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Bai Tu Long Bay, Ninh Binh and Mai Chau

Getting better all the time

sunny 28 °C

Bai tu Long Bay

Day 16

At 7:45 a luxury van picked us up from our hotel and we joined four others for a three and a half hour journey to Halong Bay.
Our ship mates are a young couple from Colorado and a couple perhaps early 50s from Lyon France. The French couple do not speak a great deal of English but as the journey progressed they got more confident.

We wonder, is this our ship?

Our junk is the Indochina Prince 2 and has four cabins, but one will be vacant. Duc, who is known as "handsome duc" is around 30 something and is a fantastic host with a wonderful sense of humour.
Our cabins are very tight quarters but we have a lovely sun deck and outdoor as well as indoor dining room to spend most of our time aboard.

We see a lot of big ships go by with 50 or more passengers and are glad we choose this small one. We all seem to get along very well and are laid back and enjoying the outdoors.

The view is spectacular with karst mountains jutting out of the water as we cruise slowly from the harbour.


The sceanery is getting more and more beautiful
A five course lunch is served, incredible what can be prepared in a tiny kitchen. Full and happy we lounged on the sun deck for an hour until we reached our point of anchor in a sheltered bay. Double kayaks were brought out and we set off to paddle around a couple of islands. No instruction to speak of. The French couple had never been in a kayak I don't think but no one seemed concerned.

We are the only group in kayaks here and it is great. A few other larger boats are coming in to anchor for the night as well and perhaps they will kayak later but for now we have the waters to ourselves

There was a ban on kayaking last month. One day the government said " no more kayaking in Halong bay" and that was that. Too many boats, too many kayaks and no instruction or safety measures in place. It seems anyone can put a boat in the water and take passengers

The ban was just lifted a couple of days ago so we are lucky. There are supposed to be stricter rules now.
Ha long bay is apparently very busy with hundreds of boats. We chose the longer trip to Bali Tu Long because it was quieter, cleaner and less traffic and pollution.



Duck took us into a little bay where we sat and drifted while he told us about the monkeys and pythons on this little island and how they swim from place to place. Poachers come to grab them when they are swimming to sell to china for meat. The government is trying to stop it and there are rangers in the area to keep an eye on things. Duc says that it is because the tourists don't like to see that kind of thing, not that the Vietnamese think here is anything wrong with it. Vietnamese don't have a big animal rights concern. The last of the rhino was killed a few years ago, just for the horn, and elephants are still killed for the ivory.

We see large birds in tiny cages everywhere, watching as other birds get to fly free while they are a prisoner their entire lives behind bars in the small space. It is good luck for the Vietnamese. Not for the bird. .

Dogs are chained up as well, and most look cute but are nasty. In the city dogs are loved as pets more than the country. We hear thy eat them as well.

But I digress
Back to kayaking. Paddling back to the boat the young American couple went to pass their camera to Duc and leaned a bit too far out and over they went.
There are no hatch covers so the kayak filled with water quickly and it was difficult for them to get back in.

We see the kayaking is sinking so Jane Andy paddle quickly back to the boat to get help. Somehow the ranger found out and sent over a small junk to pick up the swimmers and tow the kayak back to our boat.

After a rest we are treated to a seven course dinner on deck, white tablecloths sprinkled with little red flowers and candlelight. Far too much food! They are catering to my vegetarian needs and I find out that Duc is a vegan which is very unusual for Vietnam. Because the people were starving for years under communist rule and rarely had meat to eat, it is now considered that you are poor if you don't eat meat.

He talked to us about communist rule and what life was like not that long ago and how far they have come in a short time. But is is every many woman and child for themselves. There is no government pension or healthcare here.

All the cars are new new use it has only been the past seven years that they have really been introduced here. A car is the same price as a lot of houses.

The homes here are all very tall and narrow because land is expensive so they build up. Duc lives with his wife and two children, his parents and grandparents all in the same house and that is normal

Bed was at 9PM and we slept like logs.

Day 17


The boat was so still last night. At one point ( well maybe a few times actually) I woke to use the bathroom and looked out the porthole to see the water was like a mirror.

Jane and I were first up on on the deck at 7AM to have our coffee and enjoy the morning.


