Cambodia, Day 2. 11/27/19

If the first day of being in Cambodia was distressing, today is even more so. Our first stop is at a fishing village. Our guide tells us that most of the people in the countryside who are doing farming and the fishermen are uneducated. That must be nearly 80% of the people of Cambodia. The fishermen and their families look like they live in squalid, unsanitary conditions with the men going out at night to fish and returning in the morning and the women taking care of many children.

The fishing boats of Cambodia are all painted turquoise. The fishing boats of Vietnam and Thailand are all painted other colors so that the marine police can identify them.
These boats cost between $25,000 and $50,000 depending on size
Readying squid for the market
A pretty little Cambodian girl in the fishing village probably has a hopeless future.
Chicken are walking around here and there
The making of ice is big business. Ice is used for the catch that is sold to restaurants and markets. The fishermen dry fish in the sun for their own use due to lack of refrigeration.
Grandmother cleaning fish

Our guide tells us that Cambodian people see the flies that are around the fish and produce in the markets are a good thing. He says if the food is not attracting flies then there must be something wrong with it. Considering that flies carry diseases, it is an odd concept. It also makes me wonder about the food we cooked yesterday!

Next we go to Independence Beach. This beach and its hotel were made famous when Jacqueline Kennedy came here in 1967 hoping to improve relations between Cambodia and the U.S. The sea looks inviting and there are benches to sit on. The garbage is a little less pronounced as this is the first place we have seen trash containers. We watch some young people enjoying the day. They go swimming in their street clothes. There are lots of tall buildings nearby. Most are unfinished. Our guide tells us that there have been problems with the Chinese construction. Inferior quality building materials have caused some of the buildings to collapse killing Cambodian people.

John was here
Abandoned tennis court. 
The beach and sea are lovely
The buildings seen through the trees are largely unfinished

Our last stop is at a Buddhist complex. Traditionally becoming a monk was a way for poor boys to receive an education.
We see a demonstration of Cambodian dance, some large statues of Buddha, and a temple.

The young people dress up in the traditional Cambodian clothing and show us what some of the dancing hand gestures mean.
Here they are dancing “the coconut dance.”
A former monk on the left tells us about life as a monk
Buddha pointing towards heaven with one finger up indicating he has no more incarnations to go.
Buddha getting his hair cut off to become a monk
Buddha has died and is in a reclining position
Inside the main temple is a seated Buddha

On the way back to the boat our guide, Senh, really unloads about what has happened to Cambodia and the Cambodian people. He talks about Pol Pot and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. Pol Pot had a view of Cambodia as an agrarian socialist society. So he forcibly removed the urban population to the countryside to work or collective farms. Anyone who was considered an enemy of the Pol Pot government was killed. This included intellectuals, minorities, teachers, doctors, and certainly anyone who spoke English as they could be secret CIA operatives. These mass killings plus malnutrition and poor medical care killed between 1.5 to 2 million people, a quarter of the Cambodian people. With the approach of the 21st century Cambodia was devoid of a generation of people who could have helped the country to advance. They are still largely uneducated. Senh said that if you have no education then you do not even know what to dream about.

So we are feeling pretty sad about the conditions that these sweet, smiling people have to live in as we return to our fancy boat and have our dinner where we can send back any food that does not meet our standard and go to bed in a king size bed with clean sheets after we have seen the Cambodian people swinging in their hammocks. I think I will not post pictures of what we ate for dinner today.

Cambodia. 11/26/19

Today we have a cooking class in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I am expecting Cambodia to be a lot like Vietnam but it is far behind in development. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge basically wiped out, as in killed, a whole generation of people who were educated teachers, doctors, and professionals. So Cambodia is struggling to get back on its feet and is relying on Chinese investment to help. It looks like so far it has not helped enough.

Views from the bus –

Trash and rubble is everywhere
Cattle taking a rest alongside the road
It is pretty sad and depressing
Upstairs apartments
Electrical transmission

Most of the roads are partly dirt due to construction or lack of maintenance. The bus has to go very slowly, probably about 20 mph or less. Then the bus driver cannot find the Don Bosco School where we are taking our cooking course and must make u-turns in the middle of the street with motorbikes and people everywhere. Finally we reach our destination and need to walk down a hot and dusty road to the school. Everything is set up for us to cook.

