(Published on Y3K Recipes issue no.50 - Sept/ Oct 2009)
Vietnam: A Hybrid of Sights, Sounds, Smells
Our former boss - Mr. Peter Lee of Wonderway invited us to join in their company trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. Obviously we took up the invitation. It will be good fun to be in friendly company and touring spots like Hanoi, Halong Bay, Tam Coc. The five days four nights trip will be arranged by local tour operator, Mar Sin Thai Travel & Tour Sdn. Bhd.
16-06-2009 (Tuesday) Hanoi
It was a pretty early morning flight (AK870) out of LCCT Sepang. The flight time needed three hours. Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam is seven hours ahead of GMT (Malaysia is eight hours ahead of GMT). We landed at their local time of 8.30a.m. Our group leader – Michael Tan, led us to meet the Vietnamese tour guide outside the airport. We were whisked into a deluxe coach as the sky had started to drizzle.
After a ride of 40 minutes, (local time 10a.m.) the coach stopped at a restaurant. We will have an early lunch. Vietnamese food was served in a French-style space. Petite waitresses clad in their national long flowing dress of ‘ao dai’ were very attentive in service. They have that certain Eastern woman’s grace as they moved along. The long table became laden with a generous choice of food. Local tour guide demonstrated the art of wrapping a Vietnamese spring roll. First he spread out a sheet of rice paper and placed in a piece of deep-fried meatball. Another slice of pineapple was topped in and dressed with a lettuce leaf. The roll was drenched with a sweet and sour sauce. Well, the rolls lend a refreshing taste. After lunch, the drizzle got no better but made conditions unpleasant. We all had headgear presented by the local tour agent as we have to visit Van Mien or The Temple of Literature, founded in 1070. Certain parts were destroyed in 1947 but restored in 2006. Under 1000 years of Chinese rule, former Vietnam’s emperors established the first university to educate the sons of mandarins. Statues of Confucious and his 72 disciples’ statues were placed in high esteem as offerings still continue.
It was around one p.m when we finally arrived at the hotel for a rest. Another group of Singaporeans will be coming in soon to join us. Land in Hanoi can be pretty expensive so you find most shops have very small space. The hotel was a midrange one with 16 feet wide floor space, 15 storeys tall. Towards the back
of the reception longue was the elevator area. Built for six persons of average built, the service was slow. Or try walking up to your room through the flight of staircase located at the rear portion. My room was on the ninth level, nothing fanciful. I looked out the stark room window and noticed the fire escape way was a slim ladder-like steps, precariously perched against the window sill. The thought of having to escape in an emergency of fire breakout daunted my wits. Many live circuit wires dangled all over the exterior poles like a hanging garden. Locals do not give them a second thought. But I am pleased with the cleanliness of the hotel. What a relief the rain stopped by three in the afternoon. We all proceeded to have a view of the State Theatre.
Our Singapore friends came along and saw the Hoan Kiam Lake. Next, we visited the Old Quarter filled with people and comprised of 36 streets. I gawked at the range of handicrafts especially beautifully crafted wooden clogs. It was a hot and sweaty day. If you are good at bargaining, this would be a good spot to try your luck. Nearby was another market laden with food produce. I bought some dried lotus and felt a respite was necessary to escape the harsh sun. Coffee is all over Hanoi. I chose a traditional looking café embraced with a colonial ambience.
As we have very little time to probe into the culture of Hanoi, an orientation of the water puppetry show would be best. We went to Thang Long water Puppet Theatre. This is a wonderful art to Vietnam, thought to have developen when determined puppeters managed to carry on the show despite flooding from the River Delta. Nowadays the stage is erected over a huge pool. The plot drew the theme from the same legendary sources as other traditional theatre with lively mimics of women, children, fairies and other folklore characters. All puppets were rested on long bamboo poles and all puppeteers stood waist-deep in the water. Behind the bamboo veils they hid. A few stage helpers, all dressed in traditional attire played accompanying music and acted as story narrators. Within an hour, more than 70 folklore characters have acted in the script. To patronize a water puppetry show is well-worth as I enjoyed it very much.
We had dinner done Chinese-style before retiring for the night.
17-06-2009 (Wednesday) Hanoi- Halong Bay
We woke up rather early at six in the morning. Rain pattered rapidly against the window panes. We went to the 14th floor for breakfast at 7.30a.m. Leader-Michael recommended us to try the rice noodles soup. The noodles came sliced into tiny strips, being a close resemblance to the famous kwaytew kia found in Johor Bahru. Boiling hot stock was light, addition of squeezed lime juice produced a flavourful result. Soon, it was time to pack. We will stay in Halong Bay for the next two nights.
Around nine a.m, our group had a little tour of Ba Dinh Square and next viewed Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We saw his former residence, The Stilt House. An hour later, we visited One Pillar Pagoda, designed to represent a lotus bloom in the middle of a lake. Both Richard and I fell for a piece of fine art. The initial price of RM1,200 came to RM500 for a beautiful watercolour painting.
Lunch at Khai’s Brother - The Hanoi, taste was exciting. Our group of 30 had scattered seatings in a courtyard garden. Vietnamese buffet was truly an enjoyable meal (discovered to be the best for the entire trip) and Michael gave us a piece of advice. Food standard in Halong Bay can taste bland when compared to Hanoi. Do not expect a high review.
Looking through the coach's window - the scene looked like a piece of oil painting.
High tension wires dangling all over. Very common sight.
36 ancient streets.
Toman fish is plentiful here.
