Gosh! This blog is definitely long overdue!! Since our family vacation to Melbourne earlier this year, I had been meaning to compile a list of personal tips for anyone who would be visiting Melbourne. Anyway, better late than never!
Here’s my list of 20 tips for visiting Melbourne…
#1: Get your ETA cheap!
If you are visiting Australia as a tourist, you’d need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which costs around A$20 per application from the Australian Immigration. Whilst you can apply for it online 24/7, the key tip that many people don’t know is that the ETA can be obtained much cheaper if you apply for it from this site called Easy ETA. This site promises a 24-hour processing time and with a 50% discount as well! Initially I had my doubts about this site but I checked out its reviews from many other users and was convinced by its validity. Applying for the ETA was a breeze and we saved a lot of money too!
#2: Renew your Driving Licence
if you intend to drive in Australia, you do NOT need to apply for an International Driving Permit, which would cost you RM150 for a yearly application. What is typically required by the Australian law as well as the car rental companies is an ‘English translation’ of your existing Driving Licence. Now, if you are a Malaysian and your Driving Licence is all in BM, you are holding the OLD version. Simply go renew your licence to get the NEW version, which would already have an English translation of the relevant details!
#3: The Birthdate Education
Yup. You may have realised that whilst our NEW driving licence has all the details nicely translated into English, it still does NOT list down our BIRTHDATE! Will this cause any complications? Well, some car rental companies may not be so strict and let this detail go. However, in the case of some car rental companies who insist on seeing your ‘translated’ date of birth, simply educate them by pointing to your MyKAD number on the driving licence, and coolly explain that your birthdate can be found there. Then just pause and wait for their shocked reaction of approval. 😛
I conducted my brief ‘tutorial’ when I registered for a local SIM and the telco seller was really impressed by this simple Malaysian ‘efficiency’! *ahem*
#4: Rent A Car!
if you are intending to visit the suburban areas like Yarra Valley, it would be advisable to rent a car. Surprisingly, rental cars in Melbourne is quite affordable and it gives you the flexibility to move around at our own time. Besides, taxis over there are EXPENSIVE!
The car rental agency we used when we were in Melbourne was Auz Rental Cars.
#5: Hanging Out Correctly at Puffing Billy
One of the the most popular tourist attractions for kids in Melbourne is the Puffing Billy – an old steam powered train that travels from Belgrave to Gembrook. Although it moves pretty slowly along its tracks, many kids (and adults too!) love it because we get to ‘hang out’ our feet outside the train as it moves! Now, the tip here is that if you are traveling from Belgrave, you should hang out on the RIGHT side of the train and if you are travelling from Gembrook, try to get to the LEFT side of the train. Why? The view on those sides are just so much better. Trust me!
#6: Take the Free Circle Tram #35
If you happen to go into the Melbourne CBD, make it a point to include taking the FREE City Circle Tram ride (Tram No. 35) as one of the earliest things on your itinerary. it takes no more than 30 mins ( I think) and it includes very informative narrations of places you can go visit all along the way! Not too long ago, the tram route was also expanded to include the Docklands! So if you are planning to stay in the CBD or vist places around the CBD, it is essential to familiarize yourself with this FREE TRAM ZONE. Heck, you may not even need to purchase any myki if you plan your inter-city routes well!
#7: Go Early Instead!
You might find yourself shocked to see many tourist attractions (and even shops!) close very early in Melbourne. One simple tip is you could redesign your itinerary so that you visit these places EARLY instead! Although most places/shops/etc in Melbourne typically close by 5pm, they do open for business REALLY early. I remember making the effort to scavenge through the Queen Victoria Market from 7am (they open at 6am!) because there was no way I would have been able to visit it during normal times!
#8: Eat More Lamb and Beef…and MILK!
I’m not exaggerating this. I can honestly say I am a MEAT person through and through and I personally found the LAMB and BEEF in Melbourne to taste so much better than the other meats, especially chicken!
Drinking milk there is probably a no brainer. Fresh milk in Australia just tastes so GOOD and costs so CHEAP that it would feel like a sin if you do not gulp down a glass or two every day!
#9: Buy Ice Cream
When people think of Australia, they would think of all the wonderful dairy and meat products from the farm animals there – milk, beef, cheese, butter, etc.typically comes to mind first. Strangely, many people often forget ICE-CREAM!!! Yup, we managed to buy a ‘premium’ branded tub of Bulla for about 1/3 the price you’d pay for in Malaysia. Delicious!!
#10: Stay in Apartments
Accommodation in Melbourne isn’t cheap, especially in the CBD. A cheaper and much more practical solution would be to stay in apartments, and there are plenty of them in Melbourne! Why practical? With apartments, you’d have the luxury of doing your own laundry, cooking, etc., and more importantly giving you a much larger space for large families! We stayed for about a 5 days in Adina Apartment, Northbank, and all those amenities (especially the washer and dryer!) made our stay very pleasant.
#11: Get Souvenirs from Queen Victoria Market
Refrain from buying Australian souvenirs from anywhere else. At the QVM, you will get the best pricings and better range. We learnt this the hard way when we started buying some souvenirs from other places before we had a chance to visit the QVM. Sigh. Anyway, do go early and the sellers might even give you additional discounts for early bird customers!
#12: Experience the Night Market at QVM
Speaking of the QVM, many people do not know that on certain Wednesday nights throughout the calendar year, they will run unique night markets there. Yup – NIGHT. When we were there in March, they called it the Summer Night Market (typically between November to March). I believe the Winter Night Market runs sometime between June to August. Do check out the QVM website for the exact dates/season of these night markets but it generally runs from 5 – 10pm. Why is it so special again? You will experience a wide variety of international street foods, street bands and an unbelievable atmosphere!
#13: Shuttle to Werribee Open Range Zoo
Personally, I found the Werribee Open Range Zoo to be one of the more exciting zoos I’ve ever seen. The safari ride into the open range area to get up close and personal with wildlife was a totally unbelievable experience, especially for kids. Unfortunately, when we were in Melbourne, we realised that accessibility was quite a problem. Going there by taxi would be uber expensive; taking a train with some changes and taxi shuttles with three kids in tow would be nightmarish and ultimately taxing on us. We were fortunate to discover (at the very last minute) that there is a Werribee Park Shuttle that departs from the national Gallery of Victoria every morning that only costs A$25 per adult; and A$15 for kids under 10.
#14: Getting the Best Seat at the Penguin Parade
Another must-see attraction in Melbourne is the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island. Unfortunately, the actual ‘parade’ becomes quite a challenge when you realise there are so many kiasu tourists who would go in extremely early to the viewing area and camp themselves on the bench as close as possible to the beach landing area. A tip our guide from Little Penguin Bus was not to get discouraged. Just find yourself a place to sit (or stand!) when the parade begins. As time goes by, most people will slowly move away from their seats (guess it’s not easy to squint your eyes in low-light conditions for too long!). Be alert to this ‘standard feature’ and stealthily move yourself to better viewing locations
#15: Get a Local SIM!
