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HANOI: Not A Persnickety Trip


Well, NOT all trips need to be planned.  My young friend Paula Peralejo-Fernandez of Our Restless Feet  meticulously arranged our first 3 days of adventure off Hanoi with visits to Hoa Lu, Tam Coc and a heavenly 2-day cruise along Halong Bay via Paradise Cruises, but our last 2 days in Hanoi was meant to simply meet up, dine and shop with friends. We ended doing that, plus more. So much more spontaneity, ditched plans, instant meet-ups, unplanned discoveries, and more unplanned shopping. 

 

 

 

Every night after dinner,  we'd go in search of our favorite custard apple ("atis") .

Every night after dinner, we’d go in search of our favorite custard apple (“atis”) .

 

 

Our eyes brightened up each time we meet fruit peddlers on bikes.

Our eyes brightened up each time we meet fruit peddlers on bikes.

 

 

 

Before our first day in Hanoi was over, we’ve acquired the requisite skill of crossing streets, dodging bikes and cars, while keeping an eye on fruit stands and shops. Multi-taskers to the core. A former colleague now based in Hanoi learned we were in town and promptly whisked us away after our hotel brekkie to give us a city tour and food trip. (Thank you, Bing!) The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum stands tall and proud in the vast square, but no HCM because the body is off somewhere for “re-waxing (???). In the same square, we found the Prime Minister’s Office, which looks really grand. 

 

 

 

HCM is out.

HCM is out.

 

 

 

The Prime Minister is in.

The Prime Minister is in.

 

 

Museum of National History

Museum of National History

 

 

We found time to visit the National Museum of History. Well-curated museum that we all feel jealous for this piece of Vietnamese pride. More national pride to be found in the War Museum where downed American bomber-planes are proudly displayed. Here, I drew a good laugh from local kids playing a game of “sipa” (kick), a game I played when I was a kid. Feeling still adept at this game, I asked them if I could join the game. In wedged sandals and a bag in one hand, I must have given them quite an entertainment that drew laughs till the sun set in Hanoi. Enjoyed that!

 

 

 

War Museum

War Museum

 

 

On wedged sandals and bag in one hand, I happily kicked the afternoon away!

On wedged sandals and bag in one hand, I happily kicked the afternoon away!

 

 

 

The Maison Centrale or Hoa Lo Prison in the French Quarter reminded us of the horrors of war. Much of the exhibits were of the French-era prisoners. Ergo, it’s by and large about the Vietnamese revolutionaries held behind bars, many executed using the guillotine, here. The Americans call it “Hanoi Hilton” because 200-300 captured American pilots were interrogated and tortured here. Their “experiences” were not however documented and exhibited here.

 

 

 

Maison Centrale or Hanoi Hilton?

Maison Centrale or Hanoi Hilton?

 

 

Under French rule, Vietnamese revolutionaries were jailed, shackled, and tortured here in Hoa Lo.

Under French rule, Vietnamese revolutionaries were jailed, shackled, and tortured here in Hoa Lo.

 

 

 

Quite depressing to see how humans can inflict inhumane punishment during war. “Tortured” by these images, our friend cum “local guide” brought us to the real, modern Hanoi Hilton for a cuppa and some sweet pastries before driving us home. And home is this boutique hotel near Hoan Kiem Lake bordered by many stalls and shops selling everything from shirts, bags, coats, slippers, souvenirs, fruits, coffee, tea, even turtles! Mind you, those turtles are for sale NOT as pets but as food. Yay!

 

 

 

The real Hanoi Hilton all dressed up for Christmas!

The real Hanoi Hilton all dressed up for Christmas!

 

 

 

Turtles sold in markets and supermarkets. NOT as pets, but as dinner on your table!

Turtles sold in markets and supermarkets. NOT as pets, but as dinner on your table!

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More retail therapy and more food porn in 48 hours in this city. No meticulous planning, but surely, a fully-booked but relaxing holiday for us all. The sampan and cruise boat rides, the Hoan Kiem lake view provided the nerve-soothing experiences. The retail therapy provided the haggling experience with the locals. The food trips satiated our belly cravings and another dimension of this memorable travel experience.

 

 

 

The newly-opened Royal City with its 7-storey undeground mall!  Kichi-Kichi rotary hotpot was quite a dining experience here!

The newly-opened Royal City with its 7-storey undeground mall! Kichi-Kichi rotary hotpot was quite a dining experience here!

