Note: This trip was taken Febuary 23-25, 2011.
Woke up in Hanoi to fog and drizzle. Great. Today was the start of our three day, two night cruise on Ha Long Bay. Would we be able to see anything? We took the cruise line bus transport out to Ha Long. With only four other passengers, the trip was much more comfortable than the tourist bus in Sapa. However, the three and half hour trip was nothing but more drizzle and fog. You could barely make out the rice fields along the road. Despite the weather I felt fortunate to be in the nice warm bus and not out in the muck planting rice.
The bus made one bathroom stop at one of those horrible mega tourist shopping centers. I suppose people like to shop. The bathrooms are at least clean.
We reached the Paradise dock at around 12:00pm. They have an entire complex of condos, restaurants and a playground all of which was eerily quiet in the light rain. We were given a “welcome” drink and told to wait in the lounge area for the other passengers to arrive. Met an interesting couple from England that had been living in Darwin, Australia for the past two years. They too had recently been to Borneo, Malaysia and we swapped back-country travel stories. But alas we were on different boats. Paradise had two vessels going out that day, so we said goodbye to our new friends.
Our room on board the Paradise was the terrace suite we were promised. Whether or not we actually got the up-graded room for the regular room price, I’m not so sure. The corner room just off the bow was tastefully decorated in a soft beige and dark wood, had sliding French doors that lead to a deck with lounge chairs and a large bathroom, for a ship, with a Jacuzzi tub. The room also had a flat screen TV with the possibility of playing our choice of three DVD movies.
A buffet lunch was served in the dining room. A selection of about ten different salads, both Asian and Western – green papaya salad along with Greek salad. The second table included salmon sushi and other sushi rolls. The selection on the hot table was also a mix of Eastern and Western dishes (about eight dishes in total), steamed squid with lemon grass and chili alongside chicken breast with barbeque sauce. If not the most flavor intense, the dishes were well prepared with quality ingredients.
I have to admit that for once I wasn’t paying too much attention to the food. Even with the fog, or perhaps because of the fog, the scenery was spectacular. A valley of haunting peaks poking out of the bay. The layers of gray fading into the distant waters. There is something mesmerizing about watching the changing rock formations passing before you, like watching the flickering flames of a fire.
After lunch we went on a row boat tour (two passengers per boat) of a local floating fishing village. Surrounded by these strange stone towers the local fisherman live in rows of floating houses. There is even a three-room school house. But because they live in such small structures much of their daily activities are done on the front porch in front of the endless stream of tourists snapping pictures. Too intrusive to be comfortable.
Back on the boat a cooking class was given on the preparation of fried spring rolls. The dining room was set up with evenly aligned rows of chairs in front of a demonstration table. After the cook carefully explained and demonstrated the proper technique for rolling a spring roll, we were to come up and test our skills in front of the rest of the class. A very Asian teaching style.
By this time the sun was getting low and we had just 20 minutes or so for a quick kayak tour of the oyster farm and rock formations near the boat. A test run for the next day’s kayaking adventure. Since we were the only ones that took this opportunity we were able to paddle out to a lonely cove and, just for a moment, we were completely out of sight. Alone and in total silence for the first time in Vietnam.
Dinner on the boat was a Western five course formal affair with white table cloths and most tables ordering bottles of wine. Don and I opted for beer this first night. The courses included a cream of broccoli soup, a smoked salmon roll, a beautifully cooked piece of fish served with a small salad, a beef tenderloin, also well cooked but served with an odd choice of cold buttered toast, and three cold fancy-cut French fries. My favorite of the evening was dessert – a passion fruit cream served in the shell. For the most part the food, all simply prepared, was well done but nothing remarkable.
We skipped the after dinner movie. I hear it was a choice of Indochine or The Quiet American.