Ha Long Bay – Hanoi – Vietnam – Southeast Asia – 2015 – Day 6 & 7

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Woke up early yet again but this morning woke up to rain which sucks. We packed up and went down to the second floor for breakfast buffet before getting picked up by Sun Legend Tour to take us on our journey to Ha Long Bay. We booked the 2 day and 1 night tour for $143.45USD/pp.

4 hour car ride. First van shuttle to have free WIFI. One other couple – Wendy & Vincent from Malaysia joined the sticky rice crew. Luckily the weather turned out to be spectacular outside of Hanoi. Our tour guide is Kien who also runs a Hanoi biking tour with Sun Legend and is the poster boy for it. Driving here is crazy but makes sense. Some highways are two lanes with 60km/hr but people float on the lanes and just honk when they want to pass to let them know. Gasoline is expensive over here for them at 84 cents per litre.  

We arrived in Tuan Chau a little early so we had a stop at a pearl store. Then we began our adventures to the cruise ship. They had civet coffee (weasel poo coffee) but it was almost $100 USD. We gathered our belongings and took to the dingy which brought us aboard our ship. I being the odd one out got my own room with a double memory foam bed. We got settled in and off we sailed into the pinnacle of Ha Long Bay. These giant islands are made of limestone and look like they just separated and kind of remind me of the 12 Apostles or Loch Ard Gorge in Australia. 

We had lunch then went on our way to kayak Luon cave. Once again odd number, I got my own two person kayak and I killed the kayaking on my own. Cool experience gliding through a tunnel into a safe haven surrounded by the limestone with monkeys everywhere; very serene. The next best thing was that on this pier, there were guys playing their version of volleyball on the pier! Asian volleyball at it’s finest which Amy and myself joined for a point or two before we had to go back to the ship. 

Next event was Ti Top Island with a lookout point which was named after the Russian man who gave Vietnam their first airplane which was a great thing but no one in Vietnam knew how to fly it. It was about 500 steps to reach the top of this island and it was steep enough to make all of us breathe hard. We were all glistening by the time we reached the top but the view was definitely worth it. We rushed back down and practically jumped into the water at the beach and of course there was a volleyball net so we were obligated to play but that ball was heavy and the court not on even grounds. 4×4 with sort of shooting method of play but obviously Adam owned it. One of the guys was trying to block him but he kept OT-ing him so he switched spots with me. We got back to the boat just in time for sunset and had happy hour time then dinner and squid fishing and karaoke.

Some information about Hanoi from Kien:

7 million in Hanoi.

-Oldest bridge was built in 1901 but had to rebuild part of it due to the war.

-People don’t move out of Hanoi but tons of people come for university and never leave. They expanded to the other side of the red river to accommodate more people. The north is definitely had more wealth than the south from what I’ve seen. The people seem friendly here and not as judgy just a little. 

-The old buildings with green and yellow colouring are old French buildings. I really love the architecture here even when it’s dingy looking but also quite clean and I absolutely love the marble flooring in some of the homes I’ve seen.

-The king moved the capital to Hanoi with 36 items and wanted to make it easier for everyone to purchase products such as copper to one street called copper street. 

-Lifestyle – very flexible in terms of life, way of working, way of driving, way of eating etc. I  the people here especially in Hanoi are hard working folk who may take their time like I’m sure I would in this kind of climate but nonetheless, working hard at their craft especially agriculturally. People’s homes are a combination home and shop front which makes it very homie everywhere.

-For beer – International Bia Hoi corner. The tour guide likes to go there as local girls don’t drink beer at any other beer halls except there because it’s a mix of locals and foreigners there. 

-People aren’t suppose to occupy the pavement as that breaks the law and only use it for walking so a coffee shop owner would need to goto the police officer and ask for space on the pavement and the police are flexible and bribe them with free coffee and money. They can bargain. 

-54 ethnicities but 80% Vietnamese.

Some knowledge of coffee for Hanoi & Vietnam:

-Coffee here is very strong; stronger than the south. 

-For different seasons in Hanoi. So they automatically offer you coffee with ice there but  have options in Hanoi for hot coffee and coffee with ice. People drink coffee for new ideas. Coffee for the inspiration. 

-Coffee with yogurt 

-Coffee with egg 

-Trung Nguyen is the most popular brands. 