Everything is set up for us
John is ready!

We are making two dishes, Fish Amok, which is fish in a curry paste steamed in banana leaves and Khmer meat pancake with sweet fish sauce. The parts we actually do are to make the curry paste, cook the meat, make a basket out of our banana leaves, cook the pancake, and make the fish sauce. Chef makes the batter for the pancake and steams the Fish Amok.

First up is to make a curry paste in the really heavy mortar and pestle. We are dripping with sweat by the time the paste meets chef’s approval

Making a little box out of the banana leaves is harder than you might imagine. You have to fold the banana leaves just so four times and secure it with toothpicks. We are all laughing pretty hard at our feeble attempts. John has made an unrecognizable box and mine is leaking the sauce that the fish is in slowly out the sides. They go into a big steamer.

We make a spicy fish sauce with spices and chilis and coconut milk. Then we cook a combination of pork and shrimp to put inside a rice pancake. With only minor conflagrations we cook the meat. No one cooks a successful pancake. Plus they did not tell us to put the meat into the pancake and roll it inside like an omelet. Mostly everyone’s pancakes just look like scrambled eggs.

Spicy /sweet fish sauce combination
Cooking the pork and shrimp combination on the propane stove
Meat and shrimp with rice cake (the part that looks like scrambled eggs) with sweet and spicy sauce
The steamed banana leaf package with curried fish inside
John has a beer
They make us a fancy dragon fruit dessert

It has been great fun learning about Cambodian cuisine. The people are so lovely and sweet that it makes you so sad for the situations they live in. We especially wonder about our female tour guide. What kinds of hard times did she have to go through to get educated. She tells us that most of the girls in the country side are uneducated and marry around 16. They cannot go to school because it is not safe for them to walk to school and the Buddhist monks do not teach girls. How hard must it have been for our tour guide.

Later we have dinner at the Chef’s Table. It is the same as the dinner we had a couple days earlier. I have a better picture of the apple dessert though. It is really yummy and is constructed out of thin layers of caramelized apple into the shape of an apple.

Apple dessert from Chef’s Table

Recovery Day 2. 11/25/19

John seems almost better today but I am still going through a lot of tissues and feeling sort of miserable. We have breakfast in the room where I get a totally uncooked sausage. It is red, raw inside. Yuck! That is two culinary mishaps so far on this trip. What’s up with that!?

Today is a day at sea so we have nowhere to be. While I nap John goes to a culinary demonstration which turns out to be tiramisu. I have actually made tiramisu once with a recipe that Sarah gave me. It turned out well. I really don’t intend on ever making one again so I don’t feel bad about missing the demonstration. John also spends some time looking at the art around the ship using the Viking Art Guide App.

Around noon he comes back to get me for trivia. The topic is movies. I know one answer out of 15. John only knows a few. We are carried by the rest of the team and score a somewhat respectable 12 which is definitely a losing score. I feel like a movie dummy.

After looking at the lunch offerings in the World Cafe we decide to go down to The Restaurant which is open for lunch on sea days. Lunch is much fancier at The Restaurant than at the World Cafe.

I have a spicy tofu dish which is really good except for the corn. I have been trying to eat vegetarian at lunch.
John has a pork banh mi. He says it is very good.
As a consolation for being sick we order dessert. I have a brown rice pudding which is not picture worthy and John has a banana Napoleon.

In the afternoon I catch up with writing posts for my blog. I had gotten two days behind. Even though John takes lots of notes, once a few days have passed I have trouble remembering everything we did. It will be easy to remember what I did today because it was basically nothing. I am not going to post these entries to social media since they are mostly just about what we ate. John and I find it interesting to post all our culinary delights but most people just find it boring.

As the afternoon wears on we run into a line of thunderstorms. We go to the Explorer Lounge where we can see the lightning in action! Later we go to dinner at “The”.