At 8AM the boat sets off and we are served our breakfast on deck . The itinerary will be changed slightly and we will kayak first to avoid the crowds

I hear a commotion in the kitchen and see a very large white duck quacking and fluffing. Hmmmm

Is this dinner? I ask Duc and he assures me no.

Kayaking was again very peaceful and we were the only ones in the water. At one point we went into a small cave and were told how the fishermen get rainwater from the hanging rock formations

Duc gave us a lot of information about how the " boat people" live here in this part of Vietnam. They fish and trade and basically have no need for money. If one family is lucky with fishing one day they will share with everyone else, there is no jealousy. Some will catch fresh fish or seafood and trade the big freighters for fuel, or the cruise ships for water rice and vegetables. If they do make any money they put it away for their children for when they need to have their own boat to live on and raise a family. The children do not go to school and live their entire lives on the boats , only seeking shelter in caves when there is a storm or typhoon.

It is a a simple life, no tv, newspapers or internet. They are happy

We kayaked to a sandy beach and went for a swim. The water is a great temperature and very salty. The crew has come ashore in the tender and set up our table and chairs complete with white tablecloths and we are served an 8 course lunch. Most of the food was prepared on a barbecue
I enjoyed many courses or different types of vegetables, far too much food.

The others had skewers of grilled prawns. Then chicken, pork, fish, rice, salad, squid and finally watermelon.


Duc tells us how as a child the government would not allow any foreign ,especially American, tv in Vietnam. They could have Animal planet however and they thought that North Americans, anyone with white skin especially, were incredibly stupid. For example,they would watch as a woman would find a snake or alligator in her back yard and scream and run away. He was taught as a child that if he found any animal to scream and everyone would come running to kill it for dinner. And then the lady would,even pay someone to take it away and set it free! How stupid is that ?
They would have bets as kids if people would eat the animals or not.

Back on the boat for a rest while we travel slowly for a few hours to a small island that indochina junk owns and has set up a beach area with kayaks. This is used by those on the one night cruise. It is very busy with lots of big boats and so many people. We are at the end of the day and see most leaving as we arrive.

I heard the duck quacking loudly and see him leaving on a small boat? My friend, where are you going? I ask if he is being given to fishermen in exchange for seafood. I am assured he is go to stay with the men on this island as he will have more room than on the boat. I will never know.

We are here to walk up some stairs into a cave and that goes across the little island. This is where the fishermen come to escape storms


When Indochina junk bought the island the fisherman were very upset ,(naturally) , but after s bit they all worked it out and now they are allowed to go there in a storm and the company also gives them water and rice every week as a trade off.

Dinner tonight was another 7 courses and this time the chef, who looks about 12, came out do do a cooking demonstration of drunken prawns and presented amazing vegetable carvings from pumpkins and radish.
The last one was of our ship, sails made of thin carrots. Duc came back with tiny little carrot kayaks to put beside it. Then he put one on its side and said " this one tip over " which brought great laughter


I can hardly keep my eyes open again at 9PM so it's off the bed early



Fishing village and Ninh Binh

After breakfast we arrived at a small floating fishing village and went "ashore" . These people used to live on the small fishing boats but now have this little village of floating houses. When the parents go out fishing the children can stay behind and go to school. They only go for three years and with great objection from the parents. They never went to school and are doing just fine.


But the kids learn basic English, math and writing here. For them however is is mostly about socializing and it is hard for the volunteer teachers to keep any order.

The company we are with have started a initiative to help cleanup the garbage in the bay. They pay the people to pick up floating plastic etc and then every couple a weeks a barge comes and pays them by the kilo for garbage. What a great system. The tour company also helps with the school and some income from the tourists help.

These women were ready to take us around the bay for s little tour. At the end we tip her 50,000 dong per couple ($2.50)


We learned more about life on the water and fishing. For shopping the supermarket comes to you, twice a day in case you need anything


Our last stop was a pearl factory where they showed us how they make cultured pearls. Some from Vietnam , some from Tahiti, south seas which were huge. Of course they had a gift store attached to buy pearl earrings and necklaces, but none of us were interested.

As we made our way back to the boat the skies opened and it rained hard. Torrential for the rest of the morning. After a light lunch we arrived back at the harbour and made our way to a waiting room. The other four were heading backwards to Hanoi and Jane and I arranged for our tour to collect us here at the harbour.

