Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)

“Paradise Cruise, an excellent way to experience Ha Long Bay”

Type : Cruise, Island Hopping, Beach, Fishing
Best Date : Nov-Dec, Mar-Apr
Expense :  Expensive
Things to do Island hopping, swimming, fishing, trekking ect
Points of Interest: Tuan Chau, Dau Go cave, Thien Cung cave, Ti-Top island ect

Brief

Ha Long Bay which means the ‘Descending Dragon Bay’ is a popular excursion away from Hanoi’s bustling and chaotic city. The bay is a UNESCO world heritage north east of the Vietnam in Quang Ninh province. Ha long bay is said to have around 1,600 limestone islands and islets, many of which haven’t been influenced by human presence due to their steepness, height and sharpness which make them dangerous to venture and discover.

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The Place

There is many ways in which you can enjoy ‘Ha Long Bay’ but most popular is to take a 2 or 3 day cruise, many take private boats and some stay on the shores. Activities such as canoeing, trekking, scuba diving are available at some areas of Ha long bay which after experiencing the serene scenery, the reason why so many come here.

I experienced Ha Long Bay through a 2 day voyage with ‘Paradise Luxury Cruises’ which has plenty of tours to offer, they have a fleet of many named ‘Paradise Elegance 1’, ‘Paradise Elegance 2’, ‘Paradise Peak’. ‘Paradise Luxury’ and many more. I was in ‘Paradise Elegance 1’ and I will write about my the tour and my personal experiences with them.

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Our itinerary went like this.

DAY ONE:

07:30 – 11:30 Transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay

11:30 – 12:15 Arrive in Tuan Chau Island. Light snacks at Paradise Suites Hotel

12:15 Transfer to Paradise Elegance Cruise ship

12:30 Welcome drink, cruise information and check-in

13:00 – 14:30 Lunch at Le Marin Restaurant (onboard)

14:30 – 15:30 Cruise and sightseeing along Halong Bay

15:30 Visit Sung Sot Cave

17:00 – 18:30 Happy Hour (Buy one, get one drink), free time

17:30 – 19:00 Anchor at Coconut Tree Island for overnight stay
Cooking demonstration at L’Odyssée Sundeck (onboard)

19:00 – 22:00 À la carte dinner is served at Le Marin Restaurant 

21:00 Enjoy live music at Le Piano Bar (onboard)

DAY TWO: 

06:30 – 07:00 Tai Chi demonstration at the Sundeck

07:00 – 08:00 Light breakfast, coffee & pastries

08:00 Visit Titov Island (1 hour) for swimming or hiking

09:00 Breakfast Buffet

09:30 Bill settlement and checkout

10:30 Return to Tuan Chau Marina

10:45 – 12:00 Light snacks at Paradise Suites Hotel

12:00 Return to Hanoi

 

So our journey started on an overnight stay in Hanoi having booked our hotel as a package deal with the cruise. The pickup from the airport to our Hanoi hotel using a luxury limousine van was inclusive of the package deal. Staying in the capital first was a good way to start off our Vietnam experience not only to climatise but also to soak up the atmosphere for the days to come. However the next morning an early wake up was required for the transfer to ‘Halong Bay’, the pickup arrives 07:30 which means a rushed breakfast. Again the transfer to ‘Halong Bay’ is inclusive with the whole tour experience and uses the luxury limousine van (used from airport to Hanoi hotel). Before the journey starts the driver will introduce himself and a bottle of water would be given to each passenger. The journey takes about 3 hours with a stop over to a lovely Vietnamese product factory which sells paintings, artwork, clothes and food products, however strictly no photography is allowed. This stopover also acts as a little toilet and snack break from the long journey.

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Upon arrival at the Halong Bay area you get off at ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’ at Tuan Chau island where you will register, check-in, get little instructions and receive your key card for your room in the boat. At this point you will no longer need to carry your baggage around as next time you will see them is at your room. Before leaving for the boat you will be invited for light lunch at the hotel until the transfer to your boat is ready (main buffet lunch is served on-board the boat). The transfer to the boat is about 5 minutes where you will get an extraordinary welcome, my highlight is petals getting thrown on you from a balcony upon stepping foot on the boat, which doesn’t usually happen. A quick welcome dance, safety and information briefing (whilst sipping on some welcome drinks) will be given before you get to go down and enter your rooms for the first time. After a brief wind down in your rooms the buffet lunch will be served, whilst the cruise starts to move.