My starter is cured lomo with peppers and artichokes. It is okay.
John has borscht Rothschild (whatever the Rothschild means)
John’s main course is parrot fish with couscous. It is slightly overcooked but he really likes the couscous.
I have what is supposed to be pad Thai. It is terrible. It is not pad Thai. It is a mashup of the spicy tofu dish that I had for lunch, fettucine, and tomatoes. I send it back and order something else.
I get a double portion of cocktail shrimp.

As we are leaving dinner people are streaming into the Star Theater for a presentation by Patrick Roberts who is a violinist. He plays mostly pop tunes with a prerecorded backup orchestra (that is too loud.) He does do a creditable performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. We enjoy our evening.

Patrick Roberts trying to be a sexy violinist.

Recovery Day. 11/24/19

Today we are supposed to have another tour of the Ben Thanh market except this time we go around with an herbalist/doctor. John is still recovering from his cold and mine is in full swing. So we decide to stay on the ship, nap, and try to recover.

In the early afternoon the ship leaves Ho Chi Minh City and is on route to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Tomorrow will be a day at sea and another chance for us to recuperate. We leave via the Soai Rap river which empties into the South China Sea. We see aquaculture farms and rice paddies along the way.

Aquaculture and rice paddies

After spending the afternoon doing nothing we have dinner at The Chef’s Table where we have the menu – La Route des Indes.

The amuse bouche is a carrot and cardamom cream
The first course is spicy tuna tataki
Then a ginger and tarragon granita
The main course is beef tenderloin with four warm spices and purple potato mouseseline, mushrooms, and gravy. I have mine without the warm spices since I think the spices make the beef taste like pumpkin pie
The picture does not do this dessert justice. It is a reconstructed apple tarte tatin with a butterscotch sauce. I don’t usually like dessert but I will make an exception for this tarte tatin

After dinner we hurry back to our room for another night of healing sleep.

Overview of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 11/23/19

NOTE: Along with John I have also caught a cold.  Because I need to take colds seriously, we have cancelled our excursion for 11/24, and 11/25 is a day at sea. This gives us two days to try and get well before we visit Cambodia. I probably will not have much to write about for those two days.

If you enjoy bus rides than this is the cruise for you. Today, especially, the ratio of time on the bus to time actually seeing something interesting is especially poor. Our excursion of six hours included about one hour and fifteen minutes of seeing something interesting. Since our boat is docked an hour away from the city, that is two hours sunk in just going back and forth. Driving in Ho Chi Minh City is especially tedious because there is so much traffic. And this is on Saturday when there is less traffic.

There are masses of people on motorbikes and scooters
The people wearing green jackets or helmets are employed by Grab, the motorbike Uber of Vietnam

We finally reach a temple, Jade Pagoda, to see. It is a combination Buddhist/Hindu place built in 1900. Our guide suggests we go in and put our hand on our hearts and make a wish. Our guide, along with the majority of Vietnamese, does not belong to any organized religion. I find it uncomfortable to be making wishes and taking pictures where people are worshipping. Our guide does not come in with us so other than the Buddha we have no idea what we are looking at. This took up 20 minutes of our non-bus time. Some of the statutes in the Jade Pagoda –

A Buddha
A revered figure
Another revered figure

Now we crawl along in the traffic while the guide points out a couple of things. Here’s the Opera House.

Opera House in Saigon

Here is the Post Office built by the French.

Saigon Post Office

We stop for five minutes to take a picture of the reunification palace.

Reunification Palace

Interestingly our guide,who is a young woman, says that there are still a lot of people in South Vietnam (she refers to South Vietnam as if it were still a country) who are angry that North Vietnam took over the South. She also says that the Americans did not lose the war. They just gave up.  She also told us that South Vietnamese and maybe all Vietnamese hate China and Chinese people and especially Chinese tourists. She says the Chinese are rude and crude. She gives us examples of bad behavior.

Then we ride around a block a couple of times so she can show us where the iconic picture of South Vietnamese trying to get on to the last U.S. helicopter was taken. She says it was not on the roof of the U.S. Embassy but on the roof of the C.I.A. Building.  We cannot see what she is referring to.

