On a dragon’s tail through Halong Bay.

Even though this 21 year old UNESCO heritage site is a popular tourist attraction, it still retains its charm and mystery. You just cannot visit Vietnam without a trip to this magical bay. Legend has it that many years ago, when foreign invaders threatened to reach the coast of Vietnam, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. The dragons spat pearls and jade which, upon touching water turned into rocks to block the way and destroy the foreign ships. The dragons decided to settle and now rest peacefully and enjoy the serenity and beauty of Halong Bay. Today, there are over 2000 rocks scattered across the bay.

Halong bay

You can easily find a tour operator to Halong when roaming the narrow, busy streets of Hanoi. However, we planned our trip before with Thien Thien agency and we were on the Gardenbay Cruise ship, which I can definitely recommend.

Gardenbay Halong Cruise

Many operators will offer day trips as well as trips up to 2-3 days. My cousin made the mistake of booking the day trip and it was thanks to him that we decided for the 2D1N option. Firstly, the drive to Halong from Hanoi is roughly a 4 hour drive, with a midway stop at a large Vietnamese Craft shop accompanied by an overpriced Cafe and restrooms. I would avoid shopping here, as everything is overly priced! Shopping at Hanoi is much more of a treat, read my previous article for shopping tips in Hanoi.

Once you get to Halong, it takes about 2 hours on the cruise to get to the bay, so imagine the time left if you had to return on the same day.

Kayaking Halong bay IMG_7467

The usual trip involves kayaking or the dryer, less physically demanding choice, sitting in a sampan (bamboo boat). We were taken through an old fishing village, which has now been vacant for the last 6 months. The fishermen have been sent to live in Halong city in order to preserve the environment at the bay. We had the opportunity to visit the primary school at the fishing village and learnt the pledge recited by children in schools across the country.

Halong fishing village school

  1. Love your country, love your people
  2. Study well, work well
  3. Work together and follow the rules
  4. Keep the environment clean
  5. Be honest, brave and confident

It is a belief, like in many asian countries, that children should learn manners first before they learn how to write and read. Something that unfortunately went missing in the west.

Hang Sung sot caves

Most Cruise ships then also take you to the Hang Sung Sot Cave, discovered by the french, which means “suprising cave”. In my opinion, it has lost the enchantment I imagine it once had due to the streams of tourists with flashing lights. In the cave, you will walk across a rock, naturally formed in a shape of a turtle. In Vietnam, the turtle is thought to be a sign of luck and you are suppose to gently rub the turtle’s head with your right hand to make a wish. And make sure that wish is kept a secret!

The best times to go to Halong bay are during autumn, September to November. This is if you want to experience heavenly clear blue skies. However, I must admit, the fog and mist we experienced brought about an eery calm that left me mystified. I was left to question what magic lay behind the clouds. And when you leave the bay and look back  through the mist, there you see the shadows of a resting dragon.

Halong Bay in April

Halong bay descending dragon

Strolling through Hanoi`s Old quarter – Shoppers galore

There is so much to see in Vietnam, unfortunately time was not on my side on this trip. With only two days in Hanoi and two in Halong bay, I had to make the most of the north of Vietnam, although, I will definitely return to explore Sapa, further north.

Hanoi is the bustling capital of Vietnam and retains its cultural heritage while Ho Chi Minh city has surrendered itself to civilization.

hanoi old quarter

hanoi old quarter

The first thing you have to learn in this city where rush hour never ends, is how to cross the streets and stay alive. Avoid just attempting to cross or waiting for the green man as he is mostly disregarded on the streets of the old quarter. By raising your hand up in a stop sign on both the right and left side you are signaling your intention to cross. While most cars stop, the motorbikes (majority) will just continue their way around you.

The one thing you will never learn is how to drive in Vietnam. With many vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road and overtaking without a care of the oncoming traffic, I was surprised I didn`t see any accidents. Yet there was no sign of road rage apart from the constant beeping to signal their presence, as if to kindly say ” move out of my way or you`ll get hit” while im in the passenger seat having a mini heart attack. So leave the driving to the more experienced.

With a population of roughly 9 million in Hanoi, 6 million own a motorbike mainly because they can`t afford the simple luxury of a car. Depending on the make of the car, it can cost up to 300% in import taxes.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Ngoc Son Temple

Whether you join a walking tour, or decide to explore on your own, most streets take you back to Hoan Kiem Lake. This lake is thought to be the heart of Hanoi by the vietnamese and traditionally, many couples take pictures here before the wedding.

You cannot visit Hanoi without buying a few of the Vietnamese craft. Whether its the traditional silk Vietnamese outfits, or the endless range of home deco, there is no doubt you will find something that compliments your taste and at a very affordable price!

Here are some of the items I bought:


vietnamese buddha

vietnamese painting

vietnamese statue

I fell in love with the lacquer ware ever since my dad brought a lacquer painting back as a gift.

The main shopping street in Hanoi is Hang Gai however, most things here are marked up at a slightly higher price than what you would get on the side streets. I would advice looking at hang hom street . SonSon is the name of the shop where I spent most of my evening bargaining and the prices were nearly 20% cheaper than what we were offered in other shops. One rule when shopping, always bargain. Shopkeepers are usually willing to go up to 6% cheaper than the offered price, so try your luck and have fun!

Let me know how your trip goes or if you find other amazing stores! I will leave you with something my vietnamese friend, Rocky, said to me:

” Vietnam is poor, but Vietnam is happy”

A taste of Singapore in London – Roti King

Growing up in Singapore, I took the joys of greeting my taste buds with a blend of spices and herbs for granted. If there is one thing I truly miss, its the wide variety of food at every corner.

London is the city of street food but it still has nothing on a local hawker centre in Singapore, and it definitely does not compete in price. However, thanks to my dear friend Sarah, I discovered the closest thing to home in this big capital. She discovered this gem before it moved to Euston and became more talked about, check her review out here.

Today, Roti King is located near Euston station, hidden along a side road, and its exterior does not do it any justice. But when you step into the small gateway, the first thing you are greeted with is the chef making Roti freshly before your eyes and the authentic smells of South East Asia.

I have heard from many that the Chinese dishes here are not the best the city has to offer. However, I can definitely recommended the following dishes, they are the best Singaporean/Malaysian dishes I have had in Europe.

1. Roti or Roti Prata –  4-5 GBP

Roti Prata London

There is a reason this place is called Roti King. This perfectly light and fluffy flatbread of S.E.A is served with Chicken or Fish Curry or for those seeking the veggie option, you can have this with Dahl (lentil curry)

2. Mee Goreng 5.5 GBP

Mee Goreng London

A fried(Goreng means fried in malay) noodle dish which incorporates the many tastes of Chinese, Malay and Indian food.  It is usually slightly spicy but paired with sweet bean sauce, it is a match made in heaven. It is usually served with chicken, prawns and squid or tofu.

3. Laksa 5-6GBP

Laksa in London

Now this is definitely one of my favourites here. For those of you who love coconut based soups such as a Thai green curry, you will love this dish. Although this is a soup not a curry. This hearty meal can be enjoyed throughout the year but I had this during Winter and I walked out feeling warm and ready to bear the crisp air.

4. Char Kway Teow 6GBP

Unfortunately I got too distracted by the aromas of the dish that I had no time for a picture. I had to dive straight in. Char Kway Teow,fried flat rice noodles, is a signature dish across Malaysia and Singapore and I must say for a moment I forgot I was just off the busy streets of Euston. And although each bite was filled with a high content of saturated fat, it was all worth it.