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After cruising through the spectacular majestic limestone islets for about 2 hours you arrive at the first stop at ‘Sung Sot Cave’. This excursion is somewhat tiring  going uphill with plenty walking required, if you are not fit or would just like to relax then it is possible to stay on the boat and rest. However ‘Sung Sot Cave’ is an awesome sight to see and I advise everybody who has the chance to see this sight. After the tour which takes about 1.5hrs – 2hrs, you return to the boat, which is then a time to relax and have a rest. Alternatively if you don’t want to rest then the bar is at happy hour at this time which means 2 drinks for the price on 1.

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At about 17:30 there is a cooking demonstration/ lessons. This is a fun way to end the evening and to learn Vietnamese cuisine under breath taking sceneries, after completion a certificate is awarded at dinner. After that there is a 3 course ‘A la Carte’ (included in the package), divided into 2 menus ‘Western Cuisine’ and ‘Eastern Cuisine’, from what I can remember the ‘western cuisine’ had steak, roast chicken, pasta and more a like, ‘Eastern menu’ had food such as noodles, spring rolls and so on. Usually during dinner there is a live band or pianist but ours didn’t have one, but our host ‘Ronald’ was very good at conversing and entertaining his guests. The last activity on that day is ‘squid fishing’  here patience is required and although I didn’t catch anything, I still enjoyed the experience. After that I then ordered a few to drinks, returned to my room and then called it a day and slept in my nice comfortable ‘Queen size bed’, the only bad side is that the televisions didn’t work as well as it should due to signals being difficult to reach.

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Next morning, I woke up around 05:45 ready for a morning ‘Tai Chi’ session. The sunrise was spectacular from my balcony, and more so at the sundeck where the tai chi took place. The morning exercise took about 20-30 minutes full with warm up stretches, the martial art itself then a warm down. It was a weird experience and I definitely know I didn’t do it correctly but the result was interesting, my body felt very good after and throughout the day. After that, light breakfast is served which means a simple tea and coffee with some croissants and biscuits, only small bite until the full breakfast buffet which is served at 09:00. However before that there is another excursion out of the boat and onto ‘Titov Island’. This is an island much more challenging than the first outing at ‘Sung Sot Cave’ with much longer walks and steeper stairs, but it is not necessary to go to the top of the island and many just stay at the shores swim on the beach. However hiking to the top is enjoyable and it is the highest point of ‘Halong Bay’ overall, which has beautiful, majestic panoramic views. I didn’t get to swim in the beaches but all guest were told to be careful of jellyfishes, which didn’t sound very safe anyway.

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Upon returning to the boat there is about 10-30 minutes to freshen up and then the breakfast buffet is served. The buffet is like any continental breakfast found in any high end hotels, with hot and cold foods, fresh eggs, a good choice of juices and many more. After breakfast you start to feel the end of the cruise as you bill out at this point and pack to leave your luggage out of your room for collection (you wont need to carry your luggage again until arriving to the ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’. The last chance to take photos and videos and catch last glimpses of these islets are at this point of the journey. Upon arriving at the harbour you say farewell to the amazing staff and head to ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’ where you await your transport back to Hanoi. The last offering from the whole tour package is the light lunch whilst waiting for your ride back to the capital. When your ride arrives there is another 3 hours ride with a stopover, the whole cruise experience sadly ends.

Overall the cruise was a fantastic experience for all the family to enjoy, although younger kid may have limited to do. Firstly the boat was spacious with rooms good enough to be compared to a 5 star hotel. The staff in the cruise were very nice and knowledgeable, loved to converse and take care of their passengers with in high regard. The activities such as canoeing and fishing were good additions. The only small downside is that the television and Wi-Fi signals can sometimes be very weak. Although the cost of this cruise was very high plus a few add-ons, I still believe the experience was well worth it and thought that the 2 days wasn’t enough.

