Hanoi: Day 1 – eating our way to the train station

We arrived in Hanoi at nearly 2pm, and headed for my ex-colleague, Le’s pad. She was not in town, but had instructed her neighbour to feed us. That was how we ended up at Mon Hue, a restaurant chain that serves delicious Vietnamese food.

What? Good Vietnamese food that isn’t served at a rickety stall by the road side? It wasn’t just because we were hungry (feed us feed us!) but damn, we gobbled down the lot and then some.

Hanoi - Vietnam Pepsi
This Pepsi has an identity

Hanoi - Mon Hue food
Cha Hue (Hue Pork Ham), Banh Ram It (Fried & Steamed Cakes with Shrimp & Pork), Hen Tron Xuc Banh Da (Baby Clams), Nem Nuong Cuon Banh Trang (Grilled Ground Pork)

Hanoi - Mon Hue starter
Mon Hue also serves Hue cuisine, traditionally reserved for royalty.

I fell in love with bánh bèo, small steamed rice cake with dried shrimp. Soft, delicate with a slight chewy texture, it goes well with a bit of dipping sauce, which is usually fish sauce.

Hanoi - Mon Hue banh beo

If you’ve been to Pho Viet in Atria or Empire, you’d have seen bánh bèo on the menu. Well, Pho Viet serves gigantic size bánh bèo. This was the tiny, more manageable bánh bèo we had in Hanoi:

Hanoi - Mon Hue banh beo steamed rice pancake

Le graciously allowed us to keep some of our luggage at her place, so that we wouldn’t have to lug our big bags to Sapa. The overnight train to Sapa would leave at 10pm, so we freshened up and left for the station, with enough time to grab supper.

This stall was nearby the train station, and it served the most memorable dishI had in Hanoi.

Hanoi - street side food stalls

What is ‘bun ca ho tay’? I can’t find the exact translation, but we had noodles served in a clear sour broth with fried fish fillet and herbs, all for VND25K (RM4.70). In that cool rainy evening in Hanoi, the comforting soup hits all the right spots before a long journey to the mountainside.

Hanoi - bun cha ho tay

To think we had wanted to share, but it ended up being, “NO, GET YOUR OWN BUN CA HO TAY.”

Hanoi - road near train station

Hanoi - Train Station

We also drank coffee before going on the train. But this trip was last year, and I can’t find some of my photos anymore 🙁

Vietnam: 9D8N Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay itinerary

“Nine days? What are you going to do in Hanoi for nine days??”

Well, technically one of the days do not count, since our return flight was early in the morning. But we managed to cover a fair bit, at our own pace, doing only the things we want to do.

Here’s a quick overview of our itinerary, a glimpse into a really fantastic, memorable trip. I will blog about them later when I have time (and energy, mostly energy).

The best Hanoi itinerary, ever

DAY 01 >> Arrive in Hanoi. Depart for Lào Cai via overnight train

Hanoi itinerary - Day 01 arrival
Happy tourists

DAY 02 >> Arrive, transfer to Sapa. Visit Cat Cat village, and Fansipan

Hanoi itinerary - Day 02 Cat Cat village
Steps through Cat Cat village, straight to your heart

Hanoi itinerary - Day 02 Fansipan
Reached the peak via cable car and my God-given legs. And a lot of cursing.

DAY 03 >> Sapa trekking through Muong Hoa Valley. At night, depart for Lào Cai for Hanoi via overnight train

Hanoi itinerary - Day 03 Sapa trekking
Incredible trekking experience. 10/10 will do again

Hanoi itinerary - Day 03 train
Friends who made it through overnight train journeys, stay friends forever?

DAY 04 >> Hanoi

Hanoi itinerary - Day 04 Hanoi coffee
Famous Hanoi egg coffee

Hanoi itinerary - Day 04 banh mi
Famous Hanoi banh mi

DAY 05 >> Depart for Halong Bay, for overnight cruise

Hanoi itinerary - Day 05 Halong Bay cruise
On board the La Fairy. Not la bored.

Hanoi itinerary - Day 06 Halong Bay
Halong Bay? Commercialised but not over rated

DAY 06 >> Depart for Hanoi.

Hanoi itinerary - Day 08 flower market
Quang Ba flower market in Hanoi, worth waking up early for

DAY 07 >> Hanoi

Hanoi itinerary - Day 07 Hanoi
Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake

Hanoi itinerary - Day 07 Hanoi park
Around Hoan Kiem Lake on a weekend, where they closed the roads for pedestrian access

DAY 08 >> Hanoi

Hanoi itinerary - Day 08 house by train
Trains pass by their house twice a day

Hanoi itinerary - Day 08 Long Bien bridge
Only tourists walk the entire Long Bien bridge. We tourists

DAY 09 >> Depart for Kuala Lumpur. Sad.

