Halong Bay Day Trip

With 4 full days in Hanoi, we knew we needed something else to do other than walk about the city. So, we were recommended a very reliable travel agency / tour operator called Exotissimo Travel, which I believe is a French company with offices in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

Exotissimo Travel, Vietnam

Exotissimo Travel, Vietnam

I haven’t looked at their deals in detail, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a 10 day bike trip from Hanoi to Saigon or something like that. Sounds incredible to me!

We were feeling a little [less] adventurous, so we decided to take a 1-day trip to Halong Bay just to check it out. The Bay was also filmed in one of the James Bond installments, “Tomorrow Never Dies” if you remember – they had that weird-looking bulletproof hovercraft controlled by a Rupert Murdoch-character bent on world domination … through media. Interesting concept.

Anyway … most travellers tend to spend the night on one of the boats so that they can go deeper into the labyrinth of limestone islands / formations, so that they can see more and squeeze in some water sports (i.e. waterski, jetski, swimming, etc.) somewhere in between.

Our tour guide met us at our hotel at 7 in the morning and it took around 3.5 hours to get to Halong Bay from Hanoi. By the time we got to the Bay, it was already close to 11 and we were already on our way out to the sea almost as soon as we jumped on board the Bai Tho 52; the name of our boat, which also means “Poem”, apparently. The “52” I’m assuming is boat number 52 of a very big Bai Tho fleet 🙂 By the way, we’re a group of 5 and there were 6 staff taking care of our comfort and well-being (1 captain, 3 “boat boys”, 1 chef and 1 lady who takes care of cleaning, running errands, etc.). I thought that was pretty amazing. In Hong Kong, the captain would be the only one on board and would be cooking for us too.

It took us a little over 20 minutes to reach this limestone island where we were told we can check out this limestone cave, which was pretty nice (pictured). But I’ll skip that.

One of the Limestone Caves in Halong Bay

One of the Limestone Caves in Halong Bay

Butterfly and Our Boat in the Background!

Butterfly and Our Boat in the Background!

When we got back on board, we were ready to eat and here what we got …

Steamed Crabs with Soy Sauce or Salt and Chili Dip

Steamed Crabs with Soy Sauce or Salt and Chili Dip

Vietnamese Springrolls and ... FRENCH FRIES?!

Vietnamese Springrolls and ... FRENCH FRIES?!

Steamed Shrimp

Steamed Shrimp

Squid with Onions

Squid with Onions

Fish with Tomato Sauce

Fish with Tomato Sauce

Fried Cabbage with Sun-dried Shrimp

Fried Cabbage with Sun-dried Shrimp

The entire trip with Exotissimo Travel cost USD 95 per person, which isn’t bad at all considering we were provided:

  • A tour guide who speak fluent English for the entire day (7AM to 7PM)
  • Driver and his Mercedes van sending us to and from Hanoi and Halong Bay
  • 4-5 hours boat trip with 1 captain, 3 boat boys, 1 chef and an “Ayi”
  • Seafood lunch that was both more than what we expected in terms of quality and quantity

Of course, we had to tip the tour guide (USD 15-20?), the driver (USD 10-15?) and the entire crew of 6 on the boat (USD 15-20), which ended up to be something like USD 106 per head.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Halong Bay Tour by Exotissimo
26 Tran Nhat Duat Street, Hoan Kiem District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +84 4 3828 2150
Fax: +84 4 3828 2146
E-mail: infohanoi@exotissimo.com
Website: www dot exotissimo dot com

Weasel Coffee

Came across a Tour Cafe that sells coffee (grounded or not) …

Tour Cafe, Hanoi, Vietnam

Tour Cafe, Hanoi, Vietnam

Weasel Coffee

Weasel Coffee

I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but when my friends embraced this Weasel brand coffee like gold, I bought 2 packs (250g packets) to try for myself. THEN, I found out that like the famous (or infamous) civet coffee, this weasel version is similar:

Kopi Luwak (pronounced [ˈkopi ˈluwak]) or Civet coffee is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). The civets eat the berries, but the beans inside pass through their system undigested. This process takes place on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago, in the Philippines (where the product is called Kape Alamid) and in East Timor (locally called kafé-laku). Vietnam has a similar type of coffee, called weasel coffee, which is made from coffee berries which have been regurgitated by local weasels. In actuality the “weasel” is just the local version of the Asian Palm Civet.”

Source: Wikipedia (where else?)

