Tuesday and Wednesday March 2nd and 3rd -National Geographic Moments Around Every Corner

Well we were off the ship for the last two days, exploring Halong Bay in the region of Hanoi. We chartered a 10 passenger Chinese Junk for an overnight cruise through Halong Bay. Halong Bay is on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. Halong means “Descending Dragon”. This bay looks like a body of water with the dragon humps sticking out all over the place. It goes on almost forever. We left the ship at about 12:00 noon on Tuesday and walked a kilometer to the gate of the port. No taxis allowed in the port. We found a van to take the 12 of us to the junk. I know it was a 10 pax junk and now there were 12 of us. One couple was on another Junk. Good thing they were with us as Audrey negotiated the fare very well. Fun to watch…. Audrey is excellent in her bargaining skills and will not be forced to pay more than you should pay. Well we finally got a van and went to the Junk port about a 15 minute ride, where we were met by our tour leader. We were tendered out to the Red Dragon I to start our cruise of Halong Bay. I cannot describe the view, words fail me. Check back to the blog in a few weeks and I’ll have posted many photos of this stunning area. Suffice to say the navigation in this area requires good local knowledge, and excellent charts. In this area there are floating fishing villages and fishing is the only job out here. All the islands are limestone and covered with caves. Beth will elaborate later about the food on this part of the trip. I will tell you that we had some excellent local food, prepared very well. As this was an overnight cruise we had a very nice stateroom on the boat. The head was much bigger and nicer than the one on the cruise ship! Bed was comfortable but I slept like crap. As we cruised around we saw sea eagles flying and fishing everywhere. Also as evening came on we could hear the monkeys calling for evening rest as we sailed by the islands. We were surrounded by islands everywhere. Before we stopped for the night we had a chance to visit an old fisherman’s family cave and do some kayaking and swimming if we wanted. No swimming for me as the water had enormous jelly fish and lion fish around. We did spend about 1 hour kayaking around several of the islands. Stunning!!!!! Then it was a short boat ride to our anchorage in an area surrounded by many islands. There were 6 junks anchored in the same area for the evening. After dinner we watched to full moon rise over the islands…… First thing next morning we were up at 6:30 and on our way. Much to do before the trip was over at noon. First a visit to the largest fishing village in these islands. That entailed being ferried around in little boats powered by young Vietnamese woman. Our rower was a piece of work and lots of fun. She liked to play bumper boat much to the chagrin of her friends powering the other boats. On this 1 hour tour of the village we saw the school, an art store and a pearl farm. I did not know they raised pearls here but they do and they were beautiful. Then we were rowed to the opening of a sea arch and eventually back to the junk. Just stunning@! Once back on the junk — time for an early lunch and back to the junk port and the beginning of our land tour. Now we were 12 again on out way on a 2000 mile trek (actually about 30 kilometers but it felt like 2000) to a pagoda. Once we were in the area of the pagoda we first visited a temple that was on the side of the mountain, We climbed 160 steps to this very pretty temple with some of the bests views in the country. Halong Bay was below, (photo to come) and the temple above. What a spot. Then back on to the pagoda. The pagoda was another 160 steps up. Most of us did not do it, we were hot and exhausted. We just enjoyed the sea breeze and the view. Now back in the van and a hair-raising 2 hour drive to the local market in Halong City. The drive was one for the records. I may have told you in previous entries about the driving in this country. Signals and lines in the roads are truly only suggestions. Our driver was no exception. He actually went down the road on the wrong side of the center line, and we had people passing us. Come back to the blog for photos later. We safely made it back to Halong city and the insane local market. Our guide took us through the wet market, where you could see all the local seafood on display in little tubs. The smell was overwhelmingly bad. Rotten fish and fish guts. Wanted to puke! Finally out of the wet market went into the total insanity of the dry market. You could buy anything there from 5000 meters of anchor chain and fan belts to soft stuffed alligators. Like nothing we have seen before. It was about 5:00 PM; we were done… no more pagodas for us! we all wanted to return to the ship and a shower. What an interesting two days in Vietnam. Once again come back in a few weeks to the blog and see the photos!!!!
As I write this entry we are sailing off the coast of China on our way to Hong Kong our last stop on this adventure. We will be sailing into Hong Kong harbor around noon tomorrow! Ta for now!
—Food Comments…
Well, since Kevin said would describe the meals, here goes… First of all, we did not know what to expect, since this was Viet Nam and you just never know… Shortly after we got on board, we had a 12-14 course meal for lunch. I can’t even remember all the dishes. There was a spicy tomato and shrimp soup. We had tiny baked clams. There were prawns (with the head). A shredded salad with a peanut/vinegar/sweet dressing. Some kind of hot stir fried winter melon. Chicken, pork, beef… it just kept coming out, ending with a platter of fruit.
After our afternoon of cave exploring (“please ladies and gentlemen, watch your step and watch your head”) and kayaking, we enjoyed some “free time” on board enjoying the scenery. When the sun went down, the clouds started to clear and we could see the stars overhead.
Dinner was another 14 course extravaganza. Dumplings, spring rolls stuffed with meat (dog, anyone?), salads, chicken wings, prawns… With several of the dishes, elaborate carvings accompanied the food. First, two flamingos carved of turnips and carrots, sitting on hills of squash. Then, a stunning sea eagle carved from pumpkin. Lastly, we were told to close our eyes. When we opened them, a model of our junk carved from melon, complete with sails of carrot, with rigging from bamboo. There was something a bit “different” on the platter. To be honest, at first glance, they looked like giant bugs. They were called “sea mantis”. While the first impressions were not entirely positive, they were eaten by splitting open like a lobster. They had been cooked with garlic and butter and the taste was reminiscent of crab and lobster, with a delicate texture. The flesh was white with speckles, similar to lobster. There wasn’t much in them, but they were very tasty.
This was followed by several more dishes. Plus steamed rice. Honestly, there were too many to remember. Dessert was asian pears and oranges.
Dinner was followed by “singing” by the ship’s crew and captain, and they asked that we also sing (it is a mistake to ever ask me to sing!). The last song they asked us to sing along was most likely praising Uncle Ho – the chorus was “Viet Nam, Ho Chi Minh”. Finally, we again had some time for ourselves.
The next morning (I also slept like crap) sfter breakfast (traditional western breakfast with bacon, fried eggs (hot this time, and no hot dogs) and toast and coffee, plus fruit (I tasted dragon fruit – tastes like an apple crossed with a kiwi fruit) we were given 8 minutes to get ready to leave the boat for the fishing village (ladies, there is shopping bring your money please). The ship was definitely run on a schedule.
The pearls were beautiful (no I did not buy any…). We never expected to see pearl farming in Viet Nam – we assume that the Japanese brought it over.
Before we knew it, it was time to eat yet again – there was certainly no lack of food on this trip! This lunch was simpler- good thing as I don’t think I could Eat that much again. We had rice, a shredded jicama and carrot salad, chicken with cashew nuts, and scallops (with cauliflower) and some kind of batter fried potato slice. Plus fruit for dessert. Then it was off the ship for our 2000 mile drive to the pagoda.
Unfortunately, I am doing laundry today. A waiting game for washers and driers. It is cutthroat in there – eat or be eaten… and of course there is one selfish lady doing about 10 small loads – when there are only 4 washers & dryers for all the passengers to use… I’m off to check my dryer now…

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