Yesterday we went to a restaurant called Green Mango, where, it says online, you can buy western food. Western food!
Just reading it tasted good. We’ve not had western food since the Indian restaurant in Hoi An and I would even eat at a Little Chef if I came across one, which happily is unlikely.
I mean, noodles are good, and here at this hotel, the beef noodles are really good.
I’ve learned to use chopsticks well enough that most of the food goes in my mouth, and I’ve got hardly any noodles in my hair, or up my nose, or inside my shirt for weeks now.
Western food sounded fantastic though and we decided that we were going to stuff ourselves stupid.
They had Thai on the menu but I wasn’t tempted by that. No, I wanted stodge, plates full of it. Meat, in quantity. Chips, bread, beans, brown sauce, the whole British heart murmur. And on a massive plate, with cutlery that’s not made of bamboo.
We hired a bike in Cat Ba and were given stupid hats
There was a power cut for most of yesterday, and generators were powering the hotels and shops, those that are owned by people who care much about lights and such things. We thought perhaps the power was off because of some building work going on, but it could equally have been a bird landing on a pylon somewhere.
I heard a German tourist getting irate with the hotel owner, Mr Anh.
We’re so used to having a bit of a tantrum back home when things don’t function properly but it won’t do you much good here. How’s Mr Anh going to get the electricity on? I’m not sure that the Vietnamee can even comprehend our need to be online and have satellite tv (television), it’s like trying to explain to an eagle why he should buy a pair of running shoes.
If the power goes down, then you get the genny running and wait to see what happens next and if you run out of petrol for the genny, you light a candle.
The waiting staff told us the genny would be going off for a minute, and then the power supply was restored. It had been off for at least ten hours.
We both ordered that traditional British staple, Mexican food, and a feta salad. Cheese.
Aside from triangles of that sloppy nasty processed cheese stuff this was the first cheese we’d had for four months. We’d seen cheese, once, in the hands of a weird Aussie in Hoi An.
We were in a supermarket and a funny little man asked us in an adenoidal, beardy voice if we’re European. We told him we are and he said ‘Ah, then you’ll understand.’
I immediately knew that whatever it was he was going to say, I wasn’t going to understand at all.
He’d spent several weeks looking for cheese in Vietnam and was desperate for Stilton.
I think I may have just stared at him blankly for ten seconds or so.
Stilton. You’ve come to Vietnam to look for Stilton? You’re in the wrong continent mate.
Not all Aussies are big beefy macho rugby playing Crocodile Dundee types as it happens, some of them are weirdo cheese stalkers.
Cheese. And the last time we’d ordered a salad was in Dong Ha, at the place with the girls with blacked out teeth, and they bought us a plate of onions, tomatoes and ice. I’m not kidding.
Water cannot be considered a salad constituent in my book whether it’s frozen or liquid or vapour. However you look at it, water is just a boring drink.
It’s the only time I’ve actually asked for vegetation to eat, normally noodles and bean sprouts are enough for me when it comes with cabbage anyway. The only time I actually want vegetables and they palm me off with ice! It wasn’t even carved into icy lettuce leaves or molded into frozen radish, it was just bloody ice.
So we had feta salad and stodge and it was bloody lovely to feel all fat and bloated for a change. Sadly I couldn’t manage a dessert. I would have bloody loved one.
Some Cat Ba forest, jungle you and I would call it
Later that night we went to the bar and I got drunk. Nel didn’t, let me make that clear, it was me that got drunk. Well there were three Scotsmen in there. We ended the night with man hugs, all best mates but a bit drunk. One of those kinds of nights, it was good. We had a right old laugh.
Last we spent swinging at anchor in Lan Ha ha Bay, just next to Ha ha Long Bay. It was a right laugh.
Evan and Bjela were able to make it on Saturday morning with a couple of friends of theirs, American Erica, and Texan Kenzie, two girls who’d recently smashed themselves up quite comprehensively on a motorcycle in Hanoi and were in a state of many coloured bruised.
We arranged the trip early Friday evening when we’d got confirmation that they were definitely on the way, and how many were coming. They’d got the Haiphong train from Hanoi and were going to spend the night there and get the first hydrofoil in the morning to be at Cat Ba for 7.45. Excellent. Nothing remained now except for chartering a boat and crew to take us around the archipelago in about twelve hours time, and then pack our bags ready to check out.
Ha Long Bay
We went down to the harbour area, where drunken sailors brawl in bars over worn out whores with a wad of currency sewn into the lining of my jacket, the one I’d bought in Dalat that has a badge sewn on that says Nature Patrol. My knuckle duster hidden in the pocket of my Hawaiian shorts, just in case things got rough.
When I slammed through the door of the Floating Flotsam bar wearing my pink cowboy hat all eyes turned on me and the place went silent, except for the slap of my flip flops flicking sawdust up into my shorts.