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Ha Noi (Vietnam)

“Why is Hanoi so chaotic, but much loved?”

Type : City
Best Date : Nov-Dec, Mar-Apr
Expense :  Very Cheap
Things to do : Sightseeing, Food Tour
Points of Interest: St Josephs Cathedral, Old City, Ho Mi Chin Mausoleum, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hoa Lo Prison, Ho Chin Min Museum, Halong Bay (Out of city excursions), ect.

Brief

Hanoi the capital city of Vietnam (socialist republic of Vietnam) and lies north of the country. Always known to be the capital of north Vietnam, however it was also chosen capital of the whole country after its reunification with the south. Colonised by multiple  dynasties and nations including the French, Chinese and Japanese throughout history, the city developed but slowly compared to other capitals around the world.

The Place

Arriving at Noi Bai airport my first impressions of the city is that it was very clean compared to my home country Philippines, furthermore there was also much less traffic but considering it was 10pm it might just be the case of everyone being home. Arriving near our hotel (at the old quarter) we entered much tighter roads somewhat filled with moving traffic, a bit less organisation and messier than my first impressions. It looked dangerous and my thoughts started to turn,  however when we got to our hotel in La Siesta Trendy the Vietnamese hospitality began to show, a delightful welcome which I rarely get from many of my travels. Heading out filled with plenty of money, gadgets and other valuables I remember asking the hotels guest relation officer if the city was safe. Very confidently he answered ‘Hanoi is very safe’ and from my experience I felt like it was one of the safest place I’ve been to even for a third world country.

The centre of tourism in Hanoi is the ‘Old quarter’ which is the bustling tight district full of traditional shop-houses and restaurants (canteens). Tourists love this area due to its unique lifestyle and preserved 13th century architecture. Many stroll these streets to experience the typical way of dining from the many street foods and canteens, many places are out on the streets with stalls and temporary light tables but there are fancy air-conditioned restaurants as well.

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Hoan Kiem district, is known as Hanoi’s city centre, the main hub and most luxurious for tourists. Being very chaotic and somewhat a messy city I was shocked to see luxurious shops such as Prada, Armani, Louis Vuitton and more alike. Moreover the upper class hotels (such as Hilton) and restaurants can be found here. Apart from its resident luxuries, Hoan Kiem has plenty of attractions as well.  ‘Hoan Kiem Lake’ which centres the city is probably Hanoi’s cover attractions, surrounded by a large ring road  and a belt of greenery, tourists come to relax and have a walk and getaway from the busy streets.  At the edge of the lake there is ‘Ngoc Son temple’ which stands on its own little island which is accessible through ‘Huc Bridge’ which in itself is a popular photo point. In the middle of ‘Hoan Kiem Lake’ you will see a little monument called the ‘Turtle tower’ or, here there are many legends but most formidable is to commemorate a warrior named Le Loi and the mystical sword he used to free the Vietnamese people from its Chinese occupants. A bit further away from the lake but still within ‘Hoan Kiem’ area is ‘St Joseph’s cathedral’ which was built by the French Indochina establishment, here masses takes place for the many Catholics in the country. Other than these attractions there are many more markets, shops and restaurants around the area.

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Ba Dinh which is unofficially known as the ‘French quarter’ is the political centre of the city, where many different nation’s embassy lie. Ba Dinh is much cleaner and more organised than other parts of Ha Noi. The district has many of the capitals historical and cultural monuments and museums most notable being the ‘Ho Chi Minh mausoleum’ which stands tall in the centre of ‘Ba Dinh square’, here the most iconic leader of Vietnam is laid to rest.  A 5 minute walk from the mausoleum is the ‘One Pillar Pagoda’ which is in the middle of a serene garden built on a single stone pole made out of wood. Museums such as the ‘Vietnam military’ and ‘Fine Arts Museum’ are also found here alongside religious place of worship such as the ‘Quan Tanh Temple’ and ‘Cua Bac’ a roman catholic church built by the French. The ‘Presidential House’ which has great historical significance is also a good place to go, designed by the French the building was intended for to be the main office of Ho Chi Minh, but he opted for amore traditional Vietnamese building. Other points of interest are the ‘Hanoi flag tower’, ‘Temple of literature’ and the ‘Thang Long, Imperial Citadel’ which all have impressive architecture and significance to the country.

