Our last day in Hanoi!
The weather was still gloomy at that point, but the cold weather was such a blessing because we just walked all over the city that day.
Our itinerary was pretty simple:
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- Temple of Literature
- Hoa Lo Prison
- A water puppet show
- And maybe egg coffee on our way back
Culture Day, basically.
I didn’t expect Hanoi to be so walker-friendly. We just followed a map we got from the hotel. We loved that thing so much. Here’s a scan because we like to share:
The realisation that the Mekong River and the Cu Chi tunnels weren’t in Hanoi only came to me after we had booked and paid for our plane tickets. I was a little bummed about that, but Hanoi offered something equally meaningful instead.
Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Coron lookalike, is a mere three-hour bus ride from Hanoi. Sweet.
“Night life or chill?”
That was the question we asked ourselves when we had to choose between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi when Cebu Pacific held a seat sale over a year ago. To take on the night in a bustling, electric city or leisurely walk about like the lolas we truly are—there really was no contest. Hanoi won by a mile and a cane shake at a bunch of young’uns.
Most seats on sale are on flights that depart and arrive at ungodly hours. That’s what we get for being cheapskates. They’re the kind of seats that require planning weeks prior to the trip, arranging airport transfers, and eschewing the #YOLO attitude a young traveler like myself would oftentimes adopt in the face of adventure.
We arrived at Hanoi at 2:00am. Our hotel, Tu Linh Palace 2, had arranged a $15 airport transfer for us and let us hang out in their “relaxing room” (the staff room) until we could check-in…at 10:30am. Eight and a half hours later. It was going to be a long night.
The relaxing room wasn’t much. A couple of hard couches and a mysterious pile of luggage in the corner. We watched the first few episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (whose opening theme would haunt us for the rest of the trip) until the hotel and the city started to come alive around 6:00am. We decided we would catch the sunrise from Hoan Kiem Lake, which was thankfully a few streets away from our hotel.
Hoan Kiem Lake, meaning Lake of the Returned Sword, is right in the center of Hanoi. It serves as a focal point for the city’s public life.
Our research told us March is the perfect time to visit Hanoi because the season was transitioning from winter to spring. We packed for warmer weather, but when we got to the city, we were looking at temperatures of 20 degrees and lower.
“I packed shorts.”
“Uh. Me, too.”
The highlight of my summer this year is my trip to Palawan, hands down, no contest. I went to Puerto Princesa for the first time with my family a few years ago, and I absolutely loved it. This time, I went to Puerto Princesa again and El Nido with my friends for Maika’s Liberation Tour (from med school) and my birthday (a happy scheduling incident). We had so much fun, we have a difficult time shutting up about the trip. Almost every day since we got back someone would say something about missing Palawan, and we would just die a little inside. Misha made an excellent iPhone video to commemorate this milestone in our friendship and also to tide us over until the next time we find ourselves drinking beer and coconut juice along the shoreline, swimming in the open water before anyone else, and getting gloriously tanned.
And here’s a fun almost-per-second commentary, just because:
0:01 – Everyone was nearly 3 hours early for an hour-long domestic flight. We weren’t excited.
Our third day in Japan was a little bittersweet for me because we were moving from Kyoto to Osaka. We had been really enjoying Kyoto, and there were still so many places to see. Already, I knew I was going to miss that convenience store where we bought cinnamon cookie-flavored KitKat. I was going to miss the McDonald’s where I first had McGriddles. The Yoshinoya where we had dinner! (Why is everything related to food?) I remember feeling a little sad because I wanted to stay for a few more days. In hindsight, we should have just made Kyoto our base and gone on an Osaka day trip instead of moving there completely. But I think the move made me appreciate Kyoto more that day, and I promised myself that I would come back to get to know the city more intimately. Coming back for ya, Kyoto.
In lieu of blog posts, I’ll just leave this video of our recent family trip to South Korea here. Because I’m a really lazy writer. No one’s surprised.
Aigoo, we went everywhere on this trip. I really put our legs to work (sorry, parents). We went to Myeongdong, the second happiest place on earth (just a touch below Japan, my first love). Gyeongbokgung, Deoksugung, and Changdeokgung—Korean history is really interesting (really!). We got our royal on at Gwanghwamun Square. Went to Bukchon Hanok Village, a super lovely neighborhood. Yeouido where we saw cherry blossoms (and the best path ever because the pavement was padded with foam, a blessing for tired feet). N Seoul Tower with the lovely love locks. Gwangjang Market for legit japchae, kimbap, and the nicest ahjumma. Dongdaemun Design Plaza, land of all things cool and innovative. Ihwa Mural Village, creativity at every corner. Nami Island where my parents tried to recreate Winter Sonata feels. And Le Petit France and the Garden of Morning Calm at Gapyeong.
