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Motormouth From Ipoh

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Return of The Motormouth (with Higher Integrity!)

Wondering where in the world Motormouth's been these past few days? Sorry guys, I was literally 'trapped' in Langkawi Island, for a good (tormenting?) 5 days. Normal reaction to a 5 days break from work, plus spending that period on one of the most popular island destination in Malaysia, could only lead to EUPHORIA.

A plane with propellers .... now, that's a new one.

Rather ashamed to admit, this was my virginal visit to the island. Yup, disgraceful I know, being a born-here-bred-here Malaysian and all. But the same held true when I left my initial footprints on Teluk Batik beach about a week or so ago. =)

Guess I'm covering new grounds .... domestically.

Of banana, chocolate and vanilla .... Kenny's best offerings.

Why I sounded bitter, although granted with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Langkawi FOC, with not even a single cent spent throughout the days?

Answer : Because it's a camp. Not the happy family outing type of camping with picnics and such, but a military camp-style training, or boot camp; compulsory for all government officers.

Lunch at Langkawi Airport - Kenny Roger's Roaster, trusted name? Blah. (RM16.90++ for a quarter chicken with 3 side dishes+one muffin of choice)

Flying from Penang to Langkawi opened my eyes to a whole new list of discoveries. First of all, Firefly planes STILL use propellers, and can only seat up to about 80 passengers for the short trip commuting between the aforementioned islands. But right on time, and the 35 minutes journey was smooth, relaxing, with even more leg space than Air Asia's cabins. An additional bonus of complimentary drink made the trip all the more pleasant. And in some ways, even the cabin staff are friendlier.

Touching down after a short ride, the baggage-claiming process was over in a jiffy, as the small number of passengers = fewer luggages on the belt. Left with ample amount of time to grab a bite, we headed over to Kenny Roger's Roaster for lunch, as the legion of eateries in the airport was nothing impressive. However, the chicken was cold, the sauce a tad diluted, and some of the side dishes were less than satisfactory. Hmm, about RM2-3 more expensive than the ones elsewhere.

But no matter how bad the meal was, that .... was our LAST lunch, before succumbing to rules, regulations and fixed meals and tight schedule. Ready yet?

Typical dorm beds - 9 to a room, with fans

As expected, a camp being a camp, one can't expect much from the accomodation and facilities, right? Comfort seemed to creep out of our minds initially, as we anticipated for the worst before blessed (hehe) with an unexpectedly clean dormitory, and a double decker bed EACH. Meaning a person can choose to sleep at the lower or upper bed, and uses the other one at his own discretion. And the camp is situated near to the hills and forest, rendering the air cooler than usual, sometimes chilly in the middle of the night.

The communal bathroom + toilet - Fortunately, our much-dreaded expectation of bathing in the open was thwarted. There are separate cubicles with doors and showers.

Notice the HUGE tied-up bags? They contained blankets, mattresses, and pillow cases. Reminded one of prisoners' lives eh? Plus the dining hall for all the participants

We were provided with a plastic bag filled with a mattress, a blanket, and a pillow case each. You have to do everything on your own here, from making your beds, to washing your own utensils after eating. Funny training independence at this age? :)

To protect the innocence, the face was slightly distorted .....
The whole ordeal was tiring, yet interesting, and even a little bit fun. I never expected the words "camp" and "fun" to run parallel together, but throughout the 5 days we spent at the camp, the values learned, friendships bonded, and experiences nurtured was priceless. Being so used to the comfort life I've been leading for so long, this course shook my stand on a whole lot of issues, from all aspects ; Political, Economical, and Social.

But lest you're getting the impression of reading the WRONG blog, no worries. Rest assured I'm still the same old Motormouth, emphasis still on food and travel. And of course, my prioritized speciality since day one; Ranting and Rambling .....

Question : What could possible cause those blisters on my fingers?

A : The Body Through the Spiderwebs Challenge - All members (big/small, fat/slim) MUST pass through the middle ring, supported by other group members on both sides.

