I’m not sure what prompted me to head back to Vietnam so quickly within a year. It possibly wasn’t for the food since the last visit did not enthral me.
A visit to Beijing is not complete without a visit to Great Wall of China, in similar fashion, a visit to Hanoi is not complete without a tour of Halong Bay. I traded off a tour to Sapa for this and well, let me try to explain and perhaps clarify the misrepresentations done by tour agencies.
Sure enough prices vary – hotels usually overprice them because of the markup but this markup guarantees a punctual departure from the hotel. Prices are valid as of June 2012 and I was quoted a flat rate of USD 40 for a tour inclusive of kayaking and a “good seafood lunch” versus USD 35 of a “not so good meal”.
Over the counter at a handful of agencies located in the Old Quarters, prices also differed. Quotes were in the region of USD 30 for one inclusive of kayaking and a good seafood lunch – USD 5 shaved off! Until I reached one with the most sincere salesman who tried to wow with his American accented English. Without Kayaking and much cajoling, we sealed the deal at USD 25.
As much as Vietnamese do not engage in bargaining, tourists vs locals, the former won. Or so I delightfully thought.
First up, the pickup was an entire hour late and we were mentally prepared for the worse – being cheated of our money. Nonetheless when the coach finally pulled up an hour later, it was a tour bus that fit 14 people to a T. Any bigger sized, I would have difficulty squeezing in and out of my seat. With poor driving skills and a coach that looked like it would fall apart any moment, I enjoyed a tumultaneous bumpy ride that threatened to throw my breakfast and self out of my seat every now and then. 4 hours later, I thank God for making it there in one full piece.
I have never been so delighted to see a jetty before - the rainbow at the end of the 4 hour journey of a tunnel. I swear I almost cried.
None of what I envisioned it to be – junkboat clearly replaced with a blind man’s version of a pirate boat. My expectations were obviously set too high up with pictures of the tour on pamphlets – even better than photoshop. Everything about the boat spelt old. Windows could barely be closed – if I attempted I probably ripped them off. Tables bore traces of dried rain water and the chairs creaked with every movement.
The only decent looking thing on the boat.
Halong bay is really just stretches of natural wonders, mountainous areas.
As part of the tour, we dropped by a fishing village amidst the bay.
I innocently thought this would be our lunch. Seafood lunch, you know?
Floating market of glum looking ladies trying to sell us fruits at tourist trap prices.
The only furry one that looked sincere! He was soaking in the rain half the time.
After visiting the floating market and village that sold seafood for a living – yes, I saw schools of fat fish, crayfish, mussels and prawns, I had high hopes for lunch. At least seafood lunch meant somewhere along the lines of shrimp at least. The first foray into Vietnamese home cooking and it was largely oriental in taste. The lack of meat made me grouchy but I guess that is the difference in cultures.
I thought these were appetizers but these were served as mains. Oily nuts and rice barely goes hand in hand.
Clear looking and plain soup with baby clams. I wonder if the cook even added any flavouring to it.
Fried Spring Rolls
Dripping in oil and cold, if anything the mushy filling reminded me of yam.
Stir fried vegetables
Piping hot and tasty! My favourite dish of the meal.
Too oily for comfort and barely hot.
One whole gaping mouthed fish glared at me.
Clams and fish certainly point to a seafood lunch by Vietnamese standards perhaps but miles off from what I was expecting. Eat, only to quell the hunger but definitely not for any form of satisfaction. I wonder what would make of a chilli crab meal? Heaven on earth, I suppose.