The night before our Ha Long Bay boat trip, we went on a Hanoi Street Food tour. We met up with our sweet guide and she took the group to several ‘hole in the wall” type places. Some eateries were outdoor grills stations with small stools, while another had regular seating inside (regular seating in Vietnam is often a kiddie size chair) but with the chef running her kitchen front and center outside. We had a really nice evening and tried some very interesting things (coffee with a raw egg whipped into it? actually good!) but at some point on the tour James ate a pork spring roll that induced a horrible case of food poisoning. He felt well enough to head out to Ha Long Bay in the morning, despite the scary prospect of a 4 hour ride there from Hanoi. At the ocean we boarded a beautiful small ship straight out of a film about old Indo-China. Our cabin was dreamy and french doors opened on to the back deck, which felt like our own private area! Sadly once James was shown to our cabin, he basically never made it back out of the room.
The boat made a few stops, one to visit a floating fishing village that lives in the central part of Ha Long Bay in an area protected by the islands. The most interesting sight was their fishing technique; they held their fishing rods with their hands and rowed the boat with their feet! That evening Ed and I enjoyed a 4-course dinner, which poor James suffered through still feeling sick. The next morning Ed and I left the ship to explore the incredible Sung Sot caves. Its a never-ending cave system, that starts with a narrow entry way but the stairs lead through to a massive chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites. It was amazing! Even Ed - a GEOLOGIST - was impressed. Back on the boat we all napped in the sun on the top deck as we headed back to the mainland.
We returned to Hanoi relaxed and James was finally food poisoning free (but never again to eat a fried pork spring roll), in time to celebrate Christmas. After the hard realization that I should have made a proper reservation, we wound up having a wonderful dinner at Porte d’Annam. It felt festive for the western holidays and offered delicious Vietnamese winter specialties. St. Joseph’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Hanoi, was just down the street and we stopped to watch carolers singing in English out front. With a light silk shawl around my shoulders it felt just like “winter”!
Hanoi was a wonderful city to spend the holiday week in and the BEST place to Christmas shop. We were treated so well in Hanoi - from the hotels, to the restaurants, shopkeepers, and everyone we encountered. Sharing the odd and beautiful sights, sounds, tastes - the feast - that is Hanoi with Ed was definitely the ultimate Christmas gift.