Friday, 29 January 2016

Halong bay January 28 and 29th

Halong bay is officially two bays but is known as one. Twice it has been recognized by Unsenco in 1994 and 2000. Legend states the islands were created by two dragons who were spitting out jewels. Their are over 2000 islands.

The days we attended Halong Bay the weather was either raining or misty. The weather did not distract from the view.

500 tourist cruise boats are registered for the area. As well there are many local fishing boats and private luxury boats. The pollution is very obvious. 

We attended Halong Bay on January 27, 28th on a 1 night, 2 day Junk boat excursion. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Halong Bay Cruise on a Junk Boat

We booked a one night cruise on a Grayline Junk boat. My splurge of the trip as it was very costly (but worth it). It is a 4☆ boat, with 14 cabins. We were picked up at the hotel in Hanoi at 8am. We were the first group picked up. In total 15 people were on the bus. Part way to the bay we stopped at a Unesco center. It is a tourist trap, but with a purpose. Silk and cotton pictures are being hand sewn. Jewelry is being made and incredible marble statues.

The people who are  making the pictures are all handicapped.  Many have deformaties as their mothers were exposed to agent orange when pregnant, Some had other physical and mental handicaps. Many people sewing were unable to speak or hear.

We arrived at Halong Bay at noon. The rooms are amazing, they have a queen size bed a super large hot shower and a view to the ocean. Only 14 passenger are staying on this boat. So I think the crew out numbers us.

The first meal started with seafood soup, then large prawns, then a squid stir fry with rice. Dessert was banana Flambeau with coconut.
Supper was a 7 course meal.
Pumpkin soup
Mixed seafood salad
Deep fried spring rolls
Grilled oysters with onion
Grilled prawns
Grilled gartupa fish in sauce
Mixed potatoes in cream
Sautéed carrot and chayote fruit
Mango ice cream.
The food is definitely 5 star.

During the day we went to a grotto and went through a cave called the Labyrinth. Sharon was more adventurous and crawled through some smaller areas - getting a bump on her head. Kurtis and I walked through the easier areas.
Sharon and I then had a massage on the boat. Kurtis declined.

After the cave we could either kayak or go in a row boat - rowed by a local. I chose to go in the row boat.  Sharon and Kurtis decided to stay on the junk boat - not sure what they did during that time.... (wink, wink). The row boat held six of us and we went around a small area of the bay, we went through two cave like openings and got to see a family of monkeys in the trees, unfortunately they were too far away for me to photograph.

After supper we could watch movies, sit in the bar area or fish for squid. Sharon had one latch on to her hook but lost it. During our time fishing only one squid was caught. The squid was then cooked and shared.

In the morning we started the day with TaiChi. Then a breakfast of made-to-order omelets.

We then travelled to a floating house, where they maintain a fish farm. Three years ago the government moved the villagers into Hanoi. The area was getting very polluted. The villagers were given houses and some American money.  Also the right to fish where they were tradionally located. One house remains, for tourism. As well, the inhabitants of the house, clean their area of the bay twice a day. They also maintain the small fish farm. Presently a young family reside there with two small children. They provided us with a cup of tea and the little ones, ages 2 and 3, passed around peanuts.

Our last lunch was as spectacular as the previous meals were.  A cream lentil soup, spicy vegetable salad, french fries, chicken stir fry, beef stew, jasmine rice, finishing with fresh fruit - dragon fruit and watermelon. 

Grayline Cruises and their staff treated us very well.

Vietnam Hanoi

At 8am on January 28th we were picked up by the Grayline cruise bus. 15 passengers. Our tour guide is Quon also known as happy. He is very knowledgeable and pleasant.  He provided us with very interesting information about Vietnam. I'll share what I can remember. ...

Hanoi means in the river. Originally Hanoi had rivers completely around it but as the city grew....the river is in Hanoi. The city of Hanoi has 7 million people. Quon says it is easy to find work and many people move to Hanoi from the rural areas.
The old market area where we stayed originally had been only shops. The shops were approximately 30 square feet.  The shop keepers lived in the location.  As Vietnamese people live with their extended family, they increase their living quarters by building up, sometimes many floors. Quan's family is 4 generations.

In the old market area, each street was for a different product. For example our hotel - Paradise Hotel was on Hang Chieu street - Chieu means rug. All vendors on this street only sold rugs.

Vietnam is getting ready for the new year celebration. This occurs on the first day of the new lunar cycle. This explains the red and gold decorations being sold in the market.

Quon explained some of the customs that are occurring at this time. Carp is a good luck fish - each family buys one at this time and releases it into the river on the first day of the new year. As well each family decorates with cherry trees and Kumquat trees - or - apricot trees in the south. If you are rich you may have the whole tree, if not you have a branch. Since we arrived we had seen many motorcycles transporting Kumquat trees.

70% of vietnam people are Buddhist. All Buddhist's have alters in their homes. A particular fruit available at this time is called Buddha's hand. This fruit is not for consumption, instead will be placed on the family alter.

In preparation for the new year,the house will be cleaned, but it will not be cleaned for 3 days after the new year as you do not want to sweep out good luck.

The families celebrate the new year with 10 days of holidays. Many shops close down. People from the rural area return home. Hanoi becomes quiet. Besides the trees, the home are decorated with many other things with special meaning for good luck. Children get " lucky money" in bright red envelopes. Special rice cakes are cooked for 10 hours. The rice cakes contain green beans, rice and pork wrapped in leaves and shaped square.  It is believed that earth is square and the sun is round. The outside of square rice cakes turn green after cooking and after removing the leaves. The inside is yellow - this represents the earth and harvest.

February 8th is the new year. We will have to have our accommodations sorted out prior to that date. Quon indicated most likely we will have to eat at fast food places at Vietnamese places will be closed.