Thursday, August 13, 2009

Southeast Asia - Thousands Miles Trip on Small Budget - Vietnam Edition

The Dragon-Shaped Country in Southeast Asia

Arrive at Hanoi at 21.00. I met Aris, my co-worker in P&G, and his family. They are a really cool family, since all family members joined the trip; his wife, his 10 years old daughter and his 2 years old son. The cool thing was they did the trip with backpacking style. I and the girls were picked up by the hotel mini bus with capacity of 7 people ( each paid USD 2). Hanoi airport is surrounded by rural area and our first impression to the city was small city, much different than Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta which is crowded and congested. After 45 minutes in a left-wheeled-car of Vietnam, we arrived at Hanoi Backpacker hostel ( 48 Ngo Huyen Street, Hanoi, Phone 844 828 5372,

The hotel is owned by Sweden man, who was married with Vietnamese woman. It is a clean and neat hotel, located in Old Quarter, where most of backpacker hotels are in. There are some kinds of room; the first is private room for two people and the second is dormitory for 10 people. All rooms are equipped with air conditioner and bathroom inside. The room is clean and comfortable. They provide the cabinet to save your belonging at the bottom of the bed. We were in the same room with many foreigners.

Hanoi, the City in a Bend of a River
May 20, 2007. Hanoi is the capitol of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam ( SRV ), located at the north of Vietnam. The city is sophisticated, romantic, mix of French and Vietnam style houses, given with Hoan Kiem Lake at the center and still keeps its old-fashioned city ambience. The city is passed by Red River and called as city in the bend of a river. Old Quarter at the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake, characterized by narrow streets, is the place for world’s backpackers. Hanoi is the next destination in SE Asia.

After a good sleep, we started the day with walking around the city. We did not make the detail plan yet like what we did for Bangkok. So, I just tried to read my Lonely Planet books and thought of idea to visit some places. 5 minutes walking from the hotel, we reached at St. Joseph Cathedral, an old and unique church in Old Quarter district. Then we went straight to Hoan Kiem Lake, where most of Vietnamese in Hanoi enjoy their days. It is a calm lake, surrounded my French styled café, business buildings and narrow streets alongside it. We spent time there for a while to enjoy the beauty of this lake. In the middle of the lake at the south, there is a small tower called Thap Rua ( Tortoise Tower ). While waiting for Santi who were taking some money in ATM, I looked at the lake. Peacefulness I felt. Tranquility in the heart of mine. I love it so much.

Walking around the lake, we stopped at Ngoc Son temple ( Dong 3000, 8.00 am – 19.00 pm ) at the northern side of the lake, which was founded in the 18th century. Called also as Jade Mountain temple, this small island is separated from the land and connected by a red bridge. Finishing the temple tour, we decided to visit must-see places in Hanoi; Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex, Temple of Literature and Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. We took cyclo, a local tricycle in Hanoi, to go there. Using cyclo is fun and cheap as long as we can bargain the price, because they will put the price high for foreigner. The trip using cyclo is only 10 minutes from Hoan Kiem Lake to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex and One Pillar Pagoda
When we reached Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex ( 8.00 – 11.00 am, Saturday-Thursday, no camera/ video recorder, no short/tank top, bags left at reception hall ), it had been closed. A little bit disappointed as it is one of must visit sights in Hanoi. Exiting the complex, we went straight to One Pillar Pagoda ( free entrance ), 5 minutes walk from HCM complex. Here I bought Laos edition of Lonely Planet book with only USD 4.

Temple of Literature – A Gift for Confucius

Another must visit place in Hanoi is Temple of Literature ( Dong 5000 ). The temple was a gift for Confucius from Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and later on it became a university of Mandarin language. From HCM Mausoleum complex, we rent motorcycle taxi ( Dong 6000 per person ) and reached the temple in 10 minutes.

The temple is so old with gray material stone used to build the tower, fortress and the floor. So exotic. Inside the temple, there are some statues. I and Santi took the pictures of us. From the temple, we went to Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, where sorrow and sadness found its place in my heart.

Vietnam Museum of Ethnology – Sorrow and Sadness in the Vietnamese History
Visiting Vietnam Museum of Ethnology ( Dong 20.000, 8.30 am – 5.30 pm, Tuesday – Sunday ) is my best time in Hanoi. Before reaching this place, I thought that this museum would be just the same with many other historical museum; traditional houses, country history from time to time and kinds of ethnic groups in Vietnam. But this museum is really different! The historical things and emotional connection created by the story had amazed me. This is the complete package of knowledge and emotional museum; guaranteed and should not be missed!