B : The Walk on The Wire - Inch your way to the other end, hoping and praying you do not lose balance and fall to the threatening rocks below

C : The Commando Crawl Under The Barb Wires - Self-explanatory. Refrain from looking up or inching up your butt, lest you feel like restructuring either part of your anatomy

D : The Tower of Doom - An ultimate act of bravado, scaling new heights, and abseiling to new lows .... You can never imagine the gratefulness once stepping your feet firmly on the grounds again !!!

The food in the camp wasn't anything ground-breaking, but managed to satiate hunger pangs at the right moment (SIX meals a day). Amenities aren't too shabby, save some scary insects, reptiles, and monsters popping up every now and then, at the most inconvenient moment. Fancy having an orange-coloured frog jumping onto your shoulder while you're doing your 'business'? Or a 10-inches long lizard on the cabinet in your room, acting nonchalantly-innocent?

On to a more serious note, we survived with ease, though without the usual luxuries we all have grown accustomed with, namely hot showers, air-conditioners, and people serving you during mealtime, as well as cleaning up after your mess.

The vibrant yet sleepy town of Kuah
On the last day of our camp, we proceeded to Kuah town for some customary shopping for duty free goods, namely alcohol and chocolates (smokers can get their supply at rockbottom prices as well!), before embarking back to Penang.

Finally some decent grubs! Clockwise from top left : Plum Chicken, Choy Tam, Oyster Omelette and Fried Squid (a meal for 4 at RM52) @ Weng Fung Seafood Restaurant, Kuah, Langkawi - a few shops away from Haji Ismail Group Duty-Free Shopping

Goodbye Langkawi .... til we meet again!

No beaches, no resorts, no cable cars, no swamps. How ironic for a newcomer to Langkawi yet missing out on all the fun. But rest assured future opportunities will come knocking soon enough. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

The complimentary sip .... a soothing solution to dry throats; thousands of feet in the air

Chocolates and Alcohol - What were we thinking????!!! =P

(P/S : All pictures are credited to KCA, thanks a lot!)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Moussandra Mediterranean & Tapas Restaurant @ KL Plaza

The cloudy view of the skyline taken through my window ....
Lately I haven't been blogging much bout Ipoh food. Not to say Ipoh's boring, mind you. (What? You REALLY had that in mind, didn't you?! Hmm, I'll prove you wrong, one of these days!). Still have yet to end my "Hanoi Saga 2009" (cliche at best? =P) (you can click HERE for the first SEVEN chapters), and I'm already knee deep with workload and travelling, the next 6 days will be spent in a camp. Possibly military boot camp of sorts, with critters from all genus/species roaming freely, communal showers with dripping faucet (or even worse, water-less ones), a mere 5 hours of sleep daily, and meals served ala prison-style, each 'prisoner' with his/her own tray of white rice and curry. And the customary orange.
I could be paranoia, but I'd better be that than being overly optimistic. =)

Hotel Capitol in the heart of the city
Now on to better times ....
Last weekend was spent in KL for a short stint, putting up in Hotel Capitol in Bukit Bintang, within walking distance to prominent shopping complexes around the Golden Triangle, namely Sungei Wang Plaza, Pavilion, Low Yat, Lot 10, Times Square and Starhill Gallery.

May NOT be the most spacious room I've slept in, but comfort comes first, and Capitol managed to deliver in most aspects ....
For about RM200++ per night (~RM140++ for us civil servants), the deluxe room at Capitol did not come with breakfast, as you've to fork out about an additional RM20 per person for the whole deal. Wow ... talk about prime location comes with a price. But credits be given where credits are due, the room is almost spotless, with cable TV, hot shower (sans bath tub), two single beds, and amenities such as iron+ironing board, electric kettle, and hair dryer.