 

 

 

Hoan Kiem Lake

Hoan Kiem Lake


It was just a 2 day, 1 night cruise aboard Paradise Luxury. Thrilled after a 4 hour drive from Hanoi, it was such a treat to cruise Halong Bay — its many limestone rock formations, floating fishing villages, caves, the food and activities on board! Yes, it rained. But that didn’t take away a single minute of our enjoyment of this adventure. We were the lucky ones. A day earlier, the cruise was recalled after only 2 hours of sailing because of inclement weather. 

Boarding Time! (Paradise Luxury @Halong Bay)

Boarding Time! (Paradise Luxury @Halong Bay)

A shower of rose petals as we boarded Paradise Luxury.

A shower of rose petals as we boarded Paradise Luxury.

There were just a few of us onboard. The crew, the Cruise Manager (Lance) and butler (Gwen?) of Paradise Luxury 4 were all so friendly and accommodating. Food porn on board too. The works! All that plus a jacuzzi in the room? Rooms were spacious, so unlike the small, cramped cabins we got used to on big cruise ships.  Though it rained, the waters were so calm. Cruising along Halong Bay viewing its 1,969 karst formations was sheer delight. We thought we’d never grow tired staring out of our wide cabin windows or feeling the breeze and enjoying the views on deck. How could we have missed this in many of our travel itineraries?

So much room in our luxury cabin!

So much room in our luxury cabin!

If you're traveling as a couple, ask for the cabin with this jacuzzi. Perfect for honeymooners!

If you’re traveling as a couple, ask for the cabin with this jacuzzi. Perfect for honeymooners!

But the real treat lies in the beauty of this UNESCO Heritage Site, truly a top natural wonder of the world. The smooth ride over the placid waters of Halong Bay was so soothing to nerves frayed by the motorcycle and bicycle scene of Hanoi. This is the exact opposite of one’s feelings while crossing the streets of Hanoi. There were many other cruise boats, along with the smaller fishing boats from nearby floating villages along the bay, but this is one “traffic” that is far from chaotic. In fact, the many sailboats and luxury yachts dotting the 1,969 limestone rock islands added to the charm.

A lone sailboat looking wedged between 2 rock formations.

A lone sailboat looking wedged between 2 rock formations.

Truly a top natural wonder of this world!

Truly a top natural wonder of this world!

We slept like a log after a scrumptious dinner on board. The activities included short rides on tenders to view some caves, kayaking (if weather permits, but not on this ride), culinary and barista lessons, tai-chi first hour in the morning. For an overnighter, that is more than enough. Plus of course all the eating. The last activity is NOT to be missed. We had such savoury Vietnamese appetizers of crab cakes, shrimps, spring rolls and papaya salad. The menu listed scallop bisque, lamb, king prawns, salmon, and a chicken dish. We were prepared to choose one main entreé but was surprised we had ALL of it instead. And such generous helpings too.

And these were just appetizers!

And these were just appetizers!

Fine dining on board!

Fine dining on board!

The barista and culinary lessons were held in the dining hall. The tai-chi too, because the sundeck was wet from all the rain. The heavens wept while we slept, and just as we were sailing back to shore. The only thing is dining is intermittently interrupted as we passed the karst formations viewed from the glass windows and doors spilling out to balconies. How can you not help taking a photo? Lovely day. Soothing nights. We even passed one rock formation with a cave all lighted up for a private candlelit dinner!

Culinary lessons on board!

Culinary lessons on board!

Ready for barista lessons!

Ready for barista lessons!


After this experience, you know what I have in mind? Gathering my family and a few close friends to set sail on this luxury boat all to ourselves! That should be fun. There are smaller, 3 cabin boats if you like. But I am thinking along the lines of 8 cabins or so for a big family and a few couple friends. How about that?

Twilight time!

Twilight time!

A time with friends. A time well spent!

A time with friends. A time well spent!


It was a late flight and an hour past midnight arrival. Yet we managed to sleep well and enjoy a hearty breakfast in the few hours left before our mid-morning pick-up for the Hoa Lu and Tam Coc trip. The drive was comfortable, and our guide Húng gave us a good introduction to Vietnam’s glorious past.

Hoa Lu, just a 2-hour drive from Hanoi.

Hoa Lu, just a 2-hour drive from Hanoi.

