Category Archives: Vietnam

PB Travels… Halong Bay

So one of the reasons why I decided to come to Vietnam again was to go to Halong bay – again. I had been there in December, when it was freezing cold and foggy. All we did was sit on a dingy little boat, sleep in a dodgy little cabin, and the only thing I did was go to the surprising cave – which wasn’t very surprising but very pretty. 

So this time round I was booked to go on a Pelican ‘luxury’ cruise. With no expectations, we set off (they pick you up from your hotel / name on bus was different to the cruise company – there are hundreds out there). 4 hours, including a half hour stop at a proper tourist trap of a place, I arrived and was transferred to a pretty tidy boat. 


Where am I staying? 

On board the Pelican 3. My room is big, bold and beautiful, with double doors opening so I can lie in bed and watch the bay (which I did) or sit in my armchair and watch the bay (which I did). Stunning! 

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor: non existent. Everything was pristine
  • Bed – 9/10. So comfy, I didn’t even realise I was on a boat!
  • Shower 9/10. Nice hot water, big, I didn’t even realise I was on a boat!! 

What did I eat? 

What didn’t I eat – ask me that. This is why I didn’t have many meals in Hanoi – this food was still in my system! They had been warned about my dietary requirement before hand, and has honoured them. This was good, seeing that all my meals were included. So. Lunch. A set menu. This is what everyone else was having.

This is what I had. Pumpkin soup to start, pleasant enough. The fresh spring rolls were excellent – stuffed with noodles and herbs galore, they came with a soy chilli mixture. I love these babies. Refreshing, chewy, herby flavour bombs with every bite. 

Next course – the omnis got a prawn cocktail, basically got bhajias πŸ˜‚. Soft potato covered in a crispy crispy but sweet batter. Why and how they were so sweet, I don’t know but I didn’t enjoy them. Or finish them.  It was literally like having a sweet waffle batter around a slice of potato. No thank you. 

I was almost stuffed at this point – and the mains hadn’t even arrived yet. 4 more dishes to come!!! The ubiquitous sticky rice dish, a shockingly disgusting yellow curry. It was horribly bland with NO flavour at all. Eugh. What had oodles of flavour was the tofu in soy sauce, ginger and chilli. Perfectly balanced flavours and soft melting tofu, it was perfect with the rice. Top it off with some braised lettuce, perfect meal and I was spectacularly full. 

Omni courses? Mixed rice, same horrible yellow curry with chicken and apparently a very tasty fish dish. This meal was 45% local, 55% touristy. 

Onto dinner. Ho boy. To start, a really tasty and creamy sweetcorn soup for me, seafood for everyone else. A golf ball portion of papaya salad. Veggies were nice but there wasn’t any other flavour – no chilli or sourness. Hello tourist version! Omnis got the same with a prawn on top. 

Veggie spring rolls on pineapple (dramatic presentation) were really yum. I do like a good Vietnamese spring roll. Dipped in some chilli lime sauce – excellent. Predictably so, I was pretty stuffed by this point so I left the tempura – or rather scraped it off (as sweet as before) and just ate 2 giant pieces of broccoli – mmmmm. Broccoli! I also got a plate of oil laden chips. Which were also left alone. 

The omnis on the other hand were oooing and aaahing over their food. A seafood boat with barbecue prawns and oysters, beef with vegetables, fish with broccoli. 

The last dish for me – ‘pasta’ with noodles and.. Lets be honest. A tomato jam. I took one bite and couldn’t eat any more. It was a bizarre dish – full of oregano, garlic and sugar. Dessert? While everyone else had this banana cream tart, I had a mango hedgehog. Delicious after that heavy meal. 

So onto the final meal on the boat – there were two breakfasts available, one at 7am (before a visit to the surprising cave) and after at 10am. After all that food yesterday, I couldn’t face breakfast #1, so lazed until 10am. Another billion course menu. Now bear in mind. This is breakfast. First course? Soup. Broccoli soup. Nope. Thank you. Not in the morning and definitely not for breakfast. Insipid and watery. 

Next? These super sweet, super naughty and super tasty deep fried balls of goodness, filled with taro and coconut. Piping hot, crispy, soft interior, pretty, sweet – YUM. Apparently they are made for special occasions. 

Onward and well, downward into my gut – veggie fried rice (YUM), deep fried sweetcorn (you know, that breakfast staple – toooooo heavy) and mixed veggies – aubergine, carrot and potato in a pool of oil (the bits not oil soaked were actually nice). All in all another bizarre and filling meal. Oh. And for dessert – sweet sweet pineapple. 


