Slow Travel: Cruising Vietnam

Slow Travel: Cruising Vietnam

 

An up-close and authentic view of real life in Vietnam is happily experienced while cruising the rivers with stops along the way in villages and hit of the big smoke – Hanoi. Take it slow . . . 

Torrential! And that’s the perfect word for the monsoon rains that lashed our ship for 20 minutes, and then, like all good monsoon downpours, the air stilled and regained its hot and steamy attitude and the wide Red River became a silky, calm spread of chicken gravy coloured water.

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Welcome to north Vietnam. We were sailing on a ten-day cruise on the Angkor Pandaw, a beautiful ship designed to mirror the ships of the Irrawaddy Flotilla that plied the waters of colonial Burma. The vessel is pretty special, and the decks gleam with the rich timber patina walked on by many barefoot passengers. The brass is polished daily and all detail on the ship is ship shape and immaculate.

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I was a little concerned at the thought of a ten-day cruise as I’d only sailed for five consecutive days in the past. I had nothing to worry about except at the end of the cruise when I just wanted a few more days on board.

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Our ship left Hanoi and we sailed to the glorious heritage-listed Halong Bay, where we gently sailed in sight of extravagant limestone islands and towering, craggy kasts. We visited water-limestone caves by kayaking and row boats.

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Off the ship for an afternoon as we were taken to a deserted beach, where we had an entire bay to ourselves for a cooling dip. Bliss.

As the sun set and lights from the bay’s scattered fishing boats twinkled we sat down for our first of many abundant and creative dinners.

The ship sails west and after the Red River, it hits the Lo River the Red River delta and then the Black River. The sights along the river don’t display quaint and pretty castles and rolling hills. I hesitate to use the word ‘authentic’ but we were immersed in the real life of north Vietnam and the progress and industry that keeps the country ticking along. There are concrete factories, sand mountains shoring up the banks against flooding, amazing fish farm floating villages, banana plantations and often in the distance, the soaring spires of catholic churches and terraced steps of Buddhist temples.

The startling contrast of the rural tranquility and the brick kilns and facades of heavy industry, neat patches of corn fields and passionfruit vine mounds were sights that juxtaposed the life of the rivers.

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Almost every day there is an excursion (all included in the price) and to places where few other westerners are. As well as the ship being the only pleasure craft among gliding barges on the rivers, the villagers are laid back, welcoming and eager to show their talents. Bemused barge captains waived and I imagine they thought that our beautiful ship looked like it had wandered in to the wrong neighbourhood.

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In one tiny village, three generations of women from 18 to 90 years of age showed us the skill behind the ubiquitous conical hat – the most practical chapeau for tropical weather countries. Such an endearing experience and we were welcomed in a friendly and understated way – cups of tea were offered and bananas and peanuts put out for us.

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Between excursions we came back to cold towels and a cooling drink before a tasty lunch (don’t fight it, just enjoy the banquet!).

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At each stop along the river we were looked at as a novelty as there weren’t many westerners in this neck of the woods. Other trips to villages include a walk through a pretty town, Thanh Ha, to watch a water puppet show, an inspection of a small village that has the noble tradition of producing fine ceramic items with the skills passed down through the generations. This was in the province of Hanoi and a local Lion Dance troupe, welcomed us to the region with a raucous drumming performance and dancing lions.

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We were treated to an extraordinary concert in the village of Hung Lo temple to hear a choir, yet again, women from seven years to their 80s carrying on the tradition of singing ‘Hat Xoan’. And we danced with the singers to a fishing song, without the usual embarrassment of looking like bulls in a China shop – a testament to the generosity of spirit of these local people.

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In this village there is the Thay and Tay Phuong pagodas, both built around enormous pillars of jackfruit, decorated with hundreds of statues, and surmounted by sweeping upturned eaves.

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Another village introduced us to the knife makers – families that for generations have been pounding red hot steel into machetes and chopping knives.

