Hanoi Day 4 (12 Aug 19) – A Short Walk Around Hoan Kiem Lake

This is our final day in Hanoi. Our flight departs at 6.30pm, gave us half a day to finish up the few sights that we did not manage to visit on our first day in Hanoi. My friend and I deliberately keep the itinerary today very light, so we can get back to the hotel and freshen ourselves up before leaving for the airport. We very much wanted to visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. However, when I checked with the staffs at the front desk of the hotel, I was disappointed to be informed that the mausoleum is closed on every Mondays. Guess we will have to visit the next time if we ever come back to Hanoi.

St Joseph Cathedral of Hanoi

After breakfast, we made our way to St Joseph Cathedral of Hanoi, which is located west of Hoan Kiem Lake. St Joseph Cathedral of Hanoi is the oldest church in Hanoi, built in 1886 and is one of the first structures built by the French colonial government. The Neo-Gothic style church has two bell towers that resemble Notre Dame de Paris and is nicknamed Notre Dame of Hanoi. St Joseph Cathedral overlooks a small plaza in front of the church. It is distinct that the original white colour church has given way to soot, with most of the structure covered in patches of black spots, which gives the church an aged character.  The church was not crowded at the time of our visit, allowing us to take pictures of the church without any interruptions. As we entered the church, a staff member of the church informed us that the church will be closing in 1 min, I think we were lucky to have the chance to visit the interior of the church. 1 min is sufficient for us to take some pictures of the interior of the church.

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St Joseph Cathedral of Hanoi

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Taking a wefie at St Joseph Cathedral

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St Joseph Cathedral

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Side building of St Joseph Cathedral

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Inside the St Joseph Cathedral

 

In Search of the Vietnamese Egg Coffee

After exiting the church, my friend wanted to try the famous Vietnamese Egg Coffee that we did not manage to try for the past three days. We went enquired at a few cafes around St Joseph Cathedral and finally managed to find a cafe that sells the Egg Coffee. The Egg Coffee tasted creamy and rich and has a very unique texture to the coffee. After coffee, we walked around this area of Hanoi, stopping by a few shops to do some last-minute shopping for souvenirs. Somehow, we ended up in the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake and popped by a supermarket nearby to shop for souvenirs. Soon it is time to head back to the hotel. When we returned to the hotel, we had some time to take a dip in the swimming pool in the hotel, which helped relieve the summer heat.

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We finally got to try the Vietnamese Egg Coffee

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Hanoi has numerous old buildings such as this

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Statue of Emperor Ly, founder of the Ly Dynasty in Vietnam on the eastern side of Hoan Kiem Lake

Till Next Time, Hanoi

Our arranged airport transfer arrived came 15 mins earlier than the destinated pick up time. Anyways we were ready to depart for the airport for our flight back home. Along the way, the sights we have seen flashed by the car window reminded me of how much I had enjoyed the trip despite being short. The locals are friendlier and more patient than I expected. The sights and the locals that we have come across is what made this Hanoi trip enjoyable.

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Ready to check-in at Hanoi Not Bai Airport

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Taking our last wefie in Hanoi

Afterthought

I thought four days is sufficient to cover most of Hanoi and the surrounding sights such as Halong Bay and Tam Coc unless one is going to Sapa for a trek, which usually requires two days. I thought the day trip is sufficient for Halong Bay and does not require anything more than a day unless one wants to experience sleeping on the cruise ship in Halong Bay. For first-timers going to Hanoi, our itinerary for the four days are as follows for reference:

  • Day 1: Exploring around Hanoi
  • Day 2: Day Trip to Halong Bay
  • Day 3: Day trip to Tam Coc and Hoa Lu
  • Day 4: Finish up the sights in Hanoi

Hanoi Day 3 (11 Aug 19) – Tam Coc & Hoa Lu: Halong Bay on Land and the Ancient Capital

When I started to plan for this short trip to Hanoi, I was certain that Halong Bay is a must-visit destination. I started to look around what other places we can visit for our third day in Hanoi. There were several day trips we could take, it is either we visit Perfume Pagoda, Trang An or Tam Coc & Hoa Lu. The main attraction for Perfume Pagoda is the Buddhist temple complex and there is no pagoda, so we strike that off the list. The main attraction at Trang An is Bai Dinh Pagoda which is completed only recently in 2015. Tam Coc & Hoa Lu gave us a little of nature and a little of history. We chose the day trip to Tam Coc & Hoa Lu.

Onward to Ninh Binh Province

Our trip to Tam Coc and Hoa Lu resides in Ninh Binh Province, about 2½ hours drive south of Hanoi. Our guide, Long, and the driver came by our hotel to pick us up at 7.15am and proceeded to pick up the other four pax in the tour group around Hanoi. Along the way, we drove past numerous paddy fields and saw some graves in the middle of the fields. Long explained that it is customary in Vietnam to have the landowner to be buried in the field in a way to bless the field. As we were driven into a small town in Ninh Binh province, Long drew our attention to a European palace-like building. This is Thanh Thang Palace home to a wealthy Vietnamese businessman who wanted to live in a palace and he spent $17 million to build this palace. The building has a domed gilded roof and elaborately-decorated arch and is inspired by several European styles. Long described this as the Taj Mahal of Vietnam.

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We drove past numerous paddy fields on our way to Tam Coc

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Thanh Thang Palace, the Taj Mahal of Vietnam

After the 2½ hours drive, we reached the first stop of the day. One of the itineraries is to have lunch at the home of a Vietnamese family. This two-storey building has a large front yard and belongs to a wealthy family. Long explained the original owner of this house is a Vietnam war veteran who was handsomely rewarded by the Vietnamese government for his contributions during the war. We rested at this house momentarily before heading out in a bicycle for our ride through the countryside in Tam Coc.

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The Vietnamese House that we will be having lunch

Cycling Through the Countryside of Tam Coc

Long arranged with the owners of the house to loan us bicycles and a traditional Vietnamese straw hat for our ride to the countryside of Tam Coc. The mountain bikes that Long arranged were perfect for the ride through the rough gravel countryside paths that Long led us through. Along the way, we were treated with gorgeous views of the countryside. The field of bright green pastures filled with paddy and what seem like lotus plants as well as some with wild plants in the foreground and limestone mountains draped in their green garments of the summer season in the background seemingly watching over these pastures like their guardian angles are what we see along the way. These limestone mountains looked like those we seen in Halong Bay yesterday, no wonder the locals dubbed Tam Coc as Halong Bay on land. The ride was scenic and relaxing coupled with the unpolluted fresh air of the countryside, and at times we spotted some wild goats taking their forenoon stroll through this area, I totally enjoyed the ride. We rode past the Ngo Dong River and stopped momentarily at a bridge for some photo opportunities.

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We cycled through the countryside of Ninh Binh province

 

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Taking a wefie with our guide, Long

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We pass through this amazing view of the limestone mountains during our cycling

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View of Ngo Dong River

Thai Vi Temple

We made two stops on our 1½ hour ride through the countryside. We arrived at Thai Vi Temple, which was built by King Tran Thai Tong in 1258 after he led a victorious fight against the Mongol Empire. The king gave up his throne to his son and retired to this place after the war and became a monk. The only temple made of entirely of monolithic greenstone, Thai Vi Temple is a small and tranquil temple surrounded by limestone mountains. This temple is a little off the beaten path and there are not many people at the temple at the time our visit. Passing through the small main gateway to the temple, the temple grounds open up to a huge foreyard. A small tower is erected on both sides of the foreyard facing the temple. A drum and a bell are installed in the left and right tower respectively. The grey stone colour temple houses the statue of King Tran Thai Tong. Entering the main temple building, we spotted an old man playing a traditional one-string Vietnamese guitar – Dan Bau and stopped to listen. It is amazing the variety of notes Dan Bau can produce with just a single chord. Long told us this man is the guardian of the temple. He is a musical wiz and can play all sorts of traditional Vietnamese musical instruments and the best thing is he self-taught to play these instruments. The guardian of the temple played another two different types of flutes made of bamboo, the male flute or Sao Truc and the female flute or Sao. We were given some time to walk around the temple grounds. I spotted a tomb-like structure behind the temple building and asked Long about it. Long explained the tomb I saw was the tomb of a general.

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Entrance to Thai Vi Temple

 

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Thai Vi Temple main building

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Thai Vi Temple up close

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The courtyard of Thai Vi Temple

Cavern by the River

After spending another 10 mins, we left Thai Vi Temple and continued our cycling trip around the area. Long led us to a cavern by the bank of Ngo Dong River. The view here is breathtaking. The river snakes around the limestone hills on both sides as though giving in to the might of the hills. Immediately in front of the cavern, another taller limestone mountain with a dragon statue and a pavilion can be seen. For a 500 step climb up this mountain, the view is worth the climb as it allows visitors to truly appreciate the beauty of this Halong Bay on land. We rested for 5 mins and headed back to the Vietnamese house for a traditional Vietnamese lunch.

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Cycling to the caverns near Thai Vi Temple

 

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Wefie by Ngo Dong River

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Limestone mountains from the caverns

Rowing Down to the Three Caves

After lunch, we headed to the bank of Ngo Dong River for our 2-hour boat ride down the river to the three caves. As we were walking to board our boat, Long cautioned us that the vendors will try to sell us drinks and snacks for the boat paddler. He recommended us not to buy these overpriced items and instead tip the paddler if we wanted to. There are numerous small metal boats docked at the boarding area, each boat has a maximum capacity of two visitors (but we did see some boats with three or four adults on it along the way down Ngo Dong River). We boarded one of the boats and soon found ourselves being rowed on Ngo Dong River. We were treated to limestone mountain ranges lining themselves along the river, as though they are welcoming us. It is interesting to see the paddlers in this area uses their legs to row the boat. The boat trip is very peaceful, I would imagine the boat ride will be more pleasant in other seasons when it is not as hot. As we were being rowed on Ngo Dong River, we were able to see numerous limestone mountains, some at a distance while others up close. Regardless of the distance between the mountains and the river, the view was unspoiled and unobstructed. It seems like taking the boat ride along Ngo Dong River is the only way to get close to these mountains as there did not seem to have any road connections.

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This is where we boarded the boat that took us down Ngo Dong River passing through the three caves

 

 

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No wonder they called this place Halong Bay on land

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The scenery along Ngo Dong River

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The scenery along Ngo Dong River

The boat paddler rowed the boat along the bends of the river and the changes in the landscape did not cease to amaze us. Every mountain looks different in shape and size as though each has its own character. We found ourselves coming to the first cave, which provided us with shelter from the hot summer Vietnamese sun. The cave is similar to Luon Cave we visited in Halong Bay yesterday. We were rowed along the river that runs under the limestone mountain. Looking up, we could see the limestone formations underneath the mountain. There is little clearance between the boat at the cave, we were able to touch the ceiling of the cave. The scenery instantly changed from the darkness of the cave to one that has limestone mountain ranges covered with lush green vegetation lined on both sides of the river as soon as we exited the cave. These mountain ranges look as if it stretches forever on both sides of Ngo Dong River.

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The first cave we went under along Ngo Dong River in Tam Coc

 

 

 

Very soon we found ourselves on the part of the river than flows through the second cave, which is relatively shorter than the first cave. It did not take too long for the boat to exit the second cave and continued our journey down the river. We were still taking in the scenery that this Halong Bay on land offers.

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Approaching the second cave along Ngo Dong River

 

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The scenery along Ngo Dong River after the second cave

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The scenery along Ngo Dong River after the second cave

As we were near the third cave, I spotted a few boats on the river with only one person on the boat. These boats gathered at the entrance of the third cave and are the so-called floating market that Long had told us earlier on. Rather than being a real floating market that sells goods where locals can come and buy from like those in Thailand, this floating market is nothing more than a few boats trying to sell their wares to tourists to come down the river on these sightseeing boats. This market looks like they are there for the tourists. Our boat went into the third cave but did not go through the cave unlike the first two we came across. It does seem that there is no way through the third cave from where we were. The third cave looks the same as the first two we saw on our way here. This is where we took a u-turn and headed back from where we came from. Exiting the third cave, our paddle took her momentarily rest for one of these floating market boats pulled up to our boat. True to what Long had told us earlier on, this vendor begin to persuade us to buy a snack and drink for the paddler. I rejected her offer and the paddler noticed no sale from us and started to paddle the boat back to where we embarked from the boat. The scenery looks repetitive on the way back, probably the scenery is still fresh on our mind, and I felt bored after awhile hoping that we would get back sooner.

