Good Morning, Vietnam

After the flight delay at the Siem Reap International Airport, we finally left on our flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. We arrived in Hanoi more than two hours after the scheduled arrival time. It was pretty late in the evening by then, so it did not take long for us to get through immigration and wait for our luggage. I had requested a pickup service through the hotel where we’re staying in the Old Quarter part of Hanoi. I was a little worried that because our flight was delayed we would miss the pickup. However, thankfully the driver actually patiently waited for us, and we were able to locate him when we exited the airport.

The drive from the Hanoi Noi Bai Airport to the Old Quarter took about twenty minutes or so. Hanoi seemed quite more modern than Phnom Penh, but not as developed as Bangkok. When we got closer to the Old Quarter we saw what we read in the guidebooks: narrow streets and very dense areas. It was weekend evening, so there were still quite a lot of activities out on the street.

When we arrived at our hotel, the Hanoi Serenity Hotel, we were welcomed by the young lady at the front desk that doubled up as the concierge and also a tour business. She gave us our room assignment, and it was on the fifth floor of the building. There was no elevator to go up, so she had one of the hotel staff members helped us with our luggage to go to our room. Originally we were planning on at least getting a dinner at a restaurant in Hanoi for that night. But it was close to 11 pm by the time we settled in our room, and since we’re not even familiar with the area near the hotel and we had a long day following, we decided to just call it a night.

In the morning, we got up pretty early, and we went down to the ground floor to a breakfast area at the back of the hotel. There they had complimentary breakfast made fresh to order. We looked at the menu, and I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon. The breakfast items were pretty much like what I expected, though it was served with a baguette. Similar to Cambodia, some of the French colony influences remained in the culture, including the use of baguette for sandwiches or as part of a meal. The baguette in Vietnam seemed to be lighter and more airy than the French baguette I had elsewhere.

Along with the meal, we could also make our own coffee serving. This became the favorite way to start the day for Kristi and me… making a nice cup of hot Vietnamese coffee mixed with condensed milk (cà phê sữa nóng). After the nice meal and coffee, we’re ready to start our day exploring Hanoi. Technically we were checking out from our room that morning as we would be going to Sapa that night, but the lady at the hotel front desk was nice enough to allow us to leave our luggages in our room, and she said they would bring those down to the ground floor and store them for us while we went out and about in the city, and we could just pick up the luggages before we leave in the evening.

Here was the nice breakfast I had that morning, the scrambled eggs, bacon, and baguette.

Breakfast

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Pub Street

Pub Street is a street in downtown Siem Reap, Cambodia, that is well-known among the foreign tourists as a place to visit in Siem Reap. It is located only a few blocks away from the Old Market (Psar Chaa). From its name, you can guess that on this street you can easily find places to eat, drink, and socialize. It reminded me to the area near Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh or Khao San Road in Bangkok. While you can see activities during the day, the place is even more crowded at night as the foreign visitors who go to the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park during the day come here to have dinner, shop, and relax. The area is popular as a late night destination as well with its clubs and other establishments that open late.

We went to the Pub Street area on our second night in Siem Reap. Initially we thought we might eat at one of the restaurants there as many of them were mentioned in the guidebooks. However, while we were waiting for our hotel shuttle to take us to downtown, we met a British couple who was staying at the same hotel and had been in Siem Reap for several days, and they recommended a restaurant on the Market Street to try out (close to the Pub Street, but not exactly one of the more well-known Pub Street restaurants). We wanted to have dinner at a Cambodian restaurant serving Khmer dishes, not at one serving Western foods. Apparently the restaurants on Pub Street are more catered to the western audience, so while it might be a good place to find dishes like pizza or steak, you might be better off going elsewhere for more authentic Khmer dishes.

We did walk through the street on the way to the restaurant where we had dinner. Pub Street is not that long to cover in a few minutes of walking, and when we went through there it was still early in the evening that the places had only started getting visitors, and in comparison it was not quite as crowded as Khao San Road in Bangkok when we visited few days before. But later on in the night it did get more crowded, especially as the pubs and restaurants on the street were getting ready to welcome the New Year at midnight that night.

The photo below as taken as walked through the street. This is the Red Piano Restaurant, one of the well-known restaurants on Pub Street that is popular among the tourists. It’s known as the favorite place of Angelina Jolie and her crew to hang out when they were in Siem Reap filming the movie Tomb Raider. Many people said the food there was mediocre quality, but it’s a great place to people watch given its strategic location.

Red Piano

Bibimbap and bulgogi

The last stop on the Seoul City Tour before we headed back to the Incheon International Airport was lunch at a local restaurant. I did not know the name of the restaurant as the sign was written in Korean, but it’s pretty clear from the picture outside the restaurant that they had beef dishes.

At the beginning of our tour, the tour guide explained that we could pick from two options for lunch; each person could get either bulgogi (grilled beef dish) or bibimbap (mixed vegetables over rice). I had had both of these dishes before, so I just picked the bibimbap. Some of folks in our tour group had never had either of these Korean dishes before, so they had to decide after listening to our tour guide’s description and looking at photos of the dishes.

When we entered the restaurant, we were seated at a couple of long tables in one corner of the dining area. The restaurant was pretty small, and it was actually quite packed with locals for lunch. I thought that’s good to see the locals also eating at the restaurant; that means they’re not catering only to foreigners/tourists, and the food should be quite authentic.

I sat together with three new friends that I made during this tour. Wendy was from Los Angeles, CA, and she was on the way back home after visiting Thailand and Indonesia. Susan was from Philadelphia, PA, area, and she was on the way home after visiting Laos and Cambodia. Rajan was from Houston, TX, and he was on the way to Malaysia and Indonesia for business trip. My brother lived in Los Angeles area at that time, and I had worked on projects in both Philadelphia and Houston, so I was able to relate with all of these travelers. It was pretty cool listening to Susan and Wendy talked about their experiences during this trip (pretty neat hearing about my home country, Indonesia, from the perspective of a visitor like Wendy), and I was able to give recommendations to Rajan on possible places to visit during his upcoming visit to Jakarta.

The meal itself was pretty good. This was the first time for these other travelers trying Korean food, so it was great to see them first getting surprised seeing the various side dishes served with a meal at a Korean restaurant, and then enjoying the dishes for the first time. My bibimbap was pretty good — similar to what I had before in the United States.

After lunch, we headed back to the airport to end the tour. We had to go through slow-moving traffic, so our tour guide was a little concerned that some of us might miss our flight. She asked for everyone’s scheduled departure time, and we found out that I had the earliest departure time compared to others. We ended up arriving at the airport about 35 minutes later than expected, but fortunately it was still enough time for me to go through the security gate and walked to the departure gate. I got there with about 10 minutes to spare til the boarding time for my connecting flight.

That ended the 22-hour stop in South Korea during my trip from Washington, DC, to Jakarta, Indonesia. I wasn’t expecting it to be full of adventure, but I’m glad I was able to get a glimpse of South Korea during that brief stop. If you ever have to stop in transit at Incheon International Airport, I highly recommend making the most out of your stop by taking the transit tour.

The photo below was taken at the restaurant while we were waiting for our food. You could see me with my three new friends, Wendy, Susan, and Rajan, and around us were the locals either their lunch in a busy restaurant.

Lunch in Seoul