Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sepang International Circuit : More to than just F1 Races

Let's be totally honest here, what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say Sepang International Circuit (SIC) ? F1 Races of course! Or Motor GP! But what if I told you, there is just more to than those races that actually happens over at SIC?

The SIC is officiated on March 9, 1999 by Tun Dr.Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's former Prime Minister. This massive and modern circuit was completed in a span of a year and two months, which is a pretty remarkable feat!

Driving here or getting a cab may be the only option to get here, as it is situated about 85km from the city of KL. The flip side to this, it is close to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), which makes it a suitable place to hold events, from world-class international ones to a private affair like weddings.

A bunch of bloggers were invited for an exclusive Circuit Tour, for us it was a sneak peek of the circuit normally restricted to public. After a short brief about the company, we were brought to heart of the circuit - the Pit Building. 

The Pit Building
State of the art facilities are found here - Race Control Room, Time Keeping Room, Management Offices, Paddock Clubs (suitable for hosting large events such as convention or ballroom) and 33 Pits, truly an impressive control center.

Time Keepers in action
Space for rent! Spacious and air conditioned.
We were lucky in a way as we get to witness the start of an actual race (the Sepang 1000km Endurance Race) and experienced life behind the fast lane (well, just at the Starting Grid). The medias will get photo and interview opportunities with the drivers before the actual race begin. 

Photo Opp with Tengku Djan, Proton's racer and le bloggers.
We also experienced dining nearby the Perdana Suite (reserved mainly for Royalties and Foreign Dignitaries). The open air dining during the race could be a bit too loud for casual conversations, but I would say that the venue would have a different ambiance at night, facing the unconventional scene of the race track.

Inside the Perdana Suite
The Welcome Centre is where the administrative offices are located. We were privileged to actually go behind the scene and visit the Race Control Room, where races are monitored via a network of fiber optic cabling systems. It does feel as if I was in a rocket launching command centre (wild imagination).

Race Control Room
Oh, and what tour would it be WITHOUT a pose at the podium? #selfexcitedmoment

Look! No competition :)
SIC also have an impressive Media Centre. Press Conference Room, 430 seats of workstations equipped with power and internet sockets, television, and mini stage - One rather impressive place to hold a conference I must say.

The Media Centre
Probably one of the most iconic view of SIC is the Grandstand Tower. Its roof architectural influence is from the hibiscus, Malaysia's national flower and this tower is the highest possible constructed building due to height restrictions since SIC is located close to the KLIA.

The iconic Towers of SIC
For those who craves for something that is more physically enticing, there are go kart and paintball facilities as well, just ensure you make your appointments before hand. There's also a National Automobile Museum that showcases some of Malaysia's automobile history for those interested in cars and such. 

Blast from the Past of Vroom Vroom proportion.
Right opposite the museum, there's a merchandise shop where you can purchase SIC themed memorabilia - shirts, caps, umbrella, miniatures - they probably have what you want as souvenir!

Merchandises for sale
For more information, or to purchase tickets for future races, do head to the SIC webpage. I personally felt that this was an interesting tour, given that I almost made it to the previous F1 race (but I was late and couldn't find a parking and headed home :\ ), and I am glad that I participated in this tour. Do give it a shot, and share your experience and new insights of the Sepang International Circuit to your friends and family, I believe this would help boost and help SIC to maintain and further better the facilities for more upcoming events. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tips and Tricks : 30 Things to do in Hanoi (Part 2)

A continuation to the 30 things to do in Hanoi (if you have been following so far here).

15. Eating on the Streets
Low stools, along the streets, with authentic stir fries or soup noodles, and beer, eating on the streets must be one of things to try in Hanoi, to feel like a local and definitely an experience.

14. Dong Xuan and the Night Markets
Basically Dong Xuan is worth the visit, if you have already mastered the skills of haggling and if you are into souvenir hunting. Located on Dong Xuan street, expect massive crowd (and beware of your belongings of course) while you are here. The Old Quarters comes to live during the weekend nights, so if you have missed Dong Xuan, the roads along Hang Ngang and Dong Xuan should be sufficient non the less.

Dong Xuan Market (that building on the right)
13. Long Biên Bridge
The Long Biên Bridge connects two districts, Hoan Kiem and Long Bien. Originally called Paul Doumer Bridge, this historic cantilever bridge across the Red River is probably one of the most photographed bridge aside from the Huc Bridge in Hanoi. We did spot wedding couples taking their wedding photos here.

