This experience guide is a mixture of the old and new. As we try to re-introduce Manila to you in a different angle.
How to Get There
One of the best ways to book your flight to Hanoi is thru Kiwi.com, they find you the lowest rates across hundreds of airlines with a guarantee from canceled flights, rescheduling, and delays.
Don’t get me wrong. I love traveling, but the traversal completion of one’s journey to point A to point B is that one must endure the process. You have your airport security, the long queue to security scanner, having your boarding pass check then revalidate, long cue yet again, immigration officers who are required to act stern and judgmental about every core of a human being that you are. Wait for more than 3 hours then let’s board the plane. There then again long queue, boarding pass check again, walk, stride or run. Cramp, jammed and sit swiftly then force you to endure your coach quality seats. Wait… Just about 10 more minutes when you’re all settled finally then the worst will ascend in front of you without before you know it.
I really didn’t know what to expect. I arrived pretty late at around 1 am. All I want to do is get on a cab and head straight to our Airbnb. The Noi Bai International Airport is approximate, 45-1 hour outside the city. It is pretty easy to take a cab, but the only challenge is the language. They don’t speak much English in Hanoi, but they can comprehend any gestures or simple English. With a general sense of confusion, I looked outside the airport and was surprised on how Hanoi seems so big. The way they build their roads and bridges going into the city as if it welcomes visitors and makes its first mark on you that they are progressing as a nation.
We finally arrived at our rented apartment along West Lake. The 2 am breeze is calming and welcoming. We were greeted nicely by our host, showed us to our room and we immediately got some shut eyes. The next morning, with this energy that I have I wanted to see Hanoi in the daylight.
There are plenty of options in Hanoi that can fit any traveler’s budget. Click here to check out rates and availability per location
As I was walking randomly for hours. I sat down, tired, on a small stool and we asked the man making the food to bring us whatever he was making. The bowl of beef Pho arrived, steaming intensely and full of flavor. Hints of mint, coriander, sauces, and limes hit my senses. I took a small sip. My eyes opened intensely, gave my bowl a second look. The stock is amazingly good. It tastes clean and filling. Finally, I affirmed to myself that coming to Hanoi is a good decision. I felt at home in a foreign country. Hanoi welcomed me and I knew my stay will be splendid. In front of me is a promising city, with one of the best food culture in the world.
Hanoi is on the opposite north part of Vietnam. It is the capital city. Saigon is located in the southern part. Saigon is the most popular destination for most tourists. How do they differ from one another? Everything from the way food is prepared to how piercingly people speak to the weather is almost bipolar. They couldn’t be more different. Hanoi is the more established, adult, contented and cultured father figure, while Saigon is the young needy millennial, busy finding his place in the city and growing rapidly in many different tangents.
You can see layers reveals periods of Chinese and French occupation- you can see a glimpse of history and the resilience of Hanoians.
Dine on the wild and wonderful at every corner, sample market wares, uncover an evolving art scene, then sleep soundly in a little luxury for very little cost. Meet the people, delve into the past and witness the awakening of a Hanoi on the move.
Hanoi Neighborhoods can be simplified into 6 parts:
- Hoan Kiem is the area immediately around the lake, which acts as the center of activity
- The Old Quarter you will find all the tourist, hotels, souvenir shops and happenings. High influx of people
- The French Quarter, colonial 1900s style. A quaint place that will transport you back in time as you step foot into that place.
- West Lake, A more polished neighborhood where the affluent and most expat community reside.
- Ba Dinh, massive landmarks, and government buildings are concentrated here.
- Hai Ba Trung is the most local than any other location
If you want to be located where all the backpackers are and you miss a slight chaos that’ll remind you of Saigon then, by all means, you stay around the French Quarter area. Personally, I prefer the in-between space. If you are coming to the city for only for a couple of days I would recommend staying right in between of the Old Quarter and West Lake. After a long day of going around, it’ll be nice to have some peace and quiet. There are plenty of options of hosted Air BnB’s to choose from that are quite reasonable.