You can lie on the plush, comfy beds, and savour the view of the skyline ... day and night
The desirable location of the hotel leads to some pros and cons. Pros being very near to hot locations such as restaurants around Changkat Bukit Bintang and Tengkat Tong Shin, eateries in malls such as Pavilion, Times Square and Starhill, as well as a stone's throw away from hawker fare lining the evergreen Jalan Alor (Kejora, for a VERY short yet controversial stint). Transportation-wise should not be a problem, as the Bukit Bintang Monorail station is about 3 minutes' walk away, and taxis ply this route so frequently, you'll be ridiculed if you can't stop one on Jalan Bukit Bintang. But be wary of unscrupulous ones, and confirm the price or the use of the meters before taking one.
Location : HOTEL CAPITOL KUALA LUMPUR @ Jalan Bulan, Off Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.Tel: [603] 2143 7000 Fax: [603] 2143 0000
Toll free: 1800 18 1800 [within Malaysia]
An unassuming treasure ... still hidden in the almost lifeless KL Plaza
Food blogs are godly, I tell you. No, I'm not singing praises bout my own (hehe), but through various food blogs on the Net, I'm discovering more and more great restaurants/cafes/street food all around Malaysia, which I won't be able to do so on my own.
Heard of a new restaurant opening up at the corner of the street? Just google the name up, and voila! You'll be surprised to see somebody has already given a piece of their mind on that place. Whereas in the olden days (OK-lah ... before blogging has taken the world by storm, at least) you'll be reading about new restaurants in the papers or magazines. Mostly posh ones on most occasions, or those in hotels which require one to put at least 2-inches-thick worth of make-up, or heels so high you'll feel tipsy even before your shot, and for the guys, you would have revelled in the sombre mood of strictly black & whites, wondering you're actually at a funeral or a dinner.

Charming's the word, I believe? :)

Thanks to The Constantly Craving One, I was pleasantly surprised to know that Moussandra has yet to close down !! Some months ago, FCOE provided valuable directions to this place, only for me to fail miserably in my search as erm .... as 'clear' as her directions might be, I did not expect Moussandra to be tucked in such a hidden corner, and thus declared Moussandra's CLOSED for BUSINESS. To her dismay, and my own, nonetheless.

Setas Salteadas aka Mixed Mushrooms Sauteed with Herbs @ RM9
Fast forward a few months later, I came across Joe's post on another restaurant, and surprisingly a referral to Moussandra !!! And to make a long story short (ahem ahem), I googled Moussandra and their official website ( is STILL up and running!
So off we went for a dinner at the place specializing in tapas and Mediterranean food, with lots of Spanish influence on the dishes. To locate this place may not require a GPS device, but rest assured you won't go bumping into this outlet anytime soon, lest you really look for it. Located in KL Plaza, you can either enter from the inside, or the outside. Coming from Lot 10 Shopping Centre's direction, turn right into the lane once you passed by L'Opera on your right. You can see Moussandra's signboard on your left, thus walk up the stairs to enter from the backdoor. If entering through KL Plaza's ground floor, just walk straight to the end, and turn right. But given the fact that the whole place seemed deserted (to the point of almost hauntingly eerie!), you'll probably feel safer walking in from the outside.

The absolutely delicious Moussaka (RM40)
Once stepping into the restaurant, you'll be hard-pressed not to feel as though you've stepped into a classic Mediterranean diner, with rustic ambience and soft lighting. The place can seat at most, about 40 diners. Perfect for a quiet dinner for two, or a comfortable family dinner without annoying interruption such as patrons breathing down your neck, or children jumping all over the place. Not to indicate that children are not welcomed though. Far from it in fact, as the affable chap-of-an owner, Mr. Alphonse Peter will make anyone feel right at home.
Taking over the business quite recently, he was formerly a constant patron of Moussandra's, and as he proudly proclaimed, Food DOES Eat Into a Man's Heart. His passion for food led him to take over the restaurant from the previous owner, though maintaining every single aspect of running the restaurant, from the cooks to the decor and menu.
There are at least 30 types of tapas on the menu, divided into different categories: Vegetarian, Seafood, Meat and Others. From RM9-RM36 per serving, the starter course sized tapas are perfect complement to the various wines they're serving, as well as appetizers to tempt the palates for more.