So if you go on this cruise, you definitely get your money’s worth. I think they chicks introduce smaller portions and save a lot of money. Drinks are chargeable, from the water to beer to wine – they have everything including 2 happy hours in the evening. 

What did I do?

Take in the scenery from my room and on the upper deck. Some advice. If you want to come to Halong Bay, please don’t expect it to be as serene and calming as it seems to be in the photographs/on the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, it is a super majestic awe inspiring humbling place with stellar sunsets. Just be prepared to share it with 50 other cruise liners (yes, I am aware I contributed to this), speed boats, noisy chugging boats and 10000s of tourists (yes yes, like me). 

So I didn’t go to the surprising cave, instead I went on a bamboo boat to this lagoon via a cave tunnel. Really stunning and peaceful. 

Next stop – Ti Top, with a man made beach. Did not like it – too many people, and why people would swim in that water, I don’t know. Really good place to people watch though! 

All in all, I suppose I’m glad I did it the second time and actually got to take in more of the bay, but it isn’t on my ‘I want to come back here’ list. 

PB Travels… Hanoi

Getting to HKIA on the A21 was a piece of cake again, and I checked in, glided through security and immigration, got on the plane and promptly fell asleep so the 2 hour flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi went without a glitch. Thank you travel gods.

Plan in Vietnam? Hang out in Hanoi for a couple of days and go to Halong Bay again before heading for Laos. The main reason for doing this is the convenience of flights and times. The other reason was that the last time I was in Halong Bay, it was in December and it was cold, foggy and I didn’t fully enjoy the experience.

Where am I staying

Flower Hotel, just outside the old quarter is a decent hotel. 10 minutes walk to the Lake. Well, longer if you’re like my mum (love you) and scared of crossing roads when they are teeming with lorries, cars, bicycles, carts, other people. Sheesh. My motto is don’t show fear and just go for it. It always works 😬.

My room was actually a suite. My own little kitchen (of no use), my own lounge (of no use), my own massive wardrobe (of no use). Nice bedroom though!

Ratings?

  • Grubbiness factor: non existent. Everything was very clean
  • Bed – 7/10 softer pillows that I would have liked, but I slept like a baby. Still not sure if it was because of the bed or the 1.5 hour massage I had.
  • Shower – 6/10. Hot water, did the job but points lost due to a fixed shower head – pointing upwards!!

What did I eat?Β 

Breakfast were included in the hotel. Nice selection of fruit (dragonfruit – yay!! Love it), western and Vietnamese options, a few pastries. I saw beans and got all excited. Oh my word. They were vile. Tasteless and full of sugar.. The coffee was OK.

I didn’t bother with breakfast after that, and in all honesty it was good to take a break – I feel I’m eating waaay too much. No lunches either, just some nuts and fresh ripe mango.

Dinners? One night I went to Yin Yang and yes, loads of options for me but I had to make it clear – no fish sauce. One of the responses was ‘little bit ok’? ‘No, no ok!’ I went for the veggie spring rolls. The filling was tasty and they were hot but as GREASY as hell with darkened undebellies. Not impressed.

What did impress though was my main of fresh tofu with tomatoes and mushrooms – served with sticky rice. Yummy. Tangy, hot, full of umami, it was throughly enjoyable.


The next night I went to The Veg, a newly opened vegetarian restaurant with a conscientious ethos – organic, pesticide free, supporting local farmers.. It was pretty empty – there was just 2 other people there. The menu looked good, western and local dishes. I went for the tofu (eating too much of it and I know there will be more) with lemongrass. However they were out of bok choy, and replaced it with lettuce. Yummy.

They were really generous with the tofu pieces, and the sauce with lemongrass with very moreish – it had chilli but I could have coped with more.. I think the target market are tourists so the chilli level reflected that. The accompanying coconut rice was excellent. They also have a really good tea and coffee menu, and breakfasts too. Sadly I ran out of time.

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What did I do?Β 

I walked around. I had been in Hanoi 5 years ago, and I had the same feeling now that I had back that. I love cities as much as I like being in the middle of nowhere. But Hanoi for me is just a bit too much. There seems to be that much more going on that I can process (and that is saying something since Β I love places Bombay and Hong Kong).

There is also this underlying feeling of ennui. I wasn’t comfortable here last time and it was the same this time. What I liked though was a motorbike tour around the old quarter and the French quarter. Sheesh. Too many people and too much madness, but at least it was fast and I was cool.

To escape the madness I had massages (makes sense in my world) both foot and body. Found a nice spa called Vi Spa, more expensive than the other places, $27 for 2 hours is still cheap. But boy oh boy, were the massages good!! These little Vietnamese girls are super strong!