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Hoa Lu is an ancient capital in the 10th – 11th century before the capital was moved to Hanoi. There were only 5 rulers under this dynasty, but 5 may seem many considering the dynasty reigned for less than half a century. Most interesting were the stories involving an emperor who was succeeded by a 6-year old son, replaced by his regent and top general who then married the first emperor’s widow. Just 3 square kilometers in size, the site featured palaces, shrines and temples to honor these emperors : Dinh Tien Hoang and Le Dai Hanh, their sons, and Queen Duong Van Nga.

Temples are dedicated to people;  Pagodas to Buddha. Something new I learned from Hung.

Temples are dedicated to people; Pagodas to Buddha. Something new I learned from Hung.

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Vietnamese lunch was served just before our boat ride in Tam Coc. So we were so full while enduring a 1 1/2 hour sampan boat ride that stretched into 2 because the heavens opened up and we took cover under one of the natural cave “tunnels” while it poured. Still, the giant limestone karst formations jutting out of the rice paddies provided an impressive site. It’s like Halong Bay on land, or rather between rice paddies. Too bad they just harvested the rice when we paddled our way through the Ngo Dong River. We made our way back with newly-bought raincoats and braved the rain while our boat man paddled the boat using his feet in a fast-paced rhythm.

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The Sampan Ride along the river hemmed by rice paddies, dotted by limestone rock formations.

The Sampan Ride along the river hemmed by rice paddies, dotted by limestone rock formations.

It was a no-brainer to decide to cancel the biking around rice paddies after the boat ride. Instead, we dried ourselves and made our way on a 2 1/2 van ride back to the city. Not complaining here. We had a wonderful time despite the rain.

Look Ma, no hands!

Look Ma, no hands!

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Fishing?

Fishing?


This is the Church of Saint Anne in Molo, Iloilo. Some coral rocks, some sand, some eggwhites. And then, the statues of 16 women saints. Seek their graces and feel empowered, woman!

 

 

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The church is right across the beautiful district plaza where one finds a domed pavilion with 6 Greek goddesses. Why Greek? I honestly don’t know. Our guide kept harping on the “Athens of the Philippines” bit, but I feel it’s a stretch. The Gothic Church stands on its own, and the plaza….well, let’s just say it’s neat and pretty without any reference to the Athens line.

 

 

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Molo. Say that, and what immediately comes to mind is a clear broth with pork and shrimp dumplings. In olden times, the districts and towns along the shoreline were constantly raided by Moro pirates. The place being Iloilo’s version of Chinatown had many Chinese settlers, who pronounced “Moro” as “Molo”. This also explains the Chinese influence on its famous local dish “Pancit Molo”, one of my favorites.

 

 

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The church interiors made great use of columns, many of which along the main aisle is adorned by a female saint. You may address your prayers for intercession to Saints Cecilia, Teresa, Monica, Mary Magdalene, Clara, Martha, Rose de Lima, and many others. The statues, woodwork, stained glass, carvings and paintings are worth a few seconds’ pause, if you will.

 

 

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The ochre color, the flying buttresses, the ornately-designed bas reliefs, the uneven belltowers, and the gold-plated retablo. All that speak of a history surrounding the St. Thomas of Villanueva Church, more commonly, and simply called Miag-Ao Church. 

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The church facade is unique. St. Christopher is depicted like a local, more so as he is illustrated holding on to a coconut tree. There are also other “local” elements represented here like local fruits and flowers. Interestingly, the typical village life is very much represented in this art form.

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The Retablo

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Impressive Altar & Sanctuary

Inside, the interiors are simple, but very elegant. The antique gold plated retablo is impressive. So with the altar. A story goes that the altar dates from the late 1700s which was subsequently lost during the 1910 fire and later found and re-installed during repair excavations in 1982.

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The Flying Buttresses

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One of 2 Bell Towers attached to the church.

You’d wonder why the 2 bell towers at the church front are uneven, or simply different, unmatched. Used as watchtowers against Moro pirates, the 2 towers were built separately. The older and taller belfry is the one on the left side. Apparently, the 2 priests who commissioned the work thought it unimportant to match the design and architecture of the 2 towers. If you ask me, I think the disparity makes it unique.

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The Baptistery


Mangoes. Nothing’s sweeter than the Philippine mangoes. We have them good from Cebu, from Zambales, but the sweetest come from Guimaras Island, just a 15-minute boat ride from Iloilo. By the time we visited, it was almost the end of the peak season and prices have more than doubled. Yet the mangoes remained sweet.

Just a 15- minute banca ride to the island of Guimaras!

Just a 15- minute banca ride to the island of Guimaras!

Sweetest Philippine mangoes!

Sweetest Philippine mangoes!