Paella Valenciana @ RM38
We started off with a vegetarian tapas in the form of mixed mushrooms sauteed with herbs, pepper and a dash of white wine. The mushrooms were lightly sauteed to retain their juices, while still maintaining their bite, and the peppery sauce complemented the mushrooms well. The small portion makes it ideal as a starter, and allow repeated orders of the tapas that you like, or select from the other equally tantalising choices on the menu.
Moussaka is a Greek dish, and at Moussandra's, the moussaka is made from layered eggplant, minced lamb, potatoes and bechamel gratinated with cheese. As you can already predict from the ingredients used in this dish, the myriad of flavours and texture resulted in the most delicious cheese-baked dish I've tasted so far. Beats the lasagne, the cheese-baked rice or seafood, and dare I say, even exceeded the pizzas served at Moussandra.
The gamey flavour of the minced lamb, paired with the subtle, velvety texture of the eggplants, topped with white sauce gratinated with oozing, melted cheese. Appearance-wise may be just another lasagne-wannabe, but this is a MUST-TRY here at Moussandra.
The Paella is a Spanish rice dish, and at Moussandra, the Paella Valenciana actually refers to the Seafood Paella, with added chicken and chicken sausage, instead of the traditional snails. The saffron-flavoured rice cooked in the large pan, with prawns, squids, chicken, chicken sausages and vegetables was rather filling, hence refrain from ordering a whole serving for oneself. Though we've to agree with the owner here, Paella's just 'ain't his thang ....'

The complimentary Pizza Quattro Formaggio - with Four types of Cheeses; Mozzarella, Parmesan, Gorgonzola and Feta, served with fresh Rucola on top
Probably stemming from his curiosity of one diner with an avid temptation to snap anything and everything on top of our table, Mr. Alphonse presented us with a pizza of his choice, on the house. Very nice of him, that'll probably garner his restaurant brownie points. LOL.
The Quattro Formaggio has been one of my favourite pizza, as nothing beats a cheesy pizza, what's more a pizza with not one, not two, not three but FOUR types melted onto the base dough. Gotta be salivating now, right? :)
But disappointingly, the pizza was a little too salty, with the feta dominating the flavours of the other cheese, even overcoming the naturally fresh, rich and peppery taste of the rucola (rocket leaves). Hmm, let's hope the other pizzas in his arsenal fare much better than this one.

The melted and hardened wax may have seen better days .... The staff will light up a candle on your table, for that extra touch of romantic dining experience

Macchiato (RM8) and Earl Grey (RM7)

Vanilla Creme Brulee (RM6)
The three of us were filled to the brim, but still managed to sample a specialty dessert of theirs, the vanilla flavoured creme brulee. The velvety smooth custard was heavily-scented with vanilla, but not to the point of cloying/artificial. The burnt layer of caramelised sugar on top the custard was sweet, crumbly, yet thankfully not bitter. Let's hope Min can list this in her expanding arsenal of desserts, and surprise us with not only Panna Cotta and Breads, but Creme Brulee as well. Ginger, Vanilla and Chocolate-flavoured will do, TQ! ;)

Location : Moussandra Mediterranean & Tapas Restaurant @ Sub Lot B-8, Ground Floor, KL Plaza, 179, Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur. Contact No : 603-2144 0775. Website :

Opens for lunch from 12pm-3pm and dinner from 6pm-11pm. Closed on Sundays, and certain public holidays.

Ever the Brightest City in Malaysia. Let's wait til March 28, 8.30pm. =)
With that, Motormouth's signing off for now. Keeping my fingers crossed, bracing myself for the worst-case scenario ..... Wish me L-U-C-K everyone !!!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sitiawan Cendol, Nasi Ayam Mama @ Seri Manjung & I Discovered Teluk Batik !!!

Realize it's been some time since I've posted anything from the outskirts of Ipoh, as well as outings to other towns in Perak. Since Chinese New Year in fact, and the Hanoi trip, my momentum was somewhat lost. Crawling out of bed and going to work sounds tedious and spells boredom on most days, while driving to obscure destinations for work does not seem as tempting like those good old days anymore ....
Where's the Zest in my Life ?!!!