It was a great trip. It wasn’t without its challenges, but we got through it just fine. And it’s always fun when we’re together as a family. Koreans have this term called “healing time.” I think it means a moment when you get to take a break, relax, enjoy the environment and the people you’re with, and recharge physically and spiritually. We really had healing time outside Changdeokgung Palace.*
I shot this video on my iPhone 5 and my dad’s iPhone 6 Plus. 480p is as high as it goes. Hehe. I wasn’t able to buy a camcorder before the trip, so I made do with what I had. Everyone takes photos during trips, but I think travel videos are fantastic because you get to see your memories play out and instantly relive a funny story in 30 seconds. I’ll definitely be doing more of these in the future, hopefully with better gear next time. First travel diary trial: SUCCESS.
* inside joke
The sequel to my South Korea 2015 haul series. Part 1 is all about Korean cosmetics. Read about ’em here. In this post, I’ll be sharing with you all the cute, I-definitely-need-this-in-my-life items I found during my eight-day trip to Seoul and nearby county Gapyeong.
For the most part, I set aside a budget for all the Korean cosmetics I was going to buy, but along the way, I didn’t expect to find a lot of little gems that weren’t skin care products or makeup that I really, really wanted.
I’m not even done with my Japan entries, but here I am, writing a haul post because I just came back from Seoul a couple of days ago, and I want to tell the world how
depleted my wallet is I was able to find fantastic things during my brief trip to the Land of the Morning Calm.
After eight days in Seoul (and Gapyeong), I can say securely say that Japan is still #1 in my heart, but South Korea is a beautiful country, special in its own way and definitely worth visiting many, many times.
Here’s a shot of all the stuff I lugged back home with me. Not a lot. Nope.
I’ll divide my haul into two posts. This one will focus on cosmetics, and the other one will show non-cosmetic items.
Six months after the Day 1 post, here we are again! Better late than never. Here’s an extremely long one to tide you over until the Day 3 write-up, which I may or may not write after six months.
The bulk of our second day in Japan was for our first guided day tour around Kyoto care of Viator. We were heading to some of Kyoto’s famous spots: Nijo Castle, Kinkaku-ji, the Kyoto Imperial Palace, Heian Shrine, Sanjusangen-do, and Kiyomizu Temple. Though Tokyo is the capital of Japan and is a superb city, Kyoto is what I first envisioned Japan would be. Dozens of historical sites perfectly preserved all around the city, ladies in kimonos on their way to dinner and tea, strangers so helpful they’ll literally go out of their way just so you can check that temple off your itinerary. When first-time travellers to Japan ask me which city they shouldn’t miss aside from Tokyo, I always, always say Kyoto.
The last time we went abroad as a family was for our Europe trip. We were a little late leaving the house, which translates to being very late given the traffic in Manila, so we were worried about missing our flight. I remember my mother getting agitated as we got nearer to the airport. She told everyone to haul ass, get the bags, go through check-in, and get on board the plane. Well, we hauled ass so much we got down the car and shut the doors at the same time, trapping the car keys inside and activating the automatic lock. With all our luggage still inside. Balls.
We were getting desperate to the point that smashing the car window was more bearable than missing our flight. Luckily, we found a guy who jimmied the lock loose using a piece of wire. You know, no biggie, the same thing carjackers do(!). Long story short: We made our flight, had a lovely vacation, and came back to tell this story again and again and again.
Fortunately, our departure for Japan this time was very smooth. We left the house around 1:30 AM to get to the airport by 3 AM. Our Cebu Pacific flight was scheduled to leave by 5 PM. Everything went off without a hitch. Four hours later, we were in Japan. Blessed by the travel gods.
Here was the plan:
- Day 1: Land in Tokyo, but transfer to Kyoto.
- Day 2: Explore Kyoto.
- Day 3: Explore Kyoto more. At night, head to Osaka.
- Day 4: Explore Osaka.
- Day 5: Head back to Tokyo. DIY Tokyo tour.
- Day 6: Mt. Fuji-san!
- Day 7: Tokyo day tour.
- Day 8: Manila, Manila… I keep coming back to Manila…
My first experience in Japan wasn’t tasting amazing sushi, seeing a dolled-up cosplayer, or eating a life-changing bowl of ramen; it was going to the bathroom to pee. I had been hearing a lot of wonderful, strange things about Japanese toilets—how advanced they are, how intimidating for people who have only experienced pushing a lever to flush.
The first thing I did when I encountered the control board beside the toilet was look for the flush button…and I couldn’t find it. I pressed a blue button that said FLUSHING SOUND, but nope, that one was just really for a flushing sound and no actual flushing. Unable to hold back the call of nature any longer, I did the deed while the flushing sound was still playing, hoping people would ignore the noob in the first stall. I pressed the STOP button and took a minute to let myself be amazed at the heated seat, the “powerful” deodorizer, the bidet, and all the other mysterious options. Wow. I haven’t left the airport bathroom yet and I was in awe already.