I guess most regular travellers already do this but I guess it’s no harm to advise it anyway – get a local Australian SIM when you reach there. They have pretty cheap and competitive rates and well-thought off range blocks like one-week, one month, etc.
#16: Have those A$2 Coins Handy
One of the more popular sightings in major tourist attractions in Melbourne are those Souvenir Pressed Pennies Machines. You simply pop in a A$2 coin, choose the design of your choice and crank up the machine lever to ‘make’ your own souvenir! If you are really into this, do keep those A$2 coins ready. In some places it may not be so easy to get spare change for that! Personal warning: These machines are really addictive and kids simply love them! Paying A$2 for a unique souvenir sounds CHEAP but after you complete your tour itinerary of Melbourne, you might not think it was such a cheap souvenir after all…:-p
#17: Bring Australian Meat Home
Typical souvenirs you would probably bring home from Australia are plush koalas and kangaroos, boomerangs, leather stuff, chocolates, etc, right? Why not bring home some of the best meats found on the planet! Remember to pack along your cooler bags for convenient packing!Who says you cant bring home some of those Australian goodness right?
#18: Buy Tickets Online and Save!
As you are planing your tour itinerary back home, it would be prudent to check out the ticket prices of some of the attractions you are heading too. More often than not, you’d be able to purchase your tickets online at a much discounted rate!
#19: Free Zoo Admission for Kids on Weekends
If you are planning to take your kids to any of the three zoos in Melbourne, make sure you plan it in such a way that it is on a weekend because all kids below 15 go in for FREE!!
#20: Prepare for the Weather
The weather in Melbourne is strangely very unpredictable. I recalled a really weird sequence in the middle of a sunny hot afternoon. Suddenly a burst of showers appeared out of nowhere for only about a minute. Then the rain disappeared and the chilly winds came out once more. Tip: If you will be outside, bring appropriate clothes to adapt to these strange Melbourne weathers. Here’s an image which says a lot about the Melboutne weather. 😛
If you are visiting Hanoi, make sure you allocate at least ONE FULL DAY to explore beautiful Ha Long Bay. Some people may opt to take a cruise and stay overnight aboard the Ha Long Bay cruises, but if time does not permit, just book a one-day tour to Ha Long bay. I booked my Ha Long bay package via Hanoi Street Food Tours also, for about USD35.
The trip by bus from Hanoi early in the morning to Ha Long Bay jetty takes about 3.5 to 4 hours, so give or take about 3-4 hours on the boat to Ha Long Bay, you should just about reach Hanoi again around 8.30pm to 9pm that same day.
At around 8.30am on Day 2, the tour bus came along quite punctually and picked me up from the designated pick-up point. I was apparently the last passenger of the day inside the bus filled with tourists of all sorts of nationalities – Japanese, Australian, French, etc.
The bus ride wasn’t entirely comfortable. The seats felt cramped and cannot be reclined. Anyway, I guess these are just some small, little things to suffer in anticipation of experiencing Ha Long Bay soon!!
…and finally we arrive at the wharf…
…and I got my TICKET!!!
After locating our boat, lunch was served as the boat quietly left the pier. Lunch was not at all fantastic, which was quite OK since it was going to be a boat ride. Even the prawns looked rather raw…
Everything served for lunch was included in the package, except for drinks, so some crew did go around selling marked-up prices of bia hoi and other drinks. Tip: Do bring your own water when you travel to Ha Long Bay!
The immediate thing that struck me as the boat ventured further and further away from the pier was how QUIET it suddenly became. I mean, I must have been growing too accustomed to the blaring of horns in Hanoi that the quietness was such a welcome ‘sound’!
After lunch, everyone raced to the upper deck to get a better view of the sea and also to get fresh sea breeze brushing against our faces…:-D
After about what seemed like half an hour, we entered the bay and docked at Thien Cung Caves (Heavenly Palace Caves) where we explored and marveled at the natural limestone formations all around the cave ….
Just a warning that as soon as you enter these caves, be prepared to listen to incredible and imaginative stories and images of what you can SEE from these limestones from your tour guide! In some ways, it was great to listen to these narratives too because there is just so much you can see when it comes to rocks and stones, right? 😛
Outside the caves, you will get quite a good view of the bay itself….
We were soon on our way back to the wharf…
…but along the way, this was the time where we were all treated to some magnificent sights of rocks around the bay. Many of these rocks have been given names like chicken head or dog or whatever, but I shall just leave it to your own imagination. 😛
Hmmm…I kept asking myself that this particular rock looks awfully familiar….and many hours later, I saw it again…
Halfway back to shore, an announcement came that since we had a little more time that day, the boat will make a short detour to a nearby ‘floating village’ where we would get the chance to go kayaking or take a bamboo boat ride to explore other areas of the bay.
When we got there, we didn’t see any kayaks in service at all. So some of us decided to go for a ride in a bamboo boat. Price was VND130K per person, which was quite reasonable, I felt, considering the tough life these villagers are living.
One of the highlights of the bamboo boat ride was going under these ‘mini caves’ to another part of the bay, which was simply breathtaking…
After the brief detour, we got back onto our boat and headed back towards the shore. Along the way back, we were treated again to more majestic views of rock structures and everything else we can imagine them to be! :-p
On the way back to Hanoi, the bus will most definitely make a brief stop at some souvenier shop. Ours made a stop at this place simply called ABC. Seriously!
From the number of buses stopping there, I guess it could be the only, or if not one of the more popular halfway stops to Ha Long Bay. Anyway, if you do happen to stop here, remember to check out a small section in the souvenier shop where there are some locals working on silk paintings. So far, I haven’t seen any of such paintings in Hanoi itself, so I thought this was pretty cool. 😀
By the time I reached Hanoi, it was already late, and I felt a bad pain on my back sitting upright during the entire journey. But considering the beauty of Ha Long Bay that I just experienced? It was all worth it! 😀
Picking up mid afternoon, I’d reckon you would have probably completed some shopping around the Old Quarters and is ready for more sight-seeing!
Apart from some of the places to see in Hanoi, one must also not forget to try out the bevy of delicacies of Hanoi street foods! Yes, I must admit that you could easily explore food by yourself, but I opted for an easier (and lazier too!) way out – sign up for a Street Food Tour. Besides, I thought eating in a group would be more fun too! There were quite a few options available, but I took up my package worth USD20 from Hanoi Street Food Tours, which was located very near from my hotel. For an additional USD5, the package also bundled in a ticket to the Thang Long Water Puppet Show.
The Food Tour was quite an interesting concept where a tour guide would take the group around the Old Quarters on foot, stopping at street restaurants, road-side stalls, and even casual cafes for a sampling of Vietnamese food. Here’s a series of pictures of my food trail taken during this 3-hour street food tour, which started form about 5pm.
1.Some Pork Noodles in Sweet Soup Sauce
2. Pho Bo (Beef Noodles – don’t leave Hanoi without trying it!)
4. Assortment of Spring Rolls – tastes something like popiah but brimming with porky goodness!
5. Sugar Cane Water
6. Grilled Pork on a Stick, or as I would rather call Pork Satay…
7. Fried Banana Cake – sorry….no hands to take a pic, but this was the Vietnamese version of Pisang Goreng. 😛
8. Vietnamese Egg Coffee @ Cafe Giang
9. Thang Long Water Puppet Show
After the Street Food Tour ended at about 8pm, we took a short stroll towards Hoan Kiem Lake, where not far off its north tip was the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre!