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A walk around Duong Lam village exposes us to the elegance and grandeur of the UNESCO designated village. Duong Lam has a history that dates back to around 1200 years with many of the houses almost 400 years old. Apart from its historical and touristic values, the ancient village is a significant place for scientists to study resident communities in ancient agriculture.

Our last meet and greet was in an H’mong village sitting among glowing green, lush rice fields. The village is in an idyllic valley with stilt houses dotting the landscape. A shared cup of tea and some locally made banana wine, peanuts and bananas – and all traditional social mores had been adhered to.

What a cruise, what an experience and what about Vietnam for another cruise? Don’t mind if I do.

Friend or pho?

  • Around and beyond World Heritage listed Halong Bay, there are 1,969 dramatic limestone islands and rock formations dating back 20 million years.
  • The lotus is the national flower of Vietnam. All parts of this sustainable plant can be used or consumed and as most homes don’t have foil, the leaves are used for wrapping food for cooking or storing.
  • Pho is an aromatic stock-based soup with noodles, and beef, chicken or tofu – eat for breakfast lunch or dinner!

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  • The durable conical hat worn by farmers is called ‘Non La’.
  • Be flexible – monsoon rains could change the river levels and perhaps change the itinerary – enjoy the adventure.

Writer, Bev Malzard enjoyed extra time in Hanoi before and after the cruise and will cobble a few city images together for another blog in a couple of weeks. Here’s the writer with a lion, not quite extinct in Vietnam yet. 

This article was previously published in www.mydiscoveries.com.au

 

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And below, a reminder to do our bit while travelling, start small and don’t accept the plastic bags and take your own water bottle.

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The (almost half) year that was

The (almost half) year that was

I was reading a colleague’s ‘year of travel tales’ and thought I might put my 2018 up in lights too. After a few trips last year that were diverse in their locations I have many warm memories and hopefully some insights into what makes the world tick outside my limited realm. Once I began looking through my diary and picking my brains I realised that one year was too much to fit into one blog . . .so half (well, April) a year to begin with.

Southern City

At new year in 2018 I visited Melbourne with my partner and another friend, nothing planned but called it a holiday. The theme became Street and Wall Art (one of my fave subjects to write about). Melbourne led the way in Oz before other cities and country towns saw the benefit of exposing these fab young artists’ works, the tourism draw and total fun for the locals.

What I learned in Melbourne: Always take an umbrella, no matter what time of year you visit and always have a cake from the Ackland Street bakeries. Life is too short to miss one of these confections. Also discovered the charming Chinese Museum in Cohen Place.

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During the Sydney summer, I mooched around town and my suburb going for walks; heading to the beach, and going to the amazing St George Outdoor Cinema. We go to see two movies every season and the thrill of the big screen lifting up from across the harbour, the music coming on and flights on bats swarming through the twilight sky is a very Sydney night to behold.

Bali beckoned

And what was deemed another ‘holiday’ was an eight-day stay in Bali. Landed and straight up to Ubud for R&R. Four days of bliss. And the day we arrived there was a full-scale royal funeral happening .  . . thousands of people packed the streets. It was such a colourful and joyful event – and event it was. Stayed at Honeymoon Guesthouse (this is not a sponsored post), big room with air-con, pool in the grounds and a good brekkie. The Honeymoon s owned by and Australian woman, Janet de Neefe and her husband Ketut Suadana. Janet was the person who started the Bali Writer’s festival, an internationally respected annual event. Her idea for the festival was after one of the bombings in Bali when morale was low and the island needed a boost.

After Ubud we spent two days in Seminyak at the fancy Hotel Indigo and decided that’s what fancy resorts/hotels are for, staying in and resorting to chilling out. It was so damn hot we just dipped in and out of the pool all day, ordered cold drinks and hot chips . . . nice way to spend the day.

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Last two days at Sanur, so peaceful and laid back it was almost dull. But the Art Hotel had a funny roof infinity pool (pretty ordinary brekkie), nice cheap room, and close to cafes and restaurants.