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Awoke at 530AM to watch the sunrise which at 530 looked like nothing and it was cloudy. I returned to my room but then outside my window, I saw a gleam of light around 6-630AM which was primetime for beautiful morning light. Everyone skipped yoga and taichi. We had breakfast then went to Sung Sot cave which is one of the 7 wonders of nature as this island has limestone tunnels inside into another world practically. They used this cave during the American war to hide from invading soldiers and to hide weapons and it’s interior is massive. It somewhat looks like that secret new world they found in Vietnam that has it’s own ecosystem. Back to the boat where we packed and made spring rolls and had lunch before heading back to Hanoi.

We checked back into our original hotel but in a 5 person suite which is actually pretty nice minus the fact there is one bathroom with low water pressure. Since Adam, Amy and myself are going to be on the move from Luang Prabang straight to Pakse straight into a jungle then off to Siem Reap, we needed to wash our clothes so we used body gel and hand washed them in the sink. Luckily there was 18 hangers in the closet in the hotel room. There is a ledge where the ceiling lowers slightly which came in handy to hang the hangers to air dry all our clothing which reminds us of an open market selling clothing.

For dinner, we walked over to a Quan An Ngon18 Phan Dinh Phung – which was a slightly higher end version of street meats but better service. We ordered a bunch of items to share including: ben cha, pho, ben thang, seafood /springroll, mango salad, green onions with garlic, fresh spring rolls, some type of fish thing. Everything tasted great, service was great and the place was booming and clean that we got seated upstairs. From there, we walked back over toward the pond Ho Hoan Kiem and made our way to Highland Coffee to check out the view and buy coffee. Unfortunately the smallest bag of beans they had was a size of a baby so I opted to go outside just around the corner to Trung Nguyen (coffee chain) and purchased a bag of espresso beans for 140.000VND. We walked around looking for dessert so we ended up walking back into the direction of the dessert place we went to 2 nights previously and had more dessert there. 95 Hang Bac. We arrived home shortly after and said our final goodbyes to Emily and James. 

Mekong Delta – Saigon/Ho Chi Minh – Vietnam – Southeast Asia – 2015 – Day 4

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We booked a private Mekong Delta tour with with Mekong Delta Tourism – TNK Travel. $50USD – 6AM pick up then off to Cai Be after an hour of delays waiting for the 15 in total group we had. The group of 4-5 from the Phillipines slept in and made us wait 30 minutes before we left them behind but then they caught a ride to catch up to our van as we collected the others on this tour. We stopped by Minh Tri for a rest break where we shared a bowl of pho and I got a banana shake – 30.000VND. Mr Thang was our tour guide who learnt english off of youtube and western television shows.

Facts aboutMekong Delta / Vietnam as told by Mr Thang:

-Mekong delta was actually owned by Funan under control by the Khmer people but Vietnamese people occupied areas around the delta and expanded the country which is long and skinny country like Chile. 

-40% of people are named Nguyen.

-Ho Chi Minh freed people against Japanese communist and Americans thus the name change from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh. Uncle Ho – father.

-Saigon wasn’t the actual name but over time it was named Saigon because people couldn’t pronounce the original name. 

-It was under control of a French colony thus explaining the architecture especially in and around the flower district.

-Since 1976, an election is held but there is always one winner because there is only one group that runs. 

-Hanoi (Northern Vietnam) looks more oriental as Saigon (Southern Vietnam) looks more western because of French and American invasion / influence. 

-Vietnam – means strong country in the south because China is the central capitol of Asia.

-There are 11 million people in Saigon and chinatown here spanned multiple generations mainly from Canton and Fukien so they speak Cantonese. Near district 8. Government built government housing where they turned the slums into new housing and built a highway. Some still live in shacks though. 

-In Vietnam, government offices and elementary school are closed weekends but university and high school run on weekends.

-Many don’t have drivers licenses but if they get pulled over, they just pay them off with money (200.000-500.000VND). 

-Mekong delta is flat so they plant rice. They can plant 3 harvests per year. It’s fruit and seafood are the main exports. 75% work in agriculture. May to October rainy season

-The Mekong Delta is known as the river of nine dragons with nine different branches as the legend told them the Dragon is God of river. But they mistook a crocodile as a Dragon. Cuu lung.

-In the delta, they bury people in the middle of rice paddies (above ground on pedestals) as the water levels rise so when it’s risen, they either put the dead people in plastic bags and hang them in trees or attach rocks to sink.

-Students in Mekong cross the river by going into plastic bags and pulling themselves across. But overtime, this gets difficult and many leave school early (grade 8-10) and work instead.

