Halong Bay mist

Everything on the ship was wet, but it wasn’t raining, it was just so incredibly misty. Together with some 20 people I had just boarded the Dragon’s Pearl junk for an overnight cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

During the previous days I had studied the weather forecast with great interest, hoping for the overcast days to end just in time for my trip. And the forecast did indeed show that the sun would pierce the clouds just around my boarding time. But the otherwise rather pessimistic site that I regularly consult (yr.no, I like it just because it is slightly pessimistic and it’s much nicer to get a positive surprise than to be disappointed) proved to be wrong this time. No sun. Just thick clouds.

But as soon as we had left the busy harbour my disappointment turned into sheer fascination: the seascape was unreal, all black and white (except for the flags adorning the junk), with the tiny islands and cliffs almost floating. It was nothing short of magical.

I soon got used to everything being wet too.

We moored in a little bay where some people, most people actually, went canoeing. I wouldn’t ever have dared. What if I couldn’t find my way back?? Sometimes my imagination is just a bit too vivid.

While we were moored the captain raised the sail, I suppose only because it looked pretty. There was absolutely no wind and the ship wasn’t going anywhere.

As darkness fell, the magic continued.

As soon as I got out of my cabin early the following morning I felt that the air was different. I touched the railing and it was dry! There was still some mist, but it didn’t look the same.

The morning programme was one of these tourist visits to a pearl farm, where my fellow passengers on the junk showed very little interest in buying anything at all. However, I had just the previous day lost a necklace with a pendant in Hanoi, so I actually welcomed this visit since I thought a little pearl on a chain might be a good replacement. I found what I was looking for