During our trip to the Handicraft Villages around Hanoi, we spoke to our guide Mr Hung, regarding food in Hanoi. Among the places recommended, was a place for Pho, Pho Cuong. We mentioned that we hadn't enjoyed our previous encounter....but Hung assured us that this place was "the best", and very close to our hotel. As with all the recommendations we received, whether by people we knew, or by people we met in Vietnam, this rec' was seconded, this time by one of the staff at the hotel. I was still not sure if I was ready for another bowl of Pho, but we went to the alley right in front of Dong Xuan Market, and found the Bun Rieu booths weren't ready yet...so I thought what the heck. And ended up just up the street from Pho Thin.
As we arrived, we realized that we had walked past this place yesterday, and I had remarked about how busy the place was.... The Missus, walked right up to the cooking area; fascinated at how quick the whole process was.
The photo on the right is one of the Missus's favorites; She always cracks up when She sees it....."You could place that Guy in any Pho place in San Diego. He has the universal Pho gear....white shirt, pad, with pencil at the ready. We should take photos as all the places we go to, and do a line-up, and see if people can figure out which one was taken in Vietnam!"
First the noodles go for a dunk in the boiling water:
Then the meat....rare beef, and fatty beef(like brisket), is given a dunk.
All covered by the broth, scallions, and a sprinkling of pepper. Meanwhile, even though your Pho is ready in a flash....your check hits the table even faster!
The broth, was darker than the version I had earlier....
The rare beef was a slightly chewy, but not bad. I enjoyed the fatty beef, nice flavor, if a bit high on the fat-sinew scale. The noodles were a bit wider than noodles in the US, and the texture was more like Bun...it had no elasticity. Better than Pho Thin.......
After finishing my bowl(16,000 VND - $1), I told the Missus; "ok, no more Pho, no matter who recommends it......"
23 Hang Muoi St
The Missus waited to eat(other than the Banh Gio we had earlier) until we returned to the hotel. Right outside the Hanoi Elegance 2, on Ma May Street were a group of street vendors.
One of whom sold this....red bean porridge.
Which the Missus couldn't wait to get Her hands on.......it brought back many childhood memories.....and She even waited around until the woman finished making the Glutinous Rice Dumplings with Mung Bean Filling.
She grew up eating these in China....brought back nice memories for Her. We also, met a nice young lady who worked across the street, and had a delightful conversation. She practiced English, and asked many questions, and we got to ask about life in Hanoi.
All of this happened before 8am! Soon enough our van loaded us up for our trip to Halong Bay.....
In Vietnam, they don't tell you anything, Part 1:
After the 3 1/2 hour trip, we entered a crowded parking lot......hundreds of people milling around.
The driver pulled up, and simply said, "ok, you get off now...." And every question asked was answered with that statement, "you get off now...." So we all got off, and kind of huddled together, and just waited..... the driver drove off......and we waited. Eventually someone came around to meet us, collect out passports(!), and walked off......and we waited.....and finally we were herded onto a boat that ferried us out. But it was a fairly disconcerting hour and a half.... When we returned from our overnight boat "cruise", we watched the same thing happen to the next batch of "wide-eyed and confused" travelers....
But Halong Bay is lovely!
The classic photo.......
It was overcast, but that just added to the sense of mystery.
And some of it was stunning....
If a bit crowded....
One of our favorite parts was the walk to Hang Sung Sot(aka "The Amazing Cave").
We enjoyed the walk through the cave, and our Guide Lan, was amazingly kind, and very patient, especially with a very demanding, rude, and borderline bi-polar visitor....who would be making demands and being very rude one minute...and a second later would be sweet and nice! One of the features of this cave, which is comprised of 2 huge chambers is the "phallic rock"...which is illuminated by pink lighting!
The view from the cave is simply beautiful......it's where the first photo was taken. Also, off to the right is a view of an enclosed lake.
Which I found beautiful.
This merchandising lady was very resourceful.
She was on one end of dock when we arrived....and moved to the other end as we left.
Our cabin was cozy.....we thought it funny that the shower is in the middle of the bathroom....how do you keep the toilet paper dry??? ;o)
And even though it was near the engine room, and the kitchen, that wasn't an issue, because we were up early anyway. Lan was an excellent guide......She had spent time in China, and was fluent in Mandarin, and had a blast chatting with the Missus.
Everyone anchors in the same spot for the evening, and it almost seems like a city on the water.
Thank God for jet lag......we got up at 430 am, and managed to have a few moments of peace. No sunrise because of the overcast skies, but we'll take the wonderful solitude....most everyone else had been up late, except us.
The following morning we moored at one of the floating villages.
Kayaking around the village and bays was enjoyable.
Even with the intermittent drizzles.....
The Missus was proud of Her "kayaking classes", "aren't you glad I took kayaking classes? NOW ROW...."
And She did take some nice photos....
Sorry, no photos of the food....which wasn't bad, 6-10 courses every meal, with some interesting items, many of which seemed Thai-Khmer influenced...and some odd things like French Fries. Most of it was mild as to appeal to the most pedestrian of diets, which we expected. I did manage to take a photo of the galley...
We also got to know a couple from Minnesota, currently living in Singapore, visiting with their son, who was impressively well mannered and behaved. Thanks to them(thanks Tomi!) we got a lead for a driver in Siem Reap.
Someone did email me, asking if Halong Bay is worth it....I'd say without a doubt, yes! Perhaps just once.....the Missus and I thought that things were a bit crowded(many, many boats), lots of fumes, and when you actually get close to the water you notice the amount of oil...and plastic bags/bottles in the water. I'm hoping this is eventually addressed, because it is a treasure.
The crew of the Santa Maria were very nice, and the price of $97/each is very reasonable. There are only 8 cabins on the Junk, so you are able to carve out your personal space.