This museum tells a story about Vietnam culture. At certain part of museum, story of Vietnamese in Bao Cap period, Hanoi life under subsidy
economy, is told. Before 1975, Vietnam was divided into two parts. First is North Vietnam lead by National Liberation Front ( NLF ), a Communist guerrilla known better as Viet Chong ( VC ). The capitol is Hanoi. The economy of the northern part of Vietnam is not good as in southern part. The second is South Vietnam lead by Ngo Dinh Diem, the anti communist, Catholic leader who refused to accept the election of 1956. The capitol is Saigon, later known as Ho Chi Minh ( HCM City ), changed after South Vietnam surrendered to the North Vietnam. Ben Hai river became the line between North and South Vietnam, created in Geneva Accords in the mid of 1954.

The period between 1956 and 1975 was a tough moment for Vietnamese. In 1964, Hanoi ordered North Vietnamese Army ( NVA ) units to infiltrate the south. Supported by USA, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and New Zealand, the South Vietnam guarded its territory against North Vietnam.

In 1968, the VC launched a deadly surprise offensive, called as Ten Offensive, marking a crucial turning point in the war. Many Americans, who believed their government insistence that USA was winning, started demanding an end of the war. Paris Agreement, signed in 1973, provided for a cease of fire, the total withdrawal of US combat forces and the release of American prisoners of war.

April 30, 1975 Saigon surrendered to North Vietnamese Army ( NVA ), marking a unification of Vietnam or days of Bao Cap – subsidy economy period for North Vietnam. The years after were not an easy period for Vietnamese.

“The face is as sad as though the rice coupon was lost”
“Living in such a cramped space, people had to be really considerate and sympathetic with each other’s situation”
“In those days, our biggest dreams were just spoons of rice and pieces of clothes”
“A meal with an egg was a small proud”

“Dreams just lie out of our reach and tell us something about the condition in which we live. After unification and the days of Bao Cap, people’s dreams often consisted of such simple things as to eat a bowl of fresh, non moldy rice, town a small fan, to ride a Chinese bicycle, or to be able to wash oneself with a sweet-smelling bar of soap! Even these most basic of pleasures were beyond the means of most people! Once the door of Doi Moi was opened, the dreams could bloom out as well! As the world was flooded with all types of new goods, ideas and services, people’s dreams and hopes changed as well. Nowadays, new motorcycle, computer and mobile phone sparkle in shop window. Young students dream of going abroad to study. But – whatever the period they are living in – parents always pray and dream their children will be healthy and happy. Some dreams never change.”

Recommended to visit this museum!

Hanoi City Tour and Water Puppet Show
After visiting Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, we decided to walk around Old Quarter, ate some Vietnam food, bought souvenirs and booked the tour to Halong Bay a day after. Old Quarter is a small area at the north of Hoan Kiem Lake. The area is characterized by narrow streets, small houses, many motorcycles, café and its density. Eating at the small eating place alongside the streets, characterized the very small the seats and tables of kindergarten school students, is worthy to be tried. Eating at the restaurants – traditional foods or western foods, French or Vietnam styled restaurant – is another option.

At 8 pm, we watched Water Puppet Show ( USD 3, open daily with some showing times ) at the north of Hoan Kiem Lake, near Ngoc Son Temple. This performing art originated in northern Vietnam at around 10th century. The puppets are carved from light-weight, durable woods and painted with appropriate colors. Standing in the water, the puppeteers manipulate the puppets using either an ensemble of support or a system of string o control a group of character attached to a common support. You can see this show at night as it is prime time and in the daylight, it prefer visiting museums in the city.

It was Saturday night. So many Vietnamese were in Old Quarter in some performing stages alongside the Hoan Kiem Lake. “Maybe it is the only entertainment they have. That’s why so many people are here.” I thought. At 9.30 pm, when all shows finished, the streets there became so crowded with motorcycles. Hanoi is the city where not many cars that you can see. You will see many motorcycles. No tax for motorcycle and the expensive price of gasoline pushed Vietnamese to buy motorcycle than car. And be careful if you are trying to cross the streets, motorcycle riders there will not reduce their speed. Some accidents caused by motorcycle were reported.

Nightlife in Old Quarter
Expecting the bars in Hanoi would be as fun as bars in Bangkok, we did not get what we wanted! Hanoi is a quiet city, where activities of people will stop at around 10-11 pm. The streets will be so quiet and dark. We continued to visit the GC Pub on Bao Khanh Street, the street where many bars are on; had a drink and a talk. Then at 1 am when the bar was closed, we came back to hotel.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

May 21-22, 2007. It was third the day in Vietnam. We took Halong Bay tour ( USD 25, stay 1 night on the boat ) that day. From the travel website we read, it is the most recommended tour in Vietnam for the one who loves the sea. The tour picked us up in the hotel at 8.30 am and we went directly to Halong Bay. I prepared all my belongings and checked out from the hotel, as I would depart from Hanoi a day after at 8 pm.

