Posts Tagged With: junk boat

May 30th – Day 11 – Bay, Bus and Cyclos

Breakfast was quite basic but hey, we’re on a boat in the middle of Ha Long Bay and dining to scenery that many people wouldn’t believe even with their own eyes.  We had toast, fried eggs, some ‘laughing cow’ cheese and coffee.  Fine, but not luxury.

We were lucky with our morning position which meant that we were able to make it to a little island as the first boat to arrive, and when the island opened at 7:45am we had the chance to walk up the hill to a small pagoda or swim in the sea. I chose the both option, rushing up the hill with Yvonne and snapping a few photos before heading back down for a quick dip in the water before we had to move on.  It was really nice to cool down after the stairs upstairs, and the water was pretty pleasant even at 8am.

Our overnight view

Our overnight view

My stylish hill climbing / swimming outfit

My stylish hill climbing / swimming outfit

Dek in his classic pose

Dek in his classic pose

The view from the top, by  the pagoda

The view from the top, by the pagoda

Panorama

Panorama

Me at the pagoda

Me at the pagoda

Heading back down to swim

Heading back down to swim

Once we finished our swim, it was time to get back on the boat and head back to land. I grabbed a last shower in the boat (which was surprisingly good) and packed up my little day bag – the full bag had stayed in Hanoi at the hotel. We also had our bills to settle, and mine came to 471,000 for the drinks and kayaking – not the cheapest drinks in Vietnam, for sure!

Whilst the captain brought us back to land, the chef gave us all a demonstration of creating vegetable flowers for presentation including an intricate lattice carved from a carrot soaked in salt water for a few hours.  It was quite impressive and filled the time nicely as we headed back to the shore.

A cucumber flower in the making

A cucumber flower in the making

And the end result

And the end result

Latticework looks hard

Latticework looks hard

Chef concentrating on the lattice

Chef concentrating on the lattice

Presentation time

Presentation time

The finished result

The finished result

A final stretch in the sun

A final stretch in the sun

Once the demo was over we only had a couple of minutes sailing left before we reached the harbour and disembarked from our overnight home.  A quick toilet break in the harbour and we boarded our bus to head back to Hanoi – another 4 hour run, meaning we would arrive in Hanoi after lunch time.  Dek had promised us a stop at a restaurant but what happened was we ended up at the statue place again, where we discovered the cafe was closed and were forced to buy overpriced snacks to keep us going.  I bought a couple of snacks and some postcards, and amused myself on the bus by going through some of the photos you’ve seen in the previous posts.

Once we arrived back in Hanoi, we checked back into the same hotel and they very efficiently dropped our bags back in our new rooms for us.  It was nice to get back into a proper hotel after a night on the boat, but the scenery was less glamorous.

Dek had told us about a Hanoi speciality which I really wanted to try – called Egg Coffee, it is literally a shot of coffee with whisked egg yolk on top. It’s a pretty odd sounding combination which meant I had to try it!  We met up after a few minutes in the hotel and headed to the cafe which is supposedly the origin of this recipe – originated as a solution to a milk shortage in Vietnam when the French occupied.  Navigating the busy streets of Hanoi is an acquired skill, since there are no zebra crossings or stop lights – it’s just a case of plucking up the courage and going for it – slowly – as you cross the road and mopeds zoom around you on either side.

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Moped mayhem

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No rules as to direction or speed

Cafe Giang was quite literally a back alley place, but perfect for it.  We ordered our egg coffees and they quickly appeared – the tradition is to stir everything together (good, since the egg on top could literally support the spoon when it arrived) and then drink… It was a taste sensation!

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Cafe Giang

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Egg Coffee

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After stirring

I really liked the taste – review sites have likened it to liquid tiramisu and that was exactly our conclusion as well.  Definitely try this if you go to hanoi!

Once we finished off our coffees, we had a little free time where I went to explore the city on foot.  The streets being arranged by business type takes a bit of getting used to, but makes a lot of sense.

In the early evening we met up again as a group for our Cyclo Tour – which would give us a chance to sample the city and the crazy traffic at extremely close quarters!  Our cyclos gave us a quick tour of the old city and the french quarter, which was fascinating and absolute mayhem at all the road junctions.  Talk about putting your life in the hands of someone – those cyclos aren’t the most manourverable things!

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Traffic craziness

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Cyclo selfie

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Picking our cyclo driver

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At points the traffic was fairly chaotic

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Peace globe

Our cyclo tour dropped us off at a training restaurant which is supported by Gadventures.  This restaurant helps disadvantaged teenagers train to be chefs, waiting staff and allows them to work in the restaurant setting to earn a small wage as well.

There was a set menu presented for us as part of our tour, including a simple noodle salad, spring rolls and some curried vegetables.  The food tasted good and it was nice to feel we were supporting a good cause.

