11 July 2009

The real reason to visit Ha Long Bay....

Tiny wittle limes mixed with freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt.
I believe that angels smear their wings with this mixture.

Ha Long Bay is the leading candidate for Seven New Wonders of the World - an amazing, jaw dropping "have to see it to believe it" kind of place. And I had. Seen it. One year earlier, to be exact, while on a business trip and it was amazing and my jaw did drop. I wanted S to experience the same thing and I was counting my blessings that I was going to see it again.

Normally we are on a tight, tight backpacker budget that forces us into fan cooled rooms with questionable stains on the walls, the sounds of the noisy street (or beach) keeping us awake. But for this, our one night (well, my second one night) on Ha Long Bay sleeping in a junk boat, for this we decided to splash out a bit. And what a difference that 20 extra dollars can make! The food on my trip last year had been good - a solid good. But this year.....just look.

Happiness is a cold shrimp.

The first course of lunch. We knew that things were looking good when this plate of humongous shrimp (I like to call'em shramp) were set down in front of us. We peeled these guys and dipped them (who am I trying to kid? I bathed mine...) in the limey, salty peppery mixture you see at the top of this page.

Lookit me, all purple and tentacle-y.....

I will let you in on a secret. I like eating squid, octopus and cuttlefish the most when they are purple. I have no idea why. When you place a plate of pale white calamari in front of me my stomach is like "nope" but when I see a piece of tako that is the colour of concord grape juice something in my brain breaks and I become submissive to its charms.

I cut the water spinach out of the photo, because no one cares about it, do they?
Not with all this fish around!

Yes - we are still on lunch! You may recall that I am normally a vegetarian (an ass kickin' food lovin' one) but on this trip I decided to eat fish because frankly, I think they are dicks. The wonderful staff on this boat made us an entirely pescetarian 5-course meal. This was a lovely fish steak smothered in a sort of Vietnamese warm salsa - tomatoes, onions both spring and white, chili and of course, garlic.

Look at my junk.

Our boat was much nicer than our course backpacker senses were accustomed to. Every thing was dark wood polished to a high sheen - very posh.

It's the little details that count, people. Cold towels are heavenly in this muggy heat.

We eyed the requisite karaoke machine with suspicion, knowing full well that all of the Da Lat wine and Ha Noi beer was going to loosen us up enough to give it a go. But first, a perfect simple photo of a cold towel in a little laquered basket.

I like all of these things in the photo.
Especially the wine.

I am really at my very happiest when a meal begins with a vase of jumbo shramp and some carved vegetable flowers. I want every meal to start with these things. Do not be surprised if you come to my house and I present you with a tall refreshing glass of shrimp and a carrot rosette before you're even all the way in the door.

Oh little buggers, why must you be so potentially ensickening?

These were in served in a really light broth - mostly clam nectar and garlic and were very delicate and pretty, but....I have had a bad relationship with bivalves since a terrible, horrible, life changing-ly bad bout of food poisoning from mussels a few years ago. Only recently have I been able to even entertain the notion of placing a clam anywhere near my mouth - but these boys made the cut! Cautiously, mind you - I only ate about 5 and even then was terrified to go to sleep, as if they were little clam axe-murderers just waiting for me to relax and close my eyes.

Holy *&%$! Holy *&%ing crap! I actually died and S had to revive me.
It wasn't hard - he just had to wave one of these near my face....

For the grand finale: crab shells stuffed with crab cakes. Just when I was feeling a little riced out, a little accosted with lemongrass (I hate the stuff and am pummeled with it daily) they brought these little gems out. Now, I don't harbour any notions that these are in any way Vietnamese other than the fact that the crab lived here, but let me tell you: I was one pinch of Old Bay Seasoning and a little pot of aioli away from sheer bliss.

Oh yeah.... I present to you just a fraction of the wonder and beauty of Ha Long Bay

I will always remember my first time to Ha Long Bay. I will remember the beauty, the eerie calm, the almost spooky way that the karst rock formations jut out from the murky sea. It was magic in the truest sense of the word.

But my second trip? I will think about those tiny limes, the plump shrimp, the delicate blush of an octopus tentacle, the meatiness of the rich crab meat.

And I'll look you straight in the eye and tell you that the first time was more meaningful.

You'll believe me, right?

(If you want to have this same experience book this trip with the nice guys at wide eyed tours (these are the same class act guys that GAP Adventures contracts to - you know they gotta be good!) You can book in advance or just pop in when you get to Hanoi. Yes - it is a bit more expensive than the cheapie ones you can get in Old Hanoi. Shut up. Just book it.)


Heppy said...

the description of the seafoodyness just made me drool all over my desk. seriously. there's is now very boring paperwork i'm going to have to reprint.

Violet Dear said...

Are you excited for the tall glass of shrimp I'm going to present to you?

Lê Công Tiến said...

I'm a vietnamese. I love Viet Nam. Thanks for share your photos. Good luck ^.^

Kilauea Poetry said...

Wow..I think your photos are fantastic..not only that, you make each post captivating! Excellent blog!

Anonymous said...

Your photos are beautiful!
I really love your blog <3

College.Girl said...

Wow ... Backpacking around asia wow thats brave
i admire you for this because i would never be able to do that i would hate the flying lol :D:D i hate flying .
well i hope your having fun x

Cant belive how long your blog was .. it took me so long to read it lol :D:D


Mosher said...

I love Vietnam. Done five visits in the last couple of years including one 6-week stay in Hanoi. If I hadn't gone back to college here in the UK I would have been heading back to Hanoi for 6-12 months.

My only problem with Ha Long Bay is that I *don't* like seafood! However, it's definitely worth the trip. And I'd recommend it to people who really want a private break. There are islands where you can rent a beach house/stilt house for $25 a night. No neighbours, no traffic, complete privacy - and they're brand new, very comfortable.

There's also one island out to the east "owned" by a small family. They take no more than 4 guests at a time and you have the run of the island. House in the SW, beach 1km away in the NE. They catch/cook dinner for you and provide other meals. Nothing to do but relax.

OK, you've got me wanting to quit my course and go back again...