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Overall Hanoi is very much undeveloped compared to other capitals around the world. They don’t have many of the bare necessities such as rail transport, traffic regulations and malls but the city is fabulous on what it does offer. Firstly the people, although they do not speak any English and it is very hard to communicate, they really are good people and do not try to cheat other people no matter how vulnerable, such as taxi drivers helping passengers without the sign of tapping the fares. The city is also very safe, I didn’t once feel I was in any danger or a target for theft. In my opinion I felt safer in Hanoi than traveling in Manila, Hong Kong, Barcelona and even London. I can confirm this as my phone which I dropped in my taxi, was returned very quickly after help from my hotel, after giving the taxi driver a little reward I just though to myself that wold never happen in other countries. Prices in Vietnam are also very cheap including taxis, restaurants and many products, currencies used are their own Vietnamese Dong but US Dollars are used in many upper class establishments. Hanoi is more for the adventurous individual as people looking for class would be very disappointed, its more for culture and the experience of another way of living. An open mind is required visiting the Capital. I would most definitely come back and I highly recommend to visit here.

Singapore City

“Just why is Singapore a major destination for all?”

Type : City
Best Date : 
Expense :  Expensive
Things to do : Sightseeing, Food Tour, Theme Parks, Nightlife
Points of Interest: Merlion, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by Bay, Universal Studios, Sentosa island, China Town, Little India, Orchard Boulevard ect

Brief

Singapore is a small city-state independently governed, where its creation dates back many years with an Indonesian prince who found this piece of land (which he loved) and made himself King, further more the modern Singapore was founded in 1819 where  Sir Thomas raffles negotiated trading treaties on the island. The Japanese did occupy Singapore within the world war 2 but then reverted back to British occupation by the end. Singapore became an independent republic in 1965.

Singapore is a largely multicultural nation and is known to have 4 different cultures, this includes the Malays, Chinese, Indians and Singaporeans with many other minorities included.  Malay is said to be the main language but English and Chinese are largely used in the state.

It is said that Singapore’s land is 30% reclaimed from the sea. Their main food is said to be ‘Haiainese chicken and rice’ which was a lovely tender steamed chicken slices, and chilli crab is said to be a huge. Moreover there is many different dishes from around the world which Singapore has enhanced.

The Place

Going to any of the south east Asian nations, you can expect heavy culture many under developed and profit from their rich natural attractions like beaches, islands, wildlife, waterfalls, jungles and many a like. However Singapore is the only country within the ASEAN (Association of south east Asian nations) which is different, fully developed like any western nation. Although Singapore still has its historic cultures and fundamentals, a more modern feel is what attracts major visitors every year.

In a tourism aspect, Singapore is divided into 8 different sections in the city for tourists to visit and all have their purpose and history in the city (these are Orchard, Bugis, Little India, Sentosa Island, City Hall, Marina Bay, Clark Quay and Chinatown).

Fi20171027_111943rstly one of the centre points of the city is Orchard Road which hosts many of the hotels and shopping in Singapore. In my opinion the best area to stay in Singapore because of its accessibility and convenience. Orchard road is a straight 30 minute walk from one end to another, the district also has plenty buses and around 3 MTR stations. The road is popular for its overall shopping experience, which has high end and affordable chains, this also goes for the restaurants spread across orchard. Mimicking that of Oxford street in London, the street also has Christmas decorations which is lit mid November each year. Lastly I cannot miss out Singapore’s Botanic Garden. This UNESCO world heritage site, which is situated at the edge of Orchard roads shopping district is remarkable for greenery lovers, with many different species.

Bugis is another shopping district however more popular for its bargains and food. The village used to be the area for mass gathering of transwomen around the 50s-80s which made it Singapore’s top tourist destination in that era. However now Bugis is the area with the largest markets in Singapore thus very popular for locals and tourists a like.

