What I learned in Vietnam 

As done before (click here and here) this is what I learned in Vietnam:

1. Coffee is served with a cup of light, cool green tea instead of water.

2. Going off the beaten path, to a place where tourists are still a welcome novelty, is a great idea (charm and money wise).

3. Saying yes to new adventures is the difference between traveling and discovering a country.

4. But doing stuff along with hundreds of tourists can also be great (like Ha Long Bay).

5. Some farmers in rural areas walk their cows. And not from A to B but to let them graze.

6. Young locals will come up to you and talk. They don’t want to scam you, they just want to practice their English.

7. The Vietnamese wear helmets on the road.

8. The food in Vietnam is the best. But here I also had the blandest food of my trip. Mostly while on tours.

9. When people tell you to bring insect repellent it really means to wear a body protection suit. At least for me.

10. Always, always bargain. The asking price is just an opening for a lengthy discussion.

11. Don’t scratch the mosquito bites, you will only make it worse.

12. Salt is served with sugar cane juice to cut the sweetness. You dip your straw in and stir it in; and it tastes surprisingly good!

13. It doesn’t matter if you get wet in the rain, it’s like swimming in the sea without the salt.

14. The best way to start the day is with a Pho.

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Cruising around Ha Long Bay

A wonderful sunny morning greeted me when I took my shower. Imagine waking up to such a view every morning…

Most people onboard had booked the two-day – one night tour in Ha Long Bay. Since I had time and wanted to relax I had booked the 3 day tour. An Australian couple and I were the only ones who stayed on board after everyone else left for the morning program. While waiting for our day ship to pick us up, I went on the observatory deck and took some pictures.

      

The day ship would be our “home” until the late afternoon. We met our lovely guide and started with an excursion to a pearl farm. She showed us the different types of oysters used for farming with the Akoya being the smallest and the most common.

 Since they die when the pearl is removed they also breed them.

From the breeding station we walked to the “operating room” where they implant a small ball made from mother-of-pearl with a piece of membrane into the oyster. After five weeks the oysters get checked if they survived the operation. The success rate lies by 70%.

    

Before going into the customary shop she opened one oyster ready to be harvested and voilà:

The pearls can develop different colors depending on the mother-of-pearl inside the oyster.

The rest of the day was spent with relaxing. We went to one cove for swimming in the morning then spent the time until lunch reading or sleeping. Lunch was wonderful again and after that more sleeping, reading, swimming.

Mid afternoon we went kayaking where I noticed that I have no hand for it. I shared the kayak with the guide and she was definitely drenched by the time we returned. Nonetheless she abode with me and we went through a cave to an inlet where we saw lots of jellyfish. They just stayed in the inlet and didn’t go out in the ocean. I touched a couple and they felt very slippery. Also when you took them out of the water they dropped their long tentacles. But when you put them back into the water they could still swim. So no harm done.

On the way back to day boat we saw monkeys climbing overhead and jumping from tree to tree. I felt a bit like in a documentary. Such near contact to wildlife is usually not part of my daily life.

Upon our return to the cruise ship we found it empty. All the newcomers must be swimming at the beach. At dinner that evening I shared the table with the Australian couple but later I couldn’t be bothered with squid fishing. I already knew it would not be successful.

The next morning I woke early and got ready. We had a cave visit on our program at around 8am. The Surprise Cave was just a short boat ride away.

  Since most cruise ships were stopping here before heading back it was slow going to the cave entrance. But the view remedied it.

  

Once inside the cave I couldn’t stop taking pictures. It was divided into three chambers with the first one being the smallest one, getting ever bigger along the walk. The cave was set up for a one way visit with another view over the bay waiting at the end. Also a very clever thing with the amount of visitors here daily.

              

  

Back on board of our ship we had to check out of the room and get ready for a cooking class of fried spring rolls. The ones we were doing were filled with minced pork, onions, spring onions, coriander and a bit of chilies (probably more ingredients went in, but I can’t remember anymore). The chef was mixing the filling and we had to roll them tight, glueing the end with egg white to fix the paper in place.

While waiting for the chef to finish lunch I took my last pictures of the bay.

      

Shortly afterwards we had lunch and then we were back in the harbor, getting on mini bus that was packed to the last seat (here some of the smaller buses have an aisle in the middle which can be closed in case of necessity with an extra seat).

We had another stop at a shop with a bathroom on the way back to Hanoi where I saw this fruit vendor in the back. They sliced the fruits freshly in front of you and you got them in a small bag with a large wooden pick to eat.

Finally we were back in Hanoi on the way to the hotel.

I had time to re-pack my small backpack and look for some dinner. I decided on noodles with beef and herbs.

  

For dessert I had a plum lemon tea which had some jelly at the bottom.

I had just enough time left to take a shower, update the blog a bit and was then already on the way to the train station. Tonight I was going to Sa Pa. Yours, Pollybert

Going to Ha Long Bay

On my first day I had booked tours for Ha Long Bay and Sapa. So Ha Long Bay was where I was going today. Pickup was again at 8:30 and with one bathroom stop at a store/workshop that sold products made by handicapped people (who sat inside and worked) we arrived at our destination. You know I always wondered how these “workshops” financed the bathrooms etc. But there are an amazing number of people who buy overpriced and mostly ugly stuff there. Later on my trip I met a couple who bought a very expensive jewelry painting at one of these stops.

At around 12:30 we boarded a small boat to get shipped to the cruise boat the Legend.

    

After a short intervention from my side I got eventually settled in a cabin on the upper deck (my first one was on the lower deck next to the machines; what up with this treatment of single travelers as second class customers?) and a few minutes later we all went to lunch.

Our first stop on the cruise was a floating village (now almost abandoned) to which we could either kayak or get rowed. I decided on the latter which was a wise decision as I would see the next day.

                

Next up was a swim stop at a beach with a small pagoda on top and while going there we had lots to see again.

  

Vendors could even be found at sea. With the long fishnet she would pass her goods up for inspection and if you wanted to buy something you put your money in for her to take it down.

Again with the little boat (always wearing life jackets!) we went to the small island and first up I headed on top of the pagoda to get it done and then enjoy a swim after. We were lucky with the weather, the view was quite alright.

   As always there were steps and more steps to reach the top.

 But the halfway point made it already worthwhile.

    

And then the view from the top was breathtaking.

      

The swim after this short excursion was refreshing and well deserved. This was actually my first swim on the trip so far. You can imagine how much I loved it.

With the little boat we went back to our cruise ship where already drinks and fruits awaited us.

      

Dinner on the cruise was an excellent affair and I am sorry to say that I took only one picture. So here we go, please enjoy the shrimps.

After dinner we tried our hands at squid fishing but with no luck. The season for them was about  months earlier or so. Still it was fun to be on deck, sipping a cool drink and talking to other guests. Sometime later I went to my cabin to get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow we would be off early again. Yours, Pollybert