MMMM .... yummy condiments from the roadside for that extra 'kick' !!!
Since I'm reeling from my 3 hours train ride today, I'll probably breeze through today's post. Not that the ride was horrible, mind you. In fact it was a rather commendable effort for KTM to regain the trust and its lustre, after such a looooooooooooooong hiatus from commuting between Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. 3 hours exactly, from KL Sentral to Ipoh's station, departing and arriving right on time! From a lowly RM10 per ride (economy seats), you can be assured of a pleasant and safe ride. OK, at least in comparison to buses, you don't see trains derailing as often, do you? :) (For more information, do visit KTM's website here :

Sitiawan's very own, Kampuan (sp?) Noodles ..... dry or wet, with curry, wantan (dumplings), pork ribs, fishball, etc. The choice is yours. But the compulsory dash of Kampung Koh's Garlic Chilli sauce is inevitable.
This journey takes precedence over my Hanoi posts, for a simple but obvious reason. To squeeze dry my brain juices in order to recollect the Halong Bay journey may take a lifetime, given the fact that I'm rather drained for the time being. Soon, OK?
Last week, work took us to Sitiawan, and Seri Manjung, both towns next to each other, located at the western coast of Perak. If you've been to Lumut (where the jetty's at before departing to Pulau Pangkor), you would've passed by these towns somehow, unknowingly. The Lumut Highway is a wonderful path to discover smaller and some off-the-(tourists)-track destinations in Perak. From Parit, Pusing and Tronoh, to Seri Iskandar, Beruas, Pantai Remis, and of course, Ayer Tawar, Sitiawan and Seri Manjung. The highway (wonder if that's what it's called, officially) does NOT collect toll fees, fret not. And with two lanes on each side, with 90km speed limit, and 60km at certain areas.

The famous item in Kampung Koh, Sitiawan is Loh Mee - A special noodle dish with wet, thick and sticky gravy
This corner shop at the Kampung Koh crossroad traffic lights attracted our attention, while we were busy searching high and low for breakfast. The place was packed with locals and out-of-towners alike (it's rather easy to spot them, as we're considered outsiders here as well!).
The famous Loh Mee in Kampung Koh is supposedly located near to the wet market, but we had no idea where the market is. And after countless rounds in Seri Manjung in search of a proper breakfast joint, we instinctively jumped at the opportunity of joining the crowd that morning.

Look for this corner shop, at Kampung Koh, Sitiawan
You can point to what others are having, in case you're at lost on what to order. The Loh Mee was sadly out-of-stock by the time we went, hence we ordered a Dry and a Wet version of their famous homemade noodles.
Resembling the texture of Hakka noodles, the springy, flat noodles was thankfully devoid of alkaline taste (from lye water being used), and complemented well by slices of tender pork ribs, and fried shallots. The noodle on itself was rather tasteless, but that's when the condiments come into play. Kampung Koh's original chilli sauce (Koki brand) and vinegar with garlic (in a jar) did the job well, lending a sour/spicy note to the noodles and meat.
Location : Sin Ek Sek @ Main Road, Kampung Koh, 32000 Sitiawan, Perak. Sorry no MAP, but coming from Sitiawan town towards Kampung Koh, you'll see this shop on your left, at the traffic lights.

JAMES CENDOL - Now helmed by the wife instead .....

So what's next after breakfast? Thirsty? Suffocating from the sweltering heat? No sweat. Look for the famous Sitiawan cendol, situated in front of the Indian temple, within walking distance from The Store in Sitiawan on Jalan Lumut.

