After a short flight we arrive in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, home to 8 million people and 4 million motorbikes. We are back to mad traffic, and the bikes constantly crisscross the busy streets. There’s some horn tooting, but it’s still nowhere near as manic as the cities of India we’ve visited, and almost everyone here is wearing a helmet. After our group meeting, we go out for dinner and our guide recommends a Vietnamese sharing meal, which is a bit like an Asian tapas…. there’s a little bit of everything to try. This is a country I have been keen to visit for some time, particularly for the food and our meal is absolutely delicious.
The next morning, we are off to Halong Bay, also known as the bay of the descending dragon, where over 2000 spectacular limestone islands, formed by geological processes taking billions of years are scattered across this sweeping cove. I remember this as the back drop for several the scenes from the James Bond movie, Tomorrow never dies, and it has been recommended by several friends who had previously visited here as a ‘must visit’ in North Vietnam. We board our small boat and head off, for an overnight cruise in the stunning bay. Legend has it that many thousands of years ago the Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children to help ward off invaders from the North. A family of dragons were called upon to help. With the help from the dragons the battle was won, and Vietnam was at peace again. The emeralds which were spat from their fiery breath formed the islands and islets, protecting the land from a further sea invasion and which is now a spectacular feature of the bay. Rain has been forecast and it’s often dull and foggy here, but we’re lucky today as the sun is out. As we stand on the top deck marvelling at the scenery which surrounds us, there is a gentle breeze is blowing in our hair and we are smiling. The sea is a milky aqua and the sky is blue. The huge limestone rock formations stretch upwards from the waters and are covered in ferns and small trees. Over the next 2 days we swim, kayak into hidden lagoons, visit islands with amazing caves, take part in traditional Vietnamese karaoke and eat…. oh boy, do we eat. There are noodle soups, deep-fried rolls, gorgeous cabbage dishes (I can’t believe I’m describing cabbage as gorgeous), jumbo prawn, squid, oysters (the first I’ve ever had), pork wrapped in tofu, fishcakes, chicken and ginger and many, many more. I’m in heaven…. I think I’m going to like it here! Later when we are in Hoi An, I do a cooking class, and I am so looking forward to trying out my new recipes when I get home; deep-fried rolls, chicken banana blossom salad, Pho bo and don’t forget Mango sticky rice with a Malibu coconut sauce.
We finish off the evening with a Karaoke, our guide is enthusiastic, but it takes a few Halong beers for our group to warm to the idea. Its not long before we are in our stride, the girls singing ‘Mama Mia’, and ‘Dancing queen’ and as the night draws to a close the 4 men in our group give us their rendition of ‘It’s now or never’ which floats into the night sky across the bay. Later as we settle into our cabin with the hum of the generator in the background, I think about the song and how as travellers we are here experiencing ‘the now’ because after all one never knows when ‘the now’ might become ‘never’.