These are some selection from my hundreds of photos. Obviously I can’t put up everything we did/ saw/ ate/ experienced, because no one is that interested.

But if we could do it differently, we would. Maintain the same nine-day trip, but stay two nights in Sapa, and two nights in Halong Bay. Perfect.

Fat Olive Food Garage, Dataran Prima

I love Fat Olive Food Garage. It’s in Menara Prima inside of Dataran Prima. The food is good, the wine better. The ambiance is cosy, a testament to owners’ personal touch and hospitality.

Fat Olive Food Garage, Petaling Jaya

Spanish chef Kike (pronounced Kee-Kay) and Malaysian ex-advertising exec Stacee decided to move back from Shanghai to enjoy a more relaxed pace of life. Thus Fat Olive was born, in a quiet location that seemed out of place for their selected menu and pricing.

I was curious, and asked Stacee on their decision to stay put in Dataran Prima. I mean, it’s great for me, not having to leave my extended neighbourhood to get city quality restaurant food. But surely they would be able to draw a larger crowd if they were in, say, Bangsar or Changkat?

Fat Olive Food Garage - restaurant

“Nope nope nope,” said Stacee, “it can get a little quiet but this is a great set-up for us. We didn’t make the decision to come back, to get back into the rat race.”

For now she is hopeful that customers can recognise quality when they see and taste it. Chef Kike is particular about the ingredients in his kitchen, and how food is served to customers. Try requesting to takeaway their Spanish octopus, then watch them awkwardly, apologetically attempt to diffuse your enthusiasm, haha.

“Suanie, the quality would be so different… the octopus would be so tough… it’s really not recommended for takeaway. You would have such a bad impression of our food 🙁 Please choose something else?”

Okay okay.

Fat Olive serves sandwiches, burgers, al dente pasta and risotto, all from RM28+. If you need your pasta and risotto to be overcooked and mushy like how the rest of Malaysia erroneously does it, please make a special mention to the chef.

Fat Olive Food Garage - tapas platter

The fun menu starts from 6pm. Fat Olive’s Tapas Platter (RM135+) is an assortment of goodies – home-made sourdough bread, smoked chicken croquettes with arugula and parmesan shaves, Spanish tortilla, serrano ham, iberico chorizo/salami cold cuts, mussels in spicy tomato sauce, deep-fried calamari, baked eggplant with bacon and mozzarella cheese, and tiger prawns with chilli and garlic. Perfect for sharing, best accompanied by a decent selection of wine and beer.

Fat Olive Food Garage - enjoying tapas platter

They have lamb, tenderloin, and sous vide iberico pork ribs. There’s also Spanish octopus on roasted chat potatoes and red pepper with caramelised onion, and Spanish smoked paprika (RM92+).

Fat Olive Food Garage - Spanish octopus with paprika

Beautifully cooked octopus, tender and succulent. Comes at a bit of a hefty price tag, then again the cost of imported goods isn’t cheap. This is one tantalising meal that I would be glad to eat again, and again, and again, and again.

Fat Olive Food Garage - Spanish octopus

Their seared yellow fin tuna (RM78+) was delicious, says my friend Gary.

Fat Olive Food Garage - seared yellow fin tuna

I’m not one for uncooked or semi-cooked fish, so I didn’t try some. Though I bet it would go down great with the range of wines available at Fat Olive…

Fat Olive Food Garage - wine and sangria

Spanish wine is favourable to the palate, so easy to drink. I enjoyed the house white, the Hoya De Cadenas, Chardonnay 2015, from Utiel Requena (RM32+ a glass, RM158+ per bottle). And the El Perro Verde, Verdejo 2013, from Rueda (RM199+) which was a bit intense, fruity with a bold medium-long finish. Funny how it seems ridiculous to describe the taste of wine, eh. But it’s something you can only know once you’ve tasted said wine, to understand the meaning of each seemingly superfluous description.

Medium-long finish can also mean other things, but this is now a family-friendly blog.

Fat Olive Food Garage - dessert

The creme brulee and chocolate mousse were decadently delicious. That’s all.

Fat Olive Food Garage (non-halal)
B-G-17, Menara Prima, Jalan PJU 1/39
47301, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Tel: +603-7887 5068

Opens from 1st to 25th every month.
Lunch: 11.30am – 3.30pm
Dinner: 6pm – 10pm

Facebook: FatOliveFoodGarage

Chinese New Year cookies with SCS

It’s that time of the year for Chinese New Year cookies, and the best ones are made using SCS, the butter of my childhood. Until today, I can recognise that particular aroma of cookies and cakes made using SCS butter, the familiar extra buttery smell that comes with a huge dose of nolstagia.

