The start to our day 4 in South East Asia began with an early breakfast at the MK Boutique Hotel in the heart of Hanoi. We took the elevator up to the rooftop restaurant which overlooks the surrounding streets. The restaurant was scheduled to open at 6:30am, but the hotel staff told us we could go up earlier. We arrived just around 6:15am and were surprised to see that there was a family at one of the tables already eating. The dining room was a large square with a breakfast buffet set up along two adjoining walls. The room was modern and bright with one windowed wall opening out to a terrace with more tables set up. There were plenty of hot and cold choices on the buffet reflecting both Vietnamese and American style foods. We filled our plates with eggs, meat and fruit as well as a few pastries to take with us on our ride back to Halong Bay.
The Azamara Journey was scheduled to leave Halong Bay at 1:00pm and we had to make the 173 km car ride back in time for the 12:15pm all aboard deadline. Our guide had suggested that we leave Hanoi no later than 7:00am in order to try and avoid the extreme traffic that blankets the city during rush hour. With a metropolitan population of 7.5 million people, many rushing to the city centre at the beginning of each day, we needed to escape as quickly as possible. Even leaving as early as we did, the driver estimated our return trip would take a minimum of 4 hours.
As we left the hotel at 6:45am we could see the inner city already springing to life. Merchants were setting up their shops while scooters and motorbikes bulging with packages and people swayed through the narrow streets. We made relatively good progress through the downtown area for the first 20 minutes, but as we came closer to the outer core of the city the growing traffic continued to slow us down. I am a perennial complainer of the tedious traffic on my daily commutes in Toronto, but I have never seen as much congestion as we encountered leaving Hanoi. As we approached the manufacturing and distribution districts on the outskirts of the city we were at a perpetual standstill. It took us just over an hour to navigate our way out of the city and onto the provincial highway leading back to the coast of the South China Sea.
Once on the main highway, we made moderate but steady progress, having to slow down at the entrance to each village and then gradually speeding up again through the rural areas. About halfway through the trip, in one of the larger towns, the guide indicated that we would be taking a short break, and the driver pulled into a rest area off of the main street.
The rest area was a large covered modern market that included several different sections. One section was devoted to ornate statues cut from various types of stone. Many of these were life-size Buddha’s and other religious symbols. A large billboard in their midst contained pictures, names and addresses of buyers from around the world who had purchased statues and paid in the tens of thousands of U.S. Dollars for their pieces.
Inside the market we walked around through aisles of Vietnamese tea, coffee, spices and other locally grown products. One of the market hosts invited us to sample the tea and coffee. The tea was hot, aromatic and refreshing. The coffee was very dark, rich and robust with a hint of chocolate. We also sampled a Vietnamese treat unique to this area - green bean cake. The one inch square pieces are individually wrapped in gold or silver foil and packaged in a box similar to assorted chocolates. The texture has a fudge like consistency and the taste is subtly sweet. We decided to buy a box to bring home along with some Vietnamese tea and coffee beans.
After our brief stop, we continued to drive towards the coast, alternating between villages and rice patties for most of the way. About 20 minutes from Halong Bay, our guide pointed out the low mountain range that ran parallel to the road on our left. He recounted a story about how Ho Chi Minh, on his way from Hanoi to Halong Bay, had stopped by the side of the road and looked up at the barren hillside. He ordered that the hills be planted with trees for his people and then continued on his way. There are now large forests growing all along the roadside.
We arrived in Halong Bay at 11:00am, in plenty of time to be tendered back to the ship. We bade farewell to our attentive guide, who was going to take a 4 hour bus ride back to his home in Hanoi. The driver was local to Halong Bay, and was going to resume his local taxi service for tourists in the area. A tender was just arriving as our Vietnamese hosts went their separate ways.
We boarded the tender along with a few other stragglers and were taken back to the ship which was only a short distance away. The bright, blue sky was beginning to cloud over, especially out to sea. It looked like there might be some stormy weather ahead.
Arriving on the ship just in time to drop our overnight bags and shopping in our stateroom, we made our way to the dining room for the Officer’s Barbecue. This was one of several specialty meals that are offered throughout the cruise. Today’s menu included a variety of barbecued meats and other delicacies: roast prime rib, chicken, pork tenderloin, sausages, ribs along with an assortment of sides and condiments, all served by the ship’s officers. While we had enjoyed our daily lunches at Windows Cafe, this offering was a bit more elegant and provided some options that we didn’t usually see at Windows.
After a filling lunch, I went to the Cabaret Lounge to catch Part 2 of the lecture “China: Aggressive or Defensive”. This was a continuation of the lecture which I had attended on our first sea day. The topic focused on China’s position in South East Asia and the policies it has to its neighbours including Taiwan and Indonesia. As with the first lecture, this one was at times a bit dry, but did offer some interesting insight into the relationships between China, it’s neighbours and the United States. It seems as if there will be some contentious issues regarding territory, control and economic posturing in this region in the years ahead.
While I had attended the lecture, Kim had gone to the swimming pool to read. By the time the lecture was finished and I joined her in the pool area on the 9th deck, the sky had become quite overcast and the air had chilled considerably. As it was approaching 4:00pm and Kim was getting cold, we opted to abandon the pool and, instead, went inside to the Living Room where the afternoon’s trivia was about to begin. Today’s topic was “U.S.A All the Way”. Needless to say there were quite a few teams comprising mainly American residents. While we did manage to answer some of the questions correctly, we just didn’t have the breadth of knowledge, especially with respect to American politics that our U.S counterparts had. As on previous days when we had not fared well at trivia, we made up for it by indulging in a glass of wine and the afternoon’s tapas.
After trivia, we went back to the 9th deck and walked around the pool surveying the sea and sky. It had become quite a bit more overcast since Kim had been on the deck previously and there were dark, ominous clouds forming between our ship and the coast. The seas had also become a bit more choppy, and while not uncomfortable, we could feel a bit of pitch as the ship made her way southwest.
Following our brief walk, we went back to the stateroom to prepare to meet Karen and Geoff for dinner. At 6:30pm we gathered at the bar in front of the dining room and proceeded to our table for another fabulous meal. The chef's special this evening was lobster and shrimp. Of course we all had the same dish!
The feature entertainment tonight was the comedy and magic of Mel Mellars, a British comedian and magician whose style is a bit polarizing. While his magic tricks were entertaining and some of the jokes were witty, his particular style of comedy relies on insults and embarrassment to his audience members. The overall act is a bit reminiscent of the burlesque style using mockery and ridicule, and as a result, it fell flat for some of the audience. Though not one of my favourite entertainers on the ship, he did appeal to many in the crowd and we did stay until the end of the show.
The feature performance ended at 9:00pm and Kim decided she wanted to go back to the stateroom. I had heard that there was a feature guitarist that was playing in the Spirits lounge just outside the Casino so I decided to go down to the 5th deck and check it out. The guitarist, Teodor, was excellent and played a variety of music from various genres. I watched and listened to him play for his entire set and found the experience to be both entertaining and relaxing. I left the Spirits lounge and headed for bed in a positive state of mind and looking forward to our next port of call.
Adventures in South East Asia - Hong Kong Part 1 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Hong Kong Part 2 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Hong Kong Part 3 & Onboard Azamara Day 1 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 2 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 3 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 5 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 6 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 7 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 8 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 9 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 10 - click here
Adventures in South East Asia - Onboard Azamara Day 11 - click here
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.