Overall, I thought the show was quite interesting – something really different seeing puppets moving about on the water. Perhaps it could be made more interesting if the storyline of the show was somehow translated into English; or some translation text flashed on the wall somewhere during the show. Great place to take small kids though. 😀
10. Den Ngoc Son Bridge (at night!)
As you exit the Theatre, just cross the road towards Hoan Kiem Lake and you can get a magnificent view of Den Ngoc Son at night…
11. Dong Xuan Night Market (only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 7-11pm)
From 9pm onwards, feel free to explore other parts of the Old Quarters. If you are travelling to Hanoi over on Fridays to Sundays, do check out their kilometre long night market – great place for buying more souvenirs before you go home! 😛
And whilst you are hungry, simply stop by any streetside stalls for more food! Here’s some other pics of foods I whacked in Hanoi…
…and THAT concludes Day ONE of sight-seeing and stomach feasting in Hanoi!
So what do you do now with ONE more day left in Hanoi? Easy, one does not come all the way to Hanoi and miss Ha Long Bay….
Stay tuned as we explore beautiful Ha Long Bay for the entire of Day 2!
If you had like one week to spend in Hanoi, you would most certainly have plenty of time to go super touristy and explore every inch of this beautiful city.
But what if you only had TWO DAYS?!! Would that be enough time to check out Hanoi?
TWO DAYS was roughly all the free time I had when I visited Hanoi last month. And I think I did pretty OK to cover some of the more exciting places and also Vietnamese food in that short period of time. So I thought I’d share some of what I went through which could perhaps be a suggested itinerary for some of you who might be also going to Hanoi with only two days to spend.
When I did some pre-travel research on day tours in Hanoi, I realised that many of them offered similar half day or full day city tours – which only covered about 4-6 places of attraction for about USD20 onwards. Two cheaper alternatives would be to (1) Secure a personal tour with a local guide for FREE – which you only pay for the transport and also their meals (check out hanoifreetourguides.com or hanoikids.org for example); or (2) Book a motorcyle taxi (Xe Om) to take you go sightseeing. I tried Option 1 with several sites but the local guides were not available on my preferred dates. So in the end I opted for Option 2.
Hiring a Xe Om is quite simple and are considerably cheaper than official sanctioned tour packages too! They are usually just hanging out casually on their motorcycles by any street corner. I managed to negotiate a Xe Om to to take me on a 4-hour tour from about 9am onwards for only VND300,000 (about USD 15). Of course I would spend the first hour hunting down my football ticket. So for just the remainder THREE hours, these are the places I managed to cover. Of course, do bear in mind that riding with a Xe Om is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Apart from getting a bonus roller-coaster death-defying ride for FREE, it also allowed me to see many places in a ‘touch and go’ manner, and I only stopped longer in places I have more interest in. Also, So here we go….from about 10am to 1pm, your tour on a Xe Om should include:
1. Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
2. Chua Tran Quoc (next to West Lake)
3. Long Bien Bridge
Quite over-rated attraction. Probably looks better from afar. It’s basically only an old rusty steel bridge but if you were to cross it, you might want to stop somewhere in the middle to catch some good shots of the river running underneath.
4. Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural
This is actually found along the walls of the main road heading up into Long Bien Bridge. Quite a pretty sight that stretches for a couple of miles. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any good shots from my Xe Om.
6. Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) – In the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake
7. Hoa Lo Prison
This was one of two stops I made which I spent a slightly longer time than usual. Perhaps I have been watching too many prison break-type of movies but whatever it is, I was just compelled to explore this prison. Overall, I have to say that visiting Hoa Lo was very enlightening. It provided a very thorough glimpse of the history of war-rich Vietnam and the significance of its prisoners here during those times. Of course, I would not recommend this tourist spot for families to bring small kids. Many areas that have been reconstructed for tourism purposes still had that dark, eerie and grim feel to it. Here are some pics from Hoa Lo:
8. Vietnam Military History Museum
I also spent slightly longer at this next stop. If you’re a war buff, this has to be a ‘must-visit’ place in Hanoi. They have quite an impressive collection of war vehicles, planes, armoury, cannons, etc. either collected or reconstructed from the Vietnam wars. My tip for those wanting to visit here would be to come EARLY! Strangely, they close at about 12-12.30pm so it would be best that this be positioned as early as possible in your itinerary.
9. Cột cờ Hà Nội (Flag Tower of Hanoi)
Right inside the grounds of the War Museum is this prominently positioned tower with the Vietnam flag proudly waving at the end of it. It required some climbing up the steep steps to get closer to the flag but in the end the exercise was quite worthwhile. 😀
10. Lenin Monument
11. St. Joseph’s Cathedral
12. Old Quarters
After completing your morning tour on the Xe Om, spend the rest of the afternoon walking along the streets of the Old Quarters to buy some souvenirs or just plain shopping!
For lunch, pick any road side stall and get yourself some delicious street food accompanied by ultra cheap Bia Hoi…
With half the day gone, what else is there to do in Hanoi for the evening of Day 1? Stay tuned for my proposed itinerary in my next blog!
Moments when their team wins a treble of trophies with two goals in injury time.
Moments when their team goes through the entire season undefeated.
Moments when their team rallies back from a 0-3 haltime deficit to win the Champions League.
Slightly more than a month ago, on 11 December 2014 to be exact, I experienced watching a football match in Vietnam’s My Dinh National Stadium. However, this was quite simply not an ordinary match. Some unexpected and unwanted events leading up to this match made it one of the most memorable football moments in my life. This is my tale of the events that transpired leading up to this epic moment in Hanoi.
The AFF Suzuki Cup is arguably this region’s most revered football tournament. On 29 November 2014, Malaysia had just came back from the brink of elimination to score two very late goals and beat defending champions Singapore 3-1 in their final group match. The victory meant that against all odds, Harimau Malaya, as the Malaysian football team is affectionately called, had just qualified for the Semi-Final stage. As runners-up in Group B, Malaysia would have to play Group A champions Vietnam whilst Group B champions Thailand would take on the Philippines in the other semi-final. The first leg of the semi-final between Vietnam and Malaysia was to take place in Shah Alam Stadium, Malaysia on 7 December 2014 and the return leg would be in My Dinh Stadium, Hanoi, Vietnam on 11 December 2014.
I was doubly excited with those developments because I had some business to attend to in Hanoi around the same time of the 2nd leg of this Semi-Final! What an opportunity of a lifetime to watch a live football match in another country cheering for your own country as the visiting team!! Wait, there’s more! There was even the possibility of watching Malaysia qualify for the final LIVE in another country! Of course, this would require Malaysia to perform well enough in the first leg first…
A Bloody Disgrace
On 7 December 2014, Vietnam came into Malaysia for the first leg encounter, totally controlled the match, made a mockery of our football and went home deservedly with a 2-1 victory. Unfortunately, this match would not be remembered for this victory.