Halong Bay is UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Vietnam’s natural marvels. The torpedo-shaped limestone rises from the water is awesome, more than 3000 islands in total. When you are on the boat, you will see a breathtaking package of sea, limestone, countless caves and the boat. Recommended!

Ha long means ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’. The legend says that the islands were created by the great dragon that lives on the mountains. When it ran towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses; as it plunged into the sea, the areas dug up by its tail became filled with water, leaving only bits of high torpedo-shaped land visible.

The Most Beautiful Sunset in Life

We were in the minibus with other tourists; English, Japanese and Australian. A Japanese girl and her Caucasian friend were talking at the first row. Luc, an English man, with his girlfriend was looked so happy in this trip. I was at the same row with Santi and Eltje. An Australian man was enjoying his loneliness. Yana and Nunik were at the last row. The trip from Hanoi to Halong City, from where we would depart to Halong Bay, took 2 hours. In the beginning we were still excited talking each other, but then all of us slept!

After two hours in the minibus, we continued to use the boat that would bring us to the destination. The boat is quite big, equipped with restaurant, room with mini fan and roof at the top to enjoy the blue sky. While we were on the boat to the destination, the guide served lunch. Unique thing was they only served food during our two days trip. For the water ( any kinds of water; beer, juice, mineral water ), we will need to pay more. So it’s better we can bring the big bottle of mineral water before arriving at Halong City. After lunch, we visited some caves at the certain islands.

Arriving at the destination, I and Santi changed the clothes quickly. It was 5 pm and about to sunset time. We took a kayak and drove it! It was the first time for me using it, so a bit hard to synchronize my swinging and Santi’s. We drove the kayak a bit far from the boat, crossing the torpedo shaped limestone at the left and right side. We stopped at the point where we could see the beautiful sun disappearing from the back of the limestone, while we were on the kayak. Simply amazing experience!

We stopped for a while.
Just let our soul enjoying this amazing gift from God.

The sky turned into dark and we drove kayak fast to reach the boat. We were the latest kayak coming to the boat. Then we went to the roof of the boat to enjoy the sun really disappeared from our eyesight. I love sunset and always find my peacefulness every time I saw it.

A Sleep and the Stars Above
After taking shower and having dinner, the groups went to the roof of the boat. Lying supine, we enjoyed so much the moment there. The sky was so clear, we could see the countless stars above. We were talking and joking, forgot the job and tasks we needed to do after finishing this trip. I fall asleep there and was awake consciously after I felt so cold. The wind was so cold, even though I loved the idea to sleep there, I decided to sleep in my room.


An End of the Happy Moments
I woke up at 8 am in the morning. I saw Luc and Australian man jumped into the water. I and Santi followed after. The flow of water was a bit strong. It is advisable to ask permission from the boat officer first before doing that.

After that, on the way back to Halong City, most of tourist were in the restaurant sleeping, while I and English guys were on the roof enjoying the view and sunbathing! I put sun block cream onto my body and lay supine, letting the sun rays change my body color into darker.

At 4 pm, we reached Hanoi and quickly I took my belongings. I was so sad because I had to leave the girls there in Hanoi. The 5 days trip with them was really intoxicating! We met without knowing each other and finished the trip as best friends. I really wanted to travel with them again.

Arriving at the Noi Bai airport, I checked in the flight. Before boarding into the aircraft, I went out from the airport and saw the sunset. The sunset in Hanoi town. Just wondering, why happy moments should have an end?

AK 763 Hanoi-Kuala Lumpur 20.00-00.25, Airfare USD 138, Airport tax USD 14.

Stay Overnight in LCCT

McDonalds and the Backpack
May 23, 2007. Arriving at LCCT at 00.25, I had planned that I would stay overnight in this airport. I asked some friends in Indonesia about the idea to sleep there and they said that it would not be comfortable, not like if we stayed in Kuala Lumpur International Airport ( KLIA ). There are some places to sleep there; McDonalds, Coffee Bean Café, Traditional food restaurant and series of seats near check in counter. The last one is usually full. The second last point is not comfortable to sleep. So the option for me is either Coffee Bean café or McDonalds. I chose McDonalds because there were more people there and it would me safer if I slept.

I put my big backpack as pillow, enjoyed music from my mp3, stretched forward my legs to the seat and slept! I wake up at 5 am to get ready for next flight to Jakarta ( AK 952 Kuala Lumpur-Jakarta 07.00-08.00, Airfare MYR 205, No airport tax ).

In the Middle of Vacation and Work Mood
May 23, 2007 on Wednesday was my first working day after having vacation leave. So, after catching the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta in the morning, arrived at Jakarta at 8 am, I had to start working at 10 am in the morning, ready with my laptop, all reports I needed to share, all plans I needed to do a week after, already equipped with shirt, trousers and shoes. And here I am, ready with all of those stuffs at office.

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