We visited the oldest Church in the island. San Isidro Labrador Parish in Navalas honors the patron saint of farmers here. Small but charming. And terribly in need of restoration work. Since the church forms part of many itineraries for day-trip visitors of this island, perhaps the local authorities and prominent families here can help restore and preserve this part of Guimaras history.

Navalas Church, oldest in Guimaras

Navalas Church, oldest in Guimaras

Roca Encantada, the Guimaras Resthouse of the Lopezes

Roca Encantada, the Guimaras Resthouse of the Lopezes

Unlike the church in disrepair, Roca Entanda looks grand and well-maintained. The power scions — Lopez Family — has this all-white mansion by the edge of the waters, built on a rock looking out to sea. I can imagine all-night parties here with the seawind breezing through the spacious verandah. Or quiet weekend escapades with a coffee mug or a glass of wine, waiting for either sunrise or sunset. The life!

View from the balcony of Roca Encantada

View from the balcony of Roca Encantada

Mango Ketch, anyone?

Mango Ketchup, anyone?

Local residents line up streets with stalls  selling fresh mangoes, ready to be boxed for those who care to bring home these sweet fruits. There are also stores like McNesters selling mango byproducts like mango piaya, mango ketchup, mango bars, mango barquillos, etc. A foodie’s delight! More of the same stuff can be bought from the Trappist Monastery. As for lunch, how about that famous KBL (kadios, baboy and langka) soupy dish, soured by the local batwan, from Jannel Glycel Beach Resort? You can even opt for a quick swim before your lunch, if you like.

Janna Glycel Beach Resort

Janna Glycel Beach Resort

Trappist Monastery

Trappist Monastery


I confess this trip was hatched as a serious “food trip” with friends. My love affair with shellfish has withstood the test of time and coming home, I’ve been dreaming of my favorite hard-shelled loves. But 4 days of marathon dining can get us into serious trouble so we arranged to visit some heritage churches and ancestral homes as well.

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Of the churches we visited, I was impressed with this Church. Tigbauan’s architecture has Latin American influence ….. “Churriquesque” it’s called. It doesn’t register at all with me. Admittedly the first time I heard of it. Otherwise, I would have thought it refers to some barbecued specialty dish. (I’m hopeless) . I wonder how it looked back when it was constructed in 1575 before a 1948 earthquake destroyed much of it but for the bell tower, a few pillars and church facade. The mosaics which were actually what caught my attention in the first place, were installed when the church was restored following the 1948 destruction.

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Officially named Saint John of Sahagun Church, many simply refer to it as Tigbauan Church after the town where it is located. San Juan de Sahagun was an Augustinian friar who earned many enemies during his time in Salamanca, Spain where he was known for his sermons and scathing words which offended many from the upper echelons of society. It was believed then that the fierce saint died from poisoning by a woman who sought revenge. The woman was a nobleman’s concubine who was “enlightened” by Saint John of Sahagun . Wicked woman!

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Old, original, or not, I am impressed with the mosaic interiors. The altar looks lovely in an austere way. The niches with the Last Supper, saints as well as the Stations of the Cross, look just as charming in an old world way. I just hope the local parishioners and authorities work on the full restoration of the belfry and facade, remnants of this centuries-old church.


And it’s a wrap! Kaput. Enough. Pen down. Laptop off. One off the bucket list. Who knows when we’d return to explore more of this exotic country? But for now…… we rest our pens.

 

 

Photo Credit: BobI Francisco

Photo Credit: BobI Francisco

A Shutterbug's Haven.

A Shutterbug’s Haven.

 

 

FROM MAHARAJAHS TO MAHARANAS

 

Jaipur

Amber Fort

Dressing Up for Diwali Festival

Mehrangarh Fort in Johdpur

Ranakpur’s Jain Temple

Taj Mahal

The Sikh Temple in Delhi

Shah Jahan, the Master Builder

Qutub Minar

 

 

The opulence and poverty alternate in quick succession.

The opulence and poverty alternate in quick succession.

 

 

MUSINGS AND RAMBLINGS

 

 

A Birthday In India

The Colors, Sounds and Scents of India

 

 

 

A TOURIST’s PRINCELY PLEASURES

 

 

A Posh Birthday Lunch in a Royal Manor

First Impressions of Taj Lake Palace Hotel

Day 2 in Taj Lake Palace Hotel

 

 

 

Street Food

Street Food

 

FOOD PORN

 

As Spicy As It Gets

Feeling Royalty in Jharokha

 

 

It's good to be home 😄

It’s good to be home 😄


India is never short on ancient forts, palaces, towers, temples, monuments. Among its many heritage sites is this 12th century complex which includes this soaring 75-meter tower erected soon after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu Kingdom. Come sunset, it glows as a lovely redstone and marble minaret. The complex is quite manageable to explore, and we picked a lovely time of the day to do it.