After the final whistle, some shameless, idiotic, uncivilised Malaysians behaved like hooligans and attacked some of the Vietnamese football fans who had come to watch the match. Pictures of those bloody scenes quickly went viral and put Malaysia on the global map for the wrong reasons (again)…
Suddenly, the trip to Hanoi didn’t sound so welcoming anymore for any Malaysian, more so for any Malaysian who wanted to step into My Dinh Stadium for the second leg! I thought about it for a while (maybe about 5 seconds) before deciding I would still try to get the tickets since I would already be there anyway….
….but I soon found out that getting those second leg semi-final tickets was so DIFFICULT it might as well have been listed down as one of Hercules’ labors!
A Lesson in Persistence
Unlike the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, Vietnam didn’t have an official football ticketing hotline portal where fans could simply make their bookings in the comfort of their home. Believe me, I had been regularly visiting the AFF Suzuki Portal DAILY for updates on their 2nd leg ticket sales but there seemed to be none. The closest I found was some ‘aleale’ Vietnamese ticketing site which apparently has sold some football tickets online before. Unfortunately, the site didn’t seem to have any information on the AFF Suzuki Cup match either.
In desperation, I even started browsing numerous Vietnamese websites with the tags ‘Vietnam vs Malaysia’, ‘Suzuki Cup Semi Final’, etc. but to no avail. Many of those sites only increased my frustration by showing photos of local Vietnamese football fans queueing up to buy the tickets from outside the stadium! It was obviously hopeless to book the tickets online. Sigh. In the end, I realised that my only hope was to go directly to the stadium in Hanoi to see if they have any special tickets allocated for Malaysian fans there.
On 10 December 2014 (the day before the match), I boarded an early flight from KLIA to Hanoi. It was a pretty strange flight too. I mean, I had expected that a flight to Hanoi a day before the big game to be filled to the brim with ecstatic Malaysian fans but this one had only about 4 other fans (who also didn’t have tickets with them!) and a press reporter. Probably all the Malaysian fans were already in Hanoi. Yeah, that must be it…J
My kiasu Option A was to arrive in the early part of the afternoon, and get my airport taxi to stop by My Dinh on the way to my hotel. Thankfully, I remembered to pack some amount of sense with me for this trip. With some heavy luggage in tow, I decided to check into the hotel first before coming out again to the stadium. Besides, I might have to stand in queue for hours too. *shivers*
After I had checked into Paradise Boutique Hotel in the Old Quarters, I excitedly told the hotel staffs there that I wanted to buy a ticket to watch the football match tomorrow. With a horrified look, they all exclaimed in unison that ALL the tickets would have been sold out by now already. They continued to say that the only way I could get a ticket now was only through the black market touts, which was apparently quite an embarrassing industry in Vietnam whenever big events such as this one came up. I must have been totally stunned or speechless for a few minutes because the hotel staffs then tried their best to console me by making some phone calls to their friends to confirm the ‘sold-out ticket’ news. They even tried to call the stadium itself but there was no answer. In the end, they offered for me to watch the match on the hotel TV with them tomorrow night.
I was really moved by their kind gestures and efforts to help me buy my ticket and the suggestion to watch the match in the hotel. However, I just felt that watching the football match on the TV knowing that the stadium was like 40 minutes away had W-R-O-N-G written all over it. I knew in my heart that I just couldn’t give up so easily. But for that day, perhaps, I was done. Since the stadium was quite a distance from the Old Quarters and I also had a pre-arranged food tour at 5.00pm that day, I felt it was rather risky to try to go all the way to the stadium at that moment. So I decided to continue my quest for my ticket the next day, knowing very well that I would then have less than 12 hours to do it…
Early the next morning, I went out and flagged a Xe Om (motorcycle taxi) back to my hotel, where I sought the help of one of the hotel staff to translate my desire to charter his services for the next 4 hours. I calculated that I would need about one hour to get that elusive football ticket and the remaining 3 hours sightseeing around Hanoi. After agreeing on a price, the Xe Om rider suggested that before heading out to My Dinh, we could try out a ticket office at a smaller stadium in the city area first. I was glad that I had picked a rider who certainly knows where to buy football tickets!
After putting on my motorcycle helmet (which served no function because it was so thin!!), we sped off towards the inner city area. Within minutes, we arrived at the entrance of the smaller stadium where some middle-aged ladies swarmed around our motorcycle in an instant, flashing stacks of the football tickets at my face. I was shocked to hear that they were selling the cheapest seating tickets for VND1,000,000, which was equivalent to about USD50!! I politely told them no as my Xe Om rider took us away. For the next 30 minutes or so, I thoroughly enjoyed probably THE most scariest motorcycle rides of my life as my Xe Om zoomed in and out of the city streets, against the traffic, through red lights, etc. before finally arriving outside the gates of My Dinh…
Unfortunately, the situation was pretty much the same as the smaller stadium we just came from. There were some locals with a handful of tickets, offering to sell them to me for as high as VND 1.5M (USD75)! I tried my best to explain to them I was looking to buy any special allocated tickets for Malaysian fans, but it was rather hopeless since none of them spoke any English. I then motioned for my rider to take me into the stadium compounds to see if the there was any ticketing office open inside. So we rode around the stadium for a while but couldn’t see any opened counter either.
At that time, some Vietnamese high school students were either hanging out on the stadium grounds or warming up for some activity there. My rider decided to stop and asked them if they knew where the ticket counters were. When the school children found out I was from Malaysia, their tones started to change. Some chuckled and some jokingly (I hope) carried some athletics gear or staff towards us. Then one of them gave the universal call sign which struck me immediately. I should try calling the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF)! Now, why didn’t I think of that in the first place?! After a quick google, I found the website with the phone number but there was no answer on the other line! So with an apologetic wave, we left the students and was about to exit the stadium compounds when my rider proactively stopped a lady near the side of the road. After some exchanges of Vietnamese, the lady pointed her finger to somewhere across the main road from the stadium. Without delay, he took me across the main road towards the direction pointed out by the lady and before I knew it, I had arrived at the very gates of the VFF! It was just slightly after 10am that morning which led me to accept the possibility that the office may not be opened yet.