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Approaching the third cave along Ngo Dong River

 

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The so-called floating market outside the third cave is just the locals trying to ambush tourists in buying their overpriced merchandise

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On our way back to the pier

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Some of the stunning limestone mountains along Ngo Dong River

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On our way back to the pier

Hoa Lu – The First Capital of Vietnam

After some 45 mins rowing on the boat, we reached where we started. The rest of our group mates had already reached the shores and were waiting for us. Long gathered everyone on the vehicle and started to make our way to Hoa Lu ancient citadel, our last destination of the day. The drive from Tam Coc to Hoa Lu ancient citadel took around 25 mins. Along the way, Long narrated the importance of Hoa Lu. Hoa Lu served as the capital of Vietnam in 986 AD when the first emperor of the country, Dinh Tien Hoang united Vietnam. In 1010, when the Ly Dynasty was formed, the emperor shifted the capital to Hanoi, which remains the capital of Vietnam to this day. From the moment we alighted the vehicle, I can see why this area was chosen as the first capital of Vietnam. The limestone mountain ranges serve as a great defence for the palace. A lone Chinese styled stone gate lies at the end of a short bridge over a moat with two stone lion sculptures welcomed us the moment we arrived at Hoa Lu ancient citadel. There are no palace walls or any reminiscence of palace walls here.  As we got closer to the gate, I was a tad disappointed. It appears this gate is relatively new and shows signs of it being rebuilt. Passing through the gate, we were greeted with a sight of a huge piece of empty land, which seems like where the palace of Emperor Dinh originally sat on. These days the only remains of the Dinh Dynasty are the two temples in the grounds of Hoa Lu ancient citadel. I feel this place can be easily replaced with a trip to the top of the mountains with a view of Tam Coc. What we saw was an empty plot of land that replaced the original palace and two rather old temples in Hoa Lu ancient citadel. Without our guide, we would have no context to the importance of these temples and the stories behind them.

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The gate to the ancient capital of Hoa Lu ancient citadel

 

Temple of King Dinh

Long brought us to the Temple of King Dinh, located in one corner inside Hoa Lu ancient citadel. The Temple of King Dinh is a temple that the locals built in the former palace grounds to commemorate King Dinh Tien Hoang. Passing through the main stone entrance to the temple, we came across a small garden before stopping at the second entrance to the temple. At the short wooden temple entrance lies a big stone with dragon carving. Long explained this is a replica of the Dragon Bed that King Dinh used back in 948 AD. A short walk after the wooden entrance, we arrived at the main temple building. With the limestone mountains as the backdrop, the Temple of Kind Dinh is quite a modest building for someone as important as King Dinh in Vietnamese history. The small temple building, mainly made of wood, has very heavy Chinese influence with statues of dragon installed on the roof. A statue of King Dinh is installed in the temple for locals to pay their respects to the late King. The temple and the temple grounds are not large and it did not take us long to look around.

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Introduction to Temple of King Dinh

 

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Temple of King Dinh

 

Temple of King Le

Leaving the Temple of King Dinh, Long brought us to the Temple of King Le, which is located within mere steps away from the Temple of King Dinh. Temple of King Le is another temple that the locals built to commemorate King Le Dai Harm, the commander in chief who succeeded King Dinh. The entrance to Temple of King Le is slightly taller with a two-storey roof structure but with designs that are not as elaborate as that of King Dinh. At the entrance of the temple, Long pointed to another Dragon Bed that was used by King Le. Unlike the one outside the Temple of King Dinh, this Dragon Bed is just a plain stone and does not come with any carving. Similar to Temple of King Dinh, Temple of King Le is made of wood and has simpler decorations on the temple roof. However, the beams at the temple are intricately carved with mythical Vietnamese creatures such as dragons. Temple of King Le is smaller than that of King Dinh, perhaps out of respect to the first emperor of Vietnam. There are three statues installed in the Temple of King Le: statue of King Le Dai Harm, the statue of Empress Duong Van Nga and statue of his successor, King Le Hoan. We did not spend much time in the Temple of King Le due to its size. Long gave us some time to explore around in Hoa Lu citadel, but there is nothing much to explore in this area. The place where the palace was supposed to be at is now an empty plot of land.

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Introduction to the Temple of King Le

 

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Temple of King Le

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Intricate carvings in Temple of King Le

Back to Hanoi

We arrived back to Hanoi a little after 7 pm due to a traffic jam along the way back. My friend and I were the last to be dropped off. After reaching the hotel, we headed back to our room and freshen ourselves before heading out for dinner. We walked along the French quarters in search of dinner and dined at a relatively small restaurant where a group of locals were dining. After dinner, we walked around a little before heading back to the hotel to rest for the night.

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We were able to catch a glimpse of Hanoi Opera House at night when walking around searching for dinner

 

Hanoi Day 2 (10 Aug 19) – Halong Bay: Home of the Descending Dragon

No trip to Hanoi is complete without a trip to the magnificent Halong Bay. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, Halong Bay is busy every day with tourists flocking to this part of Quang Ninh Province to admire the beauty of the bay. Halong literally means descending dragon and got its name from folklore. Legend has it that Halong Bay is formed when the gods send dragons to assist the Vietnamese to fight against their invaders. The family of dragons spit out jewels that turned into islands dotting the bay to form a wall against the invaders. After winning the battle, the dragons liked the peace in the area and decided to live in this bay. Halong Bay consists of 1969 islands and only half of them have been named.

Journey to Halong Bay

At the time of planning, my friend and I were not interested in staying overnight for the sunset or sunrise in the bay. I figured a day trip to Halong Bay is sufficient. We booked our trip to Halong Bay from Klook. The tour company organised a bus to pick us from our hotel at 8.30am, with our guide named Thann. Before setting off from Hanoi, Thann notified the group that we will stop by a pearl farm for 30 mins then head to a nearby marina to board our cruise around Halong Bay. Along the way, Thann gave us some background to the sights we drive by. The drive to Halong Bay took three hours, which my friend and I used to catch up some rest.

Halong Pearl

After travelling for close to 3 hours, we were woken up by Thann who explained Halong Bay used to be populated with floating villages. These floating villages’ main livelihood is pearl farming. Most of these villages have since been shifted to land thanks to new methods of pearl farming. Shortly after, we arrived at one of the pearl farms – Halong Pearl. Thann handed the group over to a guide who explained to us the different types of pearl and their grades. We were given a live demonstration by one of the staffs in Halong Pearl on the intricate methods of cultivating pearls in the oysters. The staff also showed us how they harvest these pearls while explaining the oysters once being harvested, the meat will go on to be made into delicacies and the shell into artworks. After the short demonstration, we were led to a showroom where products of pearls are being sold. This visit to Halong Pearl feels like one of those typical tourist traps that are in every guided tour trips. However, the difference is this company make it feels like something to do so that they can put a tick in the box. With merely 30 mins set aside for this visit, 10 mins of which is used for the explanation of pearl farming, and 20 mins for us to roam around. Needless to say, practically all of the people in the group did not visit the showroom. All of us were just standing outdoors, looking out at Halong Bay in the far distance and eager to sail out to the bay. After the visit to the farm, the tour bus swung by and picked us up. Thann briefed the group that we will be heading to Tuan Chau island in Halong Bay, barely 10 mins drive from Halong Pearl to board our cruise to Halong Bay.

First stop: Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave

The two-deck cruise boat wasted no time and set sail into Halong Bay as soon as the group completed boarding. The lower deck of the cruise boat resembles a restaurant where we were sited at the table, in groups of four. The upper deck, accessible via the stairs in front of the boat is an open deck for tourists to get a better view of the surroundings in Halong Bay. As the boat is pulling away from the marina, Thann told us the three places that we will be visiting around Halong Bay today. As the boat was sailing out to our first stop, Sung Sot Cave, lunch was served course by course. Lunching with the view of the numerous limestone islands in Halong Bay popping out and disappearing before our eyes is absolutely fantastic. These limestone islands stood majestically from the waters in Halong Bay like mushrooms sprouting on the ground after a rain. Some of these islands with tall pillar-like shape are untouched by humans. These numerous limestone islands were formed some 300 million years ago, and if they can talk I would imagine the interesting stories they will tell. Thann would have some stories to share on some of these islands that we are sailing past. In between courses, my friend and I would occasionally head up to the upper deck to take some pictures of the surroundings in Halong Bay. Not all the islands are the same, some islands are tall and slander which seems to make a landing on them impossible. There are islands that have gentle gradients with fields of greeneries that looks like meadows grown on them. Yet there are some that looked bare with their stony and tall cliffs with trees growing on the top of these islands. The waters in the bay are very calm, making sailing onboard through the bay relaxing.

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Panoramic view of Halong Bay

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There are 1969 such limestone islands in Halong Bay

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And we sailed into Halong Bay

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The locals named this “Money Island” as it appeared on the VND200,000 bill

After sailing for almost 1 hour, and having finished our dessert, Thann announced to the group that we have arrived at Bo Hon Island, where the famous Sung Sot Cave is situated. Sung Sot Cave is one of the largest cave in Halong Bay. Thann cautioned that the way to the cave involves a 100 steps climb to the entrance, but we will be rewarded with great views of this part of Halong Bay and the magnificent cave structure. For me, I just want to get away from this Vietnamese summer heat. The stairs case towards Sung Sot Cave is rather narrow, allowing only one person to climb at a time. How right is Thann, as we reached the mid-point of the climb, a viewpoint allows us to see this part of the bay. From this viewpoint, a handful of limestone islands draped with greeneries sitting in the emerald waters coupled with the clear blue sky, the view is stunning. 

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Viewpoint on Bo Hon Island, halfway to the entrance of Sung Sot Cave

We only stayed at the viewpoint momentarily and continued our climb to the entrance of the cave.  It did not take us long to reach the entrance of the cave, the road narrows and we even have to bend at some parts as we go further into the cave. The further we go into Sung Sot Cave, the cave seems to get bigger and bigger. It is difficult to imagine how a small hole in the mountains can grow to such a massive size. The ceiling of the cave is decorated with stalactites like chandeliers. There is a designated one-way path for us to walk in Sung Sot Cave. Not far from the entrance in Sung Sot Cave, Thann gathered our group and brought our attention to a carving on one of the stones in the cave. This is one of those “I have been here” imprint left by visitors to the cave, except that this engraving is left by the French who discovered this cave in 1901. As we walked in the cave, Thann pointed out some rock formations that the locals resemble things they are familiar with in their daily lives. A 15 mins walk inside Sung Sot Cave we came across a cannon, a tortoise (which Thann mentioned we will get good luck by touching its head and I did win the lottery that night after touching the head of the tortoise. Coincidence much?) Romeo and Juliet, a dinosaur head, a giant snakehead amongst other things. At the exit of the cave, we were rewarded with another stunning view of Halong Bay before we descend the stairways towards the pier and boarded our boat to the next stop.

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Halong Bay from the viewpoint outside Sung Sot Cave

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Halong Bay from Bo Hon Island

Next Stop: “Bamboo” Boat Ride to Luon Cave and Lake

The next stop wasn’t far from Sung Sot Cave. It took us 10 mins to sail from Sung Sot Cave to a floating platform where we had the option of either kayaking or take a so-called “Bamboo” boat. We did not want to get wet, hence my friend and I opted for the “Bamboo” boat ride. Our cruise boat came alongside a floating platform which faces a huge limestone cliff that has vegetations grown only towards the top of the island. This is part of Bo Hon Island. After disembarking at the floating platform, we headed to grab a life vest and headed for the “Bamboo” boat ride. The so-called “Bamboo” boat is not made of bamboo, rather it is made of metal capable of carrying up to 12 passengers. The boat is manually paddled by a staff member. I guess the former incarnation of this boat ride was made of bamboo and the tour operators might have figured replacing it with the metal boat not only saves maintenance cost, but it is also safer for passengers. They did retain the manual paddling of the boat which might be the only link between now and then.