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Noodle Salad

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Fresh spring rolls

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Dinner chat

Once we finished our dinner, we grabbed a normal taxi back (there were too many of us to justify tuktuks) and then I shared a beer with Karl and Petra on the hotels rooftop bar before we headed to bed – we had another 7am start coming!

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May 29th – Day 10 – Ha… Long Day!

Today was another early start – a 5:45am alarm to be precise. Don’t come on this holiday if you like lie- ins!!

I had requested an iron from the hotel the night before, and was told they would bring it at 6, since the housekeeping staff weren’t working at night. It never came, so I put on a crinkled shirt and went down for breakfast. These hotel breakfasts are so impressive but I’m eating less and less at them- I guess it’s natural that you don’t need to overindulge when each day there is more and more amazing food!

Duc Lee introduces himself

Duc Lee introduces himself

At 6:30 we met our guide for Hanoi and Ha Long Bay – Duk Lee.  He’s local to Hanoi and works for a third party tour company who G-adventures contract in Vietnam (Wide Eye Tours). He arrived a little bit late so we were already getting onto the minibus before his introduction, but we had a short ride before the first stop – Ho Chi Minhs mausoleum. It was only a few minutes ride from the hotel, and once we got out of the bus we had a lot of queuing and waiting around for permission to go for our visit.

The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum

The Ho Chi Minh mausoleum

Me at the Mausoleum

Me at the Mausoleum

Soldiers at the mausoleum

Soldiers at the mausoleum

Delivering flowers for Ho Chi Minh

Delivering flowers for Ho Chi Minh

The flowers in place

The flowers in place

Duc Lee gives us information about the national pride in Ho Chi Minh

Duc Lee gives us information about the national pride in Ho Chi Minh

It was an amazing place to visit. We didn’t have time to actually go into the mausoleum itself, since the queue can be 3-4 hours even if you arrive at 7am – instead we just visited the outside which in itself was imposing and impressive. The building was designed by the Russians and it had a truly communist feel. Visitors travel from across Vietnam daily to pay their respects to Ho Chi Minh and to deliver flowers and gifts to him. They have a special ‘VIP’ queue which is only a couple of hours, for those from hill tribes who make a special effort to get there – sometimes travelling 2-3 days to get to the mausoleum.  It’s hard to overemphasise the presence Ho Chi Minh has here, even posthumerously.

Our visit was relatively short since we had a long journey ahead – 4 hours infact, to get to Ha Long Bay. By 7:45 we were on the road, settling down in our air conditioned bus for the long slog.

En-route we stopped at a rest stop run by a statue manufacturer, who tried to sell us huge statues and offered shipping around the world. I bought some water.

En-route we stopped at a rest stop run by a statue manufacturer, who tried to sell us huge statues and offered shipping around the world. I bought some water.

The bus ride wasn’t the most amazing part of the trip – I processed some of the photos from earlier and in the trip and watched a movie on my iPad, as well as napping a little. It was interesting to see all the streets of Vietnam passing by, with their motorcycle obsession and amazing use of space – there were all sorts of shops on the road side, hoping for weary travelers to stop by and buy whatever weird thing they were selling.

After just over 4 hours we arrived at the pier for our boat cruise in Ha Long Bay. There were hundreds of boats parked up and our bus drove past most of them to arrive at our cruise, which was parked up right at the end. I half expected to end up in a dinghy after we passed some huge cruise boats and the boats decreased in size but Duc explained that our boat is only for us, so it’s quite a small one since we’re only 10 people.

Arriving at the boat

Arriving at the boat

Boarding our ride for the next 2 days

Boarding our ride for the next 2 days

A welcome drink

A welcome drink

After a quick toilet stop on land, we boarded our junk boat for the overnight cruise.The junk boats name comes from the French Junk, not the English Junk – they’re wooden boats. We were presented with a welcome drink made with passion fruit and then we were shown to our rooms before we embarked on our journey.

My room on the junk boat

My room on the junk boat

I had my own room, complete with two single beds, life jacket, hammer, torch and private bathroom.  It was actually pretty cosy and I settled down there for a few minutes before our lunch was served on the middle deck.

As well as being crew to the boat, the cruise staff also doubled as waiting staff, barman and chef and the food was actually really impressive – fresh seafood for most and tofu for me, with rice, vegetables and lots of other things. By the end of lunch I felt stuffed!

Lunch is served

Lunch is served

Lunch in progress

Lunch in progress

As we ate lunch, the boat cruised out to the famous islands and we all agreed that this was probably the most spectacular scenery we’d all eaten in.  The meal was accompanied with a free glass of wine, and then we had a choice to buy more from the bar if we wanted – the barman kept a tab for each of our rooms and we could settle at the end, just like a hotel.