We said our goodbyes and got into a small Toyota with our driver and tour guide, a young woman from Sapa named Ngoc.

The rain was relentless for out boring five hour drive to ninh binh. There are many large modern cities on the way and they seem very prosperous . Some of the roads are under a great deal of water already. I feel badly for the motorcyclists.
We slept part way and were glad to finally arrive at 5PM.

We are in a home stay in Yen Mo village and it is very modern and nice. We are hoping the rain lets up for tomorrow

Ethnic travel is who we booked with and they have their name monogrammed on everything possible. A bit of overkill.

There are nine young people here from France Germany and Austria. We are all helping to prepare dinner making spring rolls, some veggie and some pork.
Our dinner once again is many courses and far too much food. We shared some stories and had great conversation.
Another early night

Day 19

This morning I watch as a small toddler runs to his dad carrying a huge sharp cleaver. When we reaches his dad he runs his finger across the sharp end to make sure its sharp enough before handing it to his dad. Such a difference in how children here are raised from home

The rain has stopped and we had a dry day. Yeah! The young French couple joined us on a hike around rice paddies which was very beautiful. Finally I saw rice almost ready for harvest and can see how it is done. It looks like wheat. In two weeks the fields will be bright yellow and then brown when it is ready. Most family's cut by hand but some have some machinery.




I have a waterfall pouring off my forehead again. It is so hot and humid and I just can't seem to take the heat anymore for some reason. It was wonderful when a breeze came up and the clouds came in.

At the end of the hike we arrive at a river and women row us for about an hour and a half at a leisurely pace ( for us, we are not doing anything) they row with thier feet. We go through two caves and at the end the big guns come out. They have a bag of goods to sell. Talk about a captive audience. They didn't look they were going to move until we bought. It was crappy Chinese stuff too, not even hand made Vietnamese goods. I finally bought one little purse she wanted a fortune for, but I had paid 50,000 for it before so,that is all I gave her. Then she is after Jane, who stood firm with her no. I need to be more like Jane. I am so weak

The French couple were in thier boat getting harassed as well. It was really uncomfortable and kind of ruined it for us a bit. Finally I just said very firmly " we go now!!!" And we did
I think she was trying to put the boat through the cave to bump Jane's head on the rocks hanging down cos she didn't buy




Now it is lunch time at another home stay and we are joined by two more French young people. They are doing a day trip from Hanoi

Now it is time to bike and eight mountain bikes are brought out. They are all men's bikes and somehow I ended up with a huge one that was not great. Jane switched with me for the last half hour which was great. She said it was a crappybike so I was happy that it was not just my imagination.

The biking was on a variety of paths and roads, some good, some not so good but the sceanery was wonderful through rice paddies farms and small towns. We went much longer than planned and then she asked if anyone wanted to climb 600 stairs up a mountain to see the view. It was already 3:30pm so there was no way I had the energy. Jane and I stayed back with the guide and walked around the park a bit and waited for 45 minutes while the French couple did it.


Riding through the small towns and farms we find that everyone says hi, waves and smiles at us. They are all so friendly and welcoming here.

The ride back was on the highway for the most part but very little car traffic which was nice.

The car ride back to,the home stay we see a motorbike and the fellow has a big blue plastic bag. It fell off into the road and huge red fish fell out and was still alive and flopping all over the highway. I hope the fellow was able to catch it again.

It was 6 PM by the time we got back and only time for a shower before dinner.

I am sitting in our room now at 9:30pm but can't go to sleep even though I am bagged. Across the ally is a wedding. Kareoke on stop , full blast, and really really bad. We were told it would finish at 10PM so we are hopeful as we have another full day tomorrow.

Day 20

Mai Chau

A four hour drive though the country side from Ninh binh to Mai Chau was so picturesque with the rice paddies turning yellow and ready for harvest. The further we went the more the rice turned yellow. We saw women in the fields chopping it down and harvesting the rice. We stopped to take pictures and waved, they smiled and waved back. Everyone we met had a big smile and said hello to us today, they are so friendly and happy.