Long Bien Bridge
12. Trung Nguyên Coffee
Proclaimed as World's Number 1 coffee, Trung Nguyên is the largest domestic coffee brand within Vietnam, and exports its products to more than 60 countries. Do sample their best seller, the Legendee alongside with other creative blends of theirs. Coffee drips, Vietnamese style is one of Trung Nguyên's signature way to enjoy their coffee too.

11. Remembering Hồ Chí Minh - The Mausoleum and the Museum
Located in the center of Ba Dinh Square lies the Mausoleum of  Hồ Chí Minh, the former Vietnamese leader and Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Specific timing for the visit (and based on what we've read online, the queuing line is a horror) and there are heaps of rules to follow including very decent wears and constrained gestures must be adhered there. Skip-able unless if  Hồ Chí Minh inspires you heaps to visit, otherwise you can consider the  Hồ Chí Minh Museum, not too far away from it. Constructed in the 90's, this museum is often regarded by some as a propaganda tool of the Vietnamese Communist regime. Basically, you can learn more on Hồ Chí Minh here (again, if you wish too of course).

HCM Museum (The Communist Party symbol at the entrance, quite hard core!)
HCM Mausoleum
10. One Pillar Pagoda
This Buddhist temple is a stone throw from the Hồ Chí Minh Museum, next to the Perfume Temple. The Perfume Temple seems to be under renovation when we were there. Built from woods and supported by a single stone pillar, the pagoda is designed to resemble a lotus blossom (Buddhist symbol of purity). A survivor of its own virtues, it was destroyed by the French in 1954 and it was rebuilt after the French's withdrawal. The pagoda, to me looks more like a small shrine, rather then a majestic pagoda I thought I would see.

Sharky and Ms.Foo and The One Pillar Pagoda
9. Presidential Palace and Hồ Chí Minh's House.
Built to house the French Governer- General of Indochina in the 1900's, this 'palace' would be a perfect European architecture masquerade, had it not been for the mango trees that are grown in its vicinity. Story goes that when Hồ Chí Minh took over Northern Vietnam, he declined to stay in the palace and rather the humble, stilted servant quarters behind it. The palace is strictly off limits for visitors but the stilted house and the garden area in its vicinity is open for strolls and visits. Remember to get the tickets (Around VND 25000) before entering as it can be tricky finding the exact entrance it and you may enter from the exit (like what we did).

Presidential Palace
Uncle Ho (HCM) House
8. Cafe Giang Egg Coffee
Mushrooming cafes are a common sight in Nguyen Huu Huan street but when you are here, you have got to try Cafe Giang's Egg Coffee. One of Hanoi's hidden gem, the ca phe trung (egg coffee) is a simple concoction of Vietnamese coffee powder, condensed milk and egg yolk (eggs were used to substitute milk as it used to be scarce in Vietnam).The cup is placed on hot water to maintain its temperature and one of Cafe Giang's greatest kept secret, is the perfect composition of ingredients to prevent it from being too rich in flavor and keeping the integrity of the coffee scent and flavour in it. Just look for number 39 in Nguyen Huu Huan Street for this unique coffee. We came here 3 nights out of our 4 nights in Hanoi itself, speaking of obsession!

Ca Phe Trung (Egg Coffee)
7. West Lake and Trấn Quốc Pagoda
Aside from the Hoen Kiem Lake, the West Lake is Hanoi's most visited recreational area. Booming properties prices are said in this area, where hotels and restaurants are common sights. The Trấn Quốc Pagoda in Hanoi is the oldest pagoda in the city (constructed in the sixth century). This picturesque pagoda (well, more so than the One Pillar Pagoda) and Buddhist temple is a definite attraction here.

6. Xoi Yen Sticky Rice
If you find yourself hungry in the Old Quarters, make your way to Nguyen Huu Huan street for their sticky rice. Accompanied with a layer of green beans, fried onions/shallots and toppings like BBQ pork and Chinese sausage. You will find yourself dining on short stools and this is one filling dinner or supper that you can find in Hanoi.

Sticky Rice - Was thinking it'll be too heavy for consumption, definitely need the accompanying sides to cut down the richness of the sticky rice!

