Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life on a Junk

From Bamboo Sapa Hotel:

We've just arrived Bamboo Sapa after an 8 hours train ride followed by an hour drive. With free wifi in the lobby I'm able to submit the below post before we head out for breakfast. Ooohh, the weather is just fantastic!

October 9-10, 2011.

Although it is a Sunday life is like other workday. Motorcycles and bicycles jostle with cars, vans and buses on narrow streets, honking away. Crash helmets don't seem mandatory, those who wear, wear thin type but I understood crash helmets is the law. Ladies pushing bicycles with tray of fruits and those carrying huge trays of banana are common sights. So are street vendors on five foot ways selling noodles, cigarettes or just reading papers or smoking seated on stools. Young men walked about with cellphones and headsets. Hanoi is livelier minus the rain.

We were in a small group of 4 couples with 2 agents from Glory Cruise in the company's Hyundai bus working slowly out of the busy morning traffic eastward along highway AH14 and crossing the Red River to Halong Bay. The weather was encouraging, hazy but not wet. Guide Cong told us Halong Bay will be sunny. A hurray went up.

Three hours later we arrived at Tuan Chau International Marina Station to board a feeder to the Glory, one of the junks operated by the HalongGloryCruise, which will be our home tonight. The TCIMS is the luxury berthing point for premier guests. According to Cong two other berths further away cater for junks providing daytrips and basic tours. I didn't know we paid for special services. Glory is a recently refurbished junk that has 12 guest rooms with attached WCs. With just 4 rooms occupied we expect very personalized attention. After checking into our room 102 we meet up with our traveling companions, a couple each from Holland, Denmark and Malaysia. Our holiday began with a sumptuous lunch consisting fresh spring rolls, Halong seafood soup, vegetable salad, fried fish with spicy Vietnamese chilly sauce, fried pork with honey on drumsticks, sauted vegetable, steamed rice, fresh fruits and coffee and tea as the junk sailed gracefully through the green bay waters we savored our food to the accompaniment of soft orchestral music. Outside the sun came out of hiding and pillars of limestone islands glided into view. Halong Bay came alive before us.

About 2pm we arrived the floating village and all 4 couples went kayaking. It was my first experience but did not feel nervous as we were given proper life jackets to don. I passed my camera to Cong in the 5th kayak with Chana, manager of Glory Cruise, to take our pictures. We are real novice struggling with paddling the kayak and always end up last but we managed to catch up. The exertion made me tired. After returning to the junk we changed to dry clothings and gathered on the sun deck to feel the breeze and the warmth of the afternoon sun. I forgot my sunblock but would not allow this to kill my enthusiasm of getting a little sun burnt in Halong Bay. We got to know our new friends better although we realized we will part way tomorrow, they all continuing with another HB tour while we return to Hanoi.

Tonight's dinner was just as good as the lunch. For both I thought drinking the Hanoi local brew made the food taste nicer. We slept well after a strenuous afternoon.

As a side note it is observed that visitors can’t help but compare the magical, mystical landscape of limestone islets to Guilin in China and Krabi in southern Thailand, but in reality Halong Bay is more spectacular. These tiny islands are dotted with beaches and grottoes created by wind and waves, and have sparsely forested slopes. The next morning we went for caving in a nearby island before we return to wash up, had early brunch (another lovely food course served with delight and love to just both of us as if we've chartered the entire vessel) and at noon leave the Bay for our return trip to Hanoi.

I thought the crew of the junk was just such nice people. One of them led us in morning exercise on the deck soon after sunrise. It was memorable. Thank you, Ms Hang.

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