 

 

The 2nd tallest minaret in India, just a few kilometers south of Delhi.

The 2nd tallest minaret in India, just a few kilometers south of Delhi.

We found many local tourists within the complex.

We found many local tourists within the complex.

 

 

We visited the Qutab Minar complex on our last day in India, just hours before our departure. Glad we didn’t miss this site which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The minaret towers above some ruins much like The Forum in Rome, Italy. Built to honor the onset of Islamic rule in India, Qutub Minar is not without controversy. Sometimes called Qutab, after the first Islamic ruler, or Qutub which literally translates to “pole of justice”, the tower symbolizes “Islamic Justice”in this corner of the world.

 

 

It was a lovely time of day to visit Qutab Minar.

It was a lovely time of day to visit Qutab Minar.

Islamic calligraphy (verses from the Quran) and Hindu motifs combine in many of the monuments to be found here.

Islamic calligraphy (verses from the Quran) and Hindu motifs combine in many of the monuments to be found here.

 

 

Earthquakes. Wear and Tear. All these left the tower damaged and tilted slightly on one side. The first 3 storeys are made of red sandstone, the next 4th and 5th of marble. The many steps could be scaled before but a recent accident involving schoolchildren forced authorities caring for the monument to stop such uphill excursions. Access is not allowed now. The view from the top must be lovely, especially at sunset, when the adjacent red sandstone ruins within the complex glow as the sun fades from view.

 

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Spices of India. Masala. And I thought it was another spice. Rather, masala is a mix of ground spices. The very heart of Indian cuisine. And India is soooo rich in spices. Turmeric. Cumin. Pepper. Cardamom. Chilies. Fennel. Cinnamon. Caraway. Anise. Ginger. Coriander. And so much more.

 

 

 

 

Poori or Puri  Unleavened Bread. As puffy as it gets! With potato masala.

Poori or Puri Unleavened Bread. As puffy as it gets! With potato masala.

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Chole. Chickpeas is love <3

Chole. Chickpeas is love <3

 

 

I was quite prepared for the spicy cuisine. And I do like Indian food. One of my fav dishes is the ubiquitous Palak Paneer found on every buffet spread. That plus the dhal (lentils) and chole (chickpeas) paired with all types of flatbread. Naan, Poori, Chapati, Paratha of all types — onion, garlic, paneer, etc. And the chutneys!

 

 

Chutneys galore!

Chutneys galore!

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All that bread. Imagine all that ghee. A couple more weeks here and I couldn’t slide into my pants. Plus the rice. Biryani? Basmati? Carbo overload. And don’t forget the okra — short, tiny, and crunchy. Loaded with uric acid, if you aren’t careful. Yay!

 

 

They look like doughnuts but these breads must be filled with ghee!

They look like doughnuts but these breads must be filled with ghee!

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And how can you resist the curry? My fav is mutton curry, which I can’t get enough off. Rice or flatbread, the mutton curry is wiped clean off the plate or bowl. Soaking naan across the curry plate is yum! Just mind the spices. There were others, but I couldn’t get past a tasting portion without burning my tongue. Phew!

 

 

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Indian "fried rice" was such a hit with me!

Indian “fried rice” was such a hit with me!

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As for desserts, that uber-sweet, syrupy gulab balls should really push your sugar levels past the Diabetes 2 threshold. Tooooo much. I won’t mind not seeing them for a year. And the almonds? Freshly shelled and milky white not to be ignored. Other nuts like pistachio also found their way into some sinful desserts.

 

 

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On our last day, our guide shared this home recipe with us. I tried it…. and ended up with a spinach dip instead. (I’m hopeless)

Palek Paneer (Spinach + Cottage Cheese)

Boil spinach until wilted. Osterize to make purée. Set aside.

In a pan, put veg or olive oil. Sauté cumin seed or put cumin powder; add finely chopped onions or onion purée. When browned, put garlic paste and bit of ginger paste. Put spinach; let boil. Add chili powder, salt to taste. Add cubed cottage cheese. Add tomato purée. Add little hot water to dilute.

 

 

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Thank you, Chikie, for some of the food photos

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