Getting Around Hanoi
Vietnam is known to be a motorcycle country pretty much the most dominant form of transportation for locals. These bikes bully bigger cars and don’t seem to mind breaking every bit of traffic law in the city. They drive recklessly yet calculated and don’t honk most of the time even if you’re walking on the right path for pedestrians. Do not get offended though it is just the way it is with their driving culture. They aren’t mad, only a little impatient.
- There are plenty of cabs around the city, be mindful though of other cab drivers as they tend to rip you off if you’re a tourist with their meter machine running 3-4x faster. I recommend getting the ABC Taxi Co. as their flag downs and fare machine is honest and bills you the right amount.
- Should you choose to take the railway train or buses as it is cheaper. However, do not expect efficiency with drop-offs and scheduling.
- You may opt to rent a motorcycle that’ll cost you for as low as $5/day.
Scooters as far as the eye can see with three passengers each all dangerously dancing around each other like a well-rehearsed play.
What to see
I would recommend exploring the streets thru walking and the everyday life of the locals. Key sights for mandatory tourist attractions that are worth visiting are:
- The Imperial Citadel
Quán Thánh, Ba Đình, Hanoi
- The Temple Of Literature
Văn Miếu, Đống Đa
- The Opera House
1 Trang Tien St, Hanoi
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Hùng Vương, Điện Biên, Ba Đình, Hà Nội
- The Perfume Pagoda
Hương Sơn, Mỹ Đức, Hanoi
Most of these sites don’t charge any fees.
There are plenty of travel stalls offering day trips to:
- Duong Lam Ancient Village
- Halong Bay (if you have been to El Nido. El Nido is way better)
- Duong Lam Ancient Village
You will read a lot of different blogs on what to do and where to go in Hanoi. What I did was to make my own mandatory food curriculum of what I had to try based on research and plain walking around the city. Hanoi has a very prominent food and coffee culture, and during my stay, I missed most of the tourist spots just so I can really immerse myself in it.
Cost Set Back Average:
- Phở- 50,000 Dong =106hp or 2.12USD
- Coffee and Egg Coffee- 50,000 Dong=95 USD or 2USD
- Bun Cha = 50,000 Dong =106hp or 2.12USD
- Bahn Mi– 25,000 Dong= 53php or 1USD
People belonging from different social class becomes equal in front of a myriad of food stalls peppered along every road and avenue. You have not truly experienced Vietnamese cuisine if you haven’t had it here. People drive in their motorbikes. Men dressed in their silk shirts and women covered from head to toe with cotton garments to protect themselves from the sun and dirt no less. They park their motorcycles in an efficient manner in front of stores. Chose where you will eat, pick from an extremely concise menu. The stalls differentiate themselves with white and block letters that signify what kind of food they are serving.
There are so many reasons for travelers to come to Hanoi, but the food and the vibe the city offers are the ones that keep me coming back.
Street Food Etiquette and Tips:
- Be ready to find the first available vacant seat, regardless of whether all the tables are beside each other.
- Sum up your sign language and pointing skills and be straight to the point regarding which food you want. Vendors can pick up easily what you are trying to say to them.
- All condiments are for sharing, don’t be surprised when someone randomly grabs your chili or sauces.
- Don’t be too picky, you will be using the chopsticks in the middle of the tables. And yes you will see these same chopsticks washed on the side of the road.
Vietnamese Phở vocabulary:
Phở: (Pho, pronounced “fuh” with u as in “but”) is an iconic Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of a clear meaty broth filled with rice noodles, cuts of meat, and topped with fresh green herbs.
Phở bo: beef soup noodles.
Phở ga: chicken soup noodles.
Phở lon: pork soup noodles.
Phở bo tai: sliced rare beef soup noodles.
Phở bo vien: noodle soup with meatballs.
Phở bắc: literally “Northern” pho, a noodle soup from Hanoi and surrounds that tend to use wider rice noodles than Southern pho as well as green onions.
Every time I am coming down with a cold and am having a serious hankering for a bowl of Pho Ga— I think about that particular day where I sat on a small stool in Hanoi and that hot bowl of Pho Ga being served right in front of me.
Cafe Dinh and Cafe Giang
Overall, the Hanoi food experience is far beyond what I was expecting. In total, we are giving Vietnam’s kitchen a whopping 4 Extra Rice Rating!