SCS Chinese New Year cookies - gift box

The kind folks at SCS (and Orchan PR, you have really lovely staff) sent me some cookies made using SCS butter (of course), along with a recipe book in the hope that I would replicate the goodies in my own kitchen.

The fact of the matter is, I am an eater not a baker. So I ate all of these:

SCS Chinese New Year cookies - Pot of Golden Miniature Tarts

Pot of Gold Miniature Tart, my favourite! Baked with melon seed, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, whole almond, macadamia and pecan, and held together by rich, gooey caramel. This is a winner. Bake me some more, please.

SCS Chinese New Year cookies - Lucky Tangerine

Lucky Tangerines! Hahah these melt-in-your mouth butter cookies were designed to look like mandarin oranges, symbolising good fortune for the festive season. Ingenius.

SCS Chinese New Year cookies - Precious Pistachio Rollover Biscuits

Precious Pistachio Cookies seemed easy enough that I might try this one out for myself. By the way, all SCS Chinese New Year cookies recipes are up on their Facebook page: SCS Dairy Malaysia, along with instructional videos for those who can’t read recipes (like me).

SCS Chinese New Year cookies - Treasure Cookies

Treasure Cookies is pure butter cookies with a lot of icing work. I suppose if you’re an icing noob (is there such a term?), you could ditch the work and just roll with delicious creamy butter cookies.

Thank you for sharing these delicious cookies with me. If any of you tried to make these cookies – again, recipes on their Facebook page – do let me know how it turned out, and I might gather enough courage to attempt baking.

The watch shop in Sungai Lembing

The only shop open in Sungai Lembing that didn’t sell food nor repair bikes, was Mr Yap Yoon Nan’s watch shop.

Sungai Lembing watch shop - Yap Yoon Nan

We stayed in Sungai Lembing during a non-peak period weekday. When the weekend tourists were gone, time stood still in this sleepy town, just like this man with his watches and clocks.

Sungai Lembing watch shop - owner Mr Yap

Mr Yap had a small display of clocks and watches for sale, some classic looking pieces that are quickly snapped up by discerning tourists.

Sungai Lembing watch shop - display

My Singaporean friend took home a retro gold watch that did not cost too much.

No currency exchange rates jokes here please, it hurts. #toosoon

Sungai Lembing watch shop - putting on a watch

Sungai Lembing watch shop - Yap sells watches

Many years ago, Yap laboured in the Sungai Lembing mines. He started repairing watches in the 1960s, and with money saved up from mining work, he started this watch shop that bears his name, where he still works full-time.

Sungai Lembing watch shop - ready to work

Sungai Lembing watch shop - fixing a watch strap

Sungai Lembing watch shop - getting details right

Sungai Lembing watch shop - wall of clocks

Mr Yap will be 85 years old in 2017. I hope he’s in good health.

Sungai Lembing tin mine tunnel

Sungai Lembing was built on a history of tin mining. The lands were rich with precious metal, and the mines were among the largest in the world, reaching more than 300km with a depth as deep as 700m. That’s like a 140-storey building!

The town thrived until the 1980s when world tin prices collapsed. Despite a last-ditch effort by businessman Sia Hok Kiang to revive the industry in the 1990s, the land was eventually returned to the state government.

The mines were duly shut down, until a few years ago when the state government decided to develop Sungai Lembing as a tourist attraction. One part of the tin mine was restored, and is now open to the public for a fee.

Having been there, I can tell you that, this is the perfect place to bring your kids if:
a:- you want them to learn about Malaysia’s history;
b:- you want them to know that life was rough back then, and they’d better bloody well appreciate what they have now;
c:- you want to scare the living bees out of them in a dark, confined, scary place; or
d:- all of the above.

Sungai Lembing Mines - entering

Once you’ve gotten your ticket(s), go stand in line to sit in a mine cart that runs a very short distance into the mine. Then it’s on foot all the way until you see a guide, who is too happy to take you around.

Sungai Lembing Mines - info poster
Plenty of things to read along the way

The mine is decently lit, cool and honestly, a bit creepy. Especially with effigies of miners all over the place, stories of how many people died in mine disasters, and a naughty guide who insisted on regaling you with ghost stories.

Sungai Lembing Mines - tunnel
In case you were wondering, that’s a real person

I scolded the guide and he apologised, but it was too late, things can’t be unheard.

