Halong Bay, we're cruising aboard one of the many wood "junks" that sail these waters; a popular tourist activity here. Our boat is the "Bhaya", and is quite nice and comfortable. Halong Bay itself is fantastically beautiful, with amazing natural jungle covered pillars of rock that are scattered in all directions. Earlier today we stopped and explored a famous cave here, "Surprise Cave" does have unexpected beauty of its own and is worth the long step trail climb to reach it. We'll be staying overnight on the boat and then tomorrow we board a bus for the three hour ride back to Hanoi. The cruise is a side trip, we arrived in Hanoi two days ago and have been enjoying the capital city. Our next destination will be Hong Kong, we've been given a 5:30 am slot for take-off from Hanoi, the Chinese won't allow us passage through their airspace enroute, so we're forced to double back and head south to Da Nang, before heading out across the China Sea. The detour turns a five hundred mile flight into an eight hundred mile flight. For now though, we're enjoying the scenes that drift by and thinking about the nice time we've had here in Vietnam.
Our instructor for our cooking class was Chef Hwah, an expert in Vietnamese cooking who speaks French as well as English and normally can be found perfecting her technique in the kitchens of the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi. Our first assignment was a visit to the local market. We left the hotel early in the morning, traveling through the mad-cap rush hour traffic- everyone rides motor bikes here; they fill the roads by the thousands. We traveled by pedal-rickshaw to the open air market. Once there, Chef Hwah, guided us through the foundation ingredients of Vietnamese cooking. There were only a handful of fruits and vegetables that we recognized and hundreds that we'd never seen before. In the seafood market, the fish and crustaceans were so fresh they were still breathing. Not one or two types of clams or crabs but eight, not one type of fresh live snail but five. Many of the fish and shrimps were in water and still swimming about. Bundles of live frogs lay in a tray while a single lone catfish displayed swimming in its own container signals the buyer that this is a very expensive variety. Many thousands of Vietnamese dollars translated into about fifty cents a kilo in US dollars, however, a real plus for anyone considering an extended stay here- eating well is pretty cheap.
In the fresh meat section of the market, as in all of the other sections, there was a surprising lack of flies
In the fresh meat section of the market, as in all of the other sections, there was a surprising lack of flies. Meat was very fresh and there was a wide variety to choose from. The most unusual, and the most expensive, was the dog. Art and I were really shocked to see this in the market- it was very disturbing. Chef Hwah explained that it is a rare delicacy here, very expensive, and that only a certain breed is produced for food purposes. Women generally don't eat it and the dogs themselves are fed a vegetarian diet. So no chance of getting it "by accident" as some common myths have told. If you order beef here, you'll get beef. Our menu called for chicken, fish, and pork. Back at the kitchen, we spent the rest of the morning preparing several really wonderful dishes. We learned how to make three types of spring rolls, and a fantastic salad made with the flower of the banana tree, we wrapped chicken with lemon leaves and popped it on the grill while we steamed some fish in beer with a delicate julienne of vegetables, herbs, and chilies. With every dish there was a terrific layered sauce- fantastic.
After spending most of the day eating, we headed out for a traditional Vietnamese Thang Long water puppetry show. We'd never seen a puppet show performed in the water, it really was neat and the music was great also. We really didn't know what to expect when we reached Vietnam, but now that we're here, we have to say this has been a very interesting and fun place to visit. Today's Vietnam is very different from the past, today the most dangerous thing you can do here is try to cross the street! Now If they can just get all those folks riding all those motor bikes to respect the cross-walks.
As for our departure from Vietnam, our scheduled arrival slot for Hong Kong, required a four am departure from our hotel. At just before five in the morning, Art and I were standing at the security checkpoint in the dark, deserted, Hanoi international terminal, waiting for the xray machine to warm up and start working. The security guard apologized for our wait- he wasn't expecting anyone and had all of the equipment turned off. Just then I looked up at the airline departure screen shown on a monitor overhead, along with several commercial flights to all sorts of exotic Asian destinations, a charter flight with a scheduled departure of five-thirty am was shown departing for Hong Kong. The flight number was listed as N555PE- we'd hit the big time! Art looked up at the monitor, "We'd better hurry, we could miss our flight!"
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