I flapped up to the biggest meanest looking of the men with the most worn out whore in the joint and told him we need to talk about hiring his boat, no questioned asked, half the cash now, half in a couple of days.
Oh no, that’s not right at all. No, I asked Mr Anh at the hotel and he sorted it, that’s how it happened.
And so we went to meet Evan and Bjela and Kenzie and American Erica off the hydrofoil. They’d not had breakfast so they ate at our hotel while we drank coffee and then we walked a couple of hundred yards to the pier.
The boat is a queer looking thing with a deck on top for hanging about on and two bedrooms. There had been some sort of misunderstanding about rooms and we ended up having to share a room with Evan and Bjela but that was ok.
The Ha Long Bay archipelago has close on two thousand islands and rocks poking out of the water, many of them with the strata folded the same way, all being part of the same limestone bed that covered the area to a height of Christ knows what, and all of them chemically eroded out of the landscape by rainwater that had dissolved carbon dioxide from the water, to form a very very dilute acid over many many years. Imagine that! It makes you cry to look at that quite vast seascape and think of the timescale over which acid far less corrosive than vinegar did that to a bed of limestone.
It did a wonderful job too. Because the strata of many of the formations reaches up at the same angle, many of the islands have the same rake on the sides. There are also many stacks that poke vertical out of the water and one I spotted that looks like a hand giving you the finger.
In most of the pictures online, the weather is hazy and it was the same for us. Gray skies and a light green emerald sea.
The boat chuffed through these islets and formations and stacks to the gasps and awed exclamations of us and the occasional shriek from one of the Black Kites that wheel about or the sound of the crows.
Our guide led us in kayaks through openings and arches into emerald lagoons.
We saw a troop of monkeys feeding in the vegetation on one island – our guide told us we were very lucky to have seen that.
Quite quite beautiful, we sat in silence, paddles dripping water onto my shorts, and watched the little fellers munching fruit, or whatever it was they were eating.
Bjela sang classical songs as we drifted through formations in her classically trained voice.
You can’t have too many pictures of Ha Long Bay
The crew cooked lunch for us. A huge fish, and some little squids. There was rice and a bit of vegetation. I knew I was going to be hungry by Sunday evening.
We swam from the boat to a little beach and collected shells and later had a huge fish and some squids cooked up for us.
In the evening we went to one of the many floating villages in the bay that we’d never seen on tv, but there are hundred of people living like this, farming clams in baskets and big fish in nets suspended from a structure that sits on floats. There was a floating shop and men sat around talking and drinking beer. The thing that disturbs me is the thought that all of these villages discharge their waste into the sea, as well as all the tourist boats.
We’re not properly into the high season yet and Evan reckons there are many many more tourists in the bay when the season starts properly. And all of them discharging their waste into the bay.
Our crew took the boat out into the middle of the bay where we anchored and drank beer on the top deck as the hazy light faded behind the uncountable rock stacks.
Later we slept while the boat swung at anchor.
Next morning we ate omelets on baguettes for breakfast and drank tea and coffee as the boat headed out to another bay where we kayaked through more low arches into more pristine lagoons with the bluey greeny water, with more gasps and exclamations.
No matter that we’d seen it the day before, the spectacular seascape is worthy of the gasps.
We went to Monkey Island, where the monkeys don’t live, and later the crew cooked up fish, and squid.
Because we needed to catch the hydrofoil at four that afternoon, we got back for three thirty.
Mr Anh met us and we walked back to his hotel where he’d made tea for us. He’d also kindly booked our tickets back to Haiphong for us.
They don’t run so many hydrofoils as there used to be a few years back and there are many good reasons for this, mainly the cost of building them and then the high maintenance costs afterwards. This is a shame because they’re brilliant. Sadly they do kill marine mammals quite effectively with their sharp hydrofoils submerged and travelling through the water at 40 knots.
When we get to Haiphong, we immediately made for a western restaurant that they’d been to on Friday night where I ate a pizza the size of a dustbin lid, and we made for the station.
The train to Hanoi took two and a half hours, on a hard seat and was packed. A lady opposite us had given birth to the fattest baby I’ve ever seen and the two American girls spent the whole time fussing and cuddling her to the amusement of hundreds of Vietnamee.
And so now we’re in Hanoi, in a slightly rundown hotel. Evan and Bjela put us up on their sofa on Sunday night. They live in a lovely old French house with the original old wooden ceiling fans with the original old massive switches to turn them on with.
It’s quite spectacular and has a roof garden that Evan has planted with Passionfruit vines and tomatoes and cucumbers and beans. We’re going to have a barbeque up there tonight.
A Hanoi cafe
Another impossible feat of stacking things
A thousand Hanoi near misses