Thursday, August 23, 2018

Hanoi With Kids: Highlights of Our 6 days 5 Nights Trip to Hanoi, Ninh Binh & Halong Bay

9 of us at Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh - 27 July 2018

It had been a long time since we last had our family trip. Family as in all 9 of us. (minus Wen + family).
Travelling with a big group was not easy, especially with the age difference. 
Youngest traveler just turned 3 yo and there were a few 60+yo. Haha.

But it was a really great experience for all of us visiting Hanoi.
We planned our activities to include both the young and the old. And we preferred experiences rather than visiting museums after museums.
And so we engaged Tonkin Voyage Travels who was really good in giving us what we wanted - experiences in Hanoi and its surroundings.

Here are the 10 Highlights of our trip to Hanoi, Ninh Binh & Halong Bay:

1. Cyclo/Trishaw Ride in Hanoi's Old Quarters. 

We had a 1+ hour cyclo ride all over the Old Quarters of Hanoi. We saw the many buildings and such. It was very relaxing and that was the first time I sat in a trishaw for so long. Haha. So relaxing until Shern fell asleep towards the end of the ride. ;P

Vern loved it and asked to sit on it again everytime he saw a trishaw ride past us.


 2. Three, Four Or Even Five On A Bike in Vietnam

One of the many special experiences in Vietnam is to go on a GrabBike. 
We didn't do that but our guide fetched us on his bike for short distances.

The most canggih was 4 adults on a bike! Our guide, my sis, my mum & dad! Awesome!
But it was only for a short distance. Probably about 2 mins ride back to our hotel.

This was from our hotel in Ninh Binh to a nearby restaurant. 

This was a ride for my kids in Hanoi city. 

And oh, there was even once when we were stuck in the temple area in Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh due to heavy rain. After waited it out for awhile, it looked like the rain was not going to stop anytime soon. And it was a distance if we were to walk from the temple area to the entrance where our mini bus was waiting for us. We left our raincoats and umbrellas in the mini bus.

So our guide was bargaining with some local people there to fetch us out to the entrance. Three of them got ready their bikes to fetch us out to the entrance. A short 1 minute ride but then it saved us from running in the rain.
This was how awesome our guide was. He did things that were ad-hoc and went out of his way to really take care of us.

This was our short ride in the rain. Our bike person even gave me a raincoat to cover up Vern.

3. Learning To Make Tò He Figurine in Hanoi

Tò he is a traditional toy for children in Vietnam which is made from glutinous rice powder in form of edible figurine such as animals, flowers or characters in folk stories.

The moment I saw this, I knew I wanted my kids and even myself to have a hand in learning how to make them. I remembered seeing and even buying these when I was a child. I lived in Georgetown area and nearby my grandma's house there were people selling these whenever there was an occasion of festivals, together with the Chinese Opera Show or the Puppet Show.

Nowadays, I don't see it anymore. In fact, I haven't been seeing them for more than 20+ years.

And so I was really happy that Tonkin Travels arranged for all of us to be able to have a chance to learn how to make them.

The sifu demonstrating and teaching us how to shape the nose of the dolphin. :)

We learned how to make the Angry Bird, the Dolphin and the Rose.
Let me tell you, these were supposed to be the easiest to make and it was not east at all!
And we somehow managed to shape them, but only because the sifu already kinda shaped them for us before he passed the bits of paste to us.
So all we had to do was to kinda stick/assemble them and also shape them. And still ours looked a bit distorted when compared to the sifu's! haha. 

But then we were all proud of ourselves. 
Look at Vern's Angry Bird. He was mighty proud of his too! 

This remains one of my kids' favourite activity in Hanoi!

4. Exploring & Doing Pottery at Bat Trang Ceramic Village

Drove to Bat Trang Ceramic Village to visit the local craftsman who produce the famous high quality ceramics. We stopped at the ceramic studio to learn about pottery production and also to learn to make one ourselves. 

Visiting the huge traditional urn they used to use to fire the clay. Now they are no more in use and we had a chance to crawl inside to see how they are like. 

After that, one of the local craftman showed us how to make our own piece.

As usual, it looked easy but it was not easy. You need to use one hand to turn the wheel (and it needed strength to turn it fast and it was heavy!) and then use both hands to shape it while it was turning. And also you can't use too little or too much water. 
But we were all glad we conquered it. Our funny little pieces of art! 


And when we were waiting for ours to dry and fired, our guide brought us to explore the well preserved charms of a small village. We walked through many small, narrow alleyways before we reached the banks of the Red River and also the Ancestral Building/Hall/temple (my guess). 

All of us at the bank/jetty of the Red River. 

Front view. Back view.