My rider then got down with me here and walked with me into the VFF (yes, it was strangely very quiet and empty inside too!), to look for someone, ANYONE at all that may be able to help me. We were fortunate to run into a rather helpful officer who could speak English (yes!!!) So, I immediately enquired if there were any special allocated tickets for the Malaysian fans for tonight and if there were, how or where could I purchase them? His initial response was to request if I had any official letter from FAM or documents from Malaysia. In exasperation, I told him all I was REALLY a Malaysian! And all I had was my Malaysian MyKad with me to prove that I was Malaysian! After (finally) believing me, he told me that to his knowledge, some 1,000 tickets had been earlier sent to Malaysia or some fan club but later they were all returned back to Vietnam. So he really had no idea if there were any more tickets left…:-(
Just when it seemed that my quest would meet its gloomy doom here, the kind officer asked me to wait for a while as he disappeared into his office to contact the Secretary General or some Director on his mobile. After 10 minutes, he came out and mysteriously motioned me to follow him into the office where there was just him and one other staff. When the door had closed, he put on quite a serious-looking face, narrowed his eyes and spoke softly in a creepy bass-like tone, “So, tell me…actually, um….how many tickets do you want?” I responded in a similar serious tone, “Err..just one. For me only.” I could sense a sigh of relief written on his face as he turned and said something to his colleague in Vietnamese. His colleague then went into another room for a few seconds before coming out with ONE FOOTBALL TICKET, which they were willing to sell it to me at its ORIGINAL PRICE of VND150,000 (USD7.50)!! The officer also told me this ticket is in Section D8, which is quite close to section D10, where most Malaysians should be seated. He even offered to make a few phone calls to find out if there were any Malaysian fan clubs travelling to the Stadium later so that I could join them if I wanted. I simply thanked him for going through such great lengths to get me a ticket. I was deeply moved by the hospitality and friendliness of the officer and his colleague to entertain a simple football fan from Malaysia. On the other extreme, I probably also looked like some football fanatic in desperado mode to get those tickets at all costs…:-p
In a cheerful mood, I left the VFF and went about on my sightseeing tour of Hanoi (which shall be blogged about within the next few weeks..). About two hours later, I received a phone call from this same officer from VFF, who sounded rather distressed. He told me that he made a mistake. The section where the Malaysian supporters are supposed to be seated is C10 and NOT D10! It meant that I would possibly be the only Malaysian sitting amongst the Vietnamese that night! He then offered me a full refund if I wished to return the ticket back to him. Since I was already back in the city area, I said it was OK and I felt safe to sit with the locals there. After going through such an ordeal to get my hands on the ticket, giving it up was the last thing on my mind!
A Lesson in Determination
The match was supposed to kick-off at 7.00pm. So at 5.00pm, I suited up in my Malaysian jersey (yeah, somehow passion overwrites sanity when it comes to football…) and made my way down to hail a taxi. I t was then that I realised I had underestimated the Hanoi after-office traffic! Not many taxis were able to come INTO the Old Quarters as with heading out TOWARDS My Dinh at that time of the day! Even Xe Oms were not really keen to go anywhere near My Dinh that evening. My mind raced frantically for options. Should I pay a premium price for any Xe Om or taxi crazy enough to take me there? Should I start running there on foot like, now?
Just then, a local couple checked into the hotel. Apparently, they were from the South, probably Ho Chi Minh area and they came up to Hanoi because the husband, whom I shall refer here as Bro V, had wanted to watch the match too! With the help of the hotel staff, we both agreed to travel together and share the cost of a taxi. In my heart, I thought it could also be safer for me to travel together with a local too. Phew!
After several restless minutes waiting trying to hail taxis outside the hotel, Bro V and I eventually found a 7-seater taxi (Innova, I think) to take us there. Actually it was more like forcefully getting ourselves into the taxi and demand that we be taken to My Dinh! The ash-stricken face of the driver was like he had just been mugged by two football fanatics! Anyway, the traffic that night was simply HORRIBLE. It was as if the entire city of Hanoi was headed to My Dinh to watch the match! The taxi virtually stopped every minute and visually it looked impossible to even get to the stadium at all!
Of course, I have to salute our taxi driver for that night as well. Knowing that the both of us had a football match to catch, he practically took many shortcuts through housing areas and drove as if he rode a motorcycle! The jam was also so frustratingly long that it was already 7.00pm (kick-off time already!) when we got stuck at some roundabout along the main road where there was a continuous stream of vehicles inching their way towards My Dinh. Although we couldn’t understand each other by language, Bro V and I nodded our heads in agreement as if we were in a Vulcan mindmeld. We quickly paid the driver his fare (plus a tip too for braving himself to come this far!) and disembarked there as we proceeded on our journey to My Dinh on foot for another 2 or 3km! Determination had taken over!
Somewhere after the first kilometre, Bro V suddenly motioned me to follow him into some bushes by the side of the road. I immediately understood and followed him there to answer the call of nature. If anything, I can erm, proudly say that I have pee-d by the roadside in another country! *ahem!* Anyway, the journey on foot wasn’t all about bush stories! There were also hordes of Vietnamese trying to sell flags and headbands…. literally in your face! At the same time, there were also quite a number of Vietnamese who muttered some stuff towards my direction but I was glad Bro V was there to fend them off, although I really had no idea what he responded! From his hand language, I deduced that he was telling them that I was Vietnamese too! 😛
Although the walk was pretty far (by my flabby standards..), my legs didn’t really feel tired at all. Perhaps the brightly lit stadium acted like some beacon of light, drawing us nearer and nearer to it. As we got nearer, the stadium lights felt brighter and our bodies felt recharged as well! So it wasn’t long before we arrived at My Dinh….
…only to discover that there was a 500 meter queue of humans, holding and waving their tickets in the air, trying to gain access to enter the main gates….and it was already 7.15pm!! This was where I said goodbye to Bro V, who managed to conveniently squeeze himself into the queue. Of course, it was easier for him because he was a Vietnamese and also NOT wearing a Malaysian jersey! Sigh. On my own, I wandered aimlessly until I found a security personnel and asked if there was any other entrance. All I got was a shrug. *&*&^%##@ So I slowly walked along the entire queue of humans to to survey if there are any Malaysians there which I could ‘tumpang’ and queue in together. Alas! There was NONE!!!
Being the very kind and courteous visitor in a foreign land, I respectfully lined up at the tail end of the queue. As I inched closer and closer towards the gate, I could already hear deafening cheers emanating from the stadium. So close now!!! Like everyone else in queue, I then took out my ticket and waved it above my head. Then all of a sudden, it was as if the officers at the outer gate didn’t quite bother checking everyone’s tickets as the entire crowd started to barge through the gates with ease! My next challenge was then to locate my section of the Stand – D8. Unfortunately, the signboards inside the stadium were not very clear and I had to practically jog around the entire stadium (from the outside, of course!) before finding Section D. I felt my heart pounding so hard inside of me as I wiped off the sweat off my forehead after my unintentional night exercise jog as the security guard opened the gate to let me into the Section D of the stadium. This was it. I could smell the excitement as I walked up the ramp of Section D…
…right into the immeasurable thousands of Vietnamese fans blocking almost every other available inch of the opening section of the ramp! I was completely surrounded by an ocean of red-coloured local fans cheering their team on loudly. The entire atmosphere that night was electrifying. Saying My Dinh was a full house that night was an understatement. It was clearly an over-capacity crowd. Most of the fans were not only standing, some were even standing on the top of the seats! I scanned around the over-populated Section D and came to one simple conclusion: I was NEVER going to get to my seat that night, EVER. Anyway, that didn’t matter much because I had finally MADE IT there! And to make things sweeter, the score at that moment was already Malaysia 2 Vietnam 0!!