The “Bamboo” boat was quickly filled up with passengers from our cruise. We were lucky to snag the front row seats on the boat as these seats gave us great views of the surroundings and are also best for photo taking. The paddler started to paddler the boat towards the huge cliff in front of us. Below the cliff, there is an opening roughly around 2m or so, sufficient for the paddler to do his job standing up. This opening is Luon Cave. It is an amazing feeling passing through the underside of the cliff that stood like a pillar holding up the sky. In Luon Cave, we can see the formation of limestones that seem to drip into the emerald waters below. The limestone formations in Luon Cave is not as impressive as that we saw in Sung Sot Cave. In Luon Cave, we were able to see limestone that stood the erosions throughout the millions of years since these karsts were formed. At some parts, it seems that a thin piece of limestone is holding up the entire cliff. I can’t help but wonder what will happen if the limestones give way while we were paddling under the cave.

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The way to Luon Lake is through Luon Cave

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The limestone formation in Luon Cave

Luon Cave is not a huge cave. It took the paddler 5 mins to paddle to the other side of the cave. At the end of the cave tunnel, the scenery opens up to a body of water. This is the Luon Lake. Luon Lake is surrounded by a range of limestone mountains on this part of the island and it seems the only way to gain access to this lake is through Luon Cave. Here the waters are calmer and there is a chance that we might see some monkeys which lived on this park of Bo Hon Island. But the monkeys do not seem to be at home at the time we visited. The air in Luon Lake is still with no wind, our paddler was wise to paddle the boat to a shady area, away from the hot summer sun. Here we are, sitting in the boat and not making headway enjoying what would otherwise be a peaceful scenery not for the singing of two boats filled with Chinese tourists. Luckily they left moments after our arrival, thus returning the peace to this area. The tranquillity coupled with the dangerous rocky mountain ranges, each covered with thick vegetation, making this spot a very relaxing spot. We enjoy watching the kayakers on their kayaks, some struggling to keep their kayak on a straight course, others having water warfare with their fellow kayakers. We stayed here for another 10 mins before our paddler made a U-turn and paddled the boat back to the floating platform through Luon Cave.

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Kayakers at Luon Lake

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Luon Lake is very peaceful

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It took us about 5 mins to paddle through Luon Cave to reach Luon Lake

Final Stop: Ti Top Island

We boarded our cruise boat once again and sailed pass the islands of Halong Bay for another 20 mins to our next destination – Ti Top Island. Thann came on his portable PA system and informed the group that our next and final stop of this day trip around Halong Bay would be Ti Top Island. We were given 30 mins on the island to either swim on the beach or to climb up to the top of the island. My friend and I looked at each other and exclaimed: “we will do the climb”. As we approached Ti Top Island, we saw the number of people swimming in the small beach of Ti Top Island, my friend and I was glad that we took the option of climbing to the top of the island. After landing on Ti Top Island, we headed to the stairs for the climb to the top of the island, passing the small beach for those who want to swim in the sea. The beach is very small and was overcrowded with visitors. There is barely any space for anyone do to decent swim or to relax by the beach.

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Ti Top Island

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The small and crowded beach on Ti Top Island

The climb took us 15 mins to reach the top of the island. Halfway up the long and narrow stairs to the top of the island, we came across a viewpoint which offered yet another stunning view of Halong Bay. Here we saw Islands surrounding the waters around Ti Top Island with dozens of cruise boats anchoring off the island. After taking some pictures, we headed up to the top of the island. After another 7 mins climb, we reached the top of Ti Top Island. A pavilion sits with a commanding view of the view of Halong Bay at the top of the hill. There is a small crowd at the pavilion. From the pavilion, we were able to get a stunning 360° view of Halong Bay. The view here is breathtaking! If not for the number of people up here, the pavilion can be a perfect spot to enjoy the tranquil in Halong Bay. There are two views at the pavilion. On the more crowded side, numerous limestone islands resting in the calm emerald waters of Halong Bay nearer to Ti Top Island can be seen. One can even see the islands that spread in Halong Bay over the horizon. The view here is perfect for photo taking. I find the other view at the pavilion to be less scenic perhaps partly due to vegetation next to the pavilion and partly due to the bright sun. Nonetheless, this side of the pavilion provides a great spot for a sunset viewing of Halong Bay. 

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Panoramic view of Halong Bay from the top of Ti Top Island

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Panoramic view of Halong Bay from the other side of the pavilion

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View of Halong Bay from the top to Ti Top Island

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View of Halong Bay from the top to Ti Top Island

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Taking a wefie at the top of Ti Top Island

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View of the Halong Bay from Ti Top Island

After spending a good 5 mins at the pavilion, it is time for us to descend from the hilltop and get to the rendezvous point with the rest of the group. We boarded the boat as soon as Thann has accounted for all the people in the group. The cruise boat sailed back to the marina once everyone has boarded. On the way back, we sailed past the islands that we saw on our way out. At this point, the scenery felt a little repetitive. It took us another 45 mins to reach the marina.

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Last look of Halong Bay

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Last look of Halong Bay

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We sailed on this peaceful waters of Halong Bay back to the marina

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Halong Bay near sunset

Back to Hanoi

We were ferried back to Hanoi on the 3-hour bus ride after disembarking from the cruise boat. The air conditioner on the bus is a huge relief to the hot weather. As we would reach Hanoi at around 8 or 9pm, we requested Thann to drop us at the walking street so that we can grab dinner before heading back to the hotel to rest. We alighted near the walking street and made our way to one of the restaurants on the north of Hoan Kiem Lake. We spotted this restaurant the night before. Cau Go restaurant sits on top of the building that was able to provide us with a great view of the entire area at night. Tonight there seems to be some outdoor concert going on. The street is crowded with people, especially near to the stage where the concert is held. After dinner, we headed to the Trang Tien Plaza for a short walk. Trang Tien Plaza mainly sells branded goods such as LV, Gucci to name a few. There did not seem to be people shopping in these shops, the plaza is still crowded with shoppers, who like us, were here for the air conditioning. We headed back to the hotel to rest for the night. After all, we still have an early day for our trip to Tam Coc the next day.

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View of Hoan Kien Lake from Cau Go Restaurant

Hanoi Day 1 (9 Aug 19) – Hello Vietnam, Hello Hanoi

My friend and I visited Hanoi over a super long weekend in Singapore. Since we have never been to Vietnam before, it would be interesting to explore a new country. The flight schedule for our trip was perfect for us to maximise our short stay in Hanoi, the first flight out of Singapore and last flight back home. During the planning of this trip, I gathered that most of the sights in Hanoi can be explored in a day or two. Hanoi is a gateway to the magnificent Halong Bay.  

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Landing into Hanoi Airport

Arrival at Hanoi

It takes 3½ hours flying from Singapore to Hanoi. Our flight arrived at Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport slightly before noon. Clearing custom at Hanoi Airport was a breeze, very soon we found ourselves at the concourse of the airport looking for our pre-booked airport transfer. It took us another 40 mins to reach the hotel we were staying, which is in the heart of Hanoi. After checking in, my friend and I wasted no time and headed out to explore the sights in Hanoi after settling our luggage in our room. Most of the sights in Hanoi are located West of Hoan Kiem Lake and only a handful are found in the French Quarter, where our hotel is located.

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Arrival at Hanoi Noi Bai Airport

Exploring Hanoi

Since we have more time to spare for today, our plan is to visit the sights in West of Hoan Kiem Lake, which is further away from the hotel and leave the few sights in the French Quarter, nearer to the hotel on the last day prior to our departure.

Hanoi Opera House

Our first stop of the day is the Hanoi Opera House which is a mere 3 mins walk from the hotel we were staying. The Hanoi Opera House is a yellow building that overlooks a roundabout in the French Quarters. The European influenced building was completed in 1911, designed by French architects. The facade of the building has eight roman columns that seemingly supporting the roof. There are five Roman styled balconies on the facade of Hanoi Opera House. The Opera House now functions as a venue for local and international plays. As our time is limited today, plus I figured we will not be able to enter the Opera House without watching a play, we decide to head to the other sights in the Old Quarter in Hanoi.

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The European inspired Hanoi Opera House

Hoan Kiem Lake and the Turtle Tower

Departing from the Opera House, we headed towards the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. Along the way, we passed by the southern part of Hoan Kiem Lake. My friend and I decided to take a slight detour and spend some time at Hoan Kiem Lake. Hoan Kiem Lake these days is where locals hang out in the midst of the hot summer sun. The shades provided by the trees planted around the lake makes it an ideal spot to hide from the heat by the sun. From the southern part of Hoan Kiem Lake, we spotted the iconic Turtle Tower sitting isolated on a small island in the lake. The Turtle Towel, also known as Thap Rua Tower to the locals, is a three-storey white structure built on an island that does not seem to be accessible to visitors. The architecture of the Turtle Tower seems to be heavily influenced by the Chinese, with  Chinese styled roofs and dragons sculptures on the roof of the tower. There did not seem to be any works done to restore or refreshen the Turtle tower.

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Thap Rua or Turtle Tower in Hoan Kiem Lake

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One of the French-styled buildings that are a common sight in Hanoi

Flag Tower of Hanoi

After taking some pictures and taking a momentary break from the heat of the sun, my friend and I continued our journey to the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. The walk to the citadel took us about 25 mins. Along the way, we passed by Hanoi Military Museum. We decided to skip visiting the museum as we are not interested in visiting the Hanoi Military Museum as it displays the equipment that was used during the war. We skirted the parameters of the museum and came across the iconic Flag Tower of Hanoi. One will not miss the Flag Tower as it has a huge flag of Vietnam flying on the top of the tower. The 33m Flag Tower was built in 1812 as an observatory tower to the citadel. We stopped by the tower to take some pictures and headed to the citadel, which is about 5 mins walk from the Flag Tower of Hanoi.

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Flag Tower of Hanoi up close

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Take a wefie with the Flag Tower of Hanoi

Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

After some walking, we finally reached the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. We initially did not plan to stay at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long for too long. From my research of this site, I thought the southern gate is the only attraction to this place, which would take us at most 15 mins tops. However, once we pass through the gate, there are more things to see at this site. Passing through the ticketing building, a large well-manicured courtyard befitting of that found in oriental palaces was before our eyes. Further into the background is the South Gate of the palace, the only remaining structure of the palace that visitors can get up close to. The South Gate was part of the surrounding wall to the palace and acts as the main entrance to the palace in its hay days. A two-storey yellow building sits on the palace walls with a commanding view of the courtyard as well as the Flag Tower of Hanoi. We passed through the gate to the back of the wall, here is where one can climb up an easy flight of stairs to the top of the wall. There is nothing much inside the building on top of the wall, but the view here is amazing. We spotted an abandoned building behind the South Gate.

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The southern gate of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, the only remaining structure of the Imperial Palace

Just when we thought we were done with this site, we spotted a number of visitors heading further into the complex instead of heading towards the main entrance. Curious, we followed their footsteps and discovered there are more to see at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long than the South Gate. Along the way, we spotted a building that seems to be air-conditioned, a great relieve for us from the scorching sun. We entered this building to find that there are displays of the relics that were being dug up during the archaeological digs within the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. We walked further into the complex and found some buildings that randomly displays items that are not related to the history of the Imperial Palace, rather these exhibits give us a good understanding of the culture and the livelihood of the Vietnamese. After a while, the buildings seem repetitive and we got a little bored of this place. We headed out from where we came from after spending about 45 mins in the Imperial Palace. Time to head to our next destination.

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The South Gate from inside the complex

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

We did not expect to spend so much time in the Citadel of Thang Long. As it is approaching 5pm, the closing time of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, we took a Grab to the mausoleum hoping that we can visit before it closes. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is one of the must-visits in Hanoi, it is where the father of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s body lies for visitors to pay their respect. We arrived at the entrance of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum at around 4.30pm and was told by the guard that the mausoleum has stopped accepting visitors. Disappointed, we headed to the next destination, the One Pillar Pagoda, which is next to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

One Pillar Pagoda

In order for us to get to the Pagoda, we had to skirt around the parameters of Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The alternate entrance to One Pillar Pagoda at where the entrance of the Ho Chi Minh Museum is. From this entrance, we turned right and walked around the Soviet styled building to reach the entrance of a small temple. The One Pillar Pagoda is located inside the temple. I would have expected to see a tall structure as the “pagoda” word associated with the name of this attraction seems to suggest that. When I came to the entrance to the temple, I was a little sceptical that the pagoda is located within the temple grounds as there did not seem to be any tall structures insight. As we were entering the temple, we were stopped by one of the monks in the temple who told us that our Bermudas are too short. Well, we unfolded our Bermudas and the monk gave us the green light to proceed to the One Pillar Pagoda. It turns out visitors to the One Pillar Pagoda should at least wear shorts that cover their knees. As we passed through the door to what seems like a garden behind the temple, a short structure came into our sight. The One Pillar Pagoda is essentially a wooden house built on a single stone pillar in the middle of a small lotus pond. The original One Pillar Pagoda was destroyed in 1954 by the French, the structure today is rebuilt from in 1955. My friend and I walked up to the stairs to the One Pillar Pagoda and paid our respects to the deity that is installed in the small temple complex. As we were walking around, we spotted some westerners in shorts shorter than ours. This is when we realise there is an alternate entrance to the One Pillar Pagoda which does not require one to go through the temple. The dress code is more relaxed from this alternate entrance.

