Dec 14, 2017

Hanoi Travelogue: A Day in Ha Long Bay (30 Jan 2016)

Apart from food hunting and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum Complex visiting, the remainder of the day before was spent hunting down affordable Ha Long Bay tours in the city. Despite our attempt to compare packages and prices, it was a tough call.

Out of frustrations and laziness, we booked Ha Long Bay tour with Especen Hotel for USD45/pax. One thing for sure, do not go for the lowest price point, and look closely at the fine details of the packages.

Lone Boat @ Ha Long Bay
By 7am, we were awake and prepped for the day. By 7.30am, we were downstairs waiting to devour our USD 3 western breakfast set in Especen Hotel. Toast, baked beans, ham, and sausages, it was simple but lovely. Better still, it came with a big bowl of yoghurt with dragonfruits and watermelon!

Total damage for 2 pax = USD 6

The journey from Especen Hotel to the port took about 4-5 hours, mostly due to the delay caused by heavy traffic and throttling speed limit in the city. While the bus we were on was air-conditioned, it did feel a little stuffy with full load of passengers.

Busy Day @ Ha Long Bay
Within half an hour upon arrival at the wharf of Halong City, we were shuffled onto our cruise boat and began our discovery of Ha Long Bay, one of the world's UNESCO World Heritage Site, on a chilly Autumn afternoon.

Our English speaking guide, despite his heavy Vietnamese accent, did try fighting against the muffling wind to tell us the stories of the various shapes of stones sitting above the waters of Ha Long Bay. He did not do it for long though as half an hour into the cruise, all passengers retreated to the lower deck to enjoy lunch onboard.

Fighting Cock @ Ha Long Bay
Our lunch was akin to Chinese banquet, ranging from cucumber salad, fried potato, steamed shrimp, sauteed squid with onions, fried pork, seafood spring rolls, fried fish with tomato sauce, to stir fried vegetables. All these were served with steamed rice, and ended with fruit dessert.

Did we enjoy our lunch? Probably not. You could easily find any street food in Hanoi that would taste better than our lunch onboard.

What do you see? @ Ha Long Bay
After lunch, we were ferried to a fishing village where we got to do some kayaking in the waters of Ha Long Bay. Considering it was my first time kayaking, it did help that the water of Ha Long Bay was calm. Even after all the exercise, you would still feel icy cool fresh. Just watch out for Kayak-traffic and your precious non-waterproof belongings.

Stalactites and Stalagmites Thien Cung Cave
What followed after our kayaking was to visit Thien Cung Cave, which is known to be the largest and most beautiful cave in Ha Long Bay. VND 50k was the entrance ticket price to visit Thien Cung Cave, or any of these destinations (Dao Go Cave, Sung Sot Cave, Ti Top Beach, Me Cung Cave, Soi Sim Island).

Light VS Shadow Thien Cung Cave
The climb into Thien Cung Cave was quite an adventure on its own: the entrance was narrow and almost hidden with overgrown vegetations. Upon setting foot into the cave, the expanse of the sanctum stretched as far as and as high as the eyes could see.

Stalactites and Stalagmites @ Thien Cung Cave
The journey through Thien Cung Cave took about half an hour. Along the way, our Guide would make a stop at some of the formations and tell us the stories behind it.

Stalactites and Stalagmites @ Thien Cung Cave
With all the tactically placed neon lights in Thien Cung Cave, you would start imagining things. Birds, fish, flowers, humans, you name it.

Stalactites and Stalagmites @ Thien Cung Cave
While some of it were convincing, some of it were a bit of a stretch, unless you were armed with bucketful of imagination.

Stalactites and Stalagmites @ Thien Cung Cave
What was unexpected was the ponds of water with natural gushing stream of water babbles throughout the year towards the end of our journey. It was almost blissful.

Parking Cruise Boats @ Thien Cung Wharf

Minimal yet Practical @ Thien Cung Wharf
And that concluded our half an hour journey through Thien Cung Cave. What welcomed us was the tranquil waters, accompanied by colorful cruise boats which patiently waited for its passengers.

By 4pm, we were ferried back to Halong City and boarded our air-conditioned bus for another 4-hour ride back to Hanoi. Famished we were, we decided to try out a nearby French restaurant named Le Petit Bruxelles.

Breaded Pork with Reblochon Cheese and Mushroom Sauce @ Le Petit Bruxelles (VND 205k)
While I opted for Breaded Pork with Reblochon Cheese and Mushroom Sauce, the tanner half went for Fresh Sausage of Toulouse with Fried Potatoes and French Green Bean. Truth be told, I was sold by the idea of breaded pork with cheese. And it did not fail me. Not only the pork was juicy fresh, the cheese gave the extra oohmp to the one dimensional taste profile. Don't mind the beans...

Fresh Sausage of Toulouse with Fried Potatoes and French Green Beans @ Le Petit Bruxelles (VND 195k)
On the other hand, though Toulouse sausages was a little predictable, it was pretty good. Chewy and flavourful, it went well with crispy fried potatoes, sauteed onions, and green beans. Definitely the kind of homely food you need after a long day.

Total damage for 2 pax = VND 410k


My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Especen Hotel - 3/5
    • Le Petit Bruxelles - 4/5
  • Price
    • Especen Hotel - 5/5
    • Le Petit Bruxelles - 3/5
  • Food
    • Especen Hotel - 4/5
    • Le Petit Bruxelles - 4/5
  • Verdict
    • Especen Hotel - Healthy and convenient, but it might take awhile to be served.
    • Le Petit Bruxelles - Homely establishment for comfort food
My personal hotel/attractions verdicts for:
  • Especen Hotel: Walking distance to Hoan Kiem Lake and local food. Spacious and comfortable room. It could use a fan for ventilation during winters. Do ask for lower floor rooms if you are not a fan of climbing narrow staircases
  • Ha Long Bay: Best time to visit would be summer where there would be blue sky and emerald water. Winter was a little too cold and lacklustre.


Especen Hotel
28 Tho Xuong street
Hoan Kiem district,
Hanoi 110214, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 24 hours
Tel: +84 24 3824 4401
Credit Card: No (Cash only)

Le Petit Bruxelles
25 Lý Quốc Sư,
Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm,
Hà Nội, Vietnam
Operation Hours: 11am-2pm, 5pm-10pm
Tel: +84 439381769
Credit Card: Yes

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