Saturday, October 21, 2017

TRAVEL | Our Ha Long Bay cruise experience (Part 3 of 3)

Continued from:

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Thien Canh Son Cave all lit up.

Thien Canh Son Beach and Cave
We approached an island with a small patch of white sand, one of the very few throughout the bay. This was Thien Canh Son Beach and here we were treated to a barbecue lunch by the beach. It was another great multi-course meal with turnip salad, a host of different grilled stuff, some rice dish wrapped and cooked in tin foil, and fruit.

I don't eat okra (I guess it's the slimy texture that turns me off) but here--and oddly enough--I devoured them. The okra was grilled and coated in a mildly spicy sauce (sambal, I guess), which somehow eliminated all that unpleasant slime. So yes, I guess now I'll eat okra, but only as long as it's cooked this way.

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Thien Canh Son Beach. Too bad swimming is not allowed here.

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Our crew busy with the grills.

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What a lovely setting for lunch, don't you think?

However small, the beach was nice. The water was very inviting but unfortunately we were told that swimming is not allowed. Our guide said that while Indochina Junk has secured exclusive rights to the island and cave, they weren't granted a permit to allow guests to swim here. Such a shame, I know.

Shortly after lunch we started hiking up a flight of carved out stairs to check the cave. Our guide gave us a brief background on the cave, how this and many others were used by local fisherfolk as shelter from the elements and all that.

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Come in.

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All lit up so visitors can fully admire the formations.

The cave was all lit up by artificial lights. While I have mixed feelings about this practice just to please the tourists, what really appalled me was that they seemed to have leveled off parts of the cave--for what else but the convenience of tourists! I haven't confirmed it but a closer inspection of sections of the cave grounds suggest so. Some stalagmites and rocks even look like they were rearranged! Otherwise, how were they able to conceal all the electrical wirings? But then again that's just my suspicion.

For whatever it's worth Thien Canh Son Cave is still a fairly nice cave. Expect it to be really humid inside, though.

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Thien Canh Son's main chamber.

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What goes up must come down. And so down we went back to the beach and later, our boat.

We came back to the beach and the umbrellas and chairs were now all lined up in a single file facing the sea. Just for a few more moments of relaxation. But to me it was torture because we couldn't swim.

We again anchored somewhere in the Cong Do area for the night. At dinner our guide (I still can't remember his name) introduced the entire Dragon's Pearl crew. The chef also showcased his food-carving skills with a pair of doves, a dragon, and a replica of our boat.

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Sailing through views like this will forever be awesome.

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One-half of the pair of doves carved out of turnip and resting on a piece of chayote.

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Back view of the dragon carved out of squash.

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A replica of Dragon's Pearl made of watermelon and squash.

Vong Vien Fishing Village
The following morning we set sail for Vong Vien Fishing Village. From what I've deduced from one of the signs at the floating receiving area, the place is merely a conservation site of 24 floating houses for tourism. While some 260 people used to live in the area, in 2014 they have been relocated to the mainland to improve their living conditions.

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Our small boat approaching the docking area.

We boarded smaller boats in groups of four. The uniformed rowers were all women, who immediately handed us traditional conical hats called nón lá. We paddled through placid waters and yet more limestone formations, then through floating houses and even more limestone cliffs.

Our rower said absolutely nothing all throughout the "tour." I understand they may not speak good English but for how organized they all are here, I wished the rowers said something--even memorized spiels like the ones in the Underground River in Puerto Princesa, Philippines--so we could at least gain a few insights into what these fishing villages are. We just saw floating houses, some men wading in the water doing I don't know what, a pair of dogs barking at us, and a cat.

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An advantage of being on the last boat: we get to use the first two as photo subjects against the surrounding landscape.

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Selfie time with our nón lá.

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Will anyone ever get tired of these views? Approaching the floating houses now.

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Poor kitty.

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These dogs weren't very happy to see us.

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Local fisherfolk in action. But with nary a word from our rower, I had no idea what they were doing. Some aquaculture thing, perhaps?

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Another one in action. Still a clueless me here.

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Oh, hey, a small Chinese junk!

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Just admiring the view here.

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Stunning formation.

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No, we weren't going through that hole unfortunately.

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Some aquaculture thing, I suppose.

Our little boat tour ended at the "Pearl Farm," where they gave us a demonstration on pearl farming and harvesting. There's also a jewelry shop of course, though none of us cared to buy anything. I found them quite expensive actually.

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Giving us the lowdown on oysters and pearls.

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Force-opening an oyster to check for any pearl. Quite graphic when I think of it.

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They harvest the pearl while the meat goes into food and the shells, crafts and jewelry. So, no waste, the lady said.

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Freshly harvested pearl.

Lunch and goodbye
Back at the boat we were given until 10am to pack up and clear our rooms. From hereon we had to stay at any of the decks until lunch. I've read that this is a common complaint among those who've booked cruises--which I share, by the way, because you're denied 1 to 2 more hours of rest (or sleep) and air-conditioned comfort--but I think it's a standard practice among operators. This seems to be the crew's window to clean all the cabins in preparation for a new batch of guests right after we disembark.

Lunch was served in the air-conditioned dining room. We stayed here until docking. In between people settled their respective incidentals at the bar. I saw that it's best to pay in cash because one couple was having a problem with their card due to poor signal.

Shuttle bus ride from Ha Long to Hanoi
We soon found ourselves back at that same seaside waiting area until our rides came. It was a different van this time but the features were similar to the first one. We also stopped at one of those tourist traps selling food, souvenirs, and gigantic stone sculptures.

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Yes, these humongous items are for sale, which they'll ship to almost any country.

After some 3.5 hours, we were back at our hotel in Hanoi.

In hindsight
Some may be content with only an overnight cruise or even a day trip but for me the 3D/2N option is the best because it's more laid-back. It allows you to experience Ha Long Bay instead of just giving you a mere taste of it. However, with minimal activities and where most of the time is spent, well, cruising, this tour is not for everyone, more so kids. In my opinion it's best suited to couples and solo travelers. It's a venue for relaxing and practicing the art of doing nothing.

As for our choice of operator, I say Dragon Pearl Junks was a good decision. Nice boat, great staff, good food, and I did appreciate the less-crowded route. It wasn't perfect but overall it was a good experience, good enough that I want to do it all over again. But of course I also want to try the more luxurious boats just for the experience.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

TRAVEL | Our Ha Long Bay cruise experience (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from:

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Endless variations of these limestone rock islets along Ha Long Bay.

Bai Tu Long Bay
And so it began: the seemingly endless sight of limestone islets jutting out of Ha Long's placid, emerald green waters. Yes, it was surreal and I couldn't stop myself from snapping photos, like I had this urge to immortalize them in pictures I most likely would rarely look at again. Eventually I grew tired but every now and then there's an outcrop or formation that I found intriguing enough to photograph.

Monday, October 2, 2017

TRAVEL | Our Ha Long Bay cruise experience (Part 1 of 3)

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Though of course different, somehow this reminds me of that vantage point going to Kayangan Lake in Coron, Palawan.

It was an unplanned trip but in less than a week we found ourselves aboard a Chinese junk-style boat, cruising along Vietnam's famed Ha Long Bay. With 2,000 or so mostly limestone islets spread across more than 1,500 square kilometers, Ha Long is a surreal experience. Yet with such a vast number of islets there is hardly any beach here and the best way to explore the bay is aboard a cruise.

The sheer number of cruise options alone can be overwhelming, with each operator offering something different. Your choice depends on what you want. Is it comfort and luxury or are you on a budget? Do you want a bigger boat with more amenities, but which means you'll have to share it with more guests, or do prefer something more intimate with fewer people aboard? Are you in for a lesser known route or are you more comfortable with what's tried and tested, but which will expectedly be more crowded? Are you pressed for time or do you want to go full 3D/2N?

As for us, we shortlisted several options and gradually narrowed them down. In the end we settled for Dragon Pearl Junks, which offered a 3D/2N cruise aboard a smaller boat with fewer guests but with smaller rooms. Here's a rundown--albeit a lengthy one--of our experience.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

FRAGRANCE | Vial trial: Boss Bottled Night by Hugo Boss

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I recently went through one of our drawers at home and realized I have quite a few unused fragrance samples--you know, those little vials in tiny packaging handed out by department store sales people whenever you buy fragrances from them. I thought I should use them. And review them perhaps. After all, my fragrance reviews on this blog tend to be generally positive because they're mostly fragrances that I bought, that I picked after several rounds of sniffing and trying stuff on at stores.

These samples, on the other hand, were merely given to me. I didn't choose them, so I think it would be a little fun to review stuff with which I don't have any biases to start with. Hence, my "vial trials!"

First off is Boss Bottled Night by Hugo Boss.

Monday, September 18, 2017

LOOKBOOK | 'Plaidly' buttoned up

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It's probably easier to wear a plaid shirt than plaid pants. Maybe it's because most pants are plain, so wearing a printed or patterned top doesn't really become a problem at all--unless matching colors already is a challenge for you to begin with.

But wearing plaid pants shouldn't be hard if we go by that logic on wearing a plaid shirt with plain pants. Just do it in reverse.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

LOOKBOOK | Gray day

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Rainy day today--with occasional wind gusts and flooding in areas to boot. While a pop of color would be nice to cheer things up a bit, I shunned all thoughts of wearing something colorful on a gloomy day. Instead I embraced the gloom and wore gray.

Monday, September 11, 2017

LOOKBOOK | Teddy bear fluffy

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Dark skies and rain have once again held court after a very summer-like hot and sunny few days. Time to enjoy this really soft and supple fleece jacket from my favorite store Uniqlo. T'was another unplanned purchase but how can I resist its softness? It's so fluffy!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

LOOKBOOK | Vacay mode in floral and teal

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I know it's cliché but where else is it best to wear florals but to the beach? For weekend getaways and other short vacations, sneak in a collared floral shirt or two into your bag to break the monotony of your t-shirt and tank top-dominated wardrobe.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

FRAGRANCE | Penhaligon's English Fern: Classic and dependable

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English Fern is my first bottle of Penhaligon's.

Despite my penchant for fragrances, I still know very little about them, brands included. Case in point: my discovery of Penhaligon's, which I've never heard of prior to that time I walked into Adora in Greenbelt 5 and caught a few sniffs. I guess the fact that their fragrances are not as ubiquitous as the likes of Ralph Lauren, Davidoff, or Bvlgari explains my ignorance. But just a couple of spritzes and I already fell in love.

Penhaligon's is a very old brand, dating back to 1870. It's also been awarded two Royal Warrants that they proudly display on their fragrances's packaging. With such a wide selection available, it was hard to pick my first bottle. Eventually, though, I settled for English Fern.

Monday, September 4, 2017

LOOKBOOK | Brown and cerulean blue

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We probably all know that brown and blue are perfect together. This mix, however, is often associated with navy or dark blue clothing and brown leather. It's a classic. But how about other shades?

Here I tried brown with a light cerulean blue shade. I probably wouldn't have thought of it if not for the shirt's print. It was an aha moment for me and I immediately remembered I had pants in almost the exact same hue. Perfect, I thought.
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