What Hanoi Represents
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Visit these 62 listed countries below Visa Free!
This entry will be as straightforward as it is. We’ve summarized regions where us, Filipinos can enter their country visa-free!
- Brunei – No VISA; allowed for 14 days
- Cambodia – No VISA; allowed for 15 days
- Indonesia – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Laos – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Malaysia – No VISA; allowed for 14 days
- Myanmar – No VISA; allowed for 14 days
- Singapore – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Thailand – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Vietnam – No VISA; allowed for 21 days
- Azerbaijan – You will get a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 30 days
- Georgia – You will get a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 90 days
- Hong Kong – No VISA; allowed for 14 days
- India – You will get a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 30 days
- Iran – You will get a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 15 days
- Israel – No VISA; allowed for 90 days
- JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – No VISA required, 30 days
- Macau – Visa not required – 30 days
- Maldives – You will be issued a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 30 days
- Mongolia – No VISA; allowed for 21 days
- Nepal – You will be issued a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 90 days
- Sri Lanka – You will be issued a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 30 days
- Timor Leste – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Costa Rica – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- The Dominican Republic – No VISA; allowed for 21 days
- Haiti – No VISA; allowed for 90 days
- Nicaragua – You will get a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 90 days
- Saint Lucia – No VISA; allowed for 42 days
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – You will get a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 30 days
- The Turks and Caicos Islands – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Bolivia – No VISA; allowed for 90 days
- Brazil – No VISA; allowed for 90 days
- Columbia – No VISA; allowed for 90 days
- Equador – No VISA; allowed for 90 days
- Peru – No VISA; allowed for 183 days
- Suriname – No VISA; allowed for 90 days
- Kosovo – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- The Cook Islands – No VISA; allowed for 31 days
- Fiji Islands – No VISA; allowed for 120 days
- Marshall Islands – You will get a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 30 days
- Micronesia – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Niue – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Palau – You will be issued a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 30 days
- Samoa – No VISA; allowed for 60 days
- Tuvalu – You will be issued a VISA upon arrival; this will be valid for 30 days
- Vanuatu – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Burundi – No VISA; allowed for 30 days
- Togo- Visa upon arrival
- Cape Verde – You will be issued a VISA upon arrival
- Morrocco – No VISA
58 countries without acquiring a tourist visa. Go forth and wander.
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- BOOK ACCOMMODATIONS: Get room availabilities and best rates with real user reviews via Tripadvisor.com
- MOBILE NETWORK and CONNECTIVITY: We tried out Flexiroam just attach the Flexiroam X ultra-thin microchip to your SIM and enjoy data roaming in over 100 countries. Hassle free of not renting out any wifi devices in the airports and making cash deposits. You don’t have to change your SIM or subscribe to any local telco when you are traveling. Easy, convenient and cheaper way to get data.
Disclaimer: Changes may occur over periods of time based on per country prohibitions so do check from time to time. We’ll try to refresh our summarize list every 3 mos.
Travelling. Long haul or a few days worth of just wandering. Why do I do it anyway?
I count my allowable number of days of vacation leaves; I ponder, then decide what to do. Search online, scour thru my ‘to-see’ list then my mind finally agrees with my soul and decides that I do deserve to go on a vacation.
A general sense of confusion, early morning flights, Metro Manila traffic going to the airport, the possibility of going thru obscure places and miscomprehensions of languages. I pack my bags and always confuse what to bring, subject myself to being searched and patted down at airport security. I pass thru security and I’ve boarded the plane. Once seated, sweaty, clueless as to what to do in the next hour or two. Eager on what will happen throughout the day.
Our ancestors are nomadic people who are always on the move, going through different conditions. In their quest for greener pastures, vast lands and better source of food. Present day, most of us sit in front of our computers and glued in our cubicle. Mind numbingly on autopilot not knowing that 7-9 hours of the day had passed. Hopefully, you are doing a job you enjoy, to pay the bills, government contributions, taxes at the end of the month. Incessantly living the same routine for 5 days/week
I travel to break the norm, to refresh my soul and to regenerate my integrity to myself that I deserve to regain back my wits. Arriving in any destination, exhausted yet instantly rewarded with a sense of fulfillment. It is our human nature to defy the rule of monotony and to always be inquisitive with what is out there for us.
