Here are all the sketches drawn during my trip in Hanoi, Vietnam. If case you're interested, it's the Global Art Materials Watercolour Travelogue Sketchbook or the Watercolor Book as they so call it. The sketchbook is A5 sized and has 60 pages. I sketched 57 pages for my 7D6N trip.
Sketching 10 pages, or 5 spreads, a day is manageable. Several sketches below are coloured in the hotel with the help of the hair dryer or at home after the trip, but all the line art are drawn on location.
This is my first time in Hanoi, Vietnam and I've no idea what to expect. That's the fun of traveling. It's sort of a last minute trip because the initial plan was to go for the Great Ocean Road drive in Australia and then visit Sydney, My girlfriend felt that it's going to be too rush for that so we went to Hanoi instead.
I had looked up the climate of Hanoi and in March it's supposed to be the period where there's the least amount of rainfall. For one week I was there, it was drizzling almost every day. The drizzle there is so fine it's almost misty. October is the best time to visit Hanoi, as I'm told by the manager at the hotel I stayed at.
These are the drawing tools that I brought. I ended up using the waterbrushes most of the time while outdoors instead of the normal pocket brush. With the cold weather, wet surroundings, it's just more convenient to use the waterbrush outdoors. The small bag proved to be more handy and compact compared to the usual large messenger bag that I usually use to hold my art materials.
Definitely bring a waterproof jacket if you want to visit Hanoi during March. All the Vietnam people there are have waterproof jackets and wear long pants to keep themselves dry and warm. Bring good shoes also. At the last minute, I made the choice to wear running shoes which is a bad mistake. The cold went into the shoes easily because of those running shoes have ventilation holes.
This is the first sketch I drew while in Vietnam.
Taxis here run on meter. Mine came up to 382,000 Dong (USD $17.80) for a 1-hour ride from the airport to Hanoi city centre. For the trip back it was 330,000 Dong.
I've read stories about meters being rigged, or taxi drivers asking for more than what the meter charge, the latter of which happened to me.
Sometimes the driver will pull the no change trick on you. That happened on me too. I passed the driver 400,000 Dong and he claimed he didn't have change. It's not a big amount so I let it go.
I've also met a taxi driver who charged more than what the meter showed for a very short trip, quoting the reason that it's "alright" for them to charge a bit higher for a short trip.
I've also met another driver who returned me change for an even shorter trip. I tipped the driver for his honesty.
My suggestion for not being scammed by taxi is simple. If you feel that the charge is unfair or you're cheated, don't pay it. It's simple. If you're threaten, then it's no longer a scam, it's robbery. Before my trip, a friend told me of how a driver threaten to harm his family and he had to pay up. So far, I've not experienced that in any country.
The taxi meter jumps 2,000 Dong each time. Think about whether it is worth it to argue with the driver. Sure it may not be about the amount but about the principle or ethics of charging the right amout, but is it worth it to give yourself a bad experience?
While at the airport, there will be shops who will promote their private car transport services. They cost more than the taxi you can flag at the taxi stand outside the exit. If you are staying at a hotel with airport transfer service, I recommend check their prices because they can be more affordable than taking the taxi and going by meter.
On the left is dinner I ate on the first night. Bun Thang is a type of Vietnamese noodles that consist vermicelli and meat, usually chicken or beef. The right is a sketch of snake wine.
This is the view outside my third floor hotel room. I stayed at Tu Linh Palace Hotel that I booked through Agoda. For USD $39 per night, it has a big room and is really worth the money. Generally speaking, hotel rooms in Hanoi are relatively affordable. I was looking on Agoda and for USD $30 a night, you can get a very decent room.
The street scene of Hanoi is quite chaotic. The architecture is a bit haphazard. There's no clear design pattern. But that's why it's fun to draw them.
Breakfast is included at Tu Linh Palace Hotel. You get to choose between pancakes or noodles from the menu and the kitchen would cook it for you. There are also bread, bacon and fresh fruits in the morning. The food is good.
The hotel staff is very friendly and sometimes the boss, a Canadian guy, will help out too, to take orders and clear the dishes.
Hỏa Lò Prison was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war during the Vietnam War when it was sarcastically known to American prisoners of war as the "Hanoi Hilton". The prison was demolished during the 1990s, though the gatehouse remains as a museum.-
This particular prison is worth the visit to learn more about history of Vietnam.
Dong Xuan Market is the place to go if you want to shop for jewelry and clothing, not luxurious clothing, but all manners of clothing.