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The One Pillar Pagoda

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The One Pillar Pagoda

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The temple where the One Pillar Pagoda is housed

Tran Quoc Pagoda and West Lake

Tran Quoc Pagoda located on a small island in the southeastern part of the West Lake, the largest lake in Hanoi, is the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. Our Grab driver was nice enough to make a U-turn in the busy road and dropped us right in front of the temple, saving us the need to cross the busy road. Exiting the car, the rustic brown 11 tiered pagoda is immediate insight. We can’t hold our excitement upon seeing this iconic pagoda and start snapping pictures while we were on the bridge leading towards the pagoda. As the temple closes at 5pm, according to google, we were not hopeful that we would be able to enter the temple grounds. Nonetheless, we approached the door to the temple hoping to get a more close up shot of Tran Quoc Pagoda. We were surprised to have found out that the temple is still open at the time of our visit. My friend and I wasted no time and head inside the temple to see the pagoda up close.

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The iconic Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda is housed in the temple grounds immediate to the left of the entrance to the temple. Standing amongst a forest of Buddhist stupas, Tran Quoc Pagoda is the tallest amongst the stupas. Up close there are statues of Buddhas being placed on every tier in each side of the brick laid pagoda. There are a couple of temple buildings in the grounds Tran Quoc Pagoda is housed in. One of the temple building is closed to the public, while the other building has statues of monks being installed in them. Tran Quoc Pagoda temple complex is rather small, it did not take us more than 10 mins walking around the temple complex.

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Taking a wefie with the Tran Quoc Pagoda

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Tran Quoc Pagoda up close amongst the Buddhist stupas in the temple complex

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The West Lake, Hanoi’s biggest lake where the Tran Quoc Pagoda is located

It was time for dinner, my friend and I wanted to taste some authethanic Vietnamese food. I am not much of a foodie and for my trips, I usually settle whatever restaurant or food join that I bumped into along the way. As we are not familiary with this area, we did a Google search for any Vietnamese restaurants nearby. Amongst the few restaurants that popped up on Google map, my friend and I settled in a restaurant named Home nearby the West Lake for our first Vietnamese meal in Hanoi. The food was tasty and flavourful and I particularly liked the decor and ambience of the restaurant. We were recommended Bun Cha which originated from Hanoi.

Hanoi at Night

After dinner, our plan was to head back to the hotel and rest for the night as we had to wake up early the next day for our day trip to Halong Bay. As we alighted from the Grab car, we noticed the street we passed by this morning was closed to traffic. We were surprised to see that the busy street next to Hoan Kiem Lake filled with traffic a few hours ago is now emptied of vehicles. In replacement, the locals came out to relax and walk along the street. The vibe of this area at night is totally different from the day. At night, it feels as though the locals came out to party. There were people gathering around in circle playing, or street performers dancing and singing. As we were walking, we spotted the Turtle Tower in Hoan Kiem and the Ngoc Soc Temple illuminated at night.

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This part of the street is closed to traffic and people just stroll along the road

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Ngoc Soc temple in Hoan Kiem Lake at night

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Turtle Tower at night

We continued walking along the street and came across the Hanoi Night Market, which is only opened during the weekends. Stalls after stalls in the night market seem to stretch with no end in mind. The night market resembles those we seen in Thailand and the goods on sale seem repetitive after a while. We managed to walk to the end of the night market and decided to head back to the hotel to rest for the night.

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Hanoi Night Market

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Locals come out at night to shop along the street

[Accommodation Review] – Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel (Opera Suite), Hanoi, Vietnam (9 – 12 Aug 19)

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Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel Facade at night

Location

Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel is located in the heart of Hanoi in the upmarket French Quarter. It is within walking distance to most of the attractions and restaurants in the city, making the hotel an excellent base to explore Hanoi. The hotel overlooks Hanoi Opera house and is within minutes walk from attractions such as Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi Night Market, Old Quarter and the upscale shopping centre – Trang Tien Plaza. There is a 24-hour convenient store within a 2-min walk from the hotel and numerous cafes and restaurants within 15 mins walk from the hotel.

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The Hanoi Opera House viewed from the terrace of Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel

Opera Suite

I stayed in the Opera Suite which is actually a Junior Suite in Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel. The entire suite is decorated in exquisite French-inspired decor, with wooden flooring. The Opera Suite has a floor area of 46m² and has three general areas: Sleeping Area, Lounge Area and Bathroom.

Sleeping Area

The sleeping area in the Opera Suite of Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel occupies the left corner from the entrance to the suite. A huge large King bed with thick mattress, making the bed a tad high, draped with four large soft pillows sits in the of this part of the suite. The sleep quality is excellent providing great sleep throughout the three nights of my stay in the hotel. The bedside tables on either side of the king bed make a great spot for one to set up a base for the charging of their lifestyle devices. There are power outlets, with international plug sockets, by the bedside table on both sides of the bed. This provides a great convenience for guests staying in this suite.

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The king bed in the Opera Suite

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Bedside table by the king bed

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The king bed is placed next to the entrance to the Opera Suite

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Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel provides an extensive pillow menu

Smack right in front of the king bed, enclosed in a chrome cabinet, is the only TV in the suite. The 36″ LCD TV comes with numerous local and international channels, provided guests with entertainment to kill time during their time in the suite. Unfortunately, the TV can only be viewed from the bed, it cannot be swivelled to face the living area.

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The only TV in the suite, which can only be watched on the King bed

Behind the TV cabinet, placed by the windows in the Opera Suite, is a work desk for guests to do some work. The desk is sufficiently sized for one to do some work on, yet not too large that it hinders the movement of guests in this part of the suite. A desk light is the only decoration on this desk and the hotel places some magazines on the desk to provide guests with some reading materials to occupy their time. There are a couple of power outlets underneath the desk, which is a clever way that the hotel employs in order not to clutter up the desk.

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Work desk in the Opera Suite. I find the placement of the power outlet on the floor a tad inconvenient

Lounge Area

The Lounge Area of the Opera Suite in Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel is to the right of the entrance to the suite, next to the bathroom. The centrepiece of the Lounge Area would have to be the contrasting single-seat high back red armchair and the light purple two-seater couch with a rattan glass top coffee table placed on a carpet. For extra illumination, the designers of Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel placed a floor light that resembles those used in movie sets by the window. As mentioned previously, the TV cannot be swivelled for guests in the Opera Suite to relax and watch from the lounge area, hence I would think the purpose of this lounge area is purely to chill and sip some drinks from the minibar.

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Lounge Area of the Opera Suite

The minibar is placed in the cabinet behind the two-seater couch in the lounge area. The minibar also acts as segregation between the lounge area and the wardrobe. The bar fridge is placed on the left of the cabinet, while in the right cabinet, guests can find wine glasses and champagne flute. I do find it weird that regular drinking glasses are not placed in the suite, we had to call up the operator to get these regular drinking glasses. All items in the fridge are chargeable. Guests can find complimentary coffee and tea as well as coffee cups and electric flask on top of the minibar cabinet. I thought adding a power outlet at the minibar would be great as it would save us the trouble of boiling water from other parts of the suite (such as the bathroom).

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Minibar in the Opera Suite

At the end of the suite, behind the minibar area is a double panel wardrobe. The size of the wardrobe is alright, sufficient for us to place our four days worth of clothing. Guests can find an in-room safe placed on top of the three-tiered drawer inside the wardrobe. Iron and ironing board are also well placed inside the wardrobe, which does not obstruct the use of the wardrobe space. On the right side of the wardrobe is where one can hang longer garments.

Bathroom

The bathroom is immediate to the right as one enters the Opera Suite from the entrance. The French inspiration decor extends into the bathroom, laid with pearl coloured tiles, marble walls and white themed walls, the bathroom looks clean, bright and classy. The semi-open bathroom is walled on one side and draped with curtains on the side where the bathtub is placed.  The first thing that caught my attention opening the French-inspired double panel wooden doors is the large mirror with Hollywood styled lighting surrounding the mirror. The bathroom has a single sink which is placed on one side of the sink countertop. The placement of the sink provides more space for guests to stow their toiletries. Towels are stored in the open cabinet beneath the sink. A cushioned stool is placed in the bathroom by the bathtub for guests to doll themselves up in comfort.

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View of the bathroom from the entrance

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Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel provides good quality bathroom amenities

To the left of the sink is where the toilet and walk-in shower cubicles are located. These cubicles are large enough to provide one with space and not feel too constricted while using these cubicles. The rubber lining on the doors of these cubicles means guests would have to open one door in order for the other door to open. Guests using the door to the walk-in shower would have to be careful as the placement of this door is angled in a way that it might hit the sink countertop if one opens the door with force. The walk-in shower cubicle does not feel cramp and cataphoric. A bathtub is placed opposite the toilet and shower cubicles. This is the part of the bathroom where a curtain separates the bathroom from the rest of the suite. The curtain can be drawn to provide spaciousness for guests while taking a soak in the French-inspired clawfoot bathtub. When guests turn on the tap, water would flow from the tap as well as the showerhead that is by the bathtub. I do find it peculiar that the tap for the bathtub does not come with a switch that toggles between the tap and the attached shower head at the bathtub.

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The bathroom has a semi-open concept

Service

I find the service that I received in Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel is top-notch. The moment our transport from the airport pulls up to the front porch of the hotel, the friendly and helpful porter was standing by ready to receive us and volunteered to help us unload our luggage. I observed as soon as we were at the reception with our luggage for check-in, the staffs at the front desk sprung into action like clockwork. One staff would be focused on processing our check-in, another staff went to the back of the reception desk and presented us with a welcome drink, and yet another staff was standing by ready to help us carry our luggage to our suite. The staff at the reception welcomed us with the biggest smile on her face. Despite being hours earlier than the usual hotel check-in timing, the front desk staff processed our check-in efficiently and allowed us to check into our suite. As we have made some request for the orientation of our suite in the hotel, the staff counter proposed to have us shifted to another suite. According to her, the original orientation we wanted is facing a newly opened club, where music would play into the wee hours of the night. Such a gesture goes to show the staff genuinely wanted to provide good service to guests.

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Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel reception

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Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel lobby

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Welcome drink

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Inner courtyard of Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel

The excellent service did not stop at the front desk. It is apparent in the other parts of the hotel. The staffs at the swimming pool and gym were very hospitable. One staff even showed us around the swimming pool and gym, and another passed us a bottle of chilled water from the fridge inside the gym. Whenever we were at the swimming pool area, the staffs stationed here would always welcome us with a friendly smile. The housekeeping staff not only tidied our suite tirelessly every day and ensured that we would come back to a nice clean suite. The housekeeping staff also performed turndown service every evening, placing a couple of chocolates by the bedside table. On the second day upon returning from our trip in Hanoi, I noticed one of the bedside tables was shifted slightly out from the wall. The observant housekeeping staff must have noticed that I had set up a charging station for my lifestyle devices and shifted the table outwards so that I will be able to access to the power outlet. It is such attention to details that make staying at the hotel a great experience.

The staff at Cafe Lautrec, where breakfast is served, worked with attention to details and efficiency. They would always welcome us every single morning when we were there for breakfast. They left no empty plates and mugs on the table so that we can return to a cleared table and continue to have our breakfast. The staff was even brought us a menu with items we can order for the chef to prepare ala minute. There was one instance I ordered some eggs and wanting to collect them after I had my meal, instead of leaving it by the egg station, the staff went around the restaurant and had the eggs delivered to me.

Hotel Facilities

Swimming Pool

The swimming pool in Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel is located on the third floor. The enclosed indoor swimming pool is touted to be the only heated swimming pool in Hanoi. Despite the small-sized pool, one can still get some decent laps swimming in it.

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Indoor swimming pool at Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel

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Swimming pool in Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel

Gym

Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel is also equipped with a small gym located on the third floor next to the swimming pool. The gym, although being small, is well equipped with modern exercise machines such as treadmills, weight machines and stationary bikes allowing guests to get some decent workout. There is even a small corner of the gym dedicated for guests to practise yoga.

