July 10, 2009

Hello from Ninh Binh, Vietnam,
We started the day with an early buffet breakfast in our Ha Long city hotel consisting of fried rice, an assortment of steamed veggies, fried noodles of different varieties, flavored and non-flavored congee(rice porage), and different fruits. The favorite for many of us was a generous bowl of noodles with hot broth. To drink we had a Tang-like juice and thick black coffee w/ condensed milk.
Our bus ride to the wharf for our four-hour tour of Ha Long bay was short. When we got there, the wharf was full of people and full of large wooden boats ready to be boarded. Our group felt like VIPs to have our own boat with an inside cabin with spacious padded seats and tables and almost 360 degrees of visibility. There was no air conditioning but the bay breeze through the windows with some oscillating fans kept it relatively comfortable. Many of us spent much of the time outside on the upper deck where under the intense sun we were cooled by the breeze. The views were spectacular. They say that there are over one thousand islands in Ha Long Bay, most of them rising quickly from the salt water to great heights. Millions of years ago, these limestone mountains were shaped into the karst formations that we see today. One of the legends has it that when the Vietnamese of Ha Long Bay were threatened by the Chinese, a powerful dragon flew over the area and with its massive tail beat the landscape to form barriers too difficult for the enemy to get through. We were very fortunate with the weather; the water was a beautiful blue-green and the sky was a deep blue with scattered clouds. We made a stop on one of the islands to walk through a natural cave. It was very crowded inside, mostly with Vietnamese tourists. The cave had large rooms with impressive stalagtites and stalagmites. Lunch on the boat was very tasty consisting of; potatoe soup, crabs, clams, fish, squid, fried noodles, rice, veggies, spring rolls, and pineapple jello. We have eaten like kings and queens on this trip!
One of the highlights of the day was a stop we made on the way to Ninh Binh; we stopped at a typical small village filled with some merchants and rice farmers. Our tour guide was sure that this was the first time this village had seen a tour bus full of foreigners in their midst. As we walked through the narrow streets, the villagers proved to be extremely friendly. They said hello and smiled or nodded as we passed by. One family graciously invited us into their humble home. While in the small back courtyard, many curious neighborhood kids congregated. One small fellow performed by doing a goofy dance for my video camera. I replayed the video on my small screen as the kids hooted and hollered all around me. Over all we have felt very welcomed by the Vietnamese. They are very accommodating and have been extremely friendly.
Another wonderful and enriching day in Vietnam!
Doug Bertanzetti


Study Tour