Then we go to a wood lacquer workshop where art is made by inlaying pieces of wood, eggshells and other things. There is a short presentation and then a “buying opportunity.” They have western toilets and there is some weak air conditioning so we are pretty happy about that.

Man working with eggshells
Finished eggshell pictures
Close up of eggshell picture
Mary in store for “buying opportunity.” We are part of the green fan group.
Part of the showroom

Our last stop is at the Banh Thant market which we saw yesterday. John and I walk in. It is crowded and very hot. We walk out. John stops at the men’s room while I wait outside. Unfortunately it is a place for sex workers to be standing. We all side eye each other. I move to another spot. John comes out and we spot our bus. We are early but the bus is air conditioned and quieter so we are happy to get aboard.

After this we go back to the ship. We take showers. Neither of us is feeling well but we go for dinner and cobble together a dinner out of four starters – shu mai, summer rolls,spicy prawns, and pho. It is quite enjoyable.

Our starter – spicy shrimp and summer roll
This is followed by lobster and pork shu mai
Vietnamese pho

I am really glad that we have cancelled our outing for tomorrow and that I have two days to try to kick this cold before we land in Cambodia and have our Cambodian Cooking School excursion.

Saigon Cooking School. 11/22/19

Today we take the bus into Ho Chi Minh City (hereafter indicated by HCMC or Saigon) to meet with a local chef, go to the enormous Ben Thanh market, and then make our way to the Saigon Cooking School. At the school we will prepare a three course meal for ourselves and eat it! But first a few words about HCMC.

Saigon is nothing like Hue. It is modern and bustling. The traffic is monumental. No one seems to pay much attention to the traffic laws. The prices in the market are inflated about 70% and you are expected to bargain the seller down. (Not my favorite way of shopping so we buy nothing.) It is a big city of 10 million people hustling to get by. It is not clean. Due to the extreme heat and humidity and very little air conditioning people sit out on the sidewalk if they can find space between the motorbikes.

We are docked outside of HCMC so it takes 45 minutes to an hour to get into the city
Our port, Saigon Premiere Container Terminal, is located in Nowhere, Vietnam. There is no town to walk to just a huge parking lot filled with newly arrived cars
Apartments are high rise and also in smaller units in HCMC
We are told not to take our phones out to take pictures because motorbikers snatch them from your hands as you are taking a picture. I risked one of men selling coconuts to drink

We meet our chef outside the market and she takes us inside to talk about the various fruits and vegetables that we will use.

Chef talks about limes and kumquats. Lemons are expensive so these green kumquats are used for a similar flavor
Behind our chef are turmeric, young ginger, lotus root and she is holding a banana bud
Here she is discussing the difference between Thai basil and lemon mint
Some more of the coconuts to drink from
There are oodles of spices, teas,and coffees. (There is a special weasel coffee which is made from coffee beans that have passed through the weasels’ digestive systems. Farmers collect the poop to make it. Yum)

After our visit to the market we take a short drive over to the Saigon Cooking School where there are cookers and ingredients for each of us. We put on our aprons and get to work. It is all quite comprehensive and we use a real propane cook top. I manage to set my towel on fire. The first dish we make is sour soup with prawns. We cut up all the vegetables and cook it ourselves!

John looking Iron Chef-y
A look down the table at our cooking accoutrements

The ingredients to our sour soup with prawn are water, elephant ear stem, okra, prawn, bean sprouts, tomato, pineapple, tamarind paste, rice paddy herb and saw tooth coriander, sugar, fish sauce, salt chopped garlic and cooking oil. We sit down to eat our creation.

Sour soup with prawn or in Viet canh chua tom

Now the chef expects us to move a little faster. I really have almost no time to take pictures. Finally I give up with the picture taking and just concentrate on the cooking and getting my phone out of harm’s way. Our next course is lotus stems salad with prawns and pork, goi ngo sen. The ingredients are sugar lemon juice, fish sauce, long chili, garlic for the dressing and pickled white radish and carrot, fresh lotus stems, pickled lotus stem, prawns, lean pork, onion, Laksa leaves, peanuts, fried shallots, and deep fried lotus roots. We have a tool to cut the carrots into fancy julienne and a peeler which is much more difficult to use than my OXO one.

