soon be forgetting.

Nov 1, 2013

Cruising in Halong Bay

Choosing a cruise in Halong Bay can be tough; especially when you're on a budget. After doing quite a bit of research, I think dropping a pretty penny for this once in a lifetime experience is the way to go. A two-day, one-night trip seemed really rushed, and by staying two nights and three days, you truly get an opportunity to explore, and appreciate this amazing place. 

I ended up going with Jasmine via Heritage Cruise Lines. This isn't your typical backpacker party boat, so if that's what your looking for, I definitely wouldn't go with this company. Yes, it is a little bit pricier, but you get some great food, premium accommodations, top notch service, and the day boat (for those who are staying for two nights), which was absolutely amazing. You go biking, kayaking, and you often are only with 6-10 other people for the whole second day. Definitely worth it!

The first night that we were on the boat it was a bit drizzly and a little eerie floating through the bay. I almost felt like we were in a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. Before the sun set, we managed to go and see a traditional fishing village, which was really interesting. Apparently, only in the past couple of years, the locals have been required to actually build houses on floating rafts. Before that, they just lived out of their fishing boats. Aside from their catches of the day, the only other way the generate income is from tour groups, like ours. Make sure to carry some small money with you if you do go on a floating village tour (which you likely will), so you can tip your row boat guide.; 20,000 Dong, less than a dollar U.S., is plenty.

The next day, me and seven others took off on our day boat, while the main boat took back the passengers who were just staying one night. It was great to see the sights with a smaller group of people. Our first stop was at a larger island where we biked about half an hour inland to a relatively large village in the bay. We saw a school, local hospital and a family living (with the most adorable little boy) in a very traditional home. Everyone was super friendly and we were very well received by all of the locals. 

The rest of the day was filled with loads of other fun activities, and I have the pictures to match. But, instead of having a massively long post on my entire cruise, keep your eyes peeled for 'part two' on Halong Bay coming soon!

Oct 27, 2013

Bright Lights, Long Nights

If you know anything about Hong Kong it's that the cuisine, nightlife and foot massages are legendary; especially in that order. My long weekend in Hong Kong started at the Aqua Room in TST with a champagne brunch. Some friends and I kicked it off with unlimited Veuve and sashimi and then some of the best beef cheek I have ever had. The best part about the Aqua Room was the location; I can't imagine there is a better panoramic view of the city anywhere in Kowloon. Several hours later, we moseyed our way back to Central, where I eventually ended up at dragon-i partying until the sun came up. Luckily, my apartment was an escalator ride away, making for a short commute in my five inch heels.

After catching up on sleep, my friend's took me to some traditional dim sum consisting of popular Chinese dishes like chicken feet (which I could not bring myself to try), rice noodles with beef, fish head, and lots and lots of dumplings. Later that evening, we headed over to Stanley Plaza where we had a yummy dinner at The Boathouse and finished the night off with a selection of cheeses at Classified.  

Another place that I managed to grab some grub was Vbest Tea House in Central. I tasted the Shanghai dumplings and Shrimp Vermicelli (pictured below), which were both delicious. A few other restaurants that I tried were Pastis, french cuisine, Monogamous, traditional Chinese, and Ole, spanish. All were yummy, and if you ask one of the servers to teach you how to salsa at Ole, they will do just that.

Last stop before my flight was a super relaxing foot massage! We went in the middle of the work day, so we ended up having the whole place to ourselves. After a long weekend in heels and treking up and down the hills of Hong Kong, this was a much needed repose, which left me nice and refreshed!