The Indian temple (Maha Mariamman), closed to the public on that afternoon

At RM1.30 per bowl, you get a substantial bowl of green pea flour strips (Cendol), and red beans dunked in shaved ice (using the ORIGINAL shaving machine!) and Gula Melaka
The difference lies in the preparation of the cendol. And the presentation of the proprietor, or rather, the wife of the owner. The owner is seemingly operating at another location, while this original location is being manned by the wife, complete with the signature RED bowtie. Yup, remember the RED bowtie, not BLACK. There's a flattering imitation a stone's throw away.
As I mentioned, the preparation of a bowl of their famous cendol requires much sweat, though no tears. The classic ice-shaving machine probably has history dating back to my grandfather's generation, and you can witness her pumping muscles ... I mean, vigorously rotating the handle to generate shaved ice bits for the cendol. Not as smooth as those Ais Kacang, but you can bite on those crunchy tiny bits of ice, in addition to the soft strands of Cendol, and large red beans. Though I'm still giving my vote to the Penang Road's version, James Cendol deserves an honorable mention in my books.
Location : James Cendol @ Jalan Lumut, 32000 Sitiawan. In front of the Maha Mariamman Temple, near to The Store. Opens daily from 11.30 am onwards, until the day's supply finishes, or until about 7pm.

When even royalty beckons .... you know it's gotta be good
Of course, after breakfast, and erm, a simple cendol-refresher, we had to finish our duty for the day, before feeding our lunch cravings.
How to burn calories, you asked?

Teluk Batik beach ..... about 10 minutes away from Sitiawan
Surprisingly, it was my virginal visit to Teluk Batik. Where? Haha ... Least I'm not alone. Teluk Batik is a beach getaway on the western coast of Perak, about 5 minutes drive from Lumut, and accessible by car, with ample parking space, and a few resorts for travellers.

It's midday, yet the place was crowded .... school holidays = hot period, apparently ....

The beach is lined with various stalls, selling food & beverages, as well as clothes, accessories and souvenirs. A tourist destination but overshadowed by Pulau Pangkor, indefinitely, Teluk Batik has been attracting a steady stream of tourists (majority the locals, from what I witnessed that afternoon), and even had a facelift of sorts, now with a Waterfront square, just like Lumut.

Even a Sea Shells Museum?!

The seemingly abandoned museum .... One wonders who admire, erm, sea shells?

The waterfront square facing the sea

Obviously, people stare when you're all decked in shirts and suits, with slacks and leather shoes, all the while prancing and camwhoring by the sea, under the scorching heat. Ahem, but nobody recognizes us ma no uneasiness at all. Thick-skinned eh? :)
You can visit for information on the beach, as well as contacts for various hotels/resorts around the area.
Here's a MAP, so you can have a rough idea where this place is. "Teluk" means bay in Malay language, probably stemming from the inward curving bay this beach is located. Though far from pristine waters ..... or golden sands, at least you don't need to travel far for a simple yet relaxing holidays.

No, you're not seeing double. They've 'expanded' across the lane!

And to cap things off, we went for a late lunch (we DID work, after all) at Nasi Ayam Mama in Seri Manjung. A very, very popular HALAL restaurant in Seri Manjung, you'll be stumped at the sheer amount of people having lunch here during peak hours.

The interior is very clean, bright and airy
Recommended by Malay colleagues as well as other races, their specialty needs no intepretation. Or you can't understand what Nasi Ayam means? It means Chicken Rice, in Malay.

Very Chinese-oriented, except the chicken, served with a dark, thick and sweetish gravy (RM4 per plate)
The Chicken Rice here is GOOD. I seldom throw praises on Malay-style Chicken Rice, as most failed in the chicken department (tough, not tender, salty, or plain tasteless) or the rice department (soggy, too artificially yellow, too hard, or overpowering margarine taste). But pleasantly surprised by Nasi Ayam Mama's quality, the rice being fragrant and fluffy, resembling Hainanese chicken rice, while the roast chicken was flavoursome, with or without the gravy. The dipping sauces were right on as well, the chilli sauce being a little sweetish, and the bird's eye chillies in thick soy sauce was perfect to perk things up. The soup was a little too peppery for my taste, but Mr Z (my colleague) enjoyed it nonetheless.
FYI, they serve other dishes as well, rice and noodles alike.
Location : Nasi Ayam Mama @ 63-65, Persiaran Manjung 3/2, Taman Manjung Point Seksyen 3, 32040 Seri Manjung, Perak.

With that .... we departed back to Ipoh ; Hunger pangs Satiated, Sleepy yet Satisfied .....

