Monday, December 31, 2012

Hanoi, Vietnam Part 1

We just came back from a 5 days trip to Hanoi. It was our first time there and needless to say, we asked friends who had been there before for their advise. Not many of my friends like it though. They couldn't pin point the reason for it...just no feel for it. This made us even more confused. This would be the first time we 'rough it out' with the kids (no typical Kids Resorts or English speaking countries) so we were both excited and nervous at the same time. Afterall, we wanted this trip to be educational. We wanted the children to look beyond the comfort and conveniences they have back at home. We wanted them to be thankful for their blessings and bless others. The world is not all about what they want. We live in a world with many differences, whether it be social, educational, or even political. The bottom line is we want them to accept and respect the differences and bless in whatever way they can.

We managed to get a super sale deal on Silkair so it was great. Not much difference from budget airline tickets so we chose Silkair, obviously. We booked Hanoi Moment hotel based on the reviews on Tripadvisor and we were all set to go. Our flight is 3 plus in the afternoon and because it was Silkair, we were able to check in at 1030 - 11am. A good 5 hours before the take off. We sure took it slow -  a slow walk around the terminal, a slow lunch and a lot of time for drawing (at the Art Corner) and play (at the Family Zone) By the time we were on the plane, girls were so tired they dozed off immediately. It was all part of the plan (evil grin).
Lotsa fun at the Family Zone

All ready to take off
Airport transfer was arranged prior to departure so we were able to weave through the airport. For those travelling to Vietnam, do note that there have been a lot of taxi scams going on. We were informed by the hotel and we, too, read about it on forums. Taxis would start off with a very attractive price before raising it to a ridiculous amount upon arriving at the destinations. 'Drivers' would pose as taxi-drivers and before you know it, the dollars would fly out of your pockets.  Apparently, the situation is also beyond the control of the local police. Or so we heard. I rather be safe than sorry.

The hotel we booked was simply fantastic. It is located right in the middle of the Old Quarters (perfect for bargain buys and interesting sights and sounds) and it is very clean and modern. The staff is of exceptional quality and we were all very pleasantly surprised to find such value in a small hotel. A laptop, with free wifi, was also provided, which was great as we like to travel light. What helped ace the hotel stay is the impeccable service. When we arrived, the doorman and the manager rushed across the road to help us with our luggages, all with big smiles. Check in was swift and we were brought up to our family suite by the Customer Service Manager, Tom, who made sure we were well settled in and that we had everything we needed. Should we need anything, all we had to do is to call the reception and it would be attended to immediately. Maybe it is because it is a small hotel and messages get around really quickly. Whatever it is, we are impressed. Daily room cleaning was done by 3 staff and they were very thorough in their work. I am very picky with the cleanliness and presentation of toilets and Hanoi Moment and its staff did not disappoint. It was so clean and beautifully decorated with flowers on the shower floor that I took longer than usual in the showers. There was also no mold in between the tiles. Yes, I am that picky especially since that was my precious 'me' time.

Breakfast is buffet styled, even though you can only choose from the breakfast menu and the kitchen staff will cook it for you upon ordering. Nonetheless, we are not complaining. Food was served very quickly and everything on the menu was so delicious. My 2 daughters ended up ordering their favourites every morning - chocolate pancake, honey pancake, noodle soup and fresh milk. The fresh milk came in really handy because my younger daughter is a big lover of fresh milk. More importantly, it can be served warm. All the more better for my girl. My favourite would have to be the beef noodle soup. I simply couldn't have enough of it. What topped up the wonderful food was their service. Everyone was so happy, friendly and warm in the morning that it helped to brighten up my day too. Everyone was greeted by name and even the Sales Manager and Customer Service Managers would help in the serving of tables. One can really see the team work in the Hanoi Moment family. The staff would go around the tables and initiate friendly chats with the guests. The breakfast room is very small, only 5 tables, with each table accommodating 4 guests. But because the staff was so friendly and warm, all the guests started making friendly conversations with one another too. When we were taking photos, someone from another table even offered to help us take a family shot. Breakfast became very enjoyable throughout the days we were there. The breakfast staff would also try their best to accede to our requests should we want something outside the breakfast menu. My husband ordered soup with just beef and chicken, without the noodles, and they were more than happy to see to that. They found out that my husband loves their oranges and they offered to send more to our room. You should see the delighted faces when we returned to our room to find that promise fulfilled.