The only difference is that this weasel coffee is regurgitated by local weasels, as opposed to civet coffee where the beans are passed through the entire digestive system of a civet cat, coming out where the sun don’t really shine. Damn.

The good news (if there’s any good news coming out of this), the coffee didn’t cost me an arm and leg. I hear the civet coffee sold at Peter Jones in London go for about USD 100 for a shot.

Wanna try some? Weasel Coffee 1 is milder in aroma and taste. Weaseal Coffee 2 is a little stronger and I think there’s No. 3 and 4 as well. Just so you know …

I think I’ll stick with my instant G7 Coffee Cappuccino mix (also from Vietnam), which comes in Hazelnut, Irish Cream and Mocha flavors.

Tour Cafe
103 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 0432959103
Mobile: 0979852212 / 0982217435

Huyen Dung Pho Bo!

So after our rest at the Metropole, we decided to grab dinner and while meandering through the streets of Hanoi, we came across this local pho noodle joint, called (I think) Huyen Dung Pho Bo (pictured)

Huyen Dung Pho Bo!

Huyen Dung Pho Bo!

We got right down to business and got ourselves each a bowl of hot beef noodle soup or pho … but we were a bit wary of the hygeine of the makeshift noodle cart (see below):

Makeshift Noodle Cart

Makeshift Noodle Cart

The pho came almost as soon as we ordered, but after the first sip of soup and the first bite of pho noodle, I realized that it wasn’t what I had anticipated. It wasn’t bad at all, but it also wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. Then I realized (again), that I’ve had some of the best pho from Vancouver, Toronto and LA; homes of some of the biggest overseas Vietnamese communities!

Lime & Chili

Lime & Chili

Hanoi Pho Noodle at USD 86 Cents!

Hanoi Pho Noodle at USD 86 Cents!

Being the “consultant” that I am, I’ve broken down the pho noodle into 3 parts and the differences between a bowl of pho found in an average Hanoi pho restaurant, and an average North America pho restaurant:

  • Soup: This one here is smells and tastes good, but is heavy on MSG. But the ones found in NA is probably the same
  • Noodle: I prefer the Hanoi version of the pho noodle. It was more fine (or thinner), while I found the pho noodle in NA to be thicker. I’d like to just slurp without much effort, but that’s just me
  • Beef: Here is where the Hanoi pho lost a lot of points. They had only a few pieces of beef! In Toronto, they load mine up with raw beef, but to be fair, portions in Canada and the States are always bigger (speaking of which, where the heck did people come up with “火车头” or “Train”-sized pho noodles? I certainly didn’t see pho offered in 5 different sizes in Hanoi)

Anyway … it is what it is. But at 15,000 Vietnam Dong (USD 86 cents) per bowl of beef noodle, who am I to complain?

USD 1 Meals? Deal!

USD 1 Meals? Deal!

Huyen Dung Pho Bo
Somewhere along that road from Metropole back to our hotel at Hanoi Old Quarter Hotel

Green Cottage Vietnamese Restaurant

Green Cottage / Yin Ping Vietnamese Restaurant is one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the city; the other being Nha Trang (芽莊越式料理). Having never visited Vietnam before, I don’t think I’m in a position to comment on the authenticity of their dishes – especially after spending time in Toronto and Los Angeles, where some potent Phở is served – I’m frankly very confused as to what is authentic Vietnamese food.

I visited the original Green Cottage (清亭越南菜館) on Cannon Street 10 years ago when they were only a small cafe. Back then, after your orders are taken, the waiter would reach up to the clothesline above our heads, attach the order onto the clips and throw them directly into the kitchen along that line. It was an odd process, but a memorable one. Their specialty was and still is their famed butter chicken wings (pictured) among many, many other dishes.

They’ve done very well for themselves since, moving across the street from where they used to be into a bigger space. All of this success, however, is not without family feud. The brothers went their separate ways and while one kept “Green Cottage”, the other established “Yin Ping” right next to the former.

Last year, the brothers called truce, made up and decided to work together again moving into yet another even bigger location (current Jaffe Road restaurant) aptly named “Green Cottage / Yin Ping Vietnamese Restaurant” (清亭燕萍越南菜館)。

Phew … now that I got that out of the way. Here’s what I had:

Highly recommended!

Green Cottage / Yin Ping Vietnamese Restaurant
2/F., Cigna Tower, 482 Jaffe Road
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2832 2863 / +852 2832 9038
Fax: +852 2834 0780

They have another restaurant at the Hong Kong International Airport (Terminal 2) too!