See: https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/05/01/bali-then-and-now

What I learned in Bali: buy a cheap hat when you get there, don’t try to carry your good hat on a plane and from place to place. Go to a cooking school for a day’s course. Take moisturiser that is water-based. Don’t order the chicken Parmigiano on Jetstar. See https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/03/19/bali-cooking-class

 

Benalla the beautiful

Only 24 hours after landing back from Bali we were barreling south from Sydney, heading for a little town in north-east Victoria, Benalla. Stopped off on the way to stay in the wine town of Rutherglen to visit old friends for hippy, happy days in Greece many years ago (that’s an entirely different story).

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https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/06/04/where-the-art-is-try-a-country-town

Benalla’s Wall to Wall Art festival (see above link) was a blast – in a quiet country way. Yet again, exposure of art to locals and the huge crowd it draws from all over. The baby boomer crowd are the travellers who follow the art around, and check into the festivals and know what they like!

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What I learned in Benalla: Eat out early. The first night there we ate at the local Chinese and it was pretty good. Next night looking for a restaurant at 8.30pm was more difficult – only the Colonel and his chooks beckoned so we opted for a frozen lasagna, fruit and yoghurt from the supermarket, nuked the dinner-in-a-box in the motel microwave and happy as a couple of Larrys.

Going through last year’s diary between trips I have scribbled: pool; write; pool; write blog; record ‘Barry’; pool; walk; DEADLINE; write; cocktail event; find images today – urgent; find so-and-so to commission a story; pedicure; send proofs; movie; pool; Walking Dead starts tonight; buy food; hairdresser; bake a cake; write; DEADLINE; pool; writers lunch; walk; catch up on blog writing . . .  my exciting life!

Nimmitabel – who knew?

Ranked as seventh highest town in Australia (1082m) Nimmitabel is a tiny town (320 population) in the Snowy Monaro region 37km south of Cooma in NSW.  I rolled into this town when the two shops had shut – so the place resembled a ghost town. But life hums along quietly here and I was to visit a friend who is a quiet achiever, a legend in some small circles – a man who, with his partner has been rescuing wombats left along the highway. He raises them, looks after them 24 hours’ a day, has them eat him out of house and home (true), travels far and wide to find fresh grass when the drought gives nothing and then he teaches them bush craft and how to live in the wild. There’s not a native animal or bird that someone has found and not brought to him to look after when it has been shot, neglected or run down by cowboy drivers. His name is Garry Malzard.

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What I learned in that region: After having lunch at the cool little village of Jugiong, don’t distract your driver and end up in Canberra when you’re hoping for reach Sydney. AND the area around Nimmitabel has the only true chernozem soil in Australia, a very rich, fertile and dark coloured soil.[3]

Admirable Adelaide

Next Aussie destination was Adelaide. The Adelaide Central Market. The markets, the markets, the markets . . . best in Oz (IMHO). Shopped and ate.

Headed to the Fleurieu Peninsula – stunning coastline with roaring sea rolling in and vineyards crowding the land. A precious part of South Australia, this region boasts many splendours – one of which is the Star of Greece restaurant that sits on the edge of the cliff with views along the cliffs and beaches of Port Willunga.

The Star has been there for many years and until a recent makeover it was a basic beach shack. And it is still not too up itself and offers conviviality and a homey ambience. No fancy pants here – just the real deal.

img_0123What I learned in Adelaide: Get out of town and visit the amazing D’Arenburg Cube . . .go see for yourself. Eat anything fish and chippy! Buy curry spices from The Adelaide Central Market.

Last stop in Oz before the middle of 2018 was a six-day trip to Tasmania. Two days in Launceston, and then a drive to Freycinet National Park to stay in the Coastal Pavilions – glam accommodation and the region home to the famous Freycinet oysters – so wish I liked them as people say they are the best!

Then on to Hobart in one of the worst storms the city had seen in decades – see link below.

So that’s me up until the end of May 2018. I didn’t realise I had such a good time last year . . . I will ponder on the second half for another post.

https://travelgaltravels.com/2018/06/18/tasmanian-ancestral-home-beckons

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