After my food binge in Cebu City and before I even attempt to cover the immensity of Cebu, I wanted to see Bantayan Island. I have been reading good reviews and recommendations from people that I know that the island is picturesque with powdery white sand and turquoise water.
The L-shaped Bantayan Island is composed of three towns namely, Sta. Fe, Bantayan and Madridejos. While Bantayan and Madridejos are known to be the centers of fishing and commerce in the island, Sta. Fe is the resort town.
How to get to Bantayan Island ( via Cebu)
There is no easy way of getting to Bantayan Island, but the journey to this place will be rewarded by the magnetism of a tropical island.
The Island has its own airfield but no commercial airline has flown to it since 2011. Mactan-Cebu International Airport will be your start-off point. Cebu City will be your gateway. From the Mactan Airport, go the Cebu North Terminal and catch buses going to the Hagnaya Port in the town of San Remigio.
CEBU CITY> HAGNAYA PORT> STA.FE BANTAYAN ISLAND
I recommend riding the Ceres Buses. It is cheap and can get you efficiently to the island. They brought new buses so relatively the ride going to the port will be comfortable and faster as compared to the last time I went to Bantayan.
- 165-200php or 3.50USD– Air-con bus to Hagnaya Port
- 140php or 8USD – Non air-con bus to Hagnaya Port
Same fares for the return trip to Cebu City. These buses leave about every 30 minutes. Just jump on board. No need to buy a ticket ahead of time. The first trip starts as early as 4:00 AM and their last trip are at 5:00 PM daily.
Ceres Direct Bus – Cebu City North Bus Terminal to Bantayan Town
Ceres runs several buses a day that drives onto the ferry (RORO – Roll On Roll Off) and comes all the way here to Bantayan Island. Literally loading the bus to the ship. The end stop is in Bantayan Municipality, but you can get off at the Santa Fe Port and take a tricycle to your resort.
The bus passes by downtown Santa Fe as well so you can get off anywhere along the way if you’re staying in the town center area.
Just let the conductor know when you want to stop and they’ll accommodate you.
The benefit to the direct bus is that you don’t have to lug your bags onto the ferry by hand or negotiate with porters if you have a lot of luggage.
Roro Tickets cost around 170PHP or 3.50 USD plus port of fee of 10php.
Contact Number for Valacar Transport (Ceres Buses): 032 345 8650
Where to Stay in Bantayan
The island is abundant in resorts and other accommodation options. Prices are reasonable. Below are my recommended places based on location, price, and feedbacks:
Mid-Range (Click titles for availability)
- CouCou Beach Resort (starts at 1,200php or 29USD/Night)
- Anika Island Resort (starts at 1,900php or 38USD/Night)
- Kandugyap House by the Sea (starts at 1,900php or 38USD/Night
- Santa Fe Beach Club (starts at 1,200php or 29USD/Night)
For budget travelers, Kota Beach Resort and Mayet’s Resort have budget fan room for as low as 600php or 12USD per night, both are strategically located along Sta. Fe Beach. Check out other Tripadvisor COMPLETE Bantayan Island listing.
We stayed in Anika Resort. I highly recommend this place as their rooms are clean, mattresses are comfortable and prices for their rooms are quite sensible. Per room can accommodate up to 3-4 people, but you have to check their 2017 current policy for occupancy.
Arriving at Bantayan, going thru the vast port you smell the cleanliness of the ocean, the sun basking over you but you won’t mind the heat because it’s gorgeous rays compliments the azure water. From the port, you can immediately see the wide stretch of fine white sand that glistens as you get closer. The exhaustion from the travel went away as the island’s beauty immediately welcomed me with its open arms and my heart jolted with excitement. I had fallen in love instantaneously.
Where to Eat
The island is abundant in fresh, very cheap seafood. Think about being able to buy a kilo of crabs for just 160php (3USD), bags of grilled scallops less than 100php (2USD)
I like the laid-back lifestyle on the island. Well, all islands are pretty laid back, but what sets Bantayan apart is that commerce is pretty strong. If you go around its municipality you can see various shops, micro public markets and restaurants. Considered as Cebu’s fishing ground from where boatloads of fish – guinamos (salted fish) and buwad (dried fish). I highly recommend that you go and check out the Bantayan Island Public Market to witness the abundance of seafood and if you are also buying dangit you can get them at a cheaper price and with many variants.