A Lesson in Survival
So all I could do was to stand, stretch out my neck and watched the game from my current position at the top of the Section D ramp. It was a good thing I am quite tall too. Local fans around me were also pushing, tip-toeing, etc. but I had no complaints whatsoever. My country was winning! And then suddenly Vietnam were awarded a penalty. Gasp! When it was successfully converted, the entire stadium erupted in a united, deafening roar of joy. I really felt like I was trapped inside a giant boom box! Malaysia 2 Vietnam 1. The score was now tied, both on that night and also on aggregate. About 5 minutes later, the exact opposite happened. Malaysia sprung an attack from left where a cross was accidentally put into the Vietnam goal by its own defender! Malaysia 3 Vietnam 1! Just like that, My Dinh became so eerily silent. Surrounded by thousands of Vietnamese, I only cheered silently in my heart, for my own good. 😛 I also felt more and more stares darting in my direction now…
This was when I bumped into Malay guy on my left, which I will name him as Bro H, who was also tip-toeing himself to watch the game. We started to exchange a conversation (something hard to come by in Hanoi!!) and I found out he was actually a Singaporean! He was also there on business with his Vietnamese counterpart (who was also quite dark skinned, by the way) and decided to come watch the match with their wives. Strangely, they only managed to get two tickets in Section D (where we were) and another two tickets in Section C, where both their wives were seated. Suddenly, as we were still chatting and watching the game, Shukor Adnan struck just before half-time to give Malaysia a 4-1 lead! The entire stadium was completely STUNNED.. At this point, I began to felt slightly restless. It was as if more Vietnamese fans just realised there was a Malaysian standing in their midst. I don’t think the bright yellow Malaysian jersey helped much too. They were still watching the match but I started to feel a little uncomfortable. Perhaps it was a little bit of paranoia but it was then that I asked Bro H if he still wanted to watch the remainder of the match or to leave at half-time. With the away goals also in effect in this competition, Vietnam would now need to score THREE goals to progress – quite daunting even by their standards. Malaysia had seemingly wrapped up the match already.
I think Bro H also sensed the same thing so we decided to go and find their wives first. Besides, he also mentioned that they have yet to eat their dinner too. Upon securing both their wives, all five of us quietly proceeded to exit the stadium. But we weren’t the only ones. Many Vietnamese fans were also leaving the stadium like a wild stampede! It was almost as if the actual match had already ended! Guess these are times where you can see the loyalty of your home fans! Heh.
Our immediate challenge was to find a taxi. Strangely enough, this seemingly simple task was made more difficult amidst the chaotic scenes outside the stadium grounds with so many people leaving too! The numerous taxis which we saw parked outside the stadium were quickly snapped up. Bro H’s Vietnamese friend also tried to make a few phone calls to get a taxi to come to our location but no taxi seemed to show up! For the next few minutes, we tried to remain calm as we patiently waited for any taxi to stop for us. Bro H’s wife (who was in tudung) also shared her humorous experience where she had to regularly flash her Singaporean passport to many curious Vietnamese fans who kept staring and apparently asking if she was Malaysian!
However, things didn’t felt quite right when the clock ticked close to half an hour already! During that time at least 4 or 5 EMPTY taxis had ignored our hails and zipped past us without stopping. We began to question if it was something we wore (read: Malaysian jersey and Mrs H’s tudung..) or we forgot to wait at the taxi stand? Hmmmm. We even started to walk further and further away from the stadium gates to a more open space where taxis would have more room to stop for passengers. Same sad result. Bro H then suggested that I put on his jacket to cover my jersey whilst we hail the taxi. Before I took up that we offer, we worked out another strategy in tandem. Mrs H and I stood a couple of meters away as Bro H’s friend walked in the opposite direction to hail a taxi on his own. Almost immediately, a 5-seater sedan taxi stopped for him! The rest of us stealthily made quick steps towards the taxi as Bro H’s friend told his wife to get into the car first. With the front door of the taxi open, ALL of us made a sudden lunge towards the taxi, swung open the passenger-side doors and squeezed ourselves into it. There were five of us so a 7-seater taxi would have been more comfortable but considering the circumstances, I would have breathed a sigh of relief even if a trishaw had stopped for us that night! 😛
The next stage of my adventure inside the taxi was quite awkward too. The taxi driver, who seemed to grumble a bit when all of us packed ourselves into his taxi, was completely on mute button for the rest of the journey. The radio inside the taxi was on and it was broadcasting the live commentary for the semi final match (what else?!)! Everytime the very excited commentator screamed out something colourful, we would turn to Bro H’s friend and ask what happened or was it a goal? And his deadpan reply was a classic “No. Nothing. No Goal.” And even when Vietnam did score their second goal of the match much later, there weren’t any cheers inside the taxi. I was actually more relieved that Vietnam had scored. Made the overall scoreline more erm, palatable? 😀
Although I would have loved to have dinner with my new found friends, I politely declined because I also thought that the first thing I should do upon making out of My Dinh was to get myself out of my Malaysian jersey. Certainly didn’t want to provoke any more anger or hostility on foreign soil! So we got the taxi to drop me off in my hotel first before it continued on to the French Quarters where their hotel were. Of course, we did manage to exchange contacts and goodbyes as I came down at my hotel on that night, capping one of the most memorable football nights I’ve ever experienced in my life!
About an hour later, as I slowly sipped a cup of freshly brewed Vietnamese coffee in the chilly streets of Hanoi, I reflected on the entire episode of my experience in My Dinh again and observed three key lessons I have learnt here:
#1: Never Give Up!
Getting my ticket was already an adventure that was almost as exciting as the experience inside My Dinh itself! My unbelievable and crazy persistence in pursuing the ticket all the way to the VFF is proof that if we continue pursuing something with our whole heart, we will eventually get it!
#2: God Looks After His Children
With the euphoria toned down a bit, my senses began to kick back in and I realised that going to My Dinh under the current circumstances that night was already insane! But wearing a Malaysian jersey and getting into the stands surrounded by thousands of local fans? Downright irrational. What was I thinking? Apparently not. Anyway, I am thankful that God continues to protect me despite my idiocy. The presence of Bro V and Bro H are perfect examples of God’s amazing timing and provision of relevant people to surround me in my time of need.
#3: There’s Still Love in Football
From personal observation inside My Dinh itself, I can say that whilst Vietnamese really love their football, I don’t think they would resort to any violence that would tarnish their country. At half-time with the score of 4-1, the Vietnamese were really witnessing a TRASHING in their very own backyard. A loss of focus or an emotional discharge could have easily been triggered here. But the fans remained calm and continued cheering their team on. My fullest respect to the Vietnamese fans here. There’s still hope that LOVE still overcomes all forms of violence in football. Seriously I don’t want to know how would Malaysians respond back home had the situation been reversed? Hmmmm.
Mmmmmmm. Yes….the hot Vietnamese coffee was definitely good. But it doesn’t even come close to My Dinh. Now that football moment I experienced was something special. Something memorable. A football MOMENT that I will remember FOREVER!
My recent trip to Hanoi really opened up my eyes to the cultures and lifestyle of this capital city of Vietnam. It was my first ever visit to this country, so I thought I would list down some of my observations and lessons learnt about Hanoi..
1. Get a Local SIM card when you are there.
Mobile SIMs are surprisingly very cheap over there. I bought a Viettel SIM with 600MB data for only VND150,000, which is about RM25. I even had some credits to make about 10 minutes of international call as well!
