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.