Our chef is mixing the lotus stem and carrot in the picking juice
Our delicious salad, lotus stems salad with prawns and pork or goi ngo sen

Our last dish is chicken stew in a clay pot with ginger, basil and coconut juice or ga kho gung. This takes quite a bit of cooking and pressing of the tamarind paste. This is where I set my kitchen towel alight but smother it so quickly that no one notices. They are really busy chopping and stirring and trying not to get burned or set their own towels afire. So we are dealing with sharp knives, a really hot propane flame, and a clay pot that you cannot touch unless you are using your towel (which puts it really close to the open flame.) Chef tells us to concentrate!!

John enjoys a Saigon special beer as a reward for all his hard work
Chicken stew in a clay pot with ginger, basil, and coconut juice or ga kho gung (forgot to take a picture before I had eaten most of it)

Our chef whose name is maybe Ugen or maybe some thing else compliments us on a job well done and says we have all graduated from The Saigon Cooking School. Yay! She gives a folder with our recipes and a coaster to commemorate our day.

We cooked, ate, and had fun!!

It has been a long day of learning and cooking and we arrive back at the boat about 7 hours after we left. Everyone is pretty tired out but happy that we had this experience.

Another day at sea. 11/21/19

We are on our way to Ho Chi Minh City formerly known as Saigon. It seems like the people in the southern part of Vietnam use the two name interchangeably.

Not much to report except for coming in in second place at trivia today. Sometimes our team listens too much to John’s opinion on the answers and sometimes too little!

John is working on recuperating from his cold and I am working on catching the one he has.

From the food scene, we eat at the Chef’s Table and have their rendition of California Cuisine—it is more West Coast than California. No California wines are included!

Sweet potato chip with apple, rosemary, and creme fraiche
Crab cake with avocado, orange, fennel, shallot, dill and blood orange
Seared halibut with c=California olive, herb vinaigrette, crumble roasted cauliflower, and buttered panko

In addition there is a Moscow mule granita as a palate cleanser and an Ojai Mandarin parfait that I did not take pictures of.

Authentic Vietnamese cuisine in Hue. 11/20/19

We experience fairly rough seas overnight which I find difficult to sleep through. So I am pretty sleepy this morning. But there is no time for laggards and we soon are on a bus to go and try the “Tastes of Hue.” The plan is to meet with a local chef and go through a market learning about the different foods in Vietnamese cuisine and then walking back to her house for a luncheon that she has prepared for us. We originally thought we were going to get a cooking class but that will have to wait for another day.

Our excursion is 6 hours long. One thing they don’t tell you in the blurb about the excursions is how long you are going to be on the bus. They just say “after a ride through the Vietnamese countryside, you will arrive in Hue…” Today’s ride is nearly 2 hours long each way. On the ride to Hue we see a different face of Vietnam. It is poor and rural. Both on the ride and in Hue we are surprised by how Third World Vietnam is.

Vietnam is mostly agricultural with rice paddies everywhere still plowed by water buffalo. Most of the housing is built behind whatever business the locals can drum up—a cafe or restaurant, karaoke bar, spare parts for machines, hair salon. The people we see are cultivating a garden, watching their children, or just sitting around. It is much poorer than we imagined.

Rice paddies along the road
Most houses appear to be one room wide. Woman working in her garden on the right, clothes drying on the left
Business in front of the living quarters, man on a motor bike. There are few privately owned cars.
Pink house with a karaoke business in front
In urban Hue the houses are closer together. Here again the living quarters are over the cafes below.

The traffic is somewhat chaotic with motorbikes dashing to and fro. Anyone who hesitates has lost the edge to get through an intersection. Our bus is enormous next to the rest of the traffic so for us the locals give way. We de-bus and meet our chef host, Hoang Thi Nhu Huy, a renowned chef and cookbook author specializing in royal Hue cuisine. First she walks us through the market describing the different foodstuffs.

Madame Nhu Huy discusses the various types of rice
Here Madam Nhu Huy points out the different peppercorns used in Vietnamese cooking
The noodle lady
Meats of all kinds are laid out in the open air market
The fish look remarkably fresh
Outside the market enclosure are women selling green-skinned oranges and dragon fruit
Here a woman, in the iconic Vietnamese conical hat, is selling everything from chubby carrots to shiny eggplants and prickly bitter melons. (Bitter melon, good for your health!)