The staff always greeted us warmly whenever we walked past the lobby. The doorman would also give my daughters high-fives whenever they walked through the door. My girls loved it! He is also always cleaning the door and the lobby. No wonder, the lobby is always so clean and neat. The Sales Manager, Ms Ching Nguyen and her team of friendly receptionists, are always at the lobby, ready to help us with any requests. They loved the kids and hence my daughters always looked forward to playing with them. It sure helped to set the mood especially after a long walk out in the crazy traffic. We felt so safe once we entered the hotel. So much so that we had no qualms sending our elder daughter down to the lobby to get some materials from the receptionists. We wouldn't do that in other hotels.  

We ordered room service a lot because the girls needed to take their afternoon naps and they sleep early at night. Ordering is simple, just tell them the item number and quantity. They always said that food would be served in 30 minutes and they were always on time, which is very important when we have 2 hungry children. We would bathe the kids while waiting for the food and by the time they are done, food would have arrived. Perfect timing. In short, we love our choice of accommodation.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Marriott Vacation Club Phuket

It was the Sept school holiday break so we decided to steal away to somewhere near. We settled for Marriott Vacation Club Phuket on W's colleague's recommendation and were not disappointed. The pick up from airport was swift and because it was located so near the airport, just 20 minutes away, the kids were able to tolerate the journey well. We walked past the Kids Club upon check in and the children couldn't wait to start their engines at the Kids Club.

The Kids Club has many activities for the kids. It helps that both our kids are a little bit older now so they could do more craft activities. I signed them up for a few activities each day and W and I could take turns to hit the gym. The staff at the Kids Club was so friendly and helpful. They would help the kids feel comfortable and made the effort to interact with them. For the adults, hourly activities are also arranged so I signed myself up for a few too, morning stretch, tennis... knowing full well that the kids would be well taken care of at the Kids Club. My precious 'Me' time.

What I loved the most was the room. A 2 bedroom apartment, with everything you need. Kitchen, washing machine, dryer and 2 bathrooms which come in really handy since the 2 kids always have the urge to want to visit the toilet at the same time. I attribute that to sisters' telepathy. From our apartment, we could see the swimming pool and the playground, which the girls frequented and enjoyed thoroughly. The apartment was kept clean daily and the beds were so comfortable. I later found out that they were from Simmons. The girls slept so well was indeed a must needed restful holiday.

We ate at the in house restaurant most of the time because that was the most convenient. If you rather, you can always take the free shutter bus to Marriott which is just a 5 minutes drive away. W and I decided to be more adventurous and rented bicycles from the Activity Center (for free) and went all the way to Renaissance Phuket Resort and Spa for dinner. It was an easy ride and it took us only 20 minutes to get there. In the end, we opted for the small roadside store along one of the sliproad just outside Renaissance, for the authentic experience of eating local food.

The 4 days stay was indeed a good rest where both children and parents could be kept entertained and happy.

Raffles Museum: "National Treasures"

We had a dinner appointment in the west a couple of weeks back and decided to swing by the National University of Singapore to visit one of my favourite hangouts as a student: the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity. It was my honour to be the unofficial tour guide for my family as it was their first time at the museum.

You need to make a trip there to understand why I call it the 'National Treasures'. The block is a five minute walk through a carpark away from the main road (Lower Kent Ridge Road), and upon reaching the floor, you would realise that the 5 room flat sized public gallery is tucked away in a quiet corner. We were the only visitors there at that time. The gallery was quiet, relatively dimely lit with spot lights on the exhibits.

And what an amazing time we had. The children were intrigued by almost everything they saw, so much so that they went about 5 rounds and we spent about an hour in that small space. They were asking questions about the different animals, from why they were here, to what they ate, to where they lived. There was a small section on fossils and dinosaurs with some informative posters and some bones, which presented a brief preview of the arrival of the three sauropod skeletons to be housed in the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, which will open in 2014. The girls were also especially interested in the insect and mollusk display cabinets.

Aside from our personal encounter with the exhibits, I will refrain from going into the facts and figures, and stories behind them. These I'll have to leave you to find out for yourself during your next visit. I must add, however, that the exhibits placed in the public gallery are only a small representation of the tens of thousands of rare, unique and valuable specimens, some of which date back to the time of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore himself, who was an avid collector of specimens throughout his expeditions into the 'unknown realm' of South East Asia. Many of these specimens are often only viewed upon request by visiting researchers, but the collections are occasionally open to guided public tours, such as on International Museum Day. Needless to say, rapid development in Singapore has reduced the species count to about a quarter of that during the days of Sir Stamford Raffles, and it is indeed sad that the only records of some of these animals lie in the cabinets of this museum.

You should be able to find more information on this interesting enclave with a simple Google search, but here are two sites to start you off.

1. The official RMBR website: