Exploring Hanoi City: A Tropical, Colorful, Communist Tokyo (Part 2)

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Hanoi — my favorite city in Vietnam!

Since I published my introduction of Hanoi yesterday, I’m now going to be detailing my experience here in tropical, colorful, Communist Tokyo!  I only stayed in Hanoi for 2 days because I spent most of my time in Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island, but it actually ended up being my favorite city in Vietnam.  Hanoi is super condensed and has a lot to see, so backpackers will rejoice at how easy and fun it is to explore.  I made a lot of friends here that I hope to see again during my future trips!

Hanoi VS Ho Chi Minh

The biggest decision that first time travelers to Vietnam will make is what city they want to see the most.  All of my Vietnamese friends in Japan recommended Hanoi because they think it’s prettier, but Ho Chi Minh is cheaper to fly to from most Asian countries so I started there.  I researched both cities thoroughly and couldn’t pick a favorite so I decided I’d see them both!  Fortunately roundtrip flights between the two cities are only $40 dollars, so you can easily see them both during your trip to Vietnam.

Reasons to go to Hanoi:

  • The streets are condensed making it easy to get around on foot.  Ho Chi Minh has a lot more traffic and you need to take a taxi or motorbike to get to some places.
  • You can access the emerald waters of Halong Bay from Hanoi.  Halong Bay usually takes 2-3 days to fully experience but is one of the prettiest areas of the country.
  • I found it much more easy to make friends here.  Ho Chi Minh is more spread out so meeting people outside of clubs was difficult.
  • There are more parks and nature around Hanoi.  You can also reach Sapa, a beautiful mountain village with terraces, from here.

Reasons to go to Ho Chi Minh

  • HCM is a huge international business hub which is why flights into this city are less expensive.  If you have an international driver’s license and are not afraid of motorbiking through huge crowds, you might save money here.
  • Though HCM isn’t near any beaches or beautiful waters, Mekong Delta is definitely worth seeing.
  • HCM has a lot of international cuisine and upscale restaurants.  I ate some of the best food I had in Vietnam here.
  • If you are a history buff, you will enjoy seeing the Cu Chi Tunnels here!

I recommend a minimum of 3 days and 3 nights in each city if possible.

Main Points of Interest

Here are the main points of interest I explored in Hanoi.  For food recommendations, please check out my Aesthetic Food Finds article!

  • Hỏa Lò Prison – One of the most historic prisons used during the Vietnam War.  Tickets are around $10.  
  • Ngoc Son Temple – A beautiful white temple located on Hoàn Kiếm Lake in central Hanoi.
  • Chua Tran Quoc – A pagoda on an islet in central Vietnam.  I walked here from my hotel and reached it in 30 minutes.  On the way there you can see beautiful parks!
  • Cat Ba Island – A beautiful island in Halong Bay.  I did not visit it because I went to Phu Quoc Island instead, but I would love to go in the future!
  • Water Puppet Shows – Vietnam is famous for its water puppet shows and my biggest regret is that I didn’t book a ticket in advance to see one.  I recommend using a website like GetYourGuide to buy one before your trip because they will deliver it directly to your hotel.
  • The Obama Combo – You can eat at the same bun cha restaurant as Obama did and order the Obama Combo in Hanoi!

Honestly the highlights of Hanoi were just wandering around the streets and seeing the culture here.  This was my first time traveling to a tropical Asian country so it truly felt like an adventure to me.  I loved going for morning runs and watching people do yoga in the park.  I bargained for a scarf at the Đồng Xuân Market and ate a lot of fresh fruit.    Seeing all the different markets influenced by the doi moi policy was eye-opening.  This is what I imagined Tokyo would be like if it hadn’t radically reformed after World War II.

However, aside from a few people most residents I encountered in Hanoi seemed truly happy.  This made me happy as well!

The Toilet Club

Have you ever dreamed of throwing a Communist party in a toilet?  Because at the Toilet Club (formerly known as the IP Club) you totally can!  This is where I spent my last night in Hanoi before flying off to the tropical island of Phu Quoc for my 25th birthday.  I chose this club because of its meme-worthy name, but the variety of music the DJs spin here is pretty decent.  They have regular house and trance nights along with an international selection of artists.  You can expect to see a lot of foreigners here, but it’s still a high-class club.  Worth the experience in my opinion.

I can’t even remember what I drank here, but I remember coming here on a Monday night so the entrance was free.  I met a bunch of backpackers from Australia and we exchanged travel stories.  I had so much fun dancing!  The club closed around 1am so I ordered a motorbike through Grab back to my hostel because that’s what was most convenient.  It was my first time ever riding on the back of a motorcycle, but fortunately I didn’t fall off!  What a way to end my night in Hanoi.

