"Writing Is Hard" - Amy Poehler

Location:  Hanoi / Halong Bay / Hoi An, Vietnam  May 14th - May 22nd 

Amy really did say it best in Yes Please.  Writing is hard, man!  It takes time!  It takes wit!  It is usually better when something exciting happens to you that you can jazz up and make fun of.

But what happens when it doesn't?  When it feels like nothing all that exciting is occuring to you?  Another day, another temple, another vista.  Burp.  Yawn.  You don't want to read about that.  Plus, that market is already pretty well satisfied by Kim Kardashian's Instagram feed.  You need intrigue!  And mystery!   And horrendously embarrassing situations that I magically weave my way out of.  Alas, I have none of that to offer you.  But, I can report that my feel are getting really tan.    Oh, and I'm starting to tire of noodles.

Tan feet and noodles however, are not what a good blog post is made of.   I've posted a few of these, sorry.  I know, you likely didn't make it to the end, fell asleep or had to watch another episode of Boy Meets World and ponder Topanga's hair.  But, at present, I need to fill in a few gaps before leaving for Saigon tomorrow.  So, to do that, I'm going to make a list, which along with some pictures you'll find below.  This should serve as a passing grade / summation of my time in Halong Bay + Hoi An.

Beyond the list however, let's all hold hands accross the vast world wide web and pray for really awesome happenings to occur in my last Vietnam stop where.... CABE JOINS ME!   Whoo!  I can feel you all rubbing your hot palms together.  A good tale must come out of this, right!?  Who knows what nightlife or lady boy debacles we will uncover!  The possibilities are actually endless.  Cheers to a good long weekend and providing you with something to giggle at when you return to your desk, pretending to do work on Tuesday morning. 

Okay.  Here goes.  The catch up listicle, which is actually a lie and more of a series of small paragraphs.  What can you do?  Remember, this could be about my tan feet.

1.  Halong Bay

Okay, so I went to HB for a few nights in between stops in Hanoi.  It was rad!  Do this if you can!  Lots of tour operators want to pick you up at your hotel, transport you for 3 or so hours and then drop you at a Junk Boat in Halong Bay.  HB is a Unesco world heritage site which means it is very pretty, filled with limestone islands, development is controlled and people care about debris and pollution.  Holler, people who care about debris and pollution.  Keep it up and teach Phuket something.

2.  Junk Boats, How You Get Around Halong Bay

When I think of the concept of Junk Boats, Sisqo's Thong Song plays in my head.  I don't know why.  I keep trying to make some sort of witty title out of the lyrics in order to write a blog post about this boat trip, but again, writing is hard, this is Sisqo we are talking about and I don't think anyone would pick up on the joke, including me.  So, feel the spirit of my intention in this paragraph.  As a note, Junk Boats are lovely!  And not at all junky.  They are not all created equal though, so choose wisely!  The staff on the boat wants to make meals with many courses for you, mine had an amazing AC which impressed me fully (and inspired a large tip) and the bathrooms attached to the rooms were legit.   (Full tour on images tab)

  Sisquo.  A world leader and inspiration.  I actually had to edit this post so his name was spelled with a Q.  So, there's that.

Sisquo.  A world leader and inspiration.  I actually had to edit this post so his name was spelled with a Q.  So, there's that.

  My boat, The Dragon Pearl 2, is with the raised sails.  There were 10 cabins on board with windows facing out.  Top floor was all loungers and the second floor, in the front, housed the outdoor dining area and bar.  

My boat, The Dragon Pearl 2, is with the raised sails.  There were 10 cabins on board with windows facing out.  Top floor was all loungers and the second floor, in the front, housed the outdoor dining area and bar.  

For roughly 3 days, 2 nights you sail at a very slow pace through Halong Bay, sit atop the boat in a lounger, think about life and if you are feeling up to it, kayak through the peaceful water.   You might even be asked by a charming thirty-year-old NYC couple that works in finance how you're going to explain the "gap" on your resume, having taken time off to travel.  You'll be so relaxed however you'll only succumb to 5 minutes of evil thoughts (as you are pretty sure "I went to South East Asia" is going to do it) before getting back to those limestone islands again.  Ahhhhh.....

  Sigh.  A kayak selfie.  Guilty.

Sigh.  A kayak selfie.  Guilty.

3.  Fishing Village + Pearl Farm That One Visits While Sailing On The Junk

Two thumbs up.  Who knew where cultured pearls were actually made!  I never really had the motivation to imagine this before.  The fishing village also deserves props.  Why?  These houses are actually floating.  Some on styrofoam, others on blue barrels that, oh yes, the people of Unesco who care about debris and pollution are encouraging - because styrofoam breaks down after a handful of years.   One NYC woman who visited a few years back actually donated the electricity (via solar power) to the floating school which looks plucked out of an episode of Little House on The Prairie... err, bay. 

  Oysters are in baskets attached to these buoys...

Oysters are in baskets attached to these buoys...

  Me sees a pearl!

Me sees a pearl!

4.  Water Puppet Shows

I thought the same thing as you, likely.  Which was... "pass."   All I had in my head were the muppets (really just the grouchy ones that sit in the balcony) and the Sound of Music when it came to viewing a puppet show.  But, this is indeed a thing here in Vietnam and I went - slash - was told to go en route to the junk boat.  This appears to have been town entertainment back in the day.  And, each story is designed to depict village life.  The titles of these stories include such practical and scintillating things like "growing rice"  "catching fish" and "raising duck."  It is almost as good as the field scene in the first Twilight movie where Edward sparkles in the sun.