2. Traffic rules do not apply in Hanoi
Traffic lights, roundabouts, road signs, zebra crossings, etc. are absolutely meaningless here. It’s ALL-WAY traffic where motorists moves in whatever direction they want!
3. Motorcycle Helmets in Hanoi are also meaningless…
Although all motorcyclists and scooterists wear them, it is as good as wearing a toy helmet! The material used is so thin I doubt if it offered any protection to the wearer at all!
4. Getting 5 seconds of peace is like striking lottery!
The streets of Hanoi is constantly noisy with horns blaring and motor sounds. If you are a light sleeper, you’d best find a hotel with near-perfect sound proofing…:-p
5. You cannot survive the streets without your HORN!
With fellow motorists to your left, right, front and back almost all the time, it is essential to HONK-AS-YOU-DRIVE/RIDE. Horns is Hanoi are therefore SO essential here they should just engineer it to honk automatically every 3 seconds. Seriously.
6. Hanoi riders and drivers are possibly amongst the most skilful in the world!
Moving around these streets with these kind of chaotic traffic on an everyday basis is proof of their incredible road skills!
7. Rubbish is naturally thrown on the roadside or just about anywhere at all!
Dustbins are hardly seen in the streets of Hanoi. So it becomes quite natural for them to just throw rubbish on the floor. every 2-3 hours, some cleaners will come around with a push-cart garbage dump to clean the streets…
8. Be prepared to HAGGLE
When going shopping, always remember that the opening prices is always marked up. So, be prepare to haggle and get the best bargain possible. Most shops in the same area sells virtually the same stuff. So don’t feel bad by declining one shop and testing out the prices of other shops. My tip is to counter the opening price by 40-50% and work from there.
9. One needs proper strategy just to cross the road.
in Hanoi, forget about the universal Look left, look right, look left again…cross. Here, the proper strategy is to simply PRAY, CLOSE YOUR EYES and CROSS THE ROAD! Hanoi motorists will somehow do extremely well to avoid hitting you! Don’t worry, about a first few crossings filled with heart attacks, you should be able to get used to it.
Here’s a sample video clip of a junction you need to cross in the Old Quarters…
10. Beware of street peddlers
There are certain groups of people hanging out around the streets who are always on the look out to make a quick buck. One are men armed with some small tools who will always try to persuade you that your show needs to be fixed. I was approached by these people no less than 5 times during my visit. The other group are lady peddlers who are a carrying fruit baskets. They would offer you to take a photo with their baskets….for a price, of course.
11. Secret meaning of XE OM
One of the cheapest ways of getting around Hanoi is by motorcycle taxis, or better known as Xe Om. You can spot them at most street corners on their bikes and a spare helmet. They will usually promote or offer their services by calling out Xe Om! After trying out their services for my customised city tour, I believe Xe Om secretly stands for Xtreme Entertainment On Motorcycle! Thrilling, heart-stopping and cheap! Definitely a recommended ride – since I don’t think they have any entertainment parks in this city…
12. Vietnamese coffee if STRONG
Since I am not really a coffee lover, I cannot confirm if Vietnamese coffee is the best in the world. It does however, tastes stronger than most coffee I’ve tasted. And anything hot and strong is surely good stuff to have in the chilly, breezy weather of Hanoi. And if the coffee here is strong, they also have Vietnamese tea here which is also just as strong!
12. Best way to LEPAK in Hanoi
Find a restaurant along the streets that serves arguably the cheapest beer on the planet, Bia Hoi (usually on sale at VND5000 (about only RM1!!!), pull up a stool, sit on it next to a small table, order your Bia Hoi, some food, and watch life pass by on the streets….
13. Sandwiches are HUGE!!
Before coming here, I knew a bit about the Vietnamese sandwich or Ban Minh. Wehen I reached here, I noticed another similar dish that was just as popular was their KEBAB. And the size of it just blew me away!
14. Be amazed with their telecom lines
If your free, try turning your head upwards and admire the stretch and bundles of telecom lines running (not very high) around the city area. Although the Government has plans to put them all underground sometime in the future, the telecom lines is a sight that has to be seen and appreciated.
15. Almost Impossible to tell the Originals from the Fakes
There are just so many FAKE stuff (handbags, clothes, shirts, etc.) in Hanoi that it is quite impossible to tell the real apart from the fakes. so the best thing to do is just to NOT go there with intention to get original stuff. Your expectations might just be crushed. 😛
16. Best Pho in the world
Personally, it’s just noodle soup with beef/chicken/pork to me, but many people seem to go ga-ga over Pho. Having said that, any trip to Vietnam would not be complete without eating this dish.
17. Making new friends during tours
Through the Street Food Tour and the Ha Long bay tour which I took, I managed to make many new friends from all over the world, like Germany, Chile, Uruguay, USA, China, France, Australia, Singapore and Japan!
18. Ha Long Bay tour guides are very good story-tellers and have creative imagination!
This is especially significant during the tour to the Dong Thien Cung, where one could see beautiful rock formations inside the caves. Trust me, after coming out of the caves, you’ll never look at any other rock feature the same way again!
19. Lower your sails of expectation for Ha Long Bay cruises
If you are planning to go to Ha Long bay during your stay in Hanoi, I’d bet you would have this picture of the cruise boat in your mind…
Do lower your expectations because more likely than not, you will board a boat without any such sails. When I reached the jetty area, I surveyed all the boats docked there and I spotted NONE with sails. Of course, having said that, try not to let the missing sails spoil your Ha Long bay tour. It is still a MUST-SEE tour when you go to Hanoi!
20. Standard of English is fast improving with the younger generation
I observed that whilst the older folk in Hanoi spoke almost ZERO English, it was encouraging to see most of the younger generation ably speaking the language. Most of these younger population would either still be studying or currently working in the hotel industry. Many of the English-speaking tour guides in Hanoi are actually university students working part time to get some side income. Even the young taxi driver that took me to the airport on my final day was happily listening to some techno-rock mash-up with shocking repetitive lyrics like “m***** f****** b****” Yes, the passion to learn English amongst the younger generation here is indeed very strong!
21. Get your hotel to help you get a taxi
Before coming to Hanoi, I had read many disturbing stories about the rampant taxi scams in Hanoi. There were cases of taxi drivers taking the unsuspecting victims for a free tour around the city before eventually reaching the destination for a higher price, obviously. Then there are also stories of taxis with ‘faulty’ meters that starts at a higher rate. My solution was to get your hotel (or any other hotel nearby where you are) to call a taxi for you. Give them your destination and request for the hotel’s assistance to be the spokesperson to tell the driver where you need to go. The wonderful staff at Paradise Boutique Hotel where I stayed even went the extra mile to check the taxi meter before giving the OK for the driver to leave. In addition, more often than not all hotels would have their list of reliable taxis they can call for their guests.
22. So many TV channels!
I was quite surprised to find the hotel TV with more than 80 channels!! Of course, the bulk of these are Vietnamese dramas…:-p
23. Exotic foods are quite easy to find here.
If you’re adventurous enough, you can quite easily find some exotic foods like dog, cat, snail, crocodile, etc.
