The breakfast announcement had us up early again. The breakfast buffet was the one time the meals repeated.
After breakfast we got ready to go to the floating village. We had many opportunities to go to floating villages before – in the Mekong, in Cambodia – but we had decided for one reason or another not to go.
We took a small boat to the entrance where we learned that this floating village didn’t really exist any more; instead the villagers are employed kind of as a living museum. Black Creek on the ocean or something like that. Everything in Ha Long Bay is quite controlled and it seems as though the government essentially changed their jobs.
But even if it isn’t functional any more it’s still neat to see. And the rowboat was a pleasant way around the bay.
After the rowboat tour of the village, we headed to the pearl farm. Learning how pearls are created was pretty fascinating and I think I enjoyed it as much as the rowboat ride. Next to the pearl farm was perhaps the world’s only floating jewelry store. (I mean, if there is more than one, there aren’t many.)
On our way to the port, we had a “cooking class”. I use quotes because it wasn’t much of a class, but it was still enjoyable. It really was a spring roll rolling competition. Jenn and I did not do well but the person we thought would win didn’t quite win. I knew I wouldn’t do well – I do not do well with finicky, delicate things – but it was actually slightly easier than I thought. I think with a couple of tries I might not done the worst job. (I am not saying I want to attempt them at home. I will pay for my spring rolls, thank you.)
At brunch, we ate our spring rolls we made and had a much more limited meal, which is appropriate given that we had already eaten breakfast not that many hours ago.
One we moored we boarded a smaller boat to take us to the dock. We then discovered that, once again, we would be the only people in our vehicle. It’s kind of incredible that we visited the most touristed place in the country and had so much time to ourselves.
It’s Vietnam, and travel by car takes forever, not so much because of the road quality as the speed limit and customs – nobody drives fast. So the drive to and from Hanoi is quite long despite how close the two are in terms of North American driving time.
Once in Hanoi we went to the first hotel, the one which we insisted we be dropped off at when we came from Ninh Binh, because we had booked two different hotels with similar names. (That meant we had to bring our suitcases with us on the cruise.) There must have been some cruise fatigue because, after check in, we ended up watching a stupid movie, I Still See You, instead of wandering around Hanoi.
Finally, we got off our our asses and looked for food. Unlike in Saigon and Hue, we subconsciously agreed to try to experience Hanoi’s unique and diverse food scene on our own and that began tonight. But it began… well, not poorly, but not incredibly well, as we eventually found our way to a tourist trap named after its signature dish and clearly existing solely so foreigners can try it. The prices were close to double – or maybe even double – what they would be at a normal restaurant in Hanoi, though that still made it cheap for us and way cheaper than most tourist traps or western restaurants in the city. And our first experience of the dish was good. Also, I got to have black sticky rice pudding, which was awesome. (And which I am going to attempt to make because I liked it so much.)
We wandered back to the Old Quarter and eventually found ourselves in a beer bar, very different from the last one. In order to get there we had to walk down a dark alley, past an open door which led into a family’s living room, and up some stairs. This had more taps than any other bar we went to on our entire trip, and that allowed us to have a flight of a bunch of different Vietnamese breweries. The results were not incredible – I think I liked two of the six enough to want to drink pints of them – but it was still fun to try some stuff. Also, afterwards we split a sample of an absolutely bonkers artichoke cider that the bar itself had made, which was unlike any cider either of us had ever had before.
We continued to walk around the Old Quarter afterward. Because we’re gluttons, apparently, we saw people eating some buns and sought those out. Jenn figured out where they were coming from a “roti” place. (Apparently “roti” means “bread” in Indonesia – and a specific kind of bread in India – so this place was using it in that sense, rather than in the senses we are familiar with it in Canada, as a Caribbean wrap or as an Indian dish.) These were sweet buns, some with filling, and they were just delicious. It was all we could do not to seek them out every night before we left.