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Gym in Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel

Breakfast

Breakfast was served daily at Cafe Lautrec, located on the ground floor next to the front desk of Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel. There are numerous options, ranging from local dishes to western and orientation dishes that fuelled us with energy to explore Hanoi. The food served during breakfast was delicious and was often topped up. I had croissants every morning during my stay at Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel, these croissants are very fluffy and tasty. Guests can also order from a menu of items that the chef would prepare ala minute. I had the Eggs benedict and they were tasty and the eggs were poached just right. Despite the sumptuous breakfast served every morning, I find dining at Cafe Lautrec uncomfortable. As we visited Hanoi in summer, the hotel did not seem to have turned on the Air-conditioner in the Cafe. Huge fans were used instead, making the environment very stuffy and hot.

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Breakfast is served in Cafe Lautrec next to the reception in the hotel

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Local delights served during breakfast

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Cold cuts and salad during breakfast

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Pastry selection during breakfast

Overall

I had a very comfortable stay in the Opera Suite in Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel. The suite is spacious and the French-inspired decor adds character to the suite. The air conditioning in the suite is excellent, which is a relieve to the heat outside the hotel. The bed is very comfortable to sleep in, provided me with excellent sleep quality. However, the only flaw in the suite is the placement of the TV, which I could only watch while lying on the bed. The service I have received in the hotel is top-notch. Every staff made me feel welcome and were always seen wearing a smile on their face. Their attention to details further adds to the reason why staying in this hotel is a wonderful experience. Customer-orientation seems to be deeply infused into the staffs when it comes to dealing with their guests. The location of the hotel is a major plus point making it a great place to explore Hanoi. I will no doubt stay in Hanoi De L’Opera Hotel the next time I visit Hanoi.

 

[Airline Review] – Singapore Airlines A330-300 (SQ176)/(SQ187) – Business Class, SIN – HAN (9 Aug 19) / HAN – SIN (12 Aug 19)

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Singapore Airlines A330-300 plying between Singapore and Hanoi

At the Airport

Check-in

Singapore

Singapore Airlines departs from Terminal 2 or 3 in Singapore Changi Airport, depending on the destination of the flight. Despite my flight departing from Terminal 2, my friend and I were able to check-in for my flight at Terminal 3. Singapore Airlines dedicates Row 6 in Terminal 3 for Business Class passengers and in the same row, there are two counters set aside for First Class passengers. There was a short queue at all the counters in Row 6, we were as invited by the ground staff serving First Class passengers to check-in at her counter when she saw us queuing behind one of the Business Class counters. Check-in process was swift and the ground staff was very friendly throughout our short interaction with her. The ground staff did not forget to remind us that our flight leaves from Terminal 2 and advised us to leave for the terminal early. She also invited us to the SilverKris Lounge before our flight.

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Singapore Airlines has an entire row in Terminal 3 dedicated for Business Class check-in

Hanoi

The check-in counters for Singapore Airlines at Hanoi Noi Bai Airport is located in Row E of Terminal 2 building. There are four queues for passengers flying with Singapore Airlines at Hanoi Airport: one for Business Class, one for Economy Class, one for passengers who have attained Elite Gold status with KrisFlyer and one for passengers who have completed online check-in. Two counters are dedicated for Business Class passengers where the queues are very thin. We did not have to wait for too long before being processed for check-in. The ground staff was very friendly and wasted no time in processing our check-in. He gave instructions for the departing gate and lounge invitations. At the security checkpoint, I realised there is a queue for Business Class passengers, where we did not have to wait for too long to go through the security checks.

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Two counters for Business Class passengers

Lounge

SilverKris Lounge (Terminal 2 – Singapore)

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SilverKris Lounge in Changi Airport Terminal 2

Business Class passengers are given an invitation to SilverKris Lounge while waiting to board their flights. The SilverKris Lounge in Singapore Airport Terminal 2 is located on Level 3 in the middle of the terminal, which is a fair walk from our departing gate. Business Class and First Class passengers share the same entrance to SilverKris Lounge, however, these passengers are segregated into two different sections. The staff at the entrance did not make me feel welcome to the lounge, pulling a long face and without a smile. She merely processed our boarding passes and told us to head to the left where Business Class passengers would congregate. The Business Class section of SilverKris Lounge is dressed in an earthy tone, which gives a sense of relaxation. I find the SilverKris Lounge very noisy as it was crowded with passengers at the time of our visit, making it hard for anyone to sense the relaxing vibe.

Passing the entrance to the Business Class section of SilverKris Lounge, to the left is where the food section and a small dining area. There are very limited dining tables next to the food section at the lounge, which has all been occupied when we arrived at the lounge. There is another bigger area with armchairs where passengers can lounge to relax or do some work. The food offering at the SilverKris Lounge is very limited, laid out in buffet style, there are some local dishes as well as western options being offered. Despite having two food counters only one counter contains food, while the other counter has trays laid out but no food. There is a comprehensive selection of beverages, ranging from coffee to tea to soft drinks and beers at the food section. Due to the lack of dining area, my friend and I had to consume our food in the lounging area, which proved to be uncomfortable.

Lotus Lounge (Hanoi)

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Singapore Airlines uses the Vietnam Airlines Lotus Lounge in Hanoi Noi Bai Airport

Singapore Airlines uses the Vietnam Airlines Lotus Lounge at Hanoi Airport. Upon entering the Lotus Lounge, we were warmly welcomed by the lounge staffs. The staffs at the entrance maintained smiles on their faces and briefly told us where to find food in the lounge. Despite serving several Airlines’ Business Class passengers, the Lotus Lounge was quiet and relaxing, a far cry from the SilverKris Lounge at Singapore Airport.

Lotus Lounge was huge with a lot of seats for passengers to lounge. There is seat facing the runway where passengers can relax and do some plane spotting. There is an area in the Lotus Lounge with quite a number of seats in the dining area, next to the food counters. The food offering in Lotus Lounge is a tad limited. Passengers can choose over some finger food or make themselves a bowl of pho while waiting for their flight. Beverage selection is also rather limited at the Lotus Lounge.

There is a section with three massage chairs where passengers can get a massage while waiting for their flight. Lotus Lounge also has shower rooms, which is located inside the toilet. The shower facilities are unmanned, passengers who want to get a shower can grab a towel set from inside the shower area and proceed into one of the cubicles for their shower. There is also a smoking room for passengers inside Lotus Lounge.

The Aircraft

Singapore Airlines uses the A330-300 to ply the route between Singapore and Hanoi. The interior of the aircraft felt old, I understand from the flight attendants that Singapore Airlines is in the process of replacing the A330-300 aircraft with B787-10.

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Singapore Airlines A330-300 up close

The Cabin

Singapore Airlines A330-300 comes with a two-class configuration. The Business Class cabin has a total of 30 seats while the Economy Class cabin has 255 seats. The white-walled Business Class cabin feels spacious and the seats are clad in beige and dark brown, making it look both comfortable and classy. The seats in Business Class cabin onboard Singapore Airlines A330-300 are arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration.

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Dedicated entrance for First and Business Class passengers

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Singapore Airlines A330-300 Business Class cabin

There are two lavatories at the back of the Business Class cabin serving the passengers. The lavatory feels spacious, thanks to the clever use of mirrors in the lavatory coupled with the bright lighting and the choice of white colour for the paint in the lavatory. There are two cabinets on either side of the sink. The left cabinet is where passengers can find handkerchiefs, tissues, paper towels and paper cups to be used with the mouth wash. Beneath this cabinet is the trash can, which can be operated with a pedal near to the floor of the lavatory. The right cabinet is well stocked with amenities. Here is where combs, sanitary napkins, toothbrushes and razors are stowed. Beneath the right cabinet is bottles of amenities such as mouth wash, facial mist, hand lotion and eau de toilette. The sink in Singapore Airlines A330-300 Business Class is fitted with the old touch button tap. The toilet seat is clad with a leather cover, making it look more premium than those ones would find in Economy Class lavatories. There are a couple of coat hooks on the door of the lavatory.

The Seat

Singapore Airlines A330-300 features a Regional Business Class seats in the Business Class cabins. Each seat is cocooned in a shell clad in soft brown leather, which is very comfortable to sit one,  measures 60″  in pitch and  24.5″ wide. The seat controls are in the armrest of the seat, above the storage for the IFE controller. The legroom in the Business Class seats onboard Singapore Airlines A330-300 is excellent, where I can fully stretch out my legs even when the seat is in an upright position. Each seat onboard Singapore Airlines A330-300 is treated to three window panels. A large pillow and a soft blanket are already placed on the seat when I arrived at my seat during boarding. I find the pillow firm and very comfortable to rest my head.

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Singapore Airlines A330-300 Business Class seats

The Business Class seats are preset to four modes: an upright position for take-off/landing or for passengers who prefer to sit upright during meal times; a lounging position which I find the most comfortable for relaxing in when watching movies from the IFE; a semi flatbed mode which I find the best position for sleeping; and a full flatbed mode. The seats are angled slightly in full flatbed mode and are not 180º flat, sleeping on this mode feels as though one would slide off the bed. Apart from these preset seat positions, there are buttons that allow passengers to adjust the recline of the seat to a position that one finds most comfortable. There are two reading lights for each seat in the Singapore Airlines Business Class seats, one on the bulkhead of the seat, which can be turned on and off from the seat control panel; and one inside the seat which can be activated by pushing the light itself.

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Singapore Airlines Business Class seat in take-off/landing position

 

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I find this position to be best for watching TV

There is no lack of storage space in the Singapore Airlines A330-300 Business Class seats. Under the IFE TV screen, there are two huge storage bins for passengers to store small items such as phones, passports or compact cameras. However as these bins are rather shallow, it will not be able to hold bigger cameras or laptops/iPads. There are also two smaller shelves between the two seats and these shelves are capable of holding iPods or smaller phones. There is another more hidden storage bin underneath one of the armrests. This bin allows passengers to place their laptops and iPads. This is where the power outlet and two USB ports are located for passengers to charge their lifestyle devices.

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There are a lot of storage onboard Singapore Airlines A330-300 Business Class seats

There are two cup holders between the two seats, which allows passengers to place their drinks without having the need to deploy the tray tables. Seat tables are hidden in between the seats. These tables can be a tad difficult to pull out as they seem to be rather heavy. The tables are large enough for passengers to place their laptop on to do some work. These tables can be slide back and forth, however, to get out of the seat, one would have to put away the table. Seat pockets where the in-flight literature such as in-flight magazine, duty-free shopping catalogue and Singapore Airline’s lifestyle magazine along with the in-flight menu, airsick bag and aircraft safety card are found in front of the seat between the two IFE TV screens. The noise-cancelling headphones are also found here when I board the aircraft. There is a divider between the two seats, providing guests with great privacy especially when one is sitting next to a stranger.

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The table is hidden in the armrest

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A large table in Business Class cabin

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Seat pocket onboard Singapore Airlines A330-300 Business Class

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Singapore Airlines A330-300 Safety card

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Seat pocket contents

In-Flight Entertainment

All Singapore Airlines A330-300 Business Class seats are fitted with a 15.4″ personal TV. Kris World is the Singapore Airline In-Flight Entertainment System. As this is a rather old product, these TVs does not have touchscreen function. Controls for the Kris World is done through the remote control, stowed on the left side of the sit. Despite being old, the IFE system is still responsive. There are numerous entertainment options on Kris World for passengers on board, ranging from movies to TV programmes to games which kept me entertained throughout the 3hr 30 min flight. Kris World is arranged in an intuitive menu that is easy to navigate through. All Business Class seats come with noise-cancelling headphones that keeps out noise effectively.

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Each Business Class seat comes with a 15.4″ Personal TV

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The KrisWorld Menu is arranged in an intuitive manner that makes navigating through the IFE very easy

The remote controller for the IFE is stored on the left seat armrest. The front side of the IFE controller has some quick access menus for flight information, movies and radio. The LCD screen on the front of the controller provides flight information. Other buttons such as volume control, screen brightness control and menu controls are also found on the front side of the remote control. On the back of the remote control are some buttons and directional dials for playing of games on the IFE. There is a qwerty keyboard also found on the back of the remote control, which does not seem to serve any function in the IFE system.