I have to admit that I am somewhat put off by the smells and the fact that I see a large roach crawling among the dried noodles in a package. I am glad when we exit the market and proceed to Madame Nhu Huy’s house for lunch. And what a lunch it is! Obviously she has been cooking for days to put together this feast. We sit at communal tables and Madame Nhu Huy comes around to explain each dish and drink.

Phoenix egg pancake and pate starter. The yellow “feathers” are egg pancakes. The egg pancake is also wrapped around a chicken pate in the tail
Poor John has caught a cold but is still a pretty game eater and drinker
Chicken and fig salad served with crispy pancake
Mackerel served in a shredded crispy rice wrapper
The only dish I was so-so about is short rice served two ways, steamed and fried with shrimp
Just when you think you are done, a bowl of pho with five color noodles that she has made by hand
Dessert is fruit. This is a sugar or milk apple
I really liked these small fruits. You peel them and inside is a segmented fruit that looks like lichee. (Landsat)

John, who has taken prodigious notes throughout the meal, has become a favorite of Madame Nhu Huy. She is so excited when he stands up and is so much taller than she. She insists on a picture with him and her assistant wants one too. She is a teacher and thinks that maybe John is one too because of his notes. The Vietnamese people are very friendly and affectionate.

Little Chef and Big John
The Chef holds her cookbook so we can take a picture

Now it is back on the bus for the ride back. I immediately fall asleep until we get to our rest stop which is at a cafe on a small lake. It has western bathrooms which is the main reason why we stopped there.

When we are get to the ship and are back in our room the phone rings and it is from the kitchen. The head chef wants to meet with us. We set up a meeting at 5:30 PM. The head chef, Eslam from Turkey, wants us to know he is so sorry for the bone incident yesterday, are we okay, and what can he do to make it up to us. He tells us he would do this for any guest but I think maybe they are afraid that we will sue or something. Can he make us special lobster or a special dessert? I ask if he can move up our 9 PM reservation at the Italian restaurant to 8 PM. Of course, no problem and we will get a special dessert plus we can have reservations at any of the specialty restaurants on any day we want. We feel a little embarrassed. The main reason we said anything about the bone was to alert them about it not to get anything special.

When we get to the restaurant, Manfredi’s at 8 PM, they are falling all over themselves to be nice. The restaurant manager says they have been looking forward to our visit and take us to a table by the window himself. The head chef comes over to make sure we are happy and we get quite a delicious special dessert.

Our special dessert—deconstructed baklava with vanilla ice cream sitting on a base of pistachios

Sailing by junk on Ha Long Bay. 11/19/19

Today we venture out on Ha Long Bay by junk. These junk, though, are not the ones we imagined from our childhood.  Those junks with their square sails are now only used for promotional pictures and maybe holidays. This junk is gasoline powered. The boats seem a little scary with their rotting wood staircases up to the observation deck. But we all make it back with the exception of one boat that broke down and had to be towed back. Luckily it is not ours.

Modern junk
John on the junk

Ha Long Bay has 1969 islands and islets and is part of the Gulf of Tonkin. Its depth is around 90 feet and fishermen ply the waters fishing for squid, cod, grouper, and clams. Mostly, though, they are fishing for tourists. It is big business here. Although the islands look fairly close as we push off from the dock, it takes almost an hour to get to them as the boat goes really, really slowly. We are allowed up on the top deck but cannot stand in the middle since the driver sits in the back of the boat and needs to have a clear visual line to steer the boat. Finally we get to the islands and they are pretty fabulous. They jut up out of the sea and are covered with jungle-like foliage. Some have fanciful names. Since it is not sunny today the sea is a more of a somber blue-gray instead of a bright jade color.