Accommodation

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HANOI GOLDEN -HOTEL-

Most accommodations in Hanoi are extremely inexpensive, so I decided to book a private room in the center of the city at Hanoi Golden Hotel for $20 per night.  The neon sign outside of the hotel makes it look like the entrance to a brothel, but the rooms were extremely clean and the service was outstanding.  They upgraded me to a family room for free because they had extra rooms available which was awesome.  The staff called me beautiful (in a respectful way) even though I had been walking for hours and my hair was super frizzy.  I couldn’t help but smile even though I know that flattery is cheap.  I definitely felt good vibes during my entire stay here.

What I liked about Hanoi was that there was no strange cultural or language barrier here like there is in Japan, so temporarily escaping that was nice.  Though I could never live longterm in Vietnam because I’d get tired of all the attention and vendors chasing me down, I do see myself vacationing here.  The main advantage is that travel in Vietnam is much cheaper than in Thailand or Japan.  Just be sure to watch out for taxi meter scams!  And learning how to bargain at markets will also be helpful to you.  I’ve learned through trial and error, plus a lot of negotiation (while sometimes buzzed).

Another strong point is people have a lot less in Vietnam but seem happier.  Woman seem more liberated too.  There’s a lot that you can learn by observing the life style of people here.  In my next article, I will be writing about my experience staying in Phu Quoc Island.  Please anticipate it, because Phu Quoc is my favorite part of Vietnam!

My Favorite Bars in Singapore: Nineteen80, Platform 1904, and Don’t Tell Mama

Singapore is not only home to the courageous Merlion, but is also a reputably safe country to go drinking in.  Like many big cities in Asia, Singapore has no shortage of unique night life places to explore until the early hours of the morning.  The plus is that almost everyone in this country speaks English among other languages and are generally helpful and willing to talk to you.  Most bars and clubs usually stay open until 1am-4am depending on the day.  Essentially whatever you’re in the mood for you’ll probably find here!

A lot of people enjoy drinking in the upscale Clarke Quay district near the heart of the city, but I did my best to venture off the beaten path and into the bars with unique themes and original cocktails.  Here are my top picks:

Nineteen80

When I was researching bars online, the name and theme of this one caught my attention right away.  Who doesn’t love a Nintendo-themed bar?!  Not only that, but they also have a number of Midway Arcade machines available to play, a worthy collection of cartridges displayed on the wall, and an original hand-drawn menu (my favorite was the shooters page).  There are also DJs that frequently play a handful of genres depending on the event.  I came during oldies night which wasn’t really my taste, but I still enjoyed the atmosphere of the bar.  Seeing “It’s on like Donkey Kong” written in the Sega font IRL in a foreign country was surreal.

The downside was the crowd was mostly drunken expats, and the music was loud so it was difficult to hear anyone.  Nineteen80 is definitely a “get up and dance” bar when they have weekend parties, so be sure to come here when you have properly pre-gamed (fortunately I had).  The cover fee was around 18 SD, but that included one drink so it wasn’t bad.  If the music was more my type, I’m sure I would have stayed here a lot longer.

This bar is situated near Chinatown, and is also in the gay district so there are a lot of interesting bars nearby.  I would recommend getting here before your main destination on your barhopping journey.

Platform 1904

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The deer seats add an interesting aesthetic to this Harry Potter cafe.

As someone who’s been a Harry Potter fan for more than half of their life, I could not pass up the opportunity to go to this magically themed cafe.  They not only brew magical potions filled with booze, but also have a full food menu with delicately crafted desserts.  I had previously gone to the Wizarding Worlds Cafe in Tokyo and had a great experience, so I wanted to see how this place measured up.  Platform 1904 has a more extensive menu and less of a wait time since it’s a permanent establishment (as compared to the pop-up cafe that I went to).  I enjoyed ordering a golden snitch cake and the Flaming Brew Cocktail because the presentation was very elaborate:

In addition to the golden snitch cake, there are many other colorful pastries for sale that all beautifully capture the Harry Potter theme:

The only downside of this cafe was the price.  I could buy a lot more food for a cheaper price at most restaurants around this area, but I came here once again for the experience.  One dish and one dessert are pretty filling, plus I mastered the art of potions class and took some neat photos in the process!

This restaurant is located Serangoon Road where many of the hostels are, so I was able to walk here.

Don’t Tell Mama

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What mama don’t know won’t hurt her.