The Food

SIN -HAN

Passengers flying out of Singapore (and some other countries) have the option of using the famed “Book the Cook” service. There are several options for passengers to choose from. My friend and I used the “Book the Cook” and ordered the Classic Lobster Thermidor. Pre-departure drinks are offered as soon as we settled into our seats. The cabin crew came around and offer Champagne, Apple Juice or still water. I took the apple juice.

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I opted for apple juice as a pre-departure drink

As this is a medium-haul flight, food is served in a tray with a pre-laid table cloth. Cabin crews sprung into action and went around the cabin to serve passengers the appetiser about 30 mins after taking off.  The appetiser, Prawn Salad, was tasty. The prawn tasted fresh and the sauce is amazing. Another cabin crew came by with a basket of an assortment of bread. I opted for the Garlic Bread, which is famous on Singapore Airlines Business and First Class cabins. The Garlic Bread is flavourful with the garlic taste not too overpowering. I had four Garlic Bread throughout the meal service.

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The in-flight menu for SIN-HAN

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For the appetiser, we had Marinated Prawns with Asparagus and Mesclun

Shortly after cabin crews noticed passengers have finished our appetisers, They went around and served the main meal that we have chosen. As I am allergic to mushrooms, which mushrooms are not stated as one of the main ingredients in the “Book the Cook” menu, I did not have too much of the lobster. I tasted a small portion of the lobster (and started to get some allergic reactions), and it tasted creamy and fresh. The rice that comes together with the Classic Lobster Thermidor was fragrant.

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My “Book the Cook” Course – Classic Lobster Thermidor

The final course of the meal, Raspberry Bavarois, was served after cabin crews collected the trays from the passengers. The dessert was not too sweet and light, the taste of raspberry was just right. Cabin crews came by to take orders for coffee or tea. I ordered a cup of Latte to finish with the meal. Throughout the flight, cabin crews went around asking passengers if we want any drinks and the drinks were constantly topped up.

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For dessert, we had Raspberry Bavarois

HAN-SIN

Singapore Airlines “Book the Cook” service was not available for flights out of Hanoi. Instead, passengers can preview the in-flight menu from the Singapore Airlines App and order their main course in advanced. I used the app and ordered the Seared Salmon Trout Fillet in Tomato-Black Olive Vinaigrette, while my friend opted for the Nasi Ayam. As soon as we boarded the plane, a cabin crew offered us pre-departure drinks. I decided to try out the champagne. As I seldom drink, I regretted my choice of drink after having a slip or two. When the cabin crew came by to collect the empty glasses and learnt that I did not like the champagne, he offered me Orange Juice or water. I opted for the Orange Juice. 

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Pre-departure drinks

As with the outbound flight from Singapore, cabin crews on this leg of the flight sprung into action and served the appetiser about 30 mins into the flight.  For the appetiser, I was served the Marinated Seafood Salad which comes with papaya slaw. As my friend is allergic to prawns, he was served with potato salad instead. The prawn tasted fresh and well seasoned. The lime pepper vinaigrette complemented the prawns well. The appetiser also comes with scallops which tasted fresh as well. Another cabin crew came around with a basket of bread, the choice of bread is clear, I opted for the Garlic Bread again.

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Business Class menu for this HAN-SIN leg

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I had Marinated Seafood Salad for the appetiser

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My friend was served Potato Salad

Soon after passengers were done with our appetiser, our main course was served next. The Seared Salmon Trout Fillet, which is cooked to perfection, was well seasoned and was not dry at all. The Black Olive Vinaigrette tasted well with the salmon. I had a taste of the lentil carrot stew which the salmon fillet was placed on, but did not like the bed of black lentils. I had a taste of my friend’s Nasi Ayam, the chicken was fried to perfection and did not taste soggy. The seasoning on the chicken was good and the chicken was not dry as well.

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I had Salmon Fillet Trout for the main course

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My friend had Nasi Ayam for the main course

For desserts, we were served Strawberry Cream Cake, which did not taste too sweet. The cake was tasty and the crust at the bottom of the cake is still crunchy. The cabin crew served me some Latte for after-meal drinks as well. Shortly after the tray table is cleared, one of the cabin crews came by and offered me a Magnum ice-cream she snagged from Economy Class. I would never say no to ice-cream. Throughout the flight, the cabin crews topped up our drinks and constantly checked if we would like our drinks to be topped up.

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Strawberry Cream Cake for dessert

The Service

The service in Business Class onboard Singapore Airlines is top-notch. Cabin crews greeted us by our last names the moment we present our boarding passes during boarding. Whenever the cabin crews interact with us, they will address us by our last names, which makes us feel personalised service is provided. Cabin crews would constantly patrol the cabin after meal times to check and see if passengers require any refill of water. Call buttons are answered almost immediately where the diligent cabin crews attended to passengers needs. Cabin crews are also seen interacting with passengers and taking interest in striking up conversations. During my two flights with Singapore Airlines, I had great chats with the cabin crews.

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Cabin crew getting ready to receive passengers

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Cabin crew welcoming passengers onboard

SIN-HAN

The cabin crews on this flight nothing short of amazing. It is a pity I did not manage to get their names. They were seen helping passengers with storing their carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment, other than standing at the door to greet passengers. During boarding, cabin crews went around taking meal orders in every seat. The cabin crew came by to confirm our booking for food that we have pre-booked our meals through the “Book the Cook” service. They were seen sprung into action as soon as the seat belt sign has been turned off after taking off. The cabin crew also checked if we had any food allergies when she was serving the appetiser. When I sounded out that I am allergic to mushroom and my friend allergic to prawns, she quickly checked with the menu to confirm if there are any allergens to us. She came back with her supervisor and inform us that the Classic Lobster Thermidor contains mushrooms. The supervisor also assured me that they will help us register our allergies in their system (which I have tried to do several times prior to departure via the KrisFlyer hotline, which apparently the call centre staff did not do so). However, the mushrooms seem to have been infused into the meat of the lobster, which caused a slight swell on my lips. The cabin crew came by to check if the lobster had triggered any reactions. I casually mention to the cabin crew that I feel a little swell on my lips, she quickly came back with her supervisor to see if there is any help they can render. This goes to show the level of care the cabin crew has for their passengers. As the appetiser on this leg of the flight contains prawns, the cabin crew came back with a potato salad for my friend. When the cabin crew learnt that I did not have much during the main course, she returned to my seat with two packets of cookies in case I feel hungry. 

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Cabin crew disturbing newspapers and magazine during boarding

HAN-SIN

The cabin crews onboard this leg of the flight provided impeccable service during the flight, making flying on Singapore Airlines in Business Class cabin enjoyable. During boarding, I was hesitant to try champagne, the cabin crew encouraged me to try it out. When he subsequently found out that I do not like champagne after having a sip, he offered to bring me another beverage. The cabin crew was also seen helping passengers with their carry-on luggage during boarding and ensure passengers were comfortable during boarding. The service provided by Lay Hoon, the in-flight manager was amazing. She assured me that our allergies were registered and that the food does not contain the ingredients that we were allergic to, less the appetiser, which Lay Hoon mentioned that she has made arrangements to swap out with potato salad so that my friend can enjoy his meal. Lay Hoon also constantly checked if we liked the meal on board and even offered an additional portion of the main course after I remarked that the Nasi Ayam looks delicious. Lay Hoon brought us additional Garlic Bread when she saw how fast we consume the bread. Lay Hoon and her crew, Museika as well as Yaw Huah, were very friendly and kept smiles on their faces despite having a long day at work. They took well care of all passengers during the flight. I had the opportunity to strike up a conversation with Lay Hoon and she was amazing with her knowledge of the destination we came from and was generous to share with us the work of a cabin crew and some of the plans that Singapore Airlines have when it comes to the upgrading of equipment. Museika was seen patrolling the cabin and constantly topped up our drinks and took care of us very well to ensure we were well hydrated during the flight.

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We were very well taken care by the in-flight manager Lay Hoon

Afterthought

Flying with Singapore Airlines Business Class is an enjoyable experience. The good service started at the airport during check-in and continues into the flight. However the same cannot be said of the ground staff at KrisFlyer Lounge, who came across as grouchy and a tad rude. Despite being an old product, Singapore Airlines A330-300 Business Class was comfortable to fly for Singapore-Hanoi route. The Business Class seat is very comfortable to sit in during the flight. However, the fully flat bed mode was a tad too sloppy for my liking, but since it is a relatively short flight, it does not really matter. There is plenty of storage in the seat that allows us to store some of our knick-knacks. The In-Flight Entertainment system is packed with entertainment options that make us feel the 3hr 30 min flight time zooms past quicker than it seems. The thing that leaves me wanting to fly with Singapore Airlines again is the service that we have received on board. The service was exceptional and the cabin crew was not only friendly, but their caring for their passengers felt genuine. They kept their smiles throughout the entire flight and was seen helping passengers during boarding and in-flight. I am looking forward to flying with Singapore Airlines in their Business Class product again on Oct 19 when I travel to South Korea. Singapore Airlines truly stands up to its company tagline of “A great way to fly”.

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Flying over Hanoi

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Taking off from Hanoi Airport at night

 

[Accommodation Review] – VIE Hotel Bangkok (Executive Suite), Bangkok, Thailand (14 – 18 Jun 19)

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Hotel Facade

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Hotel Signage

Location

VIE Hotel Bangkok is very well located in downtown Bangkok, which is very close to the central shopping district in Bangkok. The hotel is a mere one BTS stop away from Siam Square and mega shopping malls such as Siam Paragon, MBK and Centralworld. The nearest BTS Staton – Ratchathewi station BTS is located right in front of the hotel and takes a mere 2 min walk from the hotel, allowing guests to explore Bangkok easy. There are several eateries next to the hotel, however, the nearest convenient shop is across the street which is a tad inconvenient to get to as one has to cross the road via the overhead bridge to get access to the store.

The Suite

I stayed in the Executive Suite at the VIE Hotel Bangkok. The Executive Suite has a massive area of 81m² and occupies a corner of the floor. The Executive Suite has a Thai decor and is clad in a comfortable and coherent brown earthy tone with wooden floor and furnishing which exudes a cosy feel in the suite. The Living Room, the Bedroom and the Bathroom are the three main parts that make up the entire Executive Suite.

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VIE Suite section

Living Room

The elongated living room in the Executive Suite in the VIE Hotel Bangkok is very spacious, thanks to the absence of unnecessary walls and partitions. The Thai themed earthy decor can be felt as soon as guests enter the suite. The earthy brown and burgundy colour tones employed throughout the living room is coherent and gives me a sense of comfort. The first thing that caught my attention from the entrance is a 2-door wardrobe at the side of the main entrance. I find it weird for the hotel to place a wardrobe at this area as it does not function as a shoe rack. Throughout the entire stay, I did found no use for the wardrobe. I welcome the full-length mirror by the main door to the Executive Suite so that guests can ensure they look presentable, especially guests who are attending functions before they leave the suite. A display shelf is placed little further into the suite from the main entrance. This display shelf serves the function of the hot mini bar area where the in-room Nespresso coffee machine and water kettle are together with coffee capsules and tea can be found. At the side of the shelf is the first of the few power outlets that are found in the suite. There is some storage space at the bottom of the display shelf, where I used to store the shopping from that I bought during my stay in Bangkok.

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Overview of the living room in the Executive Suite in VIE Hotel Bangkok

The Executive Suite in VIE Hotel Bangkok is fitted with three floors to ceiling windows that not only brought natural light into the living room of the suite, it also makes the suite feels a lot bigger than it already is. The living room is bright in the day due to the natural lighting from the floor to ceiling, however, the living room is rather dim at night. The lighting in the suite does not seem to be sufficient to illuminate the area well. Facing the entrance to the Executive Suite in VIE Hotel Bangkok, in front of the first floor to ceiling window panel lies a fairly large work desk furnished with two chairs and a table lamp. This is a great space for guests to get some work done, as the table is large enough to place a laptop and some work documents on. However, the work desk suffers from the flaw of a lack of power outlets that resonates throughout the suite. The only power outlet that is available at the work desk sits on the floor beneath the desk, making it inconvenient for guests to plug in their laptop or any mobile devices for charging. Opposite the study desk is a long wooden table, that guest can place some small items on. This table serves more for decoration purposes than it is functional.