This is Ngoc Son Temple that's located at Hoan Kiem Lake. It's built on a small islet that's connected by the Welcoming Morning Sunlight Bridge that's red in colour. Entering the islet is charged at 30,000 Dong (USD $1.40). But it's not really worth the money because there's nothing much on the islet except that temple, another section that shows the statue of some legendary turtle and a souvenir store.
This is that red bridge that's also called the Rising Sun Bridge by some. It's a beautiful bridge and it's quite lovely at night when lit by lights. It's one of the main tourist attractions.
The building on the right is the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, located near the north side of Hoan Kiem Lake.
The 1-hr water puppet show is entertaining and definitely worth the money. Front seats cost 100,000 Dong and the seats behind are 60,000 Dong.
At the time while I was there, the show timings are for 3pm and 8pm. Tickets might run out fast so get your tickets early at the counter there.
Another sketch of the street scene. It's monotone because it was getting dark and I could not see the colours properly. There's a second-floor cafe great for people watching.
I had imagined Vietnam to be quite a religious country but it's actually not the case, at least from the small number of temples that I spotted.
This is another one of those pieces where I drew the line art and coloured back in the hotel. I forgot to take reference photos so this one had to be coloured in monotone too.
These are the buildings around Hoan Kiem Lake. On the right is the tall building of cafes and restaurants. It's a good place to have your coffee and look at the busy streets.
This was sketched outside the small road side cafes, the type where you will see groups of Vietnamese people huddle around to eat meals, nuts or enjoy beer. That's St Joseph's Cathedral, built in 1886. It was all fenced up so no one could go in.
I'm not particularly please with this sketch because it's difficult to make out what's being drawn. These are actually the kitchen and backyard areas of houses on the second floor, while the ground floor are store fronts.
This was sketched while on the bus ride to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi. The bus ride took 4 hours with a 20-minute stopover at some souvenir store at the midway point. Then before reaching the Ha Long Bay harbour, we visited a pearl shop where they show you how pearls are extracted.
I had booked a 3D2N cruise with Ha Long Fantasea Cruise through Booking.com. Even after confirmation, I'm surprised the Fantasea staff did not contact me to ask me where my hotel is. So I had to call their Vietnam number in Singapore to give them the detail. Previously, I had sent them an email through their website, and apparently they had received the email but they did not acknowledge that until I called them to find out. Their online service standards isn't very good but the cruise is quite nice.
Coincidentally, Tu Linh Palace Hotel where I stayed at also offers the same Fantasea Cruise. And they offer it at a slightly cheaper rate. So if you want to book a cruise, I recommend booking through your hotel. Don't worry, there are lots of tour agencies around in Hanoi so you can even book your cruise last minute, and if you're lucky you will get a price cheaper than online.
Each cruise will have several buses in Hanoi to pick up the tourists from their hotels. We were picked up at 8-830am and reached Halong Bay around 12.30pm. Lunch was served on the boat and was good.
The cabin room on Fantasea Cruise is rather small.
The payment process for Fantasea Cruise is a bit weird. I booked through Booking.com and reserved using my credit card. When it came to paying, I actually had to pay cash to the captain instead of by credit card.
I paid USD $330 for the 3D2N.
Ha Long Bay is really beautiful.
There are many cruise services offered at Ha Long Bay, many similar to Fantasea Cruise. How the cruise work is, each big boat will sail close to the place of attraction, then a small boat will bring you to the shore.
The first place we visited is the Sung Sot cave (Surprise Cave). It's an amazing cave with interesting beautiful formation. The roof are wave-like while the ground has stalagmite.
Then it's back to the boat for kayaking.
Food on the Fantasea is good. Not terrific but better than I expected. There are about 8 dishes per 5 people a table. You have to share the table with other guests.
At night, you can choose KTV or fishing. People on our boat don't seem to be the singing or fishing type, so we managed to rest early which is good because breakfast next day was at 7am.
Weather here is better than Hanoi. At least it's not drizzling. The isles are still misty looking and you have to get real close to see the beauty and detail of the rock surface and textures.
One complain I have for Fantasea is they sometimes they turn off electricity for air con and heater while you are out visiting and forget to turn them on.
Most of the cruise boats at Ha Long Bay look something like that. For some reason, they are all white. There are bigger ones but most have just three floors, with the first two for the cabins and top floor is open air with deck chairs.
On the second day at Ha Long Bay, after breakfast, some 2D1N guests got transfered to other boats.
We visited Treetop Monkey island where we climbed to the top. Then we visited a pearl farm to see how man-made pearls are cultivated. The biggest black pearl on sale is 60,000,000 Dong or USD 2800. They sell jewelry, accept cash and credit card.