Thursday, March 19, 2009

From Hanoi to Halong Bay ... One of the 7 Wonders Yet?

Continuation from Day 4 - Hanoi Day Tour DIY ....

At only USD8/pax, this is more than satisfactory, is it not?
I'll breeze through this post as much as possible, as I'm sure most of you would've sighed .... "Not another Hanoi post ..... Oh, man .... Episode what now? XXXVII??"
In reality, I've only reached Day 4 ... moving on to Day 5 with today's post. Bear with me, the saga will end soon .... =P
After lunch at Highway 4 Restaurant, we proceeded to Dong Xuan Market, to the north of Hoan Kiem Lake. Taxi fare from the restaurant to the market? 30,000 Dong/RM6/USD1.70 for a cab for six. Expectations running high, we were somewhat stumped as the place was far from a shopping paradise, but there were a few steals far and between. The luggage bags, backpacks, souvenirs, ornaments and statues, as well as dried fruits (sweetened/pickled fruits of all varieties) and coffee are worth noticing.

A street selling beautiful and colourful lanterns and ornaments .... It was a month past CNY though ....
Spending about an hour and half at the market, we started to suffer from exhaustion, as we haven't been resting since sleeping on the train the night before. Though the distance from the market to our Hanoi Guesthouse is rather negligible, we unanimously voted to take a cab instead, choosing to sacrifice some VND rather than precious energy.
But things do not always go in your favour, although you've got the moolah ($$$) for them. A few taxis were not willing to ferry us back to our guesthouse at Bat Su Street, being a win-loss situation of sorts, with us being the profiteers, and the drivers instead having to maneouvre difficult alleys and avoiding bikes to earn a measly amount. But the charm (hehe) of the Malaysians somehow saved the day, a taxi driver fell for our droopy eyes-endearing puppies look. For 12,000 Dong/RM2.40/USD0.70, the ride was indeed worth the price paid.

At the northern part of Hoan Kiem Lake, shops selling silk products line the streets ....
Ahhhh .... but Hanoi Guesthouse was full for the day. WHAT?!!! *_*
No worries as Mrs Linh was a kind soul, arranging an alternative place for accomodation, at Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel. A few streets away, we were led to the place by her brother who's also working at Hanoi Guesthouse, with looks resembling a movie star. (And a 10,000 Volt smile sure to melt any maiden's heart). He was accomodating in many ways, even ferrying our huge-a$$ baggages using his motorcycle!!! Talk about stability.
The rooms were spotless, slightly more spacious than Hanoi Guesthouse even, with hot shower, a bath tub (made from PLASTIC, mind you), TV and the usual bells and whistles, sans the air-conditioner. But you wouldn't wanna die from hypothermia anyway.

The silk products such as ladies' bags, and cushion covers are good-buys. But practise your bargain skills ....
After a soothing hot shower bath, and well-deserved rest, we embarked again in search of good food. Dinnertime! Torn between few options, we picked seafood dinner at Tong Duy Tan Street, some distance away from our guesthouse, but bearable as the weather was cooling, to the point of freezing cold later that evening.

The bigger the crowd, the better the food ..... right?
The stroll to our dinner destination was eased by window-shopping, from silk shops to souvenir outlets, and fashion boutiques. But bear in mind the prices is significantly higher than the stuff sold at Dong Xuan Market.

Clockwise from top left : Stir fried Snails with Vegetables, Glass Noodles with Crab Meat, Sweet and Sour Prawns, and Steamed Fish with Beer

No recollection of the items description, as I can't locate the receipt, nor made any notes. The food ain't living up to expectations, but not to the point of inedible. Far from inedible I'd say. The steamed beer fish sounds tantalizing, yet failed to deliver. When the fish arrived on our table, the flesh was slightly translucent and pinkish, indicating insufficient cooking time. They concurred and re-steamed the fish, but any cook worth his salt would know what happens to fish being steamed twice.

Deep-fried Cheese Potatoes ... or something. Translation? French Fried with sesame seeds.
The meal was rather cheap, if I'm not mistaken. The whole street was lined with similar type of 'Dai Chow' type of Chinese restaurants, but no sight of grilled seafood I've been anticipating for. Hmm, whatever.