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Workdesk in the Executive Suite in VIE Hotel Bangkok

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View of the work desk from the sofa area in the Executive Suite

Further into the living room in the Executive Suite in VIE Hotel Bangkok is where one will find two large sofas placed in the near the floor to ceiling window panels. These two sofas arranged in an L-shape manner, furnished with numerous cushions, are capable of sitting four to five guests making this a great place for hotel guests to entertain their friends. A large coffee knee-height coffee table is placed in the space between the sofas. Two-floor lamps are placed on either side of the sofa that is facing the 40″ LED TV mounted on the wall. The 40″ LED TV is mounted on the wall that separates the living room from the bedroom, between the two dual-panel wooden doors. There is no lack of entertainment options on the LED TV in the suite. Guests are able to enjoy programmes from numerous local and international channels such as Fox movies, National Geographic and Discovery Channel to name a few. A minibar fridge is tucked into the wall to the left of the TV. All drinks and snacks in the minibar are free for guests staying in the Executive Suite in the VIE Hotel and will be replenished on a daily basis.

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Sofa area in the living room of the Executive Suite in VIE Hotel Bangkok

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One of the sofas in the living room in the Executive Suite in VIE Hotel Bangkok

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40″ LED TV in the living room

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Minibar fridge with complementary items hidden in the cabinet next to the entrance to the bedroom

Bedroom

The bedroom is accessible via the two dual-panel doors on either side of the LED TV. The Thai decor and earthy colour theme from the living room are also found in the bedroom, making the decor in the suite coherent. Like the living room, the bedroom is furnished with wooden furniture. The King bed, placed by the wall caught my attention when I entered the bedroom. The King bed is firm but comfortable which provided me with excellent sleep quality. However, the four pillows that were placed on the bed is too soft for my liking. VIE Hotel does not have a pillow menu for guests to choose, however, guests can still request for firmer pillows from the concierge. Bedside tables are found on either side of the King bed. The lack of power outlets in the living room also plagued the bedroom. Despite having four power outlets in total on the walls behind the bedside tables, only one of these is freed up for guests to use. The rest of the power outlets are used for the two bedside lamps and phone in the bedroom. The placement of the power outlets, which are hidden behind the bedside table further makes it inconvenient to use. All power outlets in the suite use Thailand standards, guests would have to bring their converter to use them. 

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King bed in the bedroom of the Executive Suite in VIE Hotel Bangkok

The two wardrobes in the bedroom are placed beside the King bed. The wardrobe nearest to the bathroom door is the larger of the two, where the in-room safe placed on top of a two-tiered cabinet is found in. This wardrobe is where I find more convenient to hang my clothing due to the two-panel doors to the wardrobe. The second wardrobe placed nearer to the wall is a tad more inconvenient to access, due to the limited space and the fact that there is only one door to the wardrobe. Here is where one can find the iron and ironing board. Despite being able to hang one week’s worth of clothes for two guests, there is a limited number of hangers in the wardrobe. We had to request for additional hangers from the housekeeping staffs.

Facing the King bed, mounted on the wall that segregates the living room and the bedroom is another 40″ LED TV for guests to enjoy the entertainment options while lying in bed. Beneath the TV is a cabinet that guests can stow some knickknacks. There is a three-tier cabinet placed by the entrance to the bedroom, next to the entrance to the bathroom. This cabinet provided guests with yet more storage options. This cabinet also doubles as a great space for guests to lay out their luggage.

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LED TV in the bedroom

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The three-tiered cabinet in the bedroom next to the entrance to the bathroom in the Executive Suite

Bathroom

The frosted glass door marks the entrance to the bathroom. The decor of the bathroom took a departure from the Thai earthy theme found in the living room and the bedroom. The decor of the bathroom is contemporary and classy, tiled in yellow marble, but is rather small in size compared to the rest of the suite. Much of the bathroom is occupied by a huge bathroom, sitting by the wall to the left of the entrance to the bathroom. Opposite the bathtub is the walk-in shower, equipped with rain shower and regular showerhead, as well as the toilet. The bathroom comes fitted with only one sink and a large sink top counter tucked at the end of the bathroom. Due to the placement of the bathtub, only a section of the sink countertop can be used. VIE Hotel Bangkok uses in-house bath amenities and provided a comprehensive choice of bathroom amenities.

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Overview of the bathroom

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The sink area has a large countertop in the bathroom

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Large bathtub in the bathroom

Service

I find the service in the VIE Hotel Bangkok suffers from inconsistency. The experience with the staffs was generally pleasant in the hotel. The moment we got off the cab, the porters at the door immediately sprung into action and assisted us with our luggage and escorted us to the reception for our check-in. The staff took notice of my friend’s Accor membership and invited us to check-in at the sit-down check-in counter next to the reception. While processing our check-in, another staff served us welcome drinks and took the effort to explain the concoction of the drinks. The check-in process is a tad slow, however, the staff processing our check-in made us feel welcome throughout the process. She even brought us up to our suite and explained some of the equipment in the suite. The staffs at the reception were generally welcoming and were always seen wearing a smile on their faces whenever we walked past them, even late in the night.

The thoughtfulness of the staffs in the hotel was also felt when the housekeeping staff left two cookies and a good night card every single night during turndown service. The diligent housekeeping staff even took the liberty of arranging the toiletries we placed on the sink countertop neatly.

However, when it comes to late night, the porters at the main entrance of the hotel were seen chatting with their colleagues by the door or were not around. This is where one of the inconsistencies of the service was felt. I noticed this to be the case every night when we leave and return to the VIE Hotel Bangkok. We were left with opening the doors ourselves.

The service at LaVIE restaurant also suffers from inconsistency. I noticed that service seem to be more prompt and the staffs were friendlier when the restaurant was not crowded. Plates were cleared quickly and I always return to a clean table and I did not have to wait for too long for my latte to be served. When the restaurant sees more people heading for breakfast, service is sluggish. The latte that I ordered took more than 10 mins to be served and the empty plates were piled up on our table. Staffs were seen patrolling the restaurant floor and I noticed them saw the empty plates on my table but none of the staffs took the initiative to clear them on my table. One of the staff only took action to clear the empty plates on my table when I accidentally dropped my butter knife on the floor. This was the only time the plates on my table was cleared, after which the plates remained piled up until I left the restaurant.

After my check-out, I requested to speak to the duty manager but was told that the manager was not available. I was told by the front desk staff to wait until the manager was available. However, there was no attempt to contact the manager by the staff at the front desk despite informing him that our transport to the airport is already on the way.  I ended up leaving the hotel without speaking to the duty manager.

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We were invited to a sit-down check-in

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Welcome drink served during check-in

Facilities in VIE Hotel Bangkok

Swimming Pool

The swimming pool in the VIE Hotel Bangkok is located on the 10th floor of the hotel, in a separate building. To get to the pool, guests would have to go through the gym and walk through a bridge that links the pool building to the main hotel building. The pool is an infinity pool with a glass panel at the end of the swimming pool facing the main road and the BTS tracks. Swimming in the pool feels as though one is swimming in the air. The pool area is small and is equipped with eight sundeck chairs. There is a small jacuzzi area in the pool by the towel area. Despite the limited size, I find the pool to be a great place to get a good tan due to the absence of trees. However, tanning by the pool is only possible in the afternoon as the hotel building would block the sun in the morning.

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The swimming pool in VIE Hotel Bangkok

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Swimming pool in VIE Hotel Bangkok

Gym

The Gym in the hotel is located on the 10th floor as well. Unlike the gyms in most hotels, which are usually small, the gym in VIE Hotel Bangkok is a fully functional gym. The gym is meant for fee-paying members who are not guests of the hotel. It is well equipped with the equipment that allows guests of the hotel to have a great workout. There is a studio that runs classes on a scheduled basis, hotel guests would have to pay in order to attend these classes.

Breakfast at LaVIE Restuarant

Breakfast is served in LaVIE restaurant, the only restaurant in VIE hotel, located on the 9th floor. There are quite a number of selection ranging from local to international food choices during breakfast. VIE Hotel Bangkok makes minor variations to the breakfast menu daily, however, these variations are so minor that they are hardly noticeable. The food served during breakfast is tasty though. Breakfast is served from 6.30am to 10.30am daily.

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LaVIE restaurant where breakfast is served daily

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Buffet selection in LaVIE restaurant during breakfast

Overall

VIE Hotel Bangkok is very well located which is a few steps from the nearest BTS station which makes exploring downtown Bangkok very convenient. The Hotel is one BTS stop away from central Bangkok. The Executive Suite while is huge, but the facilities seem a little run down due to wear and tear. Nonetheless, the suite is still comfortable to stay. The service I received around the hotel is inconsistent and seem to be dependent on who you bumped into during your stay. I would hesitate to recommend a stay at VIE Hotel Bangkok.

[Accommodation Review] – Veranda Resort Hua Hin (Veranda at Sea Room), Hua Hin, Thailand (12 – 14 Jun 19)

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Veranda Resort Hua Hin Signage

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Resort Facade

Location

Located in the town of Cha-Am, about 30 mins drive from Hua Hin, Veranda Resort Hua Hin is about three hours drive from Bangkok Survanabhumi Airport. There are no amenities in the vicinity of the resort, less an ATM machine on the ground floor of the annexe building of the resort. The nearest convenient store is about 800m away from the resort. There is a night market in Cha-Am which operates only on Wednesdays which is located 8km from the resort. Guests staying at the resort have to rely on a taxi (or Grab) and infrequent bus shuttles (payable) provided by the resort to gain access to Hua Hin.

 

The Room

I checked into the newly renovated Veranda at Sea Room which has a floor area of 54m². The Veranda at Sea Room has superb views of the pool as well as the sea from its balcony.

Sleeping Area

Entering the Veranda at Sea Room in Veranda Resort Hua Hin, a short walkway leads me into the sleeping area of the room. A full-length mirror is placed on the wall in this small walkway. I like how the resort designed one of the wardrobe doors to cover the walkway, giving guests a suite feel when inside the sleeping area.

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The walkway from the entrance in the Veranda at Sea room

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The sleeping area of the Veranda at Sea room

Walking through the walkway in the room, one would come to the main sleeping area of the Veranda at Sea Room in the resort. This area is the main part of the room, decked out in earthy tone with wooden flooring. The first thing that caught my attention is the dressing table which also doubles up as the TV console. A small lamp is placed on the dressing table and a small mirror is mounted on the wall next to the lamp. Further down the dressing table, near to the balcony is where the 40″ LED TV is placed on the table. The minibar is hidden in the cabinets beneath the TV. As one moves across the room to the balcony, a straw chair and a stone stool, which served more as a table is placed in a corner of the room.

 

The king bed is placed by the wall opposite the dressing table. The sleep quality of the bed is rather good, less the pillow, which is too soft for my liking. The bedside table, which looks like a wooden box stacked on another wooden platform, is placed on either side of the bed. The area on the bedside table is large enough for guests to stow their lifestyle devices, due to the elongated shape of the table. The resort mounts the bedside lamps on the wall, freeing up more space on the bedside table. The placement of the power outlets in the room makes it convenient for guests to charge their lifestyle devices, however, these outlets are not equipped with international plugs. Guests are advised to bring their power outlet converter. The resort was thoughtful to place an outlet converter in the mini bar area, however, the one found in my room was defective.

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King Bed in the Veranda at Sea room

There are a couple of wardrobe spaces in the Veranda at Sea room in Veranda Resort Hua Hin. These wardrobes are placed beside the king bed, which functions as a wall that separates the sleeping area from the bathroom. The wardrobe space on the left has a ledge, which I found only to serve for luggage storage. There is no practical clothing stowage on this wardrobe. The in-room slippers, as well as slippers for guests to use at the beach, can be found in this part of the wardrobe. The wardrobe on the right is where guests can store their clothing. However, there is a limited amount of clothing one can store on this side of the wardrobe. Here is where one can also find the in-room safe placed on top of a two-tiered drawer where guests can use to store some of their clothing. Sliding the wardrobe doors to the right, one of these doors double as doors to the bathroom, while the other as the door to the walkway into the room.

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Wardrobe in the Veranda at Sea room, where the doors double as doors to the bathroom and to the walkway

 

Bathroom

The entrance to the bathroom is between the two wardrobes. The decor of the bathroom echoes the earthy tone found in the sleeping area in the Veranda at Sea room. A huge bathtub, placed in the centre of the bathroom, greets guests upon entering the bathroom. The bathtub is large enough for two guests to soak in. On either side of the wall facing the sleeping area, guests can find two sinks, which is great as guests do not have to wait in line to use the sinks. There are, however, a limited amount of countertop space at either of the sinks. The resort uses Thann bath amenities but provides a limited variety of bathroom amenities. Toothbrushes, shavers and body lotion are not present when I checked into the room and have to be requested separately with the concierge in the resort.

