Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Asia tripping - part V: Halong Bay, Vietnam

This is the fifth of several brief posts of my recent trip to Asia: photos, food and a few thoughts.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Tourist boats in Halong Bay
Our time in Halong Bay was spent on an organised 3-day boat tour as many do (400 tourist boats cruise the bay, apparently), before recent tragic events.

The included meals on the boat often resembled each other or something not quite so appetising so as to photograph. Our time on the boat also included a taste of the most vile white wine I've ever tasted - a local one that was more like 60% alcohol spirit, and was worthy of two sips and no more.

Cucumber salad served on the boat

Nem ran - Hanoi fried spring rolls

Crumbed shrimp

I lurve this lemon drink
Lunches and dinner often included cucumber salad; Hanoi fried spring rolls (fried in rice paper, which I thoroughly enjoyed and now sometimes crave); fish, prawns and squid in various forms; and rice and vegies. They were always gorgeously presented dishes to share among a table.

Floating houses
On the first day, there was a mecessary stop to Hang Sung Sot, where the Surprise Cave was located. Having read up a little about these caves and judging by the guide's mischevious smiles, I had a fair idea of what the impending surprise was.

Stop scrolling now if you don't want the surprise revealed.

Inside Surprise Cave

More inside Surprise Cave

Surprise! (I'm told it's a finger...)

A popular view point from outside the caves
The weather wasn't freezingly cold when we were at Halong Bay, but did make any out of doors time a bit wind chilly and the photos rather grey. The waters were almost always calm, and I imagine tempting for a swim in warmer times.

Views while bike riding all over Cat Ba Island
We spent one night on Cat Ba Island after biking around the island then kayaking in the afternoon - the former activity eventually excrutiating on the rear side while the latter sure gave the arms and shoulders a workout.

Riding a bicycle all over the island was a highlight of the tour

Kayaking in Halong Bay
Given the wintery weather, the five-star resort – lovely as it would have been in warmer weather with its private beach and beach bar – was a tad empty and spooky, evoking thoughts of teen slasher movies and other freakiness.

Cat Ba Island Resort, Halong Bay
Pretty much the strangest meal we had all trip, not just in Vietnam, was dinner which was included in our one nights’ accommodation at Cat Ba Island Resort.

Pineapple Fizz
There was a set dinner menu included with our accommodation booking, but we added cocktails from the dated-looking bar. My Pineapple Fizz cocktail was surprisingly good, gin-based with a sweet, fresh pineapple juice and egg white fizz head of foam.

Pumpkin soup
Without any options for dinner, we were presented with a western menu. The pumpkin soup was actually quite comforting. Creamy and warm, it hit the spot fine - feathered cream and all.

Tuna salad
Midway through our soup we were presented with a tinned tuna salad to share, with lots of fresh vegies (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, olives) and a generic tasting dressing. The kitchen was upping the ante on the strange and unexpectedness.

Grilled chicken thigh with vegetables
And as soon as our soup bowls were taken away, as we were about to dig into the salad, the mains arrived. I was going to double check that my mum wasn’t in the kitchen since it looked so much like something that came out of the home kitchen (except the gluggy, sweet tomato/BBQ sauce gravy on top).

Beneath the sauce was a grilled chicken thigh; skin and fat still on and completely drowned in the sweet sauce. The perfect scoops of mashed potatoes had the oddest chewy texture, while the steamed vegetables were thankfully fine.

Fruit plate
We washed down the meal with the cocktails, and were most happy with the dessert of fresh fruit, including the best mango I’ve ever had: string free, perfectly ripe and taking me straight to the tropics despite the murderously grey and winy weather outside.

The next morning involved more boating around before returning to Halong City for our long minibus ride back to Hanoi.

The Halong Bay tour was definitely a highlight of my overall trip. More Asia tripping posts to come in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia.


Zina @ tastedbytwo said...

You must've been in Vietnam about the same time we were there! It was a shame that it was so cold, the water looked amazing and I was tempted to jump in. I didn't enjoy the 3 hour car trip there though, almost as bad as the 3 hour car trip from Da Nang to Hue.

Dumpling Girl said...

It's stunningly beautiful over there. The food looks good too :)

joey@FoodiePop said...

Beautiful post! I haven't been to Vietnam but loved seeing the different areas shown on Luke Nguyen's show. The food looks pretty good, especially the deep-fried stuff. LOL. And are you sure that's a finger in the cave? Hmmm ....

sugarpuffi said...

definitely the prettiest cucumber salad ive seen! the views are stunning too

Tina said...

Hi Zina - I was there early January this year :) Our mini bus ride wasn't too bad...

Hi Dumpling Girl - I completely agree :)

Hi joey - Luke's show is what inspired me to go to Vietnam actually! And that's what the guide said....

Hi sugarpuffi - Lovely trip memories too... :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I really want to make it to Vietnam one day. I must admit I scrolled and saw the surprise finger!

Phuoc'n Delicious said...

BAHAHA Surprise cave! I got an "interesting" picture of Ant with it..

Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said...

Awww lovely looking time you had in Vietnam =) Last time I set foot in the country I was about 8 years old. A trip back to the motherland is long overdue, and I'd like to go from South to North, or North to South. Haha and the 'suprise' cave is a cracker... it's funny where our minds take us when we see things like that ;)

Tina said...

Hi Lorraine - I'm sure most did ;)

Hi Phuoc - Yes, someone took an 'interesting' photo of me with it too...

Hi Angie - Yeah, I'd love to do that next time. Probably north-south, start from the cold and work down to the beaches :)

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Wow Halong Bay looks amazing. Will definitely have to get there on my next visit to Vietnam. The Hanoi spring rolls look divine!

Tina said...

Hi Helen - Definitely recommended. I could eat those spring rolls everyday - which I almost did!

susan said...

I always get surprised when people say how cold Vietnam is, I always think it's hot there all the time like Thailand. Those spring rolls look awesome.

Tina said...

Hi susan - This is the north where it can get quite cool, and especially in Sapa - which is a hill town


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