After visiting, it's back to kayaking. Be sure to check in advance for kayaking sessions so that you can bring extra dry clothing to change. They will provide towels to dry up but no showers.
2D1N is definitely more than enough to see Halong Bay. Most of the activities after the 2D1N are actually just kayaking sessions. We got transferred to another boat for kayaking. For the second session, even when no one wanted to kayak, we could not go back to the main boat to rest. The reason, even though they did not say, is because the main boat is probably picking up a new group of guests at the shore.
Rooms on Fantasea are not soundproof so you definitely can hear other people talking although you cannot make out the exact words. After the kayaking session, while taking a nap in the cabin room, suddenly we awoke to noise of many people talking. A new group of guests had checked in while the main boat was gone. The tour guide is also new, a chirpy lady guide who seems to be in more of a party mood.
By the way, the price of the accommodation includes meals but not drinks. That's just weird. Anyway, drinks are just USD $1.50 each on Fantasea, including beer.
We made some new friends. Talked to three Denmark girls, two from French, one from Canada, US and Ireland. It's quite interesting to learn about the travel experiences of others. Many actually travel for more than a month. I'm not someone who's easily jealous but I'm always envious of those who can travel for such long periods.
This is the social area on the cruise boat. The left are the tables for meals and the right is the bar.
On the left is one of the dishes served on board.
The sketch on the right is of the small tables and stools that are commonly seen at road side food stalls.
That's the captain steering the boat with his feet.
After the second day afternoon at Ha Long Bay, I can't wait to get back to shore and stay at a proper hotel. I wished there were more visits to islands but there are only a few islands open to tourists. So when you're not visiting, the only other activity would be kayaking.
If you want to have dinner in a cave on the island, only the Dragon Pearl cruise offers that.
This is the rooftop scene from the balcony of the second hotel I stayed at, Golden Sun Moment Hotel. I booked a junior suite which cost USD $66 per night. The rooms are clean and furniture looks modern and beautiful. The room is heated which is great because it's cold outside. The room comes with a bottle of complimentary wine which doesn't taste nice unfortunately. Breakfast is included and is even better than Tu Linh Palace Hotel with more variety. On the last day, someone sent cake up as a gift as thanks for staying at the hotel. The hotel staff are also very friendly. I definitely highly recommend staying at this hotel. You don't have to book the junior suite because from what I can see you just get the balcony which isn't really worth the money.
Another street scene. I could stay in Hanoi for months just sketching the streets and at every junction.
There are lots of beautiful power lines that I don't have the time to sketch.
The Temple of Literature is also one of the main tourist spots.
This is the praying area inside Temple of Literature.
A big bonsai plant in the premise.
My girlfriend wanted to buy a pair of sneakers and walked into this shop where there was a BBQ going on the floor of the store. I asked if I could sketch them. After the sketch, our jackets smelled like BBQ.
Ho Chi Minh Museum is closed on a Friday.
This is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
This is the Chùa Một Cột, aka One Pillar Pagoda. I had imagined it to be bigger and to have a wooden pillar but the pillar is actually in concrete, painted white.
Most people in Hanoi travel by motorbikes. And these motorbikes are usually parked on the sidewalks so pedestrians are usually forced to walk on the streets instead.
The streets are busy with traffic but there are no jams. Cars and motorbikes are always moving. Contrary to what most people think, crossing roads here is no more dangerous than other places. With so much traffic on the road, the traffic speed is slower, also motorists and drivers need to be more aware of things going on the road. The traffic will not stop for you to cross, but they will avoid you while you're crossing. To stay safe when crossing, make it obvious for people to spot you.
This is the floor plan of my room at Golden Sun Moment Hotel.
Here's another clearer more representative view of the room.
I recommend going to Noi Bai International Airport 3 hours in advance instead of the usual 2. The small terminal is packed with travelers. Queuing will take a while so it's good to be there early.
On the left is a pot of plant where people throw their water bottles because they can't be brought across the gate after the security checks.
On the right is the Vietnamese dong. Only bigger establishments such as hotels would accept US dollars. The most common denomination would be 100,000 and 200,000 dong. I don't see any coins in use while I was there. The smallest note I saw is the 1,000 dong. Some places would charge you 2,000 dong the use of toilets.
Overall, despite the drizzling and cold weather, it's still quite an enjoyable trip. Holidays are always great. It's a double positive. You get to not work and you get to travel.
Here's the link to my other sketch trips: