Amazing Vietnam Day 4: Halong Bay and Night Market

Wake up in an amazing place... 

28 September 2013
I woke up pretty early actually, but finally I was late for sunrise in Halong Bay. Yeah, there's always a reason to come back -what an excuse!

A late sunrise view

The sun was a little higher when I went to the sundeck about 6.30 am. Most of the participants were there, too, definitely won't missed this beautiful morning view. Good weather, nice blue sky, and beautiful rock formations made this morning became special, here in Halong Bay!

I saw another cruise ship held taichi lesson on their sun deck (usually on luxurious cruise).. uh, unfortunately our cruise didn't have one -envy! I talked a while with Mr. John, chit-chat and promoted Indonesian tourism, until Hung called for breakfast around 7.30 am.

American breakfast set were ready on the table. Each person got a plate filled with toasts, scramble eggs, sauteed ham and sausage slices, pancakes and honey, plus watermelon and banana in a small cup. A crew came to every person to offer coffee or tea, but mom and I prefer white water instead. I had no problem with them (except the honey), but honestly I would prefer Vietnamese bfast menu like pho, if I had choice.

After breakfast, Hung gave briefing about our plan today, as the group gonna split into 2. Hung already informed since beginning that some of participants took 3 days tour, so they would stay 1 more night at Halong Bay. They would wait for another tender that bring them somewhere to enjoy full day of kayaking, swimming, or snorkeling. The 2 days tour participants gonna visit a cave before sail back to the port.

Our group now only consists of 7, my mom and I, Mr. John, 2 girls from Philippines, and 2 girls from Malaysia. Smaller group, more private, oh I like it! Of course Hung still guided us. 

While the tender headed to Sung Sot Cave, let the camera turned on and captured beautiful sights around you. It's Halong Bay, man... never lose a moment!

Came to an island where Sung Sot Cave located... it has no beach, so the government already built the deck and quay to accommodate tourists. Its English name is Surprise Cave, b'coz tourist would find some surprises inside.

From an entrance gate with guard (using the same ticket from yesterday, Hung took care of it) we climbed up (again!!) stone steps to the real cave's gate. Get set, and...

Journey to the cave started!

Its entrance is not widely open, looked like a medium rock crevice, and we had to go downward through some steep rock steps. We entered the 1st room that functioned as a foyer. This room were packed with tourist when we came. There is a favourite photo spot with good looking stalactites and stalagmites as background that made them queued (and jammed) around it. I didn't really interested, so I only explored this room here and there for a while.

At a glance, this "foyer" looks like a dead-end room, but it turns out we can go through an elongated narrow slit to the next room.

Ok, move forward, passed the small slit and you'll see the real surprise! We came to an extraordinary looked yet spacious cave room. Its second room is wide and high, with so many water dripping from above. A proper path had been built to make people easily walk around the cave. It's good that they made the path as one way route, so there won't be people came in and out at the same place.

The stalactites and stalagmites formed unique shapes and colourful lighting gives additional sensation that can bring your imagination get wild. Hung told the "story" (kind of myths or local legend) made based on those shapes, but I didn't really pay attention to him. I just chose to enjoy this natural scenery with my own imagination, and of course, my camera! Snap snap!

Here are some details from Surprise Cave which captured into attractive photo composition. Are they surprise you? ...or maybe looked weird/absurd in your thought?

Nature's carvings


 C'mon, imagine.. imagine.., and I see a lion. Do you?

 And they said this is a great waterfall. Do you agree?

Our cave trekking came to an end when we saw bright light and green plants from outside. We climbed up some steps to reach the exit gate. The gate is big and steps are not too steep, but remain cautious because of the wet and slippery steps of water dripping from the top.

Met the sunshine again, now we were on a high level deck where we can enjoy beautiful view of Halong Bay one more time. Bird's eye view never fail!

On the way back to pick up area, we passed the floating market that sold many products (mostly snacks, canned drinks, and fruits for tourist) include fresh seafood. Live seafood sellers parked their boat alongside the long quay, and I saw almost all of them are women. Mr. John tried to bargain the prawn, then he got 7 big prawns for 100.000 VND. He just did it for fun, then gave those prawns to our ship crew.

Those big prawns!

Back to cruise ship, we packed our bags and cleared all the bills while it sailed to the port. Felt a bit gloomy b'coz we're gonna leave the beautiful Halong Bay. Every passengers enjoyed last moment at Halong Bay in their own way, but Alova also provides last activity for killing time. Mr. Muoi, the cruise manager, demonstrated his other proficiency in fruits and vegetables carving. For my mom and I, fruit and vegs carving is not a new thing, especially my mom b'coz she had a course for it. This activity ended while cruise ship came to the port, then all passengers moved to tender to reach the deck.

Our cruise ended when we "landed" back to Bai Chay Wharf, the same place where we departed a day before. Time flies!

Hung led us to a restaurant just across the wharf where we would have lunch before transferred back to Hanoi. Food was not special, just a standard group tourist's menu with average taste, but our togetherness made it special. Yeah, after one and half day being in the same ship, we started become friend. It's such a thing!

Shuttle bus picked up around 12.30 pm then we headed to Hanoi. Had a stopover at ABC again, mom and I still had no enthusiasm to buy anything there. Our journey almost finished when we reach Hanoi around 4 pm. The traffic to city centre was a bit crowded, especially the-always-busy Old Quarter area. The bus dropped off each passengers based on their departure point, including Hung that gone before my mom and I. When it came to our turn, the driver told us (in limited English) to get off at an intersection, NOT in front of our hotel. Arrrgghhh, dammit! We're tired already, with a bulky bag in hands, and had to walk about 100 meters to our hotel. Hey, Alova, this was a sucks ending y'know!

It's 5 pm when we FINALLY entered Aranya Hotel again. We got different room than 2 days ago, but still the same ambience and good service from hotel's crew. We had rest for a while, unpacked our travelling bag, and washed the wet clothes. Wait, washing clothes? Yup, at least to rinse off the salt water before wash them properly when we back home laaaaater later on.

Finish with the stuff, now it's time to walk around! Armed with a map in hand, we strolled the street at Old Quarter. I knew there's night market at Old Quarter every weekend (also informed by our hotel receptionist), so it would be our main destination. On the way there, we checked some places for good foods as recommended by the hotel receptionist. After visited a few places, we chose a small restaurant located on a rather quiet street but the restaurant itself always packed with both tourists and local residents. A good sign, isn't it?

Resto's name is Mon ngon 24, and it opens for 24 hours. The room is not spacious, more like a stall, but they provide various Vietnamese dish. Mom and I decided to order only 1 main dish b'coz we wanna save "room" (in our stomach) for another street food we hope to find at night market. Actually we're interested with their Nem Cua Be for appetizer, but it was finish *sad*. So here we shared Bun Ca (VND 35.000). It was delicious yet has rich taste (compared to the 'basic' pho). For more detail about this restaurant and the dishes, please read here.

Continue to walk with half full tummy, we passed a crowded stall on the side of a busy street. An unpretentious stall, a bit messy and unhygienic one, but the seats are always full of customers. They sell assorted fried food like spring rolls and dumplings, also kinds of beverages. I saw most of customers were local people -couple, family, or group of friends- enjoyed snacking time together on Saturday night. Mom and I decided to buy some pieces for take away so we didn't need to queue to be seated. The cashier woman, looked as the leader among other crew, sat on a motorcycle with a waist bag full of money. All I need to do was order to her, grab my snack, paid, then leave! I didn't like the cashier woman. She was not friendly, impatient, and didn't let me take a pic of her stall. Pheww... but I still can have this pic from across the street!

Strolled along roads and alleys to find night market, we knew we were on the right track as the road getting sooo damn crowded. Both tourists and locals packed together along the road. We were not able to walk freely, but the MOST important one is keep watching our belongings. Beware of pickpockets! And if you walk together with a group of friends, make sure to watch each other or you will separate easily.

Somewhere in the middle of the crowd, we founded an interesting stall. The sellers looked like a man and wife, with their daughter around (or daughters? I wasn't sure). They sold kinds of Vietnamese salad (or rujak/rojak, in our opinion). They mix the salad on-site, right after a customer ordered it. For me, it's kinda interesting to look the seller took a pinch of each ingredient, blended them with hands (he wore gloves, thank God!), added some sauces, then put some crackers on top of it. Salad looked dayum, but mom and I decided to eat it later at the hotel. It wasn't comfortable at all to eat while standing in the middle of crowd like that, 'rite?

We walked and walked 'till finally reached Dong Xuan Market. Heard about this market from online source, this is one of the biggest market in Hanoi, but Anthony (our guide, if you forget) said that mostly they sell goods in bulk. It's quite late at night, also, so we didn't really interested to look inside. 

We just walked around, looked for some street foods (but unfortunately had no appetite at all), and watched a cultural performance held in front of the market building. Six performers shown Vietnamese traditional fan dance on the stage, they moved slowly with music accompaniment. Curious at first, it turned to bore me very soon, then we walked away. Ciao!

On the way back to hotel, we realized it's pretty much far. We started to feel hungry again, as we only shared a bowl of noodle before. Effortless, we decided to go back to Mon ngon 24 b'coz we believe their food. This time we ordered Banh Da Cua Hai Phong (VND 35.000), still a rice noodle menu but with slightly different toppings and lighter broth than the previous one. It was delicious at the same level, and we liked it. Our tummies were full enough now!

Still on the way back to hotel, we passed a small home-stall that looked busy. We saw some locals come and go, they bought sausages and ham. Then we found small neon sign on its upper wall mentioned that they provide Banh My. Couldn't resist, we ordered one portion, which was half of a big baguette. We could choose which kind of ham we want (of course, we need to use sign/body language as the seller couldn't speak English fluently). While waiting for our turn to be served, we saw inside the stall (behind the display) packed with dine-in customers (also local Vietnamese, I guess), made us believe this shop is quite popular among the neighbourhood.

Two hands full, we arrived back safely at the hotel. Time to unpack our supplies!

Nem Cua Be (VND 11.000)
It's a Vietnamese name for fried spring roll with crab meat inside. Nem Cua Be is the long one, on the left. The other two are dumplings. Taste wise, not too special, and of course we better eat them immediately to get the its maximum crispiness. Not really different with "gorengan" in Indonesia.

Vietnamese Salad
Yeah, dunno its real name in Vietnamese language, just called it salad to simplify. And... honestly I wasn't sure about each ingredient they had put inside. All I could see and taste were shredded carrot, chopped nuts, thinly sliced chillies, kind of salted-dried meat (or another part of beef or pork), and fried chips (a.k.a kerupuk in Indonesia). It looked messy and a bit "scary", but surprisingly tasted good! It was fresh, light, and balance in taste. Mom and I loved it so much, too bad we didn't have chance for second buy or more.

Banh My
A Viertnamese sandwich, with French influence as it use baguette. A piece of baguette bread stuffed with slices of processed meat and a dash of home-made chilli sauce. I knew it's very "basic" version compared to the normal banh my which usually served with some veggies and "proper" sauce in a restaurant. Guys 'n gals, please don't under estimate the dish by its look! Surprisingly this local banh my was 'dayum! Baguette was a bit tough (maybe will be better when it still warm) but the processed meat was delish. And I also like small amount of pate they added inside. Mom and I enjoyed it so much.

Ok, we closed the night with full tummy and sweet dream.. zzz.. zzz...

Back to previous day: Amazing Vietnam Day 3: Halong Bay, A Dream Come True


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