-The floating market isn’t regulated. You just need a boat license and government doesn’t care what you sell. They start their business at 4AM and finish around 2PM. They don’t gather together and are all their own business.They are only closed the days during lunar New year. They advertise their products by hanging them on nearby trees. Most of the people who sell on the market live far away from conventional markets and are poor. They also go by lunar calendar so depending on the days, big events cannot happen such as funerals or weddings.

-They also follow zodiac signs so a pig and snake can’t marry as the snake wool eat the pig. 

Ok, back to our trip. We drove past through the town of Tan An which overlooks flat rice fields where our first destination was Cai Be. From Cai Be, we boarded a tour boat that fits all 15 of us and motored down the Mekong Delta to a facility that makes crispy rice snacks and coconut candy. It’s an interesting experience seeing it made as they use black sand in a giant wok, use the rice husks for fire and then through rice into the sand and mix quickly then they sieve the husks from the popped rice. They also created some version of rice crispy treats. We also got to see a local painter paint, watch them make rice paper which is pretty cool. They take rice flour and water and cook it on a drum and pulling off the paper with bamboo. They can make a crispy version of this using rice flour and throwing in coconut milk, coconut shards and sesame if you like (which is so delicious!) We also had a shot of banana liquor but we could have also tried snake scrotum shot but didn’t. I feel like this tour is very scripted but I also know this is what happens when you want a “cultural” tour.

We hopped back on the boat and went over to Tan Phong Island where we sat and enjoyed the stylings of Vietnamese singing. I definitely prefer chinese opera over theirs.. we have a little more flair and high pitched emotion. From there, we took he boat over to Rustic Mekong where we did a “cooking” class. We were all given tasks to cut up / shred carrots, sweet potato, papaya etc which resulted in us making our own fried spring rolls and papaya salad. The meal was accompanied by fried elephant fish (a little meatier fish) which they a also took some of the meat and made spring rolls and also hot pot. After we filled our gullets, we hit the trails with our bikes (bamboo rice field hat optional and off we went. It was a fun ride although narrow paths and not so fast bikers in front made it difficult but also the fact my bike seat wouldn’t adjust and part way through my chain just wouldn’t pull (local men came up to me with a tile and just kept hitting then kicking it until it worked). Another girl was having difficulties because she was riding on a flat tire. One final activity to do: cruise the upper Mekong Delta through small canals with ladies paddling us through in 4 seater boats. I gotta admit my time here, I take for granted all that Toronto has to offer and for the same position at home, we get paid at least quadruple the price for these things.

Since we had a late start, we got stuck in rush hour traffic and even at one point got pulled over by police. I think we had to pay but Mr Thang showed the cop the papers in english and asked him to read it (which he couldn’t) and we were on our way. Got back around 6PM and just relaxed a bit before heading back out for dinner. We decided we wanted pho (In Vietnam why not!) and went around Ben Thanh to Pho 2000 (1 – 3, Phan Chu Trinh, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1) which Bill Clinton visited back in 2000. 3 regular pho + 3 shakes cost 327.000VND. It was a better soup broth than previous day at Pho Hoa Pasteur. I ordered a sapodilla shake. Sapodilla looks like a coconut mango hybrid but has a banana-ish taste to it but its a tropical fruit and it was delicious. It was a Saturday and the streets were booming with the weekend market and people. The main area we were in the previous day became a pedestrian and motorbike only area and the foundations lit up with people selling trinkets everywhere reminded me of the gypsies in Europe. We went through the night market and kept getting pressured to buy stuff obviously. Similar to HK ladies market and all other night markets I always find myself never wanting to be hassled and buying stuff plus Im horrible at bargaining. Some of the stall markup like crazy and their asking price is still relatively cheap in USD but to the standards of SEA, since they are made there for .50USD you bargain the hell out of it. The best part of the day is showering. Also note that common products such as contact solution and cases were no where to be found so bring from home! 

HCM is a relatively clean city as there are people cleaning the streets constantly. In the central part, it’s present that there is security police patrol. It’s always congested with motorbikes, cars, trucks and bicycles everywhere. There are a few traffic lights but not all pay attention to it. The waterfront that we were  nearby in district 1 is actually being developed and mass production of more condos and land is being made so district 1 will be no longer exist in a decade. People are relatively nice but one again, we stayed and walked around very touristy areas so the image is skewed. Tons of food carts just setup on side of roads with little stools and food is produced. Males can be topless but women are suppose to be covered. Tank tops aren’t really seen around on women. I’m unsure if I’m feeling stares because I’m wearing tank tops or because of my physique. I am more toned/fit and taller than the men in HCM. Flip flop fashion is on point here as everyone in the city wears them for everything including riding their motorcycles.