Entering the islands of Ha Long Bay
Lush foliage on the islands
The islands go on and on
Mary and John selfie on the junk
More islands
This duck shaped island is aptly named Duck Island
This formation is called ‘Fighting Cocks” but it looks more like kissing hens to me
Taking the very slow trip back to port

At lunchtime there is a special Vietnamese cuisine presentation. It is especially bad. If you never have had Vietnamese cuisine you definitely would not want to eat it again after sampling the ship’s banh mi, pho, and fried rice with chicken. The banh mi is silken tofu with pickled vegetables. The vegetables are served with a lot of the pickling juice so that the roll is totally sogged out. There is also sriracha mayo. This horrible wet sandwich was inedible to me. The chicken with fried rice seemed more Chinese than Vietnamese and pho had weird noodles and no vegetables. Hopefully at some point we will actually get some authentic food from the local cuisines.

Poor John gets an oxtail spring roll from the buffet and encounters a large bone in it, over and inch long and probably half an inch in diameter. How did someone miss it.?! We told one of the chefs about it which will have repercussions tomorrow.

John in his traditional beer pose
Soggy banh mi, sad pho, and Chinese chicken

Later in the afternoon John goes to a presentation about the empires of Southeast Asia while I stay behind and take a nap. I am still having some trouble with jet lag and wake up in the wee hours of the night.

Our day finishes up with dinner at The Restaurant which John and I refer to as “the”. I stick with fish but John orders lamb curry. The server takes his order with the comment, Wow! We are not sure what she is wowing about.

Ha Long Bay and water puppets. 11/18/19

We get up early to see Ha long Bay in the first morning light. It is quite  overcast this morning so the jewel-like color are muted.  Nonetheless the limestone islets soaring up from the sea and topped with thick vegetation are pretty impressive. No wonder this area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will explore the islands by junk tomorrow.

Some of the islands and islets in Ha Long Bay as we come into port
As the sun peeks through the sea takes on an aquamarine hue
Ha Long is a city with lots of building going on and a fairly new bridge

Today our main activity is a trip to a farming village where we meet a family, have tea with them, and see a water puppet show. Our guide, Moon, is pretty rah rah Vietnam is the best. These best things include pearls, coffee, pretty women, rice, fishing, and being invaded. The reason why they are best at being invaded? Because of all their other best things that everyone wants. But good on her for being proud of her country.

We travel through Ha Long Bay city where there are a lot of apartment buildings and hotels which seem pretty deserted. Maybe it is not the tourist season? It takes us about an hour to get to the village. There are only nine people on our tour which is great. There are rice paddies all around the village. It is the dry season now so the rice has been harvested. They will plant again in the spring. An older lady, Mrs. Pham, welcomes us to her house, gives us hot tea, and shows us around. She has a big genealogy tree on the wall showing how her family started out with one guy and now the family has over two hundred members. We are also invited to use their bathroom which, as feared, is not western style. There is also a giant spider on the wall. I decide not to brave the facilities or the spider.

Harvested rice paddy
Some fields planted and others harvested
Mrs. Pham welcomes us with tea
Mrs. Pham is 76 and lives with a cousin in their house which is 186 years old
John walking across the courtyard of the house
Mrs. Pham with her giant genealogy tree
A small section of Mrs. Pham’s family tree
Paying reverence to one’s ancestors is very important here. Mrs. Pham has an altar set up in her house.

After talking for a while we head over to the water puppet theater. The puppets are made out of jackfruit wood which is light and buoyant. After a short singing segment by two ladies in a rowboat, the water puppets appear in the water from behind a screen. The stories are about rural life—planting rice and catching fish. It is told in a humorous way. We are served watermelon and cake with tea. After this we head back to the ship. Moon suggests we might stop at a pearl place but I am falling asleep and not up for a forced buying demonstration. So I vote to veto the plan. Yay! The noes win!

We are served watermelon and cake while we watch the water puppet show
Two ladies singing in a boat
Two dragons in the water
Two men ploughing with oxen while two women plant rice

Later this evening we go to the Chef’s Table for dinner where we have a lovely dinner and a fine chat with the manager, chef, and sommelier. The manager tells us that we are his favorite couple and I tell him he is our favorite restaurant manager. Tonight’s dinner is Asian Panorama. All the portions are small so I feel like I can enjoy everything without feeling guilty.