24. No worries if you run out of Vietnamese Dong!
Whilst most shops in Hanoi readily accept USD and VND, I found out that they are also quite open to accepting just about ANY OTHER currency from tourists! Of course, you’d have to follow their ‘daily’ conversion rate. So at the end of the day, you may not need to convert so much VND t bring to Hanoi…
25. The weather is quite cold, chilly and breezy around Year End
Check the weather forecast before heading to Hanoi. When I visited this month, I was welcomed with breezy, chilly winds everyday. The temperature went down to as low as 12 degrees Celsius and only as high as 18 degrees Celsius.
26. Prepare to eat like a KID again!
Most of the tables and chairs in the Old Quarters seem like they were specially made for kids. My personal theory is that the stall owners don’t want table hoggers…haha…
27. Bring your own water to Ha Long bay
Most (if not ALL) of the Ha Long Bay tours will cover just the food, but not the water. Water (and Bia Hoi, of course) is happily served at a cost when the boat had already left the jetty. If you bring your own water, you could easily save some money here.
28. What souvenirs to buy home from Hanoi?
The top 5 popular stuff tourist buy from Hanoi are (i) Silk stuff; (ii) Coffee; (iii) Lacquer stuff; (iv) Pirated DVDs – around USD0.75 per piece!; (v) North Face bags!
Last August, work brought me to Taiwan, so I decided to bring along my entire family of five there as well. My children have already blogged about our trip there, but considering it was my first time there, I thought it would be good for me to list down my thoughts of Taiwan as well..
1. Taiwanese are overall very warm, friendly and helpful. And if Taiwanese aren’t available, their road signs and signages are pretty helpful too. 😛
2. Taiwan is one of those ‘left-hand drive’ countries. I had an unforgettable experience first hand at the Taiwan airport when we arrived when I almost boarded our taxi at the driver side..:-p of course, ‘left-hand drive’ countries would also mean having to adjust to walking on the right when not overtaking and left when over taking. It took me while to realise that when our taxi seemed to be speeding on the left lane..:-p
3. As a country that is undoubtedly in the forefront of innovation and technology, Taiwan sure has some of the more advanced looking bidets I have ever seen. Unlike the manual ones I’m used to seeing back home, most of these Taiwan bidets are computerised with plenty of touch buttons – basic ones being spray backside, spray frontside and dryer.
So I was rather surprised when I found one of these bidets with an additional button with a lightbulb logo. At first I thought it was some reading lamp but (out of curiosity) when I pressed it nothing happened. Until I stood up and saw this…
4. The Taiwan metro rail system is REALLY efficient. I usually measure this by walking blindly into one of the stations and see how easily and intelligent the signages and maps are able to get me to where I need to go. And in Taiwan, it was really easy. In comparison, the signages in Malaysia RapidKL rail system is so much more confusing. Seriously. :-p
5. In addition, the Taiwan metro rail is very family friendly too. Lifts were well and adequately placed in all stations. It was a very common sight to see families travelling TOGETHER on these trains, complete with their baby strollers! And you wonder why families in Malaysia don’t travel often in our LRTs….:-p
6. Apart from families, it is apparent that the metro rail is also very friendly to cyclists, pets, disabled people, etc. too. It was really surprising (and refreshing) to see many passengers travelling with their pet dogs in the train. Cool. 😀
7. One strange observation is the poor marketing of their tourist attractions. For example, when I went into the Taipei Zoo souvenier shop, I couldn’t find any T-shirt with the design printed words of “Taipei Zoo”!!! Nor was there any “Taipei Zoo” imprinted on the fridge magnets or any other ‘basic’ souvenir too! Strange, huh? How about when we took the Maokong Gondola. There was practically no souvenir items promoting ‘Maokong Gondola’ at all! It was as their priority is to promote Taiwan (country) first before the tourist attraction. Hmmmmm.
8. It is undeniable that Taiwan is essentially a “Scooter” nation. It is the preferred choice of vehicle on the road….so much so to the extent that you get to see ‘Scooter waiting spots’ at traffic lights. And yes, all motorists are very well -behaved and do not invade these spaces..(in case you were asking..:-p)
9. Technology is also very well used in the area of public toilets. I noticed in some of the toilets found in the train stations where they have a large electronic board on the outside which monitors which urinal is or not in use. Seriously! :-p
10. I also observed that overall, the streets in Taiwan are pretty CLEAN. The surprising thing here is that you can NOT easily find the dustbins! So where does the rubbish go or get cleaned up? Amazing, huh? 😀
11. As a pedestrian in Taiwan, you’d feel safe to cross the roads, especially at intersections where cars are ‘allowed’ to turn into a street where pedestrians could be walking, they have an unwritten ‘trust’ system that seems to work. 😀
12. Wireless Internet is easily accessible in Taiwan. Of course, as a visitor you;d need to register yourself first. Just make sure you arm yourself with your passport ad you’re good to go! At the Taoyuan Airport, go look for the iTaiwan logo and register yourself. iTaiwan covers most of the buildings and enclosed areas in Taiwan. The other free Wi-Fi service in Taiwan comes via TPE-Free Wifi Access, which personally I felt had better coverage of most tourist spots and outdoor locations. You can register yourself in any of their kiosks or information counters, typically found in popular Metro Rail Stations. Having said that, I have to say that the connection, whilst fast when connected is not very stable and tends to break frequently. Also I wonder why there are TWO different services offering free public Wi-Fi. Hmmmm.
13. The city never sleeps! We even saw some restaurants advertising that they are opened till 4am?!!! Best part is that even though you can walk around during these unearthly hours, it kinda feels SAFE.
14. As long as you love BREAD and MEAT (especially pork), you’d enjoy eating tin Taiwan. 😀
15. Bread is so popular here that almost every other corner we turn into is a BAKERY. 😀
16. There are certain ‘default’ items you would find as breakfast here, namely warm soya milk, braised/minced pork on rice (lu rou fan; 滷肉飯 ) and sweet potato porridge
17. For an iconic tourist landmark like the Taipei 101, I was really surprised to see that it is NOT near at all to the nearest Metro rail station (ie City Hall). When I got down in City Hall, I was shocked that I had to walk like another 1.5-2 km to reach Taipei 101! Would definitely suggest for them to build a station closer to this landmark.
18. We already know that most makan places in Taiwan closes quite late, so we were in for a rude shock when we discovered that the Taipei Zoo closed at JUST 5pm?!!! Missed the pandas because of this. Sigh.
19. It is NOT easy to find souvenir fridge magnets in Taiwan. I mean, I would have expected them to be found and sold on every corner of popular tourist spots like Ximenting, but apparently not. I only discovered you’d be able to find them in ‘fashion houses’, those selling shirts and cloths. Ahhh.. 😀
20. If you intend to travel to Taiwan with kids, especially those aged 2 and below…please think again. Think twice over. Then think again for the third time. It is really, very challenging. especially around tourist spots with old streets, plenty of stairs and crowded hawker places. So if you are travelling with kids, be prepared to sacrifice on places you can visit and length of time you can spend on places.