Vietnam – Halong Bay

Dear Vikki,

Imagine this. A winters day, clear skies with the sun shining through. The air temperature is warm enough for short sleeves. You’re on holidays and the plan for the day is to cruise the bay. Not any bay though. A world heritage listed bay. Halong Bay. That’s what we’ve been doing today. We actually arrived yesterday (Sunday) in cloudy skies with long sleeves on. The bus ride here was uneventful, along an 8 lane highway. Our driver was young enough to be my grandson (not that I have any) and spent most of the journey (2 hours) drifting into the lane beside ours, thanks to being on his phone!

(Vikki, I just had a little sleep on the top deck of the boat. Back now though).

After safely arriving at the harbour we boarded the Bhaya 3, our home for the next 48hrs and checked into our very cute room, 203. We have a lovely wee outdoor deck and I’m now sitting on it, sipping a vodka. But again I have skipped ahead. After lunch yesterday, which was an extravaganza of food, we motored through the bay past the many islands and islets to our first stop, a floating fishing village. It’s only 50ish years old, although the fishing tradition is very old, and it has been down graded recently. The government have supported families to leave the village and move to the mainland in the interests of their children. So approximately 200 people live there now, fishing, growing fish through aquaculture and rowing tourists like us past their houses. The Newby and I were commenting on how the little houses could easily be transplanted to outback Australia.

Back on board we spent time relaxing before the spring roll MasterChef competition. Both The Newby and I had a go, but we weren’t voted MasterChefs. In fact a Singaporean man won the competition and by his own admission had an unfair advantage. As we rolled the springs we enjoyed happy hour, a mojito each, before our 5 course dinner. The prawn cocktail was interesting … After dinner we had a shot at the squid fishing (without success) before retiring to our cabin for the night.

This morning (Monday) I was keen as mustard for the tai chi, until this morning actually arrived. A sore head/neck precluded my attendance. I hate sleeping without my own pillow. And let’s face it, 6.15 is too early to get up when you’re on holidays. When the rest of the boat (all single night stayers) had left for their morning cave jaunt, we got up and had breaky before being transported for our day trip on to a smaller boat for just 8 people. Our trip included a walk through a HUGE cave and a trip to the pearl farm. Both were ok, but the best part was just cruising through Halong Bay in the sunshine. The islands and islets are so picturesque, highlighted by colourful boats and the bigger cruisers. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the top deck watching the world go by.

This evening we are doing it all again. We have just watched the MasterChef comp (a Japanese lady won it), had our lesson on how to say “cheers” in Vietnamese and downed the coconut rice wine, enjoyed our 2 for 1 cocktail and chatted to our friends from the day trip. Next up, a strange prawn cocktail some squid fishing and a solid commitment to get up in time for tai chi tomorrow …

An interesting back story from today. As we cruised through the bay with 6 others we introduced ourselves to the other Aussies. He asked where I was from and I did the whole “Sydney then Coffs but now in Perth”. He said he lived in Qld but was born and bred in Perth. You know how it goes … Me: “where in Perth”, Him: *says my suburb*. Me: “no way! What street?” Him: *says my street*. Me: “I live at 48”. Him: “I grew up at 54”. It’s such a small world!

It now Tuesday afternoon and we are safely back in Hanoi, having spent the morning cruising and eating our way back to the harbour. The Newby had his picture taken with the celebrity who was also on board and we were bid a Vietnamese farewell by the crew. As a small token of compensation for not getting out on the kayak the Cruise Manager gave us a carrot carver. It sounds odd, but it creates decorative flowers from carrot to put on plates. Making these was part of the cooking demonstration. I have instructed The Newby not to have it in his hand luggage. I don’t want it confiscated.

Dear Vikki,

Hello from a cafe at the bus terminus as we wait for our transfer to Ninh Bình. Now when I say cafe, you have to picture a tiny shop front with a little counter, tiny tables and even tinier seats spilling out onto the footpath. We are having coffee and juice. This is Vietnamese coffee, the sort that is strong and comes in small serve. The Newby has his black and hot while I have mine brown and hot. That means I get condensed milk in mine and it is super sweet.

We got here an hour before our limo is due to leave. We came by Grab which is Asian Uber. The ride cost d30,000 which is $1.80. We tried this out last night in the craziest traffic, across town from the Lotte tower. Fares were up because of the peak time so we paid d67,000. Couldn’t fault it. We walked across town to the tower because we did very few steps during the cruise. The walk is gruelling thanks to the complete lack of footpaths (they are used for motorbike parking) and the peak hours traffic. I have also managed to acquire a head cold so it made the walk more challenging. Along the way we found a pharmacy and I used my charade skills to tell the little girl behind the counter what I needed. I sniffed. She sniffed and got me some cold and flu tablets. I mimicked squirting something up my nose, she replied and got me a saline spray. Easy as that.

Today we have seen the makings of both a funeral and a wedding. Apparently the white headband is a sign that people are mourning and their shopfront becomes enclosed in a tarped shelter. The wedding on the other hand looked similar to what we would recognise, in fact we could have jumped into the bus for the parents and other guests and headed along to the reception. In amongst the chaos of Hanoi streets the bride and groom came down a tiny lane to the waiting car, decked out with streamers and flowers. They held up the traffic as their guests also streamed down the lane and into the waiting buses. Hilariously, a couple of the extremely well dressed ladies stopped to grab a cob of corn from a street vendor. Bogan Vietnamese?

Anyway all the traffic meant that we just missed sunset from the tower but we did get to see Uncle Ho’s mausoleum lit up, make out a few other landmarks we have visited and enjoy a reprieve from the chaos. Back home after our Grab ride we went out for dinner at a local place that makes one dish and makes it well. There was decision making involved in choosing. The “waiter” pointed to the dish on the menu, held up 2 fingers and applied a questioning look. We said yes and he yelled the order to the one chef at the front of the shop. From our steel bench, side by side, opposite other diners we polished off our bowl of fresh noodles, beef, veggies and onion. Actually it was very nice, efficient and another Vietnamese experience. Quite a stark contrast to the luxury of Halong Bay cruising though. And now we are off to Tam Coc.

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