Sungai Lembing Mines - kiew
The Kiew

One highlight of the visit was to sit in a restored ‘kiew’, a mining lift built for travelling between levels. This one simulated the dark, crampy, hot, sweaty experience of going down the multiple levels in the ‘kiew’.

Sungai Lembing Mines - steep steps
Steps going up to the ‘kiew’

Good experience, though I was quite creeped out. Later back at the inn, I couldn’t sleep. Troubled by haunting and disturbing dreams, mental images of ghosts and weighed down by a real sad, scared feeling for hours, not helped by the street dogs’s pitiful non-stop howling.

Sungai Lembing Mines - exit
Exiting the mine

Ticket prices: Malaysian adults pay RM15.90, children RM7.95. Non-Malaysians adults pay RM31.80, children RM15.90. Senior citizens and person with a disability rates available.

The Sungai Lembing Mines is open daily from 9am to 6pm. You can check out their website at sungailembingmines.com.my

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing

A famous Sungai Lembing attraction is the Rainbow Waterfall, thus named for the promise of a rainbow appearing by the fall at certain hours in the morning. You need a 4WD to get there, which you can easily book (for the next morning) once you’re in town, about RM40 – RM50 per person.

If you’re solo or in a small group, you get to make friends with fellow nature enthusiasts.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - in the 4x4
Hello! If you see yourself in this photo and want to get re-acquainted, buzz me! 🙂

The itinerary is straightforward, pretty much the same for everyone. You’re advised to get some food at the hawker centre at 5.45am. At 6.30am, you get into the 4WD, and it’s an hour journey to the hiking trail.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - 4x4 trail
Get ready for a bumpy ride. I wouldn’t expect anything less!

This trip to Sungai Lembing was in 2015, at the tail end of the haze crisis. We didn’t know if we’d see the sunrise at Panorama Hill, and we weren’t sure if there’d be a rainbow waiting for us at the waterfall.

The only constant was the logging.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - logging

Don’t know the story behind the land clearing, so can’t comment on it. One can only wish that there are no plans to clear out the entire forested area.

Once you reach the start of the hiking trail, you will need to cross a stream. Then it’s a 45 minutes easy hike to reach the waterfall.

I say easy, but some parts could prove challenging to those with knee or balancing problems. You have to navigate through some massive rocks, and little streams in between. Be sure to wear shoes or sandals with a good grip.

And watch out for the damn leeches.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - trekking trail
That’s our going back photo, but it’s one way in and out

Before long, you’ll see a tall waterfall. Unlike Chamang Falls, the water does not come roaring down. Instead, it comes down as a spray, like a shower with super low water pressure, hah. The spray maketh the rainbow, which you’ll see later.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - falls

Take picture first.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - Suanie

The gathering spot is not big. Get here early to get first dibs on the best seats for the optimal view.

Pro-tip: avoid visiting Rainbow Waterfall during public/school holidays and weekends. Not if you value peace, quiet and space with Mother Nature.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - pool area
One side of the waterfall area

The pool area seems shallow and easily navigatable. I’d advise you to check with your guide on the water conditions, and get some tips on which pool spots to avoid before going all out to the middle of the pool.

But that’s me, Ms ‘Extra Careful’ and ‘I Love Being Alive’, because I know that waterfalls can be sneakily dangerous.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - pool

The rainbow would usually appear between 9.50am to 10.45am. You might see it, you might not. If the sky is grey and the sun hidden, chances are, no rainbow for you. If it rained the night before, chances are, no rainbow for you (because it would impact how much and how fast the water comes falling down). Rainbow science dictates that you need light and water droplets to create a rainbow. This spray potentially makes rainbows:

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - misty water

But there was still a mild haze in the air, and we were mentally prepared not to see a rainbow that day. Well, what can you do? You can’t force Mother Nature to choke one out, can you.

It was still a treat to be there, sitting on some stones, watching the waterfall, taking in the glorious view.

Then, we got lucky.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing

A small one, but so beautiful in my eyes. A reminder to be grateful for every blessing we receive.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - low rainbow

At some point, your guide will feed you cup noodles and coffee, using water sourced from the waterfall. I didn’t take photos of the food and drink, because I was too busy watching the rainbow.

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - up close

What an amazing place! You should absolutely make a trip to Rainbow Waterfall and see it for yourself. Just remember to keep the place clean, take out your rubbish with you 🙂

Rainbow Waterfall, Sungai Lembing - Suanie and Shirley

Also, a final helpful reminder to plan your trip during off-peak season. Feel free to search for photos of Rainbow Waterfall during school or public holidays, and you’ll see what I mean 😉 Even though there are new rules in place to limit the number of visitors, lower density is always better when it comes to these sort of outdoor activities, eh.