5. Hoàn Kiếm Lake and the Turtle Tower.
The Hồ Hoàn Kiếm (Hoàn Kiếm Lake) is also known as 'The Lake of the Restored Sword'. Legend has it, emperor Lê Lợi was cruising on the lake when a Golden Turtle God surfaced and asked for his magic sword, 'The Heaven's Will'. Apparently this sword is some big shot weapon borrowed by the Golden Turtle God during the emperor's revolt against the Ming Dynasty, and so the history behind its name. The Turtle Tower erected on a small island near the center of lake is linked to the legend.

Turtle Temple (middle of the Hoan Kiem lake)
4. Huc Bridge, Ngọc Sơn Temple
Connecting the Jade Islet and the shore across the Hoàn Kiếm Lake is the Huc Bridge, also known as the Morning Sunlight Bridge, probably due to its vibrant red colour. Đền Ngọc Sơn, or the Ngọc Sơn Temple is dedicated to Trần Hưng Đạo, a national hero and Confucian and Taoist philosophers. Entrance fee to the temple is VND 3000 although just standing on the bridge is absolutely free!

Ngoc Son Temple
Huc Bridge

3. Ga Nuong Suon Huong Food Stall
Located in Ly Van Phuc (and trust me, this was a challenging place to find) and infamously known as 'Chicken Street' due to its popularity from the barbecue poultry that is fired up for your taste buds on this street. You may have the barbecued meats with chili sauce and pickled vegetables but its savory bbq sauce is a standalone it self. The menu is slightly challenging, as there is no English for reference but we survived and managed to order our wings (though their English is limited but the 'captain' there would be articulate enough to understand your order). Go straight to the end of the Chicken Street, the last stalls is the most famous with the preceding stalls might not fare as well in terms of taste. Do enjoy the bbq meats with Larue beer, another local beer in Hanoi.

2. Temple of Literature
Văn Miếu, or the Temple of Literature is a Confucian temple that hosts the "Imperial Academy" Quốc Tử Giám, Vietnam's first national university. Dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. the Temple of Literature is abundant with pavilions, halls, and statues. This is where offering ceremonies, study sessions and the strict exams of the Dai Viet took place. You might notice this temple printed behind your VND 100000 note. An ideal place to take graduation and/or wedding photos for the locals. The entrance fee is VND 10000.

1.  Phở
Phở is Vietnam's most iconic dish This noodle soup consists of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat. It's a popular street food served with beef (most famous) or chicken/pork. One of the stall to savour this dish is Phở Bò Gia Truyên, the lining crowd is the clearest evident that this is THE place to try the phở, though I've skipped this and opted for a neighboring place to have this hearty dish because I they only serve beef based phở.

Cray cray line at Phở Bò Gia Truyên
Phở Bo (Beef Pho) and Phở Ga (Chicken Pho). Shredded lemon grass for extra fragrance and Yu Tiao? :O
There you have it, 30 things to do in Hanoi City itself. With some homework you can actually do more in Hanoi as it has loads to offer, reputable food scenes and cultural sightings and architectures that you can enjoy here! 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tips and Tricks : 30 Things to do in Hanoi

Hanoi marked my 6th South East Asian (SEA) country visited, and I'm targeting to complete the SEA leg (namely Laos, Myanmar and Philippines) in 2015. This capital city is probably the most visited city in Vietnam, and it even ranked 8th in Trip Advisor's World Best Destination in 2014.

Free maps available at the airport and hotel for your touristy agenda when you are in Hanoi :)
If you find yourself in Hanoi, for 2 days or so, these are 30 ideas of what you can spend your time on, in Hanoi City that is. The list however is not inclusive of the main destination we came Hanoi for, the Ha Long Bay and tourists favorite of scenic Sapa. 

30. Lunch at Quan An Ngon.
Just arrived in Hanoi or too indecisive to head to a specific area, for a specific meal? This is just a place to be, extensive menu and a taste of Vietnam, all under one roof. (Find it at 18 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi)

Do come before 12, where the lunch crowd is built and might need to wait for seats.
29. St. Joseph Cathedral
St. Joseph's Cathedral located at Nha Tho (Church) Street in the Hoan Kiem District of Hanoi, Vietnam serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi to nearly 4 million Catholics in the country. Looking similar to Notre Dame in Paris, this oldest church in Hanoi is a significant influence of the French colony in Hanoi.

