I can’t help but feel nostalgic. Six years is quite a long time to return to a place. Hanoi was such a favorite destination of mine back then. Yes I’ve treaded the streets of the Old Quarter before, went to an overnight cruise at Ha Long Bay and even enjoyed the misty coolness of Sapa Valley during my first visit in Northern Vietnam. But I don’t mind going back to see what has changed that’s why I didn’t think twice when an invite for a familiarization tour of Hanoi, organized by Cebu Pacific Air and Stratworks came in the email. There’s the certain comfort of stepping back into the familiar and also a certain anxiety to see how things have transitioned from now to then.
“Xin Chao! Welcome to Hanoi” greeted our English speaking guide, Duc, who has a distinct British-twang in his accent. Red-eye flights means we land in Hanoi in the dark so I had to keep my excitement until the morning to see the city in good light. But I did notice the numerous sky scrapers, probably condo developments near the vicinity of the airport which I didn’t notice before.
More than the One Pillar Pagoda
As with any familiarization tours, I just go with the flow, relax and let the organizers guide us through. Our first stop was to pay homage to the most famous man in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. At Ba Dinh Square, crowd of fellow tourist flock to get a sight of his granite mausoleum housing Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed remains. Just at the back of the mausoleum is one of the most iconic temples in Vietnam – the One Pillar Pagoda. This petite Buddhist temple was constructed by Emperor Ly Thai Tong as a form of gratitude to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara after he dreamt of being handed a baby. Shortly afterwards, he got married to a peasant girl who bore him a son. The place is enclosed in a small garden currently being manicured at that time. I did love the detail of the gate doors to the temple. The small shrine also is also interesting as there’s a panel where small thumb portraits of the dead can be seen.
Temple of Literature
I never knew until this visit that November is the graduation season in Vietnam. A visit to the Temple of Literature found us going with the flow of newly graduate students taking posterity shot of this momentous moment within the 5 gated courtyard of Vietnam’s first national university built in 1070. It was hard to really appreciate the place but still it was amusing to see these young Vietnamese serious about getting their portraits right. From balloon props, to ornate dresses, to wacky poses up to what may seem like a pre-nuptial shoot already. I still got to see the Turtle Steles, the pavillions and the altars of Confucius and his disciples.
Cyclo Into the Old Quarter
An hour in the afternoon was spent riding a cyclo around the Old Quarter of Hanoi. The pace was too slow for me I almost dozed off but got excited when I saw familiar streets, coffee shops I had drank before, or that souvenir shop I brought from last time. Aside from the numerous wedding and pre-nuptial photo sessions in almost every corner of Hanoi and the Old Quarter, I’m glad that the old world charm that I used to know and experienced is still there. Yes there are more shops with outdoor brands too but hey it’s a way people earn for a living. And I can’t blame those couples doing their photoshoot here as the colors, the architecture and the busy streets is somewhat admirable and photogenic. I know a lot of street photographers would revel here (hence the black and white photos). At first I was afraid those commercial developments like the high rise condos I saw coming here would have invaded the Old Quarter. It’s a good sign I didn’t notice them here. I guess those high rise were deliberately only allowed outside of this heritage city. If I had my time, I would walk these streets again at my own pace and try to discover more charming hidden cafes, shops or what ever’s there.
Our familiarization trip to Hanoi was sponsored by Cebu Pacific Air. Cebu Pacific Air flies from Manila to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam thrice weekly every Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturday, leaving Manila at 10:20PM and arriving in Hanoi at 12:30am. Return flights will leave Hanoi for Manila at 1am every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and arrive in Manila at 5:15am.
For bookings and inquiries, guests can go to www.cebupacificair.com, or call the reservation hotlines (02) 7020–888 or (032) 230–8888. The latest seat sales and promos can also be found on CEB’s official Twitter and Facebook pages.
All photos from this post were taken with a Nikon D7100. Visit Nikon.ph.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.