There are times where we eat at Anika’s restaurant. They serve good food, but a little.expensive as the prices on their menu are intended of course for tourist, Nevertheless, their food is good and still gives value to what we pay for.
Locals randomly walk pass by the resort and offer ‘Paluto’ (buy your ingredients then they’ll cook and serve any viands for you) with a minimal service fee. My friends and I discovered the public market because of Ate Marlyn one of the locals who offered to cook our meal the following day and serve it in her home which is a pretty good deal because her place is right at the beachfront and she only charged us 200php for cooking 4-5 dishes. There was so much food that we were able to share our lunch with her whole family.
After having the perfect lunch you are permitted to be in daze and be lazy all afternoon
Bantayan has a pretty strong restaurant scene as well. Here are a few recommendations for you;
- Bantayan Burrito Company
- Caffe Del Mare
- Shake Me
- Ale Pasta
- HR Native Restaurant
- Bavarian Beer Garden
I highly recommend HR Restaurant as they have massive servings that are relatively cheap without compromising the integrity of ingredients. Bavarian Beer Garden, go here for their generous serving of sausages and imported german beers.
What to do
Explore Bantayan Town on a Bike
Go around the town by riding a bicycle. There are many surplus bikes from Japan that are for rent. They are randomly being offered at the sidestreet or you may just ask your resort front desk and they’ll arrange it for you.
You shouldn’t worry about safety since the town is pretty laid-back and you will rarely see big cars/vehicles along the road but still be cautious. Mostly the route is on a flat road, with some uphill and downhill part.
After taking the 11-km bike ride, you can now explore Bantayan Downtown, home of Cebu’s oldest Parish Church – Saints Peter and Paul Church. You can have a walk at the town plaza, seeing some well-preserved houses designed during the Spanish colonization. The Bantayan Public Market is also a walking distance from the area.
After going around the surrounding town and market. Bike to Ogtong Cave Resort. The resort landscape is pretty basic and the only thing that makes it special is the underground cavern. It can get pretty crowded with tourist though, as for me personally, it is okay to miss this location. There are a number of caves in Bantayan. The one in Brgy. Atop-Atop was a favorite hangout place of the guerillas during the World War II.
Island Hop and Snorkel
Rent a boat for 1,200php (20USD) to go to Virgin Island. Along Sta. Fe just walks around and approach any boatman and they’d offer you to take you island hopping. Virgin island has white powdery sand and the best thing about that place is along the shore there are plenty of fish. ou don’t even need to go out and snorkel. Just stay still and the fishes will come to you. If you’re afraid to go out to the deep, this is the place for you.
Pause and Enjoy.
Going back to why we travel. It is basically pausing for a few days and being in a conscious state that you are at a place like Bantayan to reward yourself with serenity.
The island is kind. It’s turquoise blue water, the curtain of silk sky perfectly casting shadows as it sways you to your perfect naps during the afternoons. The water is always calm with gentle waves rolling onto the shore making soothing sounds. You can smell the salt, and the gentle wind kisses your skin as you affirm to yourself that you are actually having a perfect day. Peaceful and you are centered.
A couple of things struck me in Bantayan Island and its people. Its beauty and spirit are resilient. It was one of the heavily damaged islands during Yolanda. Hundreds were left dead, farms were destroyed and everything cut off. But it fought it’s way back to life. It fought back so hard that when you visit them this day you will see how well it was re-built. How its people manage to move forward. I witnessed how children in Bantayan are the happiest. They live a very simple life, yet abundant. We travel to search for inspiration from the people that we interact with along the way. To be put in situations that don’t make sense, to push our minds to think beyond our daily routine, to learn, and ultimately become awake from our daze. Traveling grounds us and gives us awe with the world that we live in. I will keep coming back to Bantayan Island as it reminds me that life does not need to be complicated. That traveling to a place like Bantayan instantly resets my clouded mind and re-humanize me as a person.
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