Monday, 9 August 2010

Hanoi, VIETNAM

When I booked my hotel reservation with Hanoi Elegance Hotel 5, their brand new hotel under the Elegance chain. I was given very specific instructions on the pick up...something, I've never had in the past. Most hotels will just have someone holding a card stating the hotel name and your name. However, this hotel gave me a 'secret code' and I had to ask the driver for the 'code' before following him to the limo. Reason - to make sure that I sat on the right limo and not someone else pretending to act on behalf of the hotel we booked.  Apparently, this happens all the time due to inter-hotels competition or by unscrupulous taxi operator.  A tip that travelers may want to take note when you travel to Vietnam. 


Upon arriving Hanoi, what interested me the most was how the houses were so narrow! I was told the average house was about 10 - 15 in width, with the richer maybe having up to 20 feet or more. The guide said this was due to the taxes imposed on land owned. Throughout Hanoi, we saw all narrow houses and shoplots.  On an average, most were 3 storey high and many up to 5 storey but still very narrow.





 As for the telephone or electricity poles anywhere...a reminder of Thailand for me, as every pole looked like this. A real mess and nightmare.  Most of the housing and town areas here are using underground cables, so we hardly see such mess...but I guess it's common throughout Vietnam.



A Chinese temple on the way to the hotel.




On the main street of Hanoi and this was probably the very few roads with two lanes. Most of the road are only one lane and I was under the impression that there were no traffic rules around here --- as anything goes. Not many traffic lights and anyone can cross to the other side in any possible way as long as you did it without being killed or killing someone else.



At the reception of Hanoi Elegance Hotel, a money frog facing the main door. A figure symbolically used by the Chinese to welcome more wealth into any business.  Hanoi Elegance was very clean hotel and the service from the people was first class. They personally welcome us by our names, escorted us to the restaurant while waiting for check in as we were early, then escorted us to the room etc..but then there was only one problem and I'll explain in the following picture. 




The room we booked was a family as there were 3 of us traveling together. So at USD105 per room/night and with 2 queen bed - we were happy with the promo rate. Seen here, one of the hotel's staff talking to my friend, Viv on our traveling plans. Important note: English is not a common language and the people on the streets cannot speak them.  As much as I commended their good services, there was a small problem with the hotel staff. In their over enthusiasm to impress you with their English, there was still confusion and misunderstanding over small matters.  So, I had to talk to them like I was talking to a very small child learning English - simple, short sentences and easy English.  Though they could give you a full few paragraphs of English but you might end up not understanding most of the contents.



We had lunch at the Hanoi Elegance hotel's restaurant and the food was very good! We ordered two different salads, the first one was grilled chicken and the 2nd photo was even better - pomelo salad. Pomelo salad is very common in Thai food, but the Vietnamese version was even much better :) I can eat this everyday.



This is 'Pho'...the most famous Vietnamese beef noodles and it's eaten widely everywhere. Very well known here too but their version was simpler and better!




Meanwhile, eating on the streets is so common that you could not walk a street without seeing someone selling food or even cooking their own. Due to the narrow shoplots, we saw lots of people sitting on small stools and eating on pavements. I was sure the food was good but I didn't eat and always avoid them whenever I travel.  Street food is common here too which I eat but not when traveling. Not exactly 5 star eating arrangements..but it gives you a glimpse of how the local eat.  If you are game for it...eat at your own risk :) 





I was told Vietnamese coffee which I did buy and tried. It was ok but since I don't drink coffee so much, I probably won't know the difference.
 


On the street of central Hanoi...more wires mess...
 



A common sight - vendors with their signature Vietnamese hat and food or things sold on two baskets hung from a long pole on their shoulders.  We saw them everywhere, in the villages, on the main streets on Hanoi..manoeuvring between heavy traffic and people.


Buses in Hanoi were terrifying! When we traveled from Hanoi to Halong, we heard them from far honking away so everyone will stay clear when they overtake on the opposite traffic...no highways..just two way traffic on 2 very narrow lanes roads.  Malaysians! Be thankful of our highway even when we had to pay toll.

We saw those red banners everywhere, indicating that the Vietnamese will have a huge celebration this year as it marks Hanoi as 1000 years old.While Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam's capital and most busiest commercial city, Hanoi is still laid back and the center for the Socialist Government.




Street vendors selling many things everywhere!


