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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

N Vietnam 2012 - Day 2, Part 1 - Halong Bay

N Vietnam 2012
Day 2 - 25th May - Halong Bay
(Part 1)

I didn't want to eat breakfast in the hostel, as I wanted to profit from my time in Vietnam and try local food (another staff member had suggested I could have the instant noodles when I'd voiced my desire). So I headed out for breakfast, to a place recommended by the receptionist.

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Temple

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Inside the temple

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Breakfast place

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Banh Cuon: it was basically Vietnamese chee cheong fun. Inside a steamed rice flour layer was minced pork, fried shrimp and wood-ear mushrooms, and on top was fried onions, shredded shrimp and coriander. Of course, it was served with fish sauce. Supposedly it also had "belostomatid essence". If that wasn't a typo, then that's this here:


Luckily I didn't look it up at breakfast, or I'd have lost my appetite.

I was served by a XMM of 14 or 15. Even at such a tender age, she was already sullen like her elders.

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You know it's a branded place. Inflation was worse than I thought, since the writeup said this cost 10,000 VND.

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Since the writeup recommended the "pork pies". I tried them - they were like fishcake, except with pork. They were delicious - better than the chee cheong fun, in fact. The hint of cinammon was most intriguing.

I saw a place with "Banh My. Doner Kebab. 20,000 VND".

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If you drink whatever's in the La Vie bottles, you probably will die.

While at the breakfast place, I'd found out that my phone didn't have a data connection anymore. When I got back to the hostel the receptionist said pre-paid SIMs usually worked "forever" after you bought them (she presumably meant there was unlimited usage; I'd received a long local call the previous night, but unlimited local calls were supposed to be included). I was also unable to make any calls. So my US$10 SIM card, which was sold to me at about 3x its real price, had only worked for a day. Not only had I been horrendously overcharged, I had also been sold a defective product by the crook at the airport. Bloody country.

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Questionable breakfast options at hostel: "England breakfast: Fried eggs, bacon
American breakfast: Fried eggs, cheese
France breakfast: Boiled eggs, hotdog, ham"

My bus then came for my tour of Halong Bay.

There was a shop with a sign: "Stamp. Tampon". I'm presuming they didn't translate the French properly.

From a distance, we saw the Long Bien Bridge, designed by Eiffel of Tower fame.


It was bombed during the War so the not-so-nice (flat) parts are rebuilt.

Our guide shared some fun facts with us. There're almost 5 million motorbikes in Hanoi, which has 6.8 million people. Land costs USD 15,000 per square metre, so people build upwards.

What people smoke in the bamboo pipes is tobacco filtered through water, not opium (as I thought). Oops.

We then had our obligatory restroom stop, which naturally was a disguised commission opportunity.

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What I found amusing was that they advertised their customer base, which is global. Also, apparently Paris has a port.

Obiang sculptures seem to be a Southeast Asian industry. I'd seen places making them in Indonesia and Cambodia also, but this rest stop had a more varied range of designs.

We eventually hit Halong Bay after about 4 hours of travel (including the rest stop). The receptionist at the hotel had tried to persuade me to take the overnight package, doubtless because he'd get more commission, but really besides time being limited, I figured it'd just be more of the same. Furthermore, I was alone.

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Pandemonium

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Boats in the bay

We then set off.

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Sailing out

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Bay

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Island with UNESCO sign on it???

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Sampan, Island

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Enterprising hawker. They can go to Somalia and hijack boats there with their skills.

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Sailing in

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Traffic jam

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Beach. Of sorts.

We then arrived at a fishing village, for lunch.

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The boats are tied to the island so they don't float off

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Live seafood. People eat starfish, apparently. They put it in wine as medicine (and do the same with sea cucumbers).

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Weird huge crab (?)

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Boat vendor and her offerings

We then had a "Vietnamese Seafood Lunch":

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Stir fried chicken, half-soggy fries (?!), boiled prawns, fried fish, nems (spring rolls), vegetables. There was also kang kong and sliced orange.

The food was alright; only the nems were good and the rest was blah. But it was cooked on our boat so I didn't expect much. Soft drinks were a princely US$1.50 per can - and they weren't even cold (tepid is a charitable description of their temperature).

Someone had bought a US$1 light green melon from a boat vendor. Turned out it was just Honeydew, albeit in a strange shape.

Coincidentally or otherwise, we segregated ourselves - at one table were 3 black ladies from the US/Canada, the white Chilean girl and the 2 white Australians. Meanwhile at ours we had 4 Filipinos, one Indonesian and me. Ahh, Post-Colonialism!

Over lunch we talked about Preserved Asian Dictators, and I mentioned that I wouldn't be seeing Uncle Ho since I'd already since Mao. The Filipinos mentioned that Marcos's body was preserved at state expense in his hometown. The Indonesian said they had Suharto (though I've verified that it's not actually preserved) so I quipped that in Singapore we would...

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Vendor only selling fruit. I asked if she had drinks and she tried to sell me a coconut for US$2. Wonderful.

The light green thing with lots of bumps beside the mango is "sugar apple". The black women were very excited as they said they were originally from St Lucia, which had them.


Weird seafood

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Fishing village


Breakfast cost me 45,000 VND, which I thought was alright since it had the pork pies. There was a price list somewhere, which read 30,000/35,000 and some extra item (which I assumed was for each pork pies) was 5,000.

Friend: "Vietnam? Will rob you blind". She said she never wanted to return to that horrible country. I'm almost inclined to agree with her, but am considering visiting the Complex of Hué Monuments, Hoi An Ancient Town and My Son Sanctuary.

Given how many touts there were, I had the idea of shouting "MOTORBIKE!" and seeing how many people came up to me to offer their services.
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