St. Joseph Cathedral, Hanoi
28. Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton)
The Hỏa Lò Prison - also known as Hanoi Hilton, has nothing to do with Hilton. This museum used to house political and war prisoners by the French colonists and North Vietnam.

The wall color looks nice though for a prison :P
27. Bahn Mi
The bánh mì, also known as the Vietnamese sandwich is another street food to try. This sandwich is good for breakfast or take away on the go!

Bahn Mi and coffee, seems like a complete breakfast (or tea time) :) Taken at Highland Hotel Boathouse, near West Lake
26. Quan Su Temple
Quán Sứ Temple is the headquarters of the Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam. Didn't manage to visit the this Buddhist temple thoroughly since we arrived here late.

Quan Su Temple
25. French Quarter
Ba Đình is an urban district and political center of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. It was formally called the "French Quarter" and located southeast of Hoan Kiem Lake. During the French occupation, authentic Vietnamese buildings were replaced with French architecture. Most of the 'atas' (read : sophisticated, high class) restaurants and hotels are found here, like the Metropole Hanoi Hotel. Also, expect to find international known brands outlets here (Starbucks anyone?).

Hotel Metropole Hanoi
24. Spring Rolls
When you want to eat one of Vietnam's iconic dishes, where else to have it than Vietnam itself. Eaten either steamed or fried, the spring rolls consists of rice paper wrap with vegetable or meat fix ins. A must try.

I prefer the fresh spring roll compared to its fried counter part, just a preference :)
23. The Conical Hat Hunt
Shutterbugs would understand, it wouldn't exactly be Vietnam if you do not have a typical shot of someone in Vietnam's iconic conical hat. Bear in mind, some of the 'models' may charge you for taking shots of them, so steal some shots if you feel like doing so. They can even loan you their conical hat (and the scales) for a certain fee, just don't get ripped off.

Typical Vietnamese ladies with conical hats. Not exactly a rare sight :)
22. Souvenirs Scavenging
From puppets to conical hats, souvenirs are aplenty especially if you are in the city center. I personally felt that 3D pop up paper art cards are one of Hanoi's better known souvenirs to take away, affordable and light on your luggage. Otherwise, coffee powder or some local biscuits would work too! :)

Puppets anyone?
21. Bia Hoi
Bia hơi, (hơi means gas, bia is from French bière, "beer"), is a type of draft beer popular in Vietnam, and can go as low as US $1 per bottle. Drink at the street for a more authentic, Hanoi experience.

Street beer.
20. Water Puppet Show
Apparently this puppet show is a famous water puppetry show among locals and tourists alike, accompanied with Vietnamese folk lore and orchestra story telling. Also didn't manage to slot a time for this, unless if you can understand the story since the whole show would be in Vietnamese that is.

Tickets tickets tickets. Get your tickets yo!
19. Hanoi Opera House
Hanoi Opera House is an, you guessed it, opera house that was modeled on the Palais Garnier, the older of Paris's two opera houses, and is considered to be one of the architectural landmarks of Hanoi. Spotted here, art students that sketch the building, peeked a few of them and they are good!

Hanoi Opera House on an equally hectic street as the Old Quarter, but easier to navigate along for sure. 
18. City View Cafe
Another one of Hanoi City Center icon, City View Cafe is actually located on the 5th floor, above a few restaurants and Highland Coffee, one of Vietnam's famous coffee franchise. Snag a place up there and view the city from a heighten view, and watch the how the Vietnamese and tourists roam the streets and blend with the traffic.

Korean, Vietnamese, beer and coffee, your one stop for all those (and oh, there's KFC across the street too)
17. Crossing the Streets (Like a Boss)
The trick of crossing the main streets in Hanoi, is that you have to be brave to cross it, regardless if the vehicles is coming your direction or otherwise. Hand gesture DOES NOT work in Hanoi, just cross when the opportunity comes and you should be able to get across safely.

Cross road see vehicle meh la... Just cross like a boss will do!
16. Bún chả
Bún chả is a Vietnamese dish which is thought to have originated from Hanoi. Served with grilled fatty pork (chả) over a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs with dipping sauce, this is one of the other dish you should try when you are here.

Bún chả, I initially thought it has some tea (茶, read : cha) element to it but I was clearly wrong :)

If you have survived thus far and almost bored you to death, check out the next 15 will be at the next post :)