Jumping shots. And yes, Vern was jumping but that was only how high he could jump. Haha. 

After about an hour plus, our pieces were ready and then we painted them with the paints they provided. 
Everyone was really happy with our end products, especially Vern which his has A B Cs on it. ;)

This was another one of my kids' favourite "art & craft" activities in Hanoi!


5. Sat On A Water Buffalo While Exploring Hoa Lư @ Ninh Binh

Hoa Lư was really so beautiful. It was full of paddyfields scenery broken by picturesque limestone mountains. Hoa Lư was the capital of Vietnam during the 10th and 11th centuries. During its glory days, Hoa Lư covered 3 kilometres and included and inner and outer citadel. Though the citadels no longer stand, Hoa Lư is home to a number of well preserved temples, dedicated to emperors of the era.

The temple grounds were all very well maintained too.

And it was here that my kids had a chance to sit on a water buffalo. 
When I say "sat" and not "ride", I meant it.
My kids literally sat on it for like 2 minutes for picture taking and that was it. Haha. 

So nope, this water buffalo was not being tortured. :)

6. Boat Ride at Tràng An (A Unesco World Heritage Site)

This was my favorite activity for our entire trip.

Tràng An is known as the Ha Long Bay of the land. But it is nowhere near the coast, though. The mountains are connected by rice paddies, not water.  

The scenery there was breathtaking.

We boarded one of the sampans / small boats which seats 4. We were given life jackets before we boarded. These sampans were rowed by local women and I must say, I was in so much awe of them. She rowed us for 2+ hours. Her hand muscles must be really strong to do that for so long. 

Hubs, Khye, sis, Vern & I were in a sampan, while Shern was with my parents, and ah yee.

Vern fell asleep before we boarded. I was a bit nervous because Vern didn't have a life jacket on. I think they only have 4 life jackets in a boat. 
But then since the water was really calm, I got over my nervousness.    

She paddled us down the large river towards the impressive limestone karst peaks.   
I love how serene it was and how I could just sit back and relax and to enjoy the view. Especially when Vern was sleeping and I enjoyed the peace and quietness, even for just a little while.

After about 20-30 mins, we were approaching a temple. We could go down and had a look but since Vern was still sleeping, we decided not to.

It was then I saw that nearby the temple, there was a small cave.
As it was drizzling earlier, the water level rose and we had to bow low to enter the cave.

Here is a short clip of us when we were to enter into the cave.
The video clip ended abruptly because our boat driver/rower called to us to bow down our head low.

Inside one of the few caves we passed through.

We emerged from the other side of the mountain and continued our journey down the large river. 
We passed by a few caves and we went through it again and emerged in another part of the landscape. It was really mesmerizing.

One part of the river, the water was emerald green in colour and very clean we could see what was underneath it.

Vern woke up halfway and was in a good mood after his nap.
He was really happy to be in a boat when he woke up. 

One part of the Tràng An boat ride was also home to the movie set Kong: Skull Island, in which our rower stopped us and we walked through it.

It was drizzling so we put on our rain coats. The kind lady also lent to us her umbrella because she saw we had a baby with us. 

The airplane used in the movie set.
Really pretty with the scenery behind us.

Passed by some huts too.

After about 1/2 hour, we got back on the boat and met back our boat driver/rower and she rowed us again for the last part of our boat ride.

See the very beautiful scenery as we sat on our litle sampan which paddled gracefully along the river. Best part of the boat ride was that it was not overly crowded by tourists.
We saw many locals there enjoying the boat ride.

Here is a short clip of us enjoying our boat ride. Super recommended! 

7. Water Puppet Show in Thang Long Theatre, Hanoi

Water Puppetry is a tradition that dates way back in the 11th century when it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta area of norther Vietnam.
It is called Múa rối nước Vietnamese, which means "making puppets dance on water".
These puppets are maid out of wood and the shows are performed in a waist-deep pool, making it one of the most unique puppet shows I have ever seen.

So how was it? I would say it was entertaining enough although the whole show was in Vietnamese. But then, it was easy enough to understand and 40 mins duration was just right. It was not too long for me to get really bored.
But I would say once is enough though. =) 

The puppeteers who were behind the scene during the show, and came out to take a bow at the end of the show. Look at them in waist-deep waters.

My kids enjoying the aircond, after walking for hours in the hot and humid street of Hanoi. 

8. Dragon Legend Cruise at Bai Tu Long Bay / Halong Bay (A World Heritage Site)

Another highlight of our whole trip was the 2 days 1 night junkboat cruise with Dragon Legend Cruise.

We spent 2 days 1 night in a junkboat cruise in Bai Tu Long bay (which occupies three quarters of Halong Bay World Heritage Site) while admiring the beautiful limestone karsts.

This was our cruise - Dragon Legend 2. 

I would say it was one of the luxury junkboat cruise.
For just 24 hours cruise, we had 4 meals. Lunch. Dinner. Breakfast. Lunch again.
Meals were semi-fine dining for Day 1. And buffet style for Day 2. 

They were very accomodating and made extra omelette for my 3 kids when we requested for it. 

This was our room in the cruise. 
2 in a room. 4 rooms in total. Even my kids had their own room. ;)

Our cabins were big with king sized beds and even a bath tub which opened up to great views while you bathe. There was a separate shower as well.. 

View from our room windows were amazing.
I could just sit in my room for hours just looking outside. Or just be like my kids...bathe with a view!


Up on the upper deck to take some pics. 

My sis took Shern for some kayaking at the beach they stopped for us.
Vern was asleep in my arms and it was raining so we didn't get down the small boat.

The cruise also took us to the Cong Do area to explore the well-hidden Thien Canh Sonn Cave. 
The bay in which the boat stopped for us to get down was really beautiful. 

We hiked up some steps and got this early morning misty & rainy view from above.

Inside the cave.

With one of the 2 guides from Dragon Legend. 

I took a short clip on our way home in the boat back to our cruise after exploring the cave.
Breathtaking views. 

Our only regret was the rainy, gloomy weather for almost the whole journey. But we still enjoyed ourselves a lot and hope to be back some day. 

I would definitely recommend this Dragon Legend Junkboat Cruise.
The price of the official website sounds crazy. We booked through Tonkin Travels and maybe because it was low peak season when we were there but it was way more worth it than booking through the website, in my opinion.

9. Street Food/Cafe Hunting in Hanoi

Vietnamese Food in my opinion was one of the best cuisine in the world.
I think they don't get enough recognition of it. Before going to Vietnam, all I knew about Vietnamese Cuisine was the Vietnamese Phở  and the Gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese Spring Roll)

But after eating just a few days in Hanoi, I love their street food.
Our ultimate favourite was the Bún Chả.

- Bún Chả - Grilled Pork and Noodle.
The noodles were fluffy and soft and although the soup was not boiling hot (and I usually hate lukewarm soup), the noodles were so soft after dipping into the soup/sauce. And the grilled pork was really flavourful and yummy.
It was so yummy that we ate it twice for the 2 nights we were in Hanoi.

- Miến Lươn - Eel Noodles/Vermicelli  
The eel noodle was not bad. The soup was flavourful but the eel was deep fried so it was crispy.

- Nộm Thịt Bò Khô - Green Papaya Salad with Beef Jerky
This was a refreshing salad. Vietnamese people eat a lot of raw salad. This one's with fresh green papaya with strips of beef jerky and a sweet sauce.
Their sauce is always very light and refreshing which I think is the success of a salad dish.

- Mỳ Gà Tần - Chicken Noodles
This was really delicious as well with the herbal soup. This place was nearby our hotel and it was always full of locals.

Quất Muối - Preserved salted kamquat drink
We got addicted to it and it was super delicious and refreshing. 

- Vietnamese Phở - Vietnamese Beef Soup Noodles 
We had one of the best phở at Phở 10. Forgot to take photo of the phở because we tapau/take-away. Even with take-away, it was delicious. Long queue for it though.  

Phở and Dry Hor Fan 
Nothing special which we ate at some random street. The Phở was not that good either. 

Hương Hải - Chè Ngon 93
Pandan Leaf Yogurt with Cheese was delicious. 
Love the subtle yet refreshing pandan jelly, and in one of the two pink jelly was a burst of cheese when you bit into it. 


Bánh mì - Baguette sandwich filled with savoury ingredients.
Our guide bought a few for us and it was delicious. Most were spicy though. 

Cà Phê Trứng - Vietnamese Egg Coffee @ Cafe Pho Co
This was a hidden cafe. We went past the souvenir shop next to the narrow entrance. The deco was eclectric with a fake and also a real cock at the entrance of the cafe. 

We needed to climbed up spiral stairs. Yes, we had rooftop views while sipping our coffee.
I am no coffee person but this was one of the best coffee I'd ever tasted. 
It was foamy and creamy and kinda melt in my mouth. It was almost like drinking hot melted ice-cream. 

- Coconut Coffee
It was nothing special. Subtle coconut taste in the coffee. The shop was near the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.

Ok, this was not Cafe Hunting but it was Girls Cocktail Session in our hotel in Ninh Binh! ;)

10. Roaming the Streets of Hanoi

Hanoi is a fascinating city. There are many shops that interests me, and also many mobile shops on bicyles and even by the people. 
I saw a "postman" (or postgirl) on bicycle in Huo Lu with parcels on her bicycle. 