Mixed Fruit Drink with Milk and Ice (12,000 Dong/RM2.40/USD0.70 per glass)
The comforting breeze was welcoming, as it was either raining cats and dogs, or scorching hot back in our country at that time. We arrived at a corner shop, crowded with people seated on small plastic stools inside and outside of the shop @ 46, Hang Gai Street, at the corner of Pho To Tich Street. Everyone seemed to be having fun mixing and slurping on their glass of colourful mixed fruit drinks with milk and shaved ice. Needless to say, we joined the crowd.
The air was rather dry, hence lots of liquid's recommended. The refreshing combination of watermelon, strawberries, kiwis, soursop, mango etc etc, drizzled generously with milk, and topped with shaved ice made the shop a perfect rest stop. The shop's name could be "Sinh To Hoa Qua Tuoi", as the words were printed on the canopy, but I could be wrong, what's more with our limited vocab of Vietnamese. :)
We then proceeded to the night market in Old Quarters, operating only from evening onwards but on weekends only. Apparels, accessories, display items, etc were being sold on the streets, spanning maybe hundreds of stalls. But the temperature was chilly, and with foggy minds, we retreated back to our hotel, and had a good night's sleep .....

Breakfast at Hanoi Blue Sky Hotel - Complimentary
At a mere USD8 per person per night, what we were getting was VALUE indeed. With breakfast thrown in, from a choice of noodles (instant noodles though, resembling Nissin type with either beef or chicken), or baguette with butter/jam or egg.

The rest area with the disabled community working in full force and paintings (made from intrinsic weaving) being sold for charity
The next day we departed to Halong Bay, situated to the Northeast of Vietnam. We took the tour package from Sinh Cafe, amounting to USD33 per person, inclusive of a night's stay on the junk boat, 4 meals, kayak-ing activity, and entrance to the caves. There are countless tour cafe offering such packages, from as cheap as USD15, to some deluxe tours priced at about USD60 and above. Even Sinh Cafe has its imitators from all corners, and on some streets, you can even see Sinh Cafe on your left, right, front and back. Imitation the best form of flattery?
The screening process was daunting, as we were not prepared for such difficulties in choosing the RIGHT one. Trusting our instincts after a few misses, we stepped into a Sinh Cafe at 4C, Dinh Liet Street, Hoan Kiem Dist, Hanoi. The lady was friendly, and looked honest enough, explaining in details what our journey will consist of.

The jetty after about 3-4 hours ride
The van picked us up from our hotel at about 8.30am, and then departed to the pier at Halong Bay. The journey took about 4 hours, with one rest stop in between. No food and drinks are allowed on board the junk boats, but plain water's OK. Remember to bring your bottles of water on board to stay hydrated, but if not, no worries as they're selling various beverages on board, and not too expensive either. A bottle of water at 10,000 Dong, a cup of coffee at 10,000 Dong, etc.

Which one?!!! The wait was ... relentless.
Our package includes an English-speaking tour guide, named Toan (a guy), and our boat fits about 15 people, with rooms on the lower level, as well as one on the middle level. The middle level also houses the dining area-cum-common room with TV, tables and sofa, as well as the drinks bar. The upper level is open-air with benches and seats for you to lie down, and soak in the chilly sea breeze and come nighttime, stars-watching activity. Sadly, the weather was a little foggy, hence no stars nor moon for us. =(

Though not the deluxe version of the boat trip, our junk boat ain't too shabby either, with clean and rustic dining area, complete with nicely-folded napkins and table cloth
There are other tour options, customized to your needs, from a basic day trip to 2 days one night either on the boat or on land (Cat Ba Island's one of the choice), or a longer 3 days 2 nights package, with one night on boat and another on land.

Far from fine dining level, but the homecooked style was charming, and tastewise? Not bad at all.

Half an orange each, instead of one per person like in Sapa's Summit Hotel

Any idea where we were heading to?

To be continued ......