On the side of the road we see people selling goats for sale. Cooked ones. They are complete in every way except the fur and are kneeling down and looking quite peaceful. The things vegetarians are made from

The rice is harvested and then dried on the pavement as it is hot and makes it a faster process. Cars and trucks just drive around it. In some areas there was miles of rice drying on the side of the road. Each family has their own plot or plots and harvests for their own family use, not to sell. They are also growing corn, peanuts and pumpkins.

We stopped to look at this sugar cane and Ngoc bought some for us to try. I had tried before but this was a little different. You chew it and get the sweet juice out, like gum, and then spit out the sugar cane.


This guy is bringing home the bacon


It was starting to sprinkle as we arrived in Mai Chau and the sky was getting darker. We stopped at a homestay for lunch and the rain started pouring down. Within 10 minutes the road was under a foot of water and flooding. We were eating in the garage , covered outdoor area of the home and the water was running through the room onto the road. Very loud thunder overhead as well.

We had planned on hiking up the mountain to get to our home stay, but I guess that is out. Wow.

We had to move so hunkered down in the living room until the rain subsided . We decided just to head to the home stay as it will be too muddy and slippery to climb the mountain.

Before long the roads are almost dry, you would hardly know it rained. We passed a farm area and Ngoc asked if we want to walk for an hour and a half which we did. We walked down small paths past little farms and rice paddies. The water buffalo would stop and stare at us, and sniff. We smell differently because we wear lotions and deodorant. Then they would run away afraid. Maybe my deodorant ran out, I was pretty sweaty.


Every turn the scenery was better and better. It is so beautiful out here and the green fields are glowing because of all the rain. Women are cutting the rice and putting them in baskets on their backs.

I watched as one woman was picking huge English cucumbers from her garden. She saw me and came up and gave me one, and tried to give jane one as well, but one was enough. So nice.
Ngoc picked some berries and asked us to taste them. Then she stuck out her tongue and started to laugh, we all had bright blue tongues. She is quite the joker. It was blue only temporarily of course


This bridge was very scary for me. It was about 30 feet up and no handrails and parts of the bottom was missing. But I did it.


What a wonderful walk. Our driver picked us up and we had a 10 minute drive to the home stay.
It is a stilted house of a family of the white Thai minority. It looks quite new, Jane and I have our own room and we share two bathrooms with the guide and driver. We are facing a beautiful rice paddie field and there are lots of young children playing in the yard because it is the only one that has a big flat area to play.

Later we sat on the floor and had dinner with the husband and wife who own the home. Our last few meals have been non fried food at our request which is very much appreciated. They had some of their own peanuts which were delicious.

After dinner I showed Ngoc a couple of pictures on my iPad which the wife found very interesting. She does not speak any English so Ngoc
had to translate for us.

She brought out her embroidery to show us which is lovely and a pair of prescription sunglasses that someone gave her to see better for her embroidering. We all looked at them and they were terrible. She reached over and took my readers and her face lit up

" I can see!"

She was now embroidering like a maniac. Unfortunately they are my good glasses and I have already broken two other pair on this trip so can't part with them.

Jane ran upstairs and found her second pair, we are going home in a day anyhow, but unfortunately they have a crack in the frame. She explained to glue that part. She was so happy and appreciative

I found another pair that I brought I can give her tomorrow too,
What a great day.

Day 21. Our last day in Vietnam

At 7AM I went down to relax in the hammock and just absorb the beautiful scenery. I watch men and women drive the cattle up the hill through the jungle. It is so peaceful here.

The day was spent doing another hike though the countryside and then a bike ride for a couple of hours.


After lunch in a family home we make our way back to Hanoi. The driving is slow so it takes four hours to go 200 K

At 4:30 PM we arrived back to the Hanoi Guest House and say our goodbyes to our driver and Ngoc.

The shower was very welcome and after an amazing East Indian dinner we are packing up and gettin ready for our 5AM transfer to the airport to come home

Vietnam was beautiful and very interesting but the people here really made this trip, they are so genuinely friendly and happy to see you.

Posted by debbep 03:51 Archived in Vietnam

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Thanks for bringing back memories of my time spent in these places. I too had the hard sell in the boat, along the way and at the end at Tam Coc. For me, it spoilt a very pretty and what should have been a tranquil area.

by balhannahrise

What a great story and beautiful pictures.
This is on my must see list and more so now that I have read this. Enjoyed it immensely :)

by aussirose

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