The electric wires on the roads are not hidden underground but are exposed. 
And yes, I bought home one of the rattan bags for less than RM50. ;)


One of the best thing to travel with all of us together was that we took many many group photos of all of us, which we otherwise don't take back home!

At thr rounabout near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

At the Temple of Literature, Hanoi

At Ngoc Son Temple near the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

At the Temple of Literature constructed to workship Confucious in Hanoi
After Lunch in Hanoi

At the Temple of Literature, Hanoi

At the Temple of Literature, Hanoi

Tips: Babywearing was the only way to bring Vern along. Stroller was out of the question as Hanoi was not stroller-friendly. We also visited the outskirts area which we had to navigate many steps (lots of steps to temples etc) and uneven grounds, even muddy ones. 
Babywearing Vern backcarry in Ninh Binh - 27 July 2018

And obviously Vern couldn't walk all the way. His tiny legs would be so tired. 
And if I were to carry him (he only wants mummy most of the time!) for 6 days 5 nights, my arms and back would definitely be broken by now. 

So if you have a small baby or even a giant baby (like Vern!), please consider babywearing! 

Tips: Skip the Museum of Ethnology, well, unless you are a history buff. The interior of 2 levels were not impressive. Artifacts were displayed the traditional way and non-interactive. Mostly were just 'still' artifacts or just photos. 
The outdoor of the museum was a little better, where they displayed replicas of their traditional houses and compounds. So my kids could actually climb up and explored a little. 

But maybe also because this was done on our first day after the long flight and jet lag. 
So my advice is still to skip this. :)
At the outdoor of the Ethnologic Museum. You can skip this museum. It was boring!

Our Flights - Air Asia
We took the direct Air Asia flight which departed Penang at goddamn early hours 6.15am.
Which meant that we woke up at 3am and left for the airport at 4am! 
But then we got to sleep in the plane (Thank goodness all the kids slept for at least 2+ hours) and reached Hanoi at 8.20am.
All awake at the Penang International Airport at 5am - 25 July 2018

On our flight home, we also left the hotel early pickup at 5am for our direct flight back to Penang at 8.50am. 
But no complains as we only paid around RM 300 each for our flight tickets to and fro. Super cheap!

Our Tour Agency - Tonkin Voyage Travels

We engaged local tour Tonkin Voyage Travels for the whole of this trip. (pls click top right for the English version)
It turned out to be one of the best decision ever.
Besides our ease of travel with 9 of us and also with old and young, they also provided us with a very good guide. 

Our guide's name was Chien. (My kids call him Mr. Money!).
He made sure we were all well taken care of. He bought us sugar cane juice and Bahn Mi ad hoc. Arranged for bikes to fetch us during rain and even transported us with his own bikes. 
He went way out and beyond to make us feel really pampered. 

We were allocated a mini bus for 9 of us and including our driver and guide there were only 11 of us. I think there was space enough for 18. So there was ample space in the mini bus. The bus was air-conditioned and kept very clean. Mineral water bottles were supplied to us throughout the tour, which I found it very convenient. 

Meals that were arranged by the company was excellent. Too many dishes in fact until we told Chien to cut down on the number of dishes as most of us were small eaters. 

The person I dealt with to arrange for this tour was Vy. 
She replied my emails and whatsapp very promptly, even at midnight. 
She gave me what I wanted. An trip to Hanoi which was full of experiences. 
You can contact her at +8496 3454 119 or via her email at
(TIPS: Please quote my name and she did mentioned that she will give discount to my readers.)

Below was our brief itinerary of our whole trip if you are interested.

And below was our accomodation for our trip.

Hotels given were amazing. It had been a long time since we stayed in hotels as we were so used to staying in Airbnbs.
Kids also had their own room, mostly connected to our room, so it was really nice to have all the space and not being cramped.

All in all, I would say I am more than happy to recommend Tonkin Voyage Travel to my family and friends. 
Even with the very good reviews I read before taking this trip. I am still very much impressed by their service and level of professionalism shown to us during our trip to Hanoi. 

Besides Vietnam, Tonkin Voyage Travel also do Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. (Their sister company Tonkin Voyage actually specialized in French-speaking market)
So please give Vy a ping when you are planning a trip to our neighbouring countries. 

Again, you can contact Vy at +8496 3454 119 or via her email at remember to quote my name and she did mentioned that she will give discount to my readers.)

***Please take note that this post is NOT sponsored. I booked the whole trip myself and paid with my own money. All text and opinions are of my own and represents my honest opinion of the product(s)/service(s).