Tu Long Bay, Vietnam

So people really like to start things early here. Our pick up for Tu Long Bay was at 7:45 a.m. We got a wake up call at 6:30 and had breakfast at 7:00. It was wonderful. Just one note, cheese is not an Asian specialty and should not be included in any dish it is offered in such as an omelette… Your conversation should go, “Would you like cheese in your omelette?” “No Thank you, just the vegetables will be great” But instead, I said sure, cheese sounds great. And so there I was with three little hard dried prices of Kraft single on the top of an otherwise delicious omelette… Live and learn. Greg, remembering that the French had owned Vietnam for a long time, opted for the pancake which of course turned out to be an absolutely delicious crepe. 

The big limo van/bus that picked us up, was fully tricked out with cream leatherette armchairs and mirrors and burled wood and brown velveteen. We shared the four hour ride to the coast with three guys and a girl all from California, a group of four friends that was around 30 years old. They were really nice and friendly and interesting. The boys figured out how to close the screen to the driver and put up the tv and play music. There is wifi in the van, but like the wifi in the hotel it was spotty and weak. We stopped at an arts and craft centre with a large sculpture garden.

Riding in the Limo Van
The sculpture garden at the tourist arts and crafts centre.
At the processing and boarding centre, we bought some absolutely delicious coffee for about $2-3US. Then, after about an hour we met the other guests on the boat, and were loaded onto our skiff and taken to our boat. It is a shame that our lovely Red Dragon boat is now painted white because a new Vietnamese government regulation says that all of the tour boats must be white. 

The Harbour at Ha Long Bay
Our cabin - it really was twice the size of all the other cabins.

The Red Dragon Junk. Long (Like Ha Long or Tu Long, means Dragon)
The staff of the boat are super nice. We were fed lunch very soon after we boarded, Each meal is eight courses, None of them are super big, but after trying eight different things, we are so full. We had a sweet and sour seafood soup, banana flower salad, tiny clams with a delicious salsa, steamed shrimp, rice, calamari in a creamy sauce, sea bass, extremely green vegetables, and a fruit platter with dragon fruit and mangos and oranges for dessert. Greg really doesn't like most seafood and I am not really a fan of it either. But all of this seafood was delicious and Greg and I ate it all. 

We stopped at an island with a beach and a big cave. We spent a nice afternoon exploring the beach and the cave. The weather is quite cool and of course no one has really warm clothing. We wrapped ourselves in big warm towels and sat up at the forward mast pulpit and watched while we sailed away through these lovely tall islands. Our guide had told us how the Mother and baby dragon had come to help their ancestors and had decided to stay because the land was so beautiful. It is a magical place. 

Greg on the steps to the cave
In the cave. If you go on the longer tours, they set up tables inside the cave and serve dinner there.

A starfish on the beach
We were exhausted and had a nap before supper, which was eight courses again, with dishes such as pork in curry leaves and some kind of squash that looks like bright green honeydew melon. We are eating so many new things on this trip. I think the first thing was the bright red vegetable that was like carrots that we had on the airplane from Delhi, in an Indian salad. Now it is just a never ending sequence of new things. The crew was going to sit us all at separate tables, but everyone asked to be seated together in a group. I think we would really like the group, but they are from France and so of course all the conversation is in French. The other couples have become quite good friends. A couple of them have passable English and try to translate a little now and then. Oh, and of course, most of them smoked. I was really glad that the boat does not allow smoking in the dining room. I am really happy we took this trip, The boat and the staff are awesome and I definitely would recommend doing this trip. But with the cold weather and being (understandably) left out of the mealtime conversations, I am glad we did the two day trip instead of three.

Our lovely dinner even came with exquisite decorations carved out of yams

In the morning we left the anchorage at 6:30am, and had a lovely breakfast underway. We wove in and out of the narrow channels between the the tall rugged limestone islands.

The lovely tall islands
So much beauty
It was a shame it was too cold for us to swim comfortably.
We stopped at the Floating village. These little houses float on styrofoam blocks and were built with help from the government, by the fishermen that lived out here on their boats. As well as fishing, these families now raise farmed oysters. We were rowed through the village by young women. The oars are long and people row by standing and pushing the oars forward, using their entire body weight. It would be interesting to know if these very poor looking fishermen actually get the money from the pearl business since the necklaces in the showroom were selling for hundreds of dollars, which was not reflected in the village.

Fishermen's houses
Each family has a fishing boat

The natural bridge

Our wonderful rower
Chilling on the deck!

No wonder the dragons wanted to stay here.

The water puppet show
Vietnam is primarily a country of farming
So glad to get back to our warm bed in Hanoi

Outside our hotel window