That's all for now...still got lots to talk and and blog about.  Have a good week ahead everyone :O)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

JAKARTA, INDONESIA

Hello everyone :) Jakarta was a fun trip and my first to Indonesia.  If there is a country closest to Malaysia in terms of food and language, that will be Indonesia as we speak the common Bahasa. That still, when we spoke Bahasa Malaysia, they immediately know we were not Indonesians. After a mildly 'culture-shock' trip to Hanoi, Vietnam..Jakarta seems like a dream trip. People at the hotels are super courteous and Jakarta is really at par with cities like Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.  People on the streets speak English fairly well and I have not met anyone rude at all.

This set of pictures were taken from the plane and approaching Jakarta airport, we could see fields of paddy everywhere.

We stayed here, at the Alila Hotel, Jakarta.  Brand new with contemporary designs, and one of my favourite so far.  There are the others 5 stars like Mulia, Kempinski, Grand Hyatt etc., but Alila is value for money, very clean and  service oriented staff. 



Scrumptious for dinner!  We ate mainly here or restaurants.  I must say that due to hygienic reasons, I stayed away from street food.  I had to try their satay (2nd collage), a common and highly popular dish in both Indonesia and Malaysia.  With due respect, I'd say the Malaysian satay are still way much better as ours are always marinated with many spices overnight and flavorfull!


A popular local transport........just like the Thai tuk-tuk, but slightly covered up.



An important note for those wanting to travel to Jakarta, we were advised to sit only this taksi (Indonesia) or taxi. The Bluebird taxis which are easily available everywhere, AND only used by upmarket shopping centres and hotels.  The Bluebird taxis will take you on from one place to another on a shortest route, whereby other taxis may take much longer to reach the destination. Nothing bad will happen if you take other taxis, just you may have to pay much more due to the longer routes.


There's too many things to blog about and to sort on the pictures, but I will blog first on a few items on Jakarta. Seen here an 'ondel-ondel' procession by the Batavia people. Batavia are considered as native of Jakarta. There was a huge group of people both on busses, cars, vans and bikes accompanying this ondel-ondel to somewhere.  Due to time constraint, I missed the ondel-ondel show at the Setu Babakan cultural village. This picture was not taken by me but from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ondel-Ondel_Betawi.jpg and you can go there to read more about the ondel-ondel celebration, a crucial and very interesting celebration by the Indonesians.



These sets were by me.



Ondel-ondel @ airport. Go to http://lang-8.com/51982/journals/188431 and to http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/06/23/039ondelondel039-an-almost-extinct-betawi-legacy.html to read more about this unique culture and giant puppets.


A visit to the National Museum in Jakarta shown some very interesting or even scary masks.


Their version of a lion dance at the Museum display (above), and seen here a preparation for a wedding shoot. Groom (below right was a Westerner). The brides maids posing happily for me :)


Mannequin showing a wedding of Jogjakarta...



The entrance into the Museum, very Balinese inspired!


Too many things to write and photos to share. I'll do a separate post on this and this picture is for you, Tracy of Hey Harriet - the host for Shadow Shot Sunday! A puppet made of leather, or wayang kulit. Such puppet are important cultural figures in both Malaysia and Indonesia.  Over here, it is a dying art as you can hardly find any wayang kulit or puppet show unless you are in Kelantan.  Puppets are used to make shadows in the dark accompanied with gongs and lightings, telling tales of Ramayana etc.


When I arrived in Jakarta on Friday evening, the traffic was horrendous...worst than Kuala Lumpur and even Bangkok. However, roads and driving ethics - good, unlike Hanoi. I don't think I could ever get over how the Vietnamese drive, in fact, I am even surprised that I am still alive after a trishaw ride in the town in Hanoi.   Overall, the Indonesians are very friendly, city safe, driving civilized, great food and a shopping paradise for 'fake' branded goods.  Here going back home and in most streets in Jakarta, one can see many people selling things in between jams.


Traveling is still not over for me. I've got a trip to Penang for business this week and am getting weary over all these traveling.  We will blog about his (below) soon. This is a mock house of the people from South Sulawesi, Indonesia and they have a unique culture where they have a huge ceremony for their dead relatives which stretches for week and many animals will be slaughtered. However, if the family do not have the money.....the dead or corpse will stay in the house till the family has the money. At times, it could be week or years...sound very scary?  What can I say, I do love Indonesia now. The food, the people and what interest me the most is the many different culture practiced by all different tribes. For sure, this wont be my last trip there.  Happy day to all.