First of all, I love the name of this restaurant–it truly stands out for being a Korean bistro.  Second of all, I love the shochu cocktails here.  They are absolutely gigantic and craftily tipped into a glass of margarita mix to create a wonderful flavor.  Though I’ve been to Korea twice, I’ve never seen a cocktail like this before:

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What happens in Singapore stays in Singapore.

In addition to this crazy concoction, they also have a ton of westernized Korean food available.  The kimchi fries caught my eye, but the downside of this bar was that all of the portion sizes were too huge for one person to finish.  Though I very much enjoyed my shochu cocktail, I was only able to get through half of it.  I looked around and nobody else at the bar was able to finish it either!  Though in this case it was worth the money, I wish they sold their food and drinks in smaller portion sizes so it wouldn’t get wasted.

This bar is located near Chinatown not far from Nineteen80.  I recommend getting only one drink here, else you will easily get full.

Overall I was extremely happy with my bar choices, because I had the chance to try so many crazy things that I’ll always remember.  I hope that those traveling through Singapore find my experiences helpful!

Sailor Neptune Nails from Nail Salon Glory (Tokyo)

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Since I decided to cosplay a swimsuit version of Michiru Kaioh/Sailor Neptune for a photoshoot, I wanted the most suitable nails for this character.  I looked at various nail catalogs online, but no design fit the one I had in mind so I decided to create my own.  Fortunately, most nail salons in Tokyo are able to create original nail designs using stencils, hand-drawn art, studs, and various gradients of polish.

I booked an appointment at Nail Salon Glory through Hot Pepper, and these were the amazing results I got:

My nails were absolutely gorgeous!  Since I have short nails, I requested the scalp nail course that will extend your tip to a custom length.  The nail artist used a combination of beige and turquoise glitter polish to create a gradient that looks like an ocean.  After painting a shiny coat over it, she added sea shells and pearl studs, as well as hand-drew the insignia on Neptune’s mirror that I requested.  I was almost speechless when our session ended because I was so impressed!

Most fancy nail courses start at 10,000 yen ($93), but they are worth the price for the amount of detail and effort that is put in.  There are various coupons that can be used to lower the price, like the ones featured on HotPepper.

Scalp nails last for typically 3 weeks and are perfect for every occasion.  Not only did I use them for my photoshoot, but they also matched the color of the ocean when I was swimming in Thailand.  I’m sure I’ll be back in the future once I think of more anime-based designs!

Is Scene Kid Fashion Forever Iconic in Tokyo?

Traversing through the streets of Harajuku–one of Tokyo’s most iconic fashion districts famous for pastel, lolita, goth, and designer street wear clothing–one would not be surprised to see bright-colored styles in all sorts of unique forms.  However, one piece of clothing in particular caught my eye.  It was a bright pink sweater with a green dinosaur on it and felt strangely nostalgic:

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Myself modeling a sweater from the dinosaur line at WC.

Upon looking at it closer, the dinosaur had a very unique expression on its face.  Its lips were parted in an extremely derpy way, and it looked liked it was trying to say something.  Not “roar” like you would expect a dinosaur to say, but perhaps something less intimidating… like “rawr”.  When I noticed this, I immediately thought back to the Rawr xD memes that plagued the internet in the early 2000s.  And it got me thinking…  Is Scene Kid Fashion Forever Iconic in Tokyo?  Or does it just coincide with Harajuku fashion?

Similarly to how Harajuku fashion is influenced by music (especially Visual Kei), scene fashion was originally influenced by rock and other subgenres.  Both styles feature brightly colorful attire that is sometimes paired with excessive hair clips, intricate makeup, big bows, and sometimes piercings as well.  Just like scene lingo exists, Harajuku gyaru lingo exists too.  When you compare pictures of the two fashions side by side, they are slightly different but fundamentally the same:

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Typical Harajuku Fashion.  Photo by Rebels Market.

Although Harajuku fashion started in the 1980’s, the gyaru and lolita subcultures started from 99′ – 00′, which was right around the time when scene kid fashion was starting to form as well.  Though it wasn’t until the late 2000s when the term “scene kid” was coined, a lot of people were wearing the style before then.  Regardless of when exactly they were formed, both fashions express a statement against conforming with societal norms and are designed to express individuality.

Though both styles have received both praise and cringe-worthy reactions from the public, I find that their connections are quite interesting.  Japanese fashion continuously uses inspiration from the west, and western countries often import and find Japanese fashion quite alluring.  I don’t think I’ll ever be a scene kid or a Harajuku girl, but I can appreciate both fashions for the uniqueness (and weirdness).  At the end of the day, I am extremely grateful to whatever influenced my derpy dinosaur sweater!