Relaxed over a cup of coffee. Cafe has a colonial charm.
Water puppetry show is a unique Vietnamese art where puppeters dangled their puppets through a bamboo curtain. Performers need to stand in water at mid-waist level.
At Ba Dinh Square, to visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
一柱庙One Pillar Pagoda or known as Chua Mot Cot.
镇国寺Tran Quoc Pagoda amidst serene setting.
古色古香的餐馆享用传统越式自由餐，全程最好的一餐。Superb meal at Khai抯 Brother - The Hanoi Taste. Restaurant has a bygone era ambience.
I demonstrated the art of serving flat rice noodles - Banh Coun.
Cemetery in between padi field is a common scene in Hanoi.
Amazing traffic choas after office hour.
下午一点半，我们续程往下龙弯出发。下龙弯位于河内东北方，距离165公里，大约三个小时后抵达酒店，设备不错。晚餐在酒店内吃，幸好领队一早提醒我们降 低对这里的食物及服务要求，否则将会是不愉快的一餐。晚上没其他节目，导游安排我们自费到附近按摩院松松筋骨。大家半躺在一间灯火通明大房内，按摩过程滑 稽，一下以黄瓜敷脸，一下头下脚上被骑在背上按，花样百出，令我们看到其他团员可爱一面忍不住暴笑，留下深刻印象。
We left Hanoi at 1.30p.m. Halong Bay being 165km by road needed a travelling time of three hours. We checked in at Halong Spring Hotel, quite nice in design but dinner there was not impressive. Luckily we have been forewarned. As there were no night activities, many opted to try out the massage offered at legitimate massage salons. Fees were not included in the tour but who minds? The local tour guide did all the arrangement. We all went along and had an amusing time as masseurs soothed their faces with cucumbers. Some straddled on backs to knead and pounced on their bodies. So many gimmicks were practiced on those poor souls. The rest of us poked fun at them.
Halong Bay is a tourists’ attraction as it has earned the name of being the most scenic spot to visit. The calm emerald waters of the bay are sheltered by thousand of Karst Islands. It was listed in 1994 by Unesco as a world Heritage Site. Nicknamed “Seaside Guilin” and according to tour data, at least eight million visitors come here annually. Thus, it has helped Vietnam to earn an influx of foreign currency. With a popularity chart of 20 years ago, tourism will certainly be on their high priority list.
Next morning at eight, we left for the pier. Hundreds of wooden tour boats and luxurious junks moored around. A tour by boat may be a perfect change. Away from the coast, the waters do not make big waves. Everyone was smiling from ear to ear as what could be more pleasurable cruising with friends and surrounded by breath-taking landscape. Islands spilled out while some lead to hidden lagoons. We disembarked and got to visit spectacular Paradise Grotto (grotto is a picturesque cave) and next explored Wooden Stakes Cave. All caves are created by the wind and waves. Back on the boat, we admired the beauty of Halong Bay.
Islands have queer resemblances like a golden ingot, chicken’s head but a fish’s tail, turtle or the camel’s hump. The boat weaved in and out of spectacular islands.
Halong Spring Hotel & deluxe coach.
下龙湾码头 Halong Bay pier
Doesn’t this little island resemble a piece of gold ingot.
These two islands resembled a chicken's head viewed from the front but had a fish-like appearance viewed from the rear.
Mr. Lee paid us100.00 for a good fish raised at sea in a fish-farm.
船夫充当厨师处理午餐。Boat crew who cooked up a storm.
We enjoyed the fresh seafood as much as checking out the view through the windows.
Views of Halong Bay from the peak of Tip-Top Island.
到TIP-TOP岛峰顶观赏下龙湾。Climbed to the summit at
Tip-Top Island for an unobstructed view of Halong Bay.
16 finalists at the summit after an exhausting climb.
Halong Bay/ Tam Coc/ Hanoi
Before departure from Halong Bay, we took a group photo. It was a tight timetable to Tam Coc or known as ‘ Dry Halong Bay’.
It’s huge rock formation can be some pristine beauty as the river meandered through three karst caves. Travelling time to Tam Coc was another four solid hours. We sighted an emerald looking cave before hopping to a n----earby eatery for lunch. Tour guide recommended mountain goat as the meat has no gamy smell. He was right.
Weather was hotter than ever. We could be paddled in a small kayak to view the three karst caves. A boatman helmed the kayak as it could only fit in two persons. The route was charted by him but if visitors stopped for some complex photography, only one cave could be viewed due to time constraint.
On the route back to Hanoi, local guide raved about the district’s fresh fruits. Orders poured in, he was in a perpetual grin. We came into town at five p.m. and was greeted by a Sea of motorcycles. Traffic was chaos. At dinner, we all toasted one another. Travelling with our Singapore friends have transcended borders.
Hanoi/ Kuala Lumpur
Our group gathered at eight a.m. sharp for Hanoi’s International Airport. It was a round of handshakes and thank you to the local guide. Of course we thanked group leader Michael who was another of “Malaysia Boleh” Mar Sin Thai had done a good organizing job too. #
Tam Coc is known as Dry Halong Bay .
Weather may be hot but we are going to visit the karst cave.
RM1 = 5,000 VND (Viet Nam Dong)
旅游咨询请联络 For travel information, please contact:
马星泰旅游有限公司 Mar Sin Thai Travel & Tour Sdn. Bhd.
3419-A, Jalan Panggung, Jinjang Utara, 52000 Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: 03-62573375 Fax: 03-6252 4553