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Ha Long Bay really is spectacular

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Steve and Fred chill out on deck

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We had boats in front and behind us, but everyone kept their distance so it didn’t feel crowded

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Some of the islands have names, such as this one which is meant to be a cockerels head

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Boat selfie with my terrible hat

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Steve offered to take my photo with a nice island behind me and I ended up with this

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It would be rude not to try the Ha Long beer whilst in such an amazing setting

Once lunch was done we got some really nice relaxing cruise time in with the stunning scenery accompanying us.  Dek and Duc (I only just realised that when writing this up) interjected occasionally with facts and comments about the bay (there are over 1300 islands!) but in general it was just chilled out and relaxing – a huge change from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi the night before.

In the early afternoon our boat pulled in to a small habour and we disembarked to go visit the Thien Cung caves, which are a small set of caves open to visitors for 50,000 dong ($2) per visit.

The caves were discovered a couple of decades ago and when they were found, they were occupied by monkeys.  Now they’ve been cleared out and lit and turned into a pretty spectacular tourist attraction, which was totally unexpected! The cool but humid air was a welcome break from the heat of the bay too.

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Enetting the caves, we had no idea what to expect beyond some rocks…

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The first chamber was quite cool, but a fairly normal cave

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As we progressed deeper the colours became more vibrant and my selfies became more arty

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The ceiling was amazing

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Enetting the third chamber the vista was incredible

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The humidity created a constant mist near the entrance which looked so cool, it was like being a psychedelic kids dream

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The cave actually went quite far back

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The top of the cave (near the exist) gave a really incredible view of Ha Long Bay

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Obligatory “I was actually there” photo

Unfortunately whilst enjoying the caves, one of our group (Fred) stepped backwards off a small pathway and fell and hurt his wrist.  We won’t know how serious it is until we get back to land tomorrow, but he seems to be in quite a lot of pain – but Dec responded brilliantly taking him down to the boat immediately and getting it on ice, whilst Duc looked after us through the rest of the cave. I really admire a company like Gadventures in a situation like this, taking care and calming the situation whilst still ensuring that everyone is enjoying themselves (even Fred seemed to be enjoying himself although with a slightly limp wrist once we got back on the boat – I suspect a break 😦 )

After the caves, we had a choice of optional activities – kayaking or being rowed by someone else into a small lagoon.  Jackie and I chose to do the kayaking, whilst the rest of the group took the rowing option – wimps! The kayaking was so much fun!!! We jumped into the kayak which was brought alongside the boat by a local guy and then off we went – through a small tunnel and into the lagoon.  We actually got to kayak for ages – around 90 minutes – for 250,000 dong ($12!)

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Jackie had the front of the kayak

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Our ‘instructor’ couldn’t speak English and kept his distance – pretty sure he was just there to save our lives if we did something dumb

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Kayaking was amazing!

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Jackie in the tunnel

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Me in silhouette in the tunnel

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In the lagoon chilling

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Jackie jumped in, even though swimming isn’t really allowed there

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I promise I didn’t push her!

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The sunset started whilst we were out on the water, it was so beautiful

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Towards the end we found another tunnel and some amazing rock structures.

By the time kayaking was finished, it was almost sunset and Jackie and I had to chase the main boat back to our mooring position to finish our kayaking adventure.  This was by far one of my highlights of the trip – even if I and my camera were absolutely soaking by the end of it.

After we showered and cleaned up from the kayaking it was time for dinner, which was similar to lunch but still impressive being served on a boat in the middle of the ocean.  We all enjoyed it and as we ate, the sun set to give us amazing vista of the other boats in the area. We finished dinner with some drinks from the bar and a spot of squid fishing until the generator on the boat had a bit of a fit and the light to attract the squid conked out, putting an abrupt end to that activity.

My favourite part of the night was heading up to the top deck sun loungers to lie and look up to the stars.  Since we were so far from land, the sky was clear and there were thousands of stars in the sky to enjoy.  You don’t get a photo of that though, because a moving boat doesn’t make an awesome tripod.

What a wonderful and relaxing day. I went to bed super happy.

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Goodnight all

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Relections in the bay

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Halong Bay cruise

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 21.35.24Hi all! My excitement has started, so i’m going to bore you all with pictures and stories about the parts of the trip which i’m most excited about.

One of the parts of the trip takes us to Halong Bay for a 2 day / 1 night cruise around the bay on a junk boat.  If you’re not familiar with Halong Bay, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site in the north of Vietnam with a couple of thousand islands and some truly amazing views.  We’re going to be swimming and exploring the bay over the space of 2 days!  I wonder if the boat will be as fancy as the one in the picture above?

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Categories: Future Adventures, South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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