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Bathroom in the Veranda at Sea room

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Dual sinks found on each side of the bathroom

 

There are two cubicles (with no doors) behind the bathtub. The walk-in shower cubicle, which comes with both a rain shower and a regular showerhead is located on the left of the bathtub. The toilet is located in the right cubicle. The room suffers from inconsistent water pressure in the bathroom. Due to the low and inconsistent water pressure, only the regular shower head can be used. Moreover, the water from the shower also has inconsistent water temperature. The low water pressure translates to 1 hour to fill up the bathtub.

 

Balcony

The Veranda at Sea room in Veranda Resort Hua Hin has a huge balcony furnished with a wooden chair and a two-seater couch. A coffee table is placed between this furniture, which makes it ideal to hang out in the day. The view from the balcony is excellent. Despite being partially obscured by the tree in front of the room that I was assigned to, I was able to look out into the pool and the beach area from the balcony. I would, however, advise against hanging out in the balcony at nights. Despite having lights on the walls in the balcony, it is very dim at night. The presence of mosquitoes in the balcony area also discouraged me from staying out in the balcony at night. The resort does not place mosquito coils in the balcony.

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Balcony in the Veranda at Sea room

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View from the balcony in the Veranda at Sea room

Swimming Pool

The free-form infinity swimming pool at Veranda Resort Hua Hin is very big, seemingly sufficient to cater to guests staying in the resort. However due to the low season when I was at the resort, the pool was relatively empty most of the time. The pool is capable of allowing guests to get some decent laps done, while still catering to families with young children. There are a couple of slides at the pool, one for children and one for adults guests to have some fun at the pool. The pool also has a jacuzzi area, nearer to the resort accommodation buildings. There is no lack of deck chairs in the pool area, both under the shade of the tree and some in the open for guests who wanted to get a good tan by the pool.

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Free form pool in Veranda Resort Hua Hin

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There are two slides in the pool, one for children and one for adult guests

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Swimming pool overlooking the beach

Beach

Beyond the free-form pool is a small part of the beach catering for resort guests usage. There are chairs laid out in the beach area as well as the wooden deck facing the beach for guests who do not want to get sand in their sandals. Guests can bring the towel from the pool to the beach for usage. The resort staff kept the beach clean for hotel guests to use.

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Beach area exclusive to guests at Veranda Resort Hua Hin

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View of the beach

Gym

There is a small gym in Veranda Resort Hua Hin premises with a very limited amount of equipment. However, guests can still get some decent workouts in the gym despite being limited. The gym is located in the same building as the cafe and the in-house spa.

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Gym with limited equipment

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Gym with limited equipment

Eateries

There are two restaurants and one cafe in Veranda Resort Hua Hin. Breakfast is served in the Dining Room, located next to the resort lobby. The Dining Room is also the main restaurant in the resort, opening from breakfast to dinner.

 

The other restaurant is ISea at Veranda Resort Hua Hin, located next to the swimming pool. The beachfront alfresco restaurant serves mainly guests at the swimming pool, but also have some dining space for guests.

 

There is a cafe in the resort premises, serving mainly coffee, tea and pastries. However, there is a limited amount of seating area at the cafe.

 

Service

Service at Veranda Resort Hua Hin is generally very good. Every staff we met are generally welcoming, except for the staffs at the ISea restaurant who seems to be interested in chatting with each other and playing on their mobile phones. The moment I stepped into the resort, I was warmly welcomed by the concierge team, who promptly assisted me with my luggage and showed me to the check-in counter. At the check-in counter, the staff promptly processed my check-in swiftly, while another staff served up a cold drink and towels for freshening up. The staff at the check-in counter always wore a smile during our interaction, she even briefed me on the facilities around the resort and the timing for breakfast. After processing our check-in, the staff took the effort to escort me to my room and gave a brief on the facilities inside the room. Before leaving the room, she even reminded me to give the reception a call should I require any assistance.

The staff in the dining room restaurant are very friendly as well. The moment I walked to the restaurant for breakfast, I was greeted with a smile and given the option for outdoor or indoor seating. The staffs took my order for a drink and promptly served up the drink that I ordered. The diligent staff at the dining room patrol the restaurant grounds frequently and ensured that no empty plates are left on the table.

The diligent housekeeping staff were seen always wearing a smile on their face when I bumped into them. These unsung heroes ensured that I always return to a clean room every evening. I called to request for toothbrush and shaver, the housekeeping staff had them promptly delivered with a smile on her face. I would receive a good night note every evening during turndown service, together with a small token from the resort.

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I was served welcome drink and handed cold towels during check-in by the staffs at Veranda Resort Hua Hin

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Guests would receive a goodnight note written by the housekeeping staff every evening during turndown service

Overall

I had a great stay at Veranda Resort Hua Hin. Despite the location is a tad inconvenient, the comfortable room and the facilities around the resort are sufficient to make up for this. Coupled with staffs that are generally welcoming and are ready to render assistance to guests at the resort. I find Veranda Resort Hua Hin a great place to get away from the busy city life with its secludedness and the warm and friendly staff.

 

[Accommodation Review] – W Hotel (Marvellous Suite), Sentosa, Singapore (18 – 21 May 19)

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Signage and Main Entrance to W Hotel Sentosa Cove

Location

Nested in the Eastern end of Sentosa Island, an island to the south of Singapore Mainland, W Hotel Sentosa Cove is a tad inconvenient to get to compared to the rest of the hotels on Sentosa Island. In fact, it is the most secluded hotel on Sentosa island. However, W Hotel Sentosa Cove provides regular shuttle service to other parts of Sentosa Island as well as mainland Singapore. There are numerous restaurants next to the hotel as well as two supermarkets and a 24-hour convenient store near the hotel.

The Suite

I checked into the Marvellous Suite, measuring an expansive 80m². The suite has several main parts: The Living Room, the Bedroom and the Bathroom as well as a huge balcony.

Living Room

Opening the main door to the Marvellous Suite in W Hotel Sentosa Cove, a short walkway leads guests into the living room. On the right of the walkway in the Marvellous Suite is where the mini bar area is located. The mini bar is designed to conceal inside the cabinets. Opening the panels, the top shelf is where one finds a Nespresso Machine, electric kettle and some snacks. Below the shelf is a cabinet where a small fridge is hidden. All mini bar items less the coffee and tea are chargeable. W Hotel Sentosa provides sufficient bottled water, thoughtfully placed throughout the suite for guests to hydrate.

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The walkway into the suite

The living room is located at the end of the short walkway into the suite. Decorated with purple flower motives, the living room is a both chic and a practical place for guests to hang out. The main part of the living room in the Marvellous Suite in W Hotel Sentosa Cove is furnished with a large curve beige coloured leather sofa, which sits several guests comfortably. There are also two chrome stools on either side of the sofa with an ankle height large coffee table in the centre. Further in one corner of the living room, near to the door to the balcony hangs two cage theme light, which further adds sophistication to the decor of the living room. The living room looks cosy, thanks to the clever usage of soft lightings. Opposite the sofa is a large 40″ LED TV mounted on the wall with numerous channels, international and local, keeping guests in staying in the Marvellous Suite entertained. There are also some drawers by the wall where the TV is mounted for guests to store small items.

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The living room is located at the end of the walkway from the entrance to the suite

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A large curved shaped sofa in the living room with chrome stools and a coffee table

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Opposite the living room is a 40″ LED TV

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Connectivity panel beside the TV in the living room

A fairly large work desk is also found tucked onto the wall next to the entrance to the bedroom in the living room of the suite. The work desk is a tad more simple in decor, creating space for guests who needs to work on the desk. Here is where staffs of W Hotel places four bottles of drinking water daily to keep guests hydrated.

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Work desk in the living room of the Marvellous Suite at W Hotel Sentosa Cove

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View of the entire living room with the work desk from the balcony

Bedroom

The entrance into the bedroom is located between the TV and the work desk. The bedroom is decked out in floor to ceiling glass panels, when the curtains are opened, provides views of the marina as well as the WET Pool. The moment I entered the bedroom, an egg-shaped hanging chair in the room caught my attention. This chair is comfortable to sit in and the placement of this chair is not obstructive in the bedroom. There is a small walk-in wardrobe located behind the door to the entrance to the bedroom. The space in the wardrobe is generous for guests to hang out their clothing, coupled with a three-tiered drawer, of which only two are usable, providing guests with ample space to store their clothing. The in-room safe is found in the top drawer, keeping valuables of guests safe while they are out of the hotel. Inside the walk-in wardrobe is where a cloth steamer (first time I saw one in a hotel) as well as iron and ironing board.

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The egg-shaped hanging chair in the bedroom is the first thing that caught my eye.

The centrepiece of the bedroom is the king bed, which is very comfortable to sleep in. However, I do find the standard pillows a tad too soft for my liking. W Hotel Sentosa Cove provides an extensive pillow menu for guests to choose to further enhance their rest on the bed. The wall feature on the headrest comes with several mood lighting, which screams chic in the decor of the bedroom. Beside the bed are two bedside tables which guests can place their lifestyle devices for charging. There is another 40″ LED TV in the bedroom. The placement of the TV in the bedroom of the Marvellous Suite is rather thoughtful. As the bed is facing the WET pool, the TV is placed in a way that guests are still able to watch TV on the bed, but not obstructing the view of the surrounding from the bed.

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King bed in the bedroom of the Marvellous Suite in W Hotel Sentosa Cove

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Mood lighting in the bedroom

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The TV is placed in the bedroom without obstructing the view of the surrounding

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Pillow menu

Bathroom

The Marvellous Suites in W Hotel Sentosa Cove are equipped with one and a half bathrooms. There is a toilet by the entrance to the suite, where guests of occupants can utilise without going into the main bathroom located in the bedroom. This toilet has a toilet bowl and a sink. Despite being an annexed toilet, the decor in the toilet is rather chic.

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Chic guest toilet

The main bathroom is another centrepiece in the entire suite. The bathroom, located inside the bedroom is very spacious. The first thing that caught my attention entering the bathroom is the large jacuzzi tub placed one corner of the bathroom. With large ceiling to floor glass panels and blinds that can be drawn for privacy, the bathtub is placed with a view of the WET Pool. There is a small ledge mounted on the wall where guests can place small items on. The bathtub is also placed with a view of a 26″ TV hanging from the ceiling of the bathroom.

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Large Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom

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Guests can watch the TV in the bathroom while soaking in the bathtub

The bathroom has two sinks, which provided convenience for both guests in the suite to use without the need to fight over who uses the sink first. The spacious sink has ample storage space for guests to place their toiletries. W Hotel provides quality Bliss bath amenities for hotel guests, and this is the only hotel that I have stayed so far that provides facial wash on top of the usual shampoo, conditioner and shower gel for guests. Guests staying in the suite rooms are provided with large size amenities.

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Double sink in the bathroom of the Marvellous Suite. I like the design of the lighting on the mirror

Next to the sink and behind the bathtub are two cubicles, sharing one glass panelled sliding door. On the left is the shower cubicle which not only has the standard rainshower head and a regular shower head, it is also equipped with a body shower head, which is rare in hotels. The shower cubicle is very spacious as well with ledges hidden behind the shower where guests can place their toiletries. The cubicle to the right is where the toilet is found in the bathroom.

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Spacious toilet in the bathroom

Balcony

There are two configurations of balconies for the Marvellous Suite in W Hotel Sentosa Cove. I called the hotel to state my preference for the larger L-shaped balcony (and was happy that this request was granted when I checked into the hotel). The L-shaped balcony, warped around the exterior of the entire suite from the living room to the bedroom, is spacious and provided me with excellent views of the marina as well as the signature WET pool in W Hotel Sentosa Cove. The balcony area next to the living room is furnished with a table and two cane chairs, with views of the marina, is a great place to relax and enjoy the tranquillity of the surroundings around W Hotel. The balcony area outside the bedroom, facing the WET Pool is decked with a day bed, which is also another great place to laze by watching hotel guests taking a dip in the pool. I highly recommend guests staying in the Marvellous Suite at W Hotel Sentosa to request for the L-shaped balcony.

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Chairs and table furnished at the balcony area next to the living room with colour changing LED lighting