  Raising Ducks.  So, how does this work?  Small humans are wearing waders and overalls behind that screen.  The puppets are on long sticks, and I would imagine the people controlling them are running from side to side moving them from one end of the "stage" to the other.

Raising Ducks.  So, how does this work?  Small humans are wearing waders and overalls behind that screen.  The puppets are on long sticks, and I would imagine the people controlling them are running from side to side moving them from one end of the "stage" to the other.

  Growing Rice.

Growing Rice.

5.  Hoi An

Here is where I headed post Hanoi and Halong Bay... to the beach for my birthday.  Halong Bay is on the South China Sea and delightful.   Keep in mind this review and feeling of delight is coming from the fact that there are resorts (not mega) here and you spend most of your time laying flat and in the ocean or pool.  One could opt to live with a local person via a homestay.  At night, most people head into town where there is a distinct penchant for lanterns, markets that sell small dolls as well as a lot of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup.  The town was a fishing village at one point but has turned over to toursim.  Also a Unesco location, there are some lovely preserved buildings.

6.  Tailors, Tailors Everywhere

Everywhere!!!  This is what most people are doing here, in Hoi An.  They are going in with garments they want copied or talking to the seamstresses about designing something new.  Some have pictures from magazines, others go in cold.  In about 24 hours, you have something that is made to fit your body.  Most people advise on having another day for any fine tuning but Hoi An is very quickly churning out clothes.  I however was uninspired, my suitcase is too full (Cabe, want to help me with that upon your departure?!) and I am holding off on my tailoring requests until Saigon, should they come over me.   

7.  Banh Mi

Highlight, highlight alert!!!  In Hoi An I looked up on Trip Advisor best places to eat and people were raving about this dude!  Way off the main drag and without any colored lanterns or tailor shops, I located Phi's truck which was parked in front of his home.  You could actually eat your .75 USD sandy at a round table, in front of a fan, which was located basically in his living room.  It was wonderful.  The baguette, the pork, the mayo, the chili, the herbs, yes!  He was really happy I showed up and showed me all of the notes of praise from visitors.  "All the way from Chic-a-go, he said."  Yeah man, I know.  Me too :)  Everyone should go here.  

  Phi's bed is between those bottles of water and the TV.

Phi's bed is between those bottles of water and the TV.

8.  One more things about Hanoi - Cooking Class!

I did a cooking class with Hanoi Cooking School and it too was a highlight!  I was, naturally, the only soul in the place but the chef and I went to the market together, talked about how to cook pig placenta and quail eggs with "baby bird inside" along with the various dishes that involve silk worms.   

  Oh yeah.  Fresh meat.

Oh yeah.  Fresh meat.

  Lots going on.  Live silk worms, front and center, the yellow.

Lots going on.  Live silk worms, front and center, the yellow.

  That'd be some fresh placenta, on the right.  Intestines the middle.  Mmmmmm.

That'd be some fresh placenta, on the right.  Intestines the middle.  Mmmmmm.

We made a total of four dishes together and I learned a lot about the uses of a banana tree.  

  This, friends, is a banana flower.  It grows on the tree.  Those white things are what will become the bananas you eat.  They are located in between each of the leaves of the flower, which are constructed like an artichoke.  Who knew!   

This, friends, is a banana flower.  It grows on the tree.  Those white things are what will become the bananas you eat.  They are located in between each of the leaves of the flower, which are constructed like an artichoke.  Who knew!  

  This is a banana flower salad, for sale everywhere in Vietnam.  So, like an artichoke you peel those big red leaves of the flower back until you get to some fresh, pretty looking ones.  Take two, roll them, slice thinly - those are the sort of reddish pieces you see in this salad with pork, peanuts, a lime chili dressing and sprouts.

This is a banana flower salad, for sale everywhere in Vietnam.  So, like an artichoke you peel those big red leaves of the flower back until you get to some fresh, pretty looking ones.  Take two, roll them, slice thinly - those are the sort of reddish pieces you see in this salad with pork, peanuts, a lime chili dressing and sprouts.

Also, just a note on those quail eggs... I thought yeah, "baby bird inside," don't all eggs technically have a bird inside them?  The answer is no.  No they do not.  We bought a few because I clearly didn't understand what she was getting at and after she boiled them, peeled them, put some salt, pepper and lime juice on them - I popped one into my mouth.  It sort of burst.  I said... is that the yolk?  She nodded.  Then I popped another one.  Hmmmmm.  Then she took one and started to take it apart.  I can report that there is actually, in some of these "special" and tiny quail eggs a small bird with a beak (!!) inside.  And I ate them.  Only until she showed me the little guy.  Then I stopped.  The end.

9.  And Last, Weasel Coffee

Yeah, you read this right.  Here in Vietnam someone, long ago, decided that coffee from beans was just so-so.  What is better and has greater flavor is weasel coffee.  Coffee beans that are eaten by weasels on a farm, not digested and then pooped back out.  These beans are swooped up, fondly regarded for their rich and interesting flavors and are expensive.  What a way to start your day, with a squirrely step and all.