Halong Bay and back to Hanoi Part 16

 11:48:01.7500000 | 12.14.2010
After a "small" breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast & jam and tons of the ever present fresh fruit, we set sail to visit a nearby fishing village. Since there really is no land on these islands, all of the inhabitants live on houseboats built on bamboo rafts. The fishing village we visited on this early Monday morning was explained to us as being UNESCO protected and supported. Apparently when tourism came in the government tied to move these people to more stable housing on the mainland but they'd have no part of it. So they continue to live their lives as they have for generations on this tiny rafts clustered together in a small bay. Fishing boats rigged with bright lights used for squid fishing were evident everywhere and some fishermen were just returning as we were cruising past. Our guide explained to me that the cruise ship companies pay a small fee to the village for being allowed to bring travelers such as us through to gawk at them and take photos. it's a bit of a surreal experience. Here these people are, going about their private lives and boat after boat of tourists come thru snapping photos like they were visiting a zoo. But the people didn't seem to mind and ignored us like we weren't even there. Strange.

Back aboard ship we had a brief time to enjoy the sunshine after vacating our rooms for the next lot coming thru. We took more photos and before we knew, it was time to eat again! The food on board has been incredibly wonderful - perhaps the best I've eaten since coming to Vietnam.

There was some chicken dish and a vegetable dish, the usual white rice and some lightly battered very flaky, crispy fried shrimp, some beef. Always we are fed family style and always there is just the right amount for sharing depending on the number of people at the table. We've been dining with the 3 handsome Danes and are sad to say good-bye. But before we knew it we were back at the wharf, passing the next lot who were smiling and anxious to get on board and take our places.

The trip back to Hanoi seemed a bit longer and drawn out but one by one we were dropped at our respective hotels and said our goodbyes. Kelly and I checked into the Cinnamon Hotel, a little "boutique" hotel as described by the Lonely Planet guidebook, with only 6 rooms, set in a neatly restored old French colonial building, barely 15 feet wide. We are on the first floor (2nd floor to Americans) at the top of a narrow wooden winding staircase, facing onto the streets. The room is dominated by arched French doors (in this case, the real thing!), flanked by windows in similar fashion, stained a very dark wood, set off by white stucco walls topped with exquisite crown molding encircling the ceiling. Our bellman flung open the doors and windows and the heavy exterior shutters which had kept the room dark and cool, letting in the sunshine and street noise from the city of Hanoi just outside our window. We stepped out onto a tiny tiny balcony - actually only one of us at a time could be out there it was that tiny - to look out at the view of the cathedral just across the street. (yes, the same cathedral that would ceremoniously chime its bells every 15 minutes round the clock. I don't know whether there was actually someone whose job it was to do this or whether its now on some mechanical timer but it amazed me to awake the first morning at 4am to hear the church bells ringing!)

I was enchanted by the entire scene. The beds are neatly made in crisp white sheets with flat Vietnamese baskets decoratively placed in the center of the beds with a piece of cinnamon stick the size of flashlight, just to remind you of the hotel's name. Kelly was not so enchanted wishing for a bigger room and a bath that had more than a stall-less shower. She thought she'd left behind the hand-held shower in the bathroom corner that drained into the floor when we disembarked from our ship-board experience but unfortunately, it followed us here. I'm not so bothered by it, recognizing the tiny-ness of the place but can understand why she might be disappointed; she likes her creature comforts of the West and doesn't like dealing with water getting over everything else in the bathroom after you're finished showering. I guess it's just the romantic in me. But then I also expect when I descend the stairs later that I'll find Somerset Maugham sitting in the lobby in his smoking jacket reading a good novel waiting for his rickshaw to take him to dinner.

We headed out to prowl for our next meal (and maybe more shopping?) and ended up deciding to take in a little of the World Cup at a German bar we'd seen on Sat night near the water puppet theater. Just as I suspected, we found the 3 New Zealanders from our recent ship-board experience in there having a beer and enjoying the game - Holland vs Denmark. It was nice to casually "meet up" with people we knew. We enjoyed some drinks and I had a plate of stir fried vegetable and noodle before saying our final good-byes, this time for real.

To be continued...

Source: http://www.traveljournals.net