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Little India is a section given to the Indian migrants at the early stages of planning Singapore, this was the same for migrants from China and Malaysia each given a little part of the city. Here in Little India tourists can see the vibrant and colourful community, their role in Singapore along with the chance to buy many products and dine on their many traditional foods.

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City Hall home to the famous Raffles hotel, which is famous for the invention of the world popular alcoholic beverage the ‘Singapore Sling’. I’ve been told the beverage was made because in Singapore females were not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages. An innovative bar man mixed gin with fruit juice, which was acceptable at the time as gin was initially a medicine in those days. Medicine and fruit juice was deemed acceptable, this was firstly named the ‘Gin Sling’ until changing the name ‘Singapore Sling’ to build on its influence worldwide. Other notable place of interest near ‘City Hall are, ‘Suntec City’, the ‘chopstick monument’ which is has 4 chopstick looking sticks stood up together to commemorate the suffering of the 4 main communities (Malay, Chinese, Indian, Minorities) which suffered at the occupation of the Japanese in the World War. Lastly this is the area where the Merlion monument is found, the cover icon of the city and country.

Marina Bay (part of the reclaimed land), which is probably one of the most tourist invested area of Singapore is famous for being the home to many structures including the ‘Marina Bay Sands Resorts and Casino’ a 5 star luxury hotel which has the highest infinity pool across 3 standing towers and is also said to be the most expensive standalone casino. An iconic part of the bay is the Art Science museum,  which is a building shaped as a Lotus flower which collects rain water and light, across this is the ‘Helix bridge’ which is a nicely designed foot bridge made to look like the human DNA, this overlooks the Art Science museum and the Merlion in a distance. .  Another attraction iconic to at Marina Bay is the ‘Gardens by Bay’ which has 18 man made tree structures called ‘supertrees’, every night at 7:45pm there is also a light show which plenty of tourists plan to watch. In my own personal view the light show was a nice sight to see but it didn’t blow my mind. Lastly the ‘Singapore Flyer’ which was once the largest ferris wheel is also along Marina bay, here tourist can take a ride and view panoramic views of the city.

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Clarke Quay which is a small riverside area to dine and drink in the evenings, this is also the point where you can board the riverside cruises.

Just like little India,  China Town is also an area designated for the Chinese group of migrants. Like many China towns across the world, here there are many supermarkets, and food stalls and restaurants across this neighbourhood. At times there are traditional shows such as the Dragon/ Lion dance. Many tourists visit this section of Singapore to dine and shop in their many market stalls.

Finally there’s Sentosa Island which is full of modern amusements for the whole family and is said to be the most enjoyable area in Singapore. Her20171028_134538e you can find Resorts world, SEA life aquarium, Universal Studios and many more. Activities able to be done by the more frequent hobbyist such as golf and cycling can also be found here. Although not brilliant such as other ASEAN countries, the only beaches found in in Singapore are also on this island. However although very fun and enjoyable to visit Sentosa you may need to be with a group as it wouldn’t be very enjoyable as a solo trip. Furthermore if you are a traveller looking for cultural aspects then Sentosa is also not for you as many of the attractions found in the island can be found in other parts of the world.

When visiting Singapore all the tourist areas are very simple and accessible by their MTR system, buying a travel pass is very simple and cheap. However if travelling with the public rush is not your thing and you would like more of a sightseeing atmosphere the usual hop-on hop-off is an excellent alternative, with over 8 different lines, all points of interests is accessible whilst listening to valuable commentary of the city.

Overall Singapore is just an amazing place to visit as there is something for everyone. Kids can enjoy many of Sentosa’s many attractions such as SEA life aquarium and Universal studios whilst the adults can go shopping in Orchard road and enjoy the many luxurious brands such as Prada, Louis Vuitton, Armani and many more. Young adults may also enjoy the many bars and clubs which also include bar hopping arrangements, and foodies are spoilt for the choices around the whole city. As an explorer the city offers outstanding architectural structures with many stories to be told, although a modern setting covers Singapore the history behind is special. It is an expensive city for hotels, tickets, tours and products but travel and food are cheaper than I first thought, you just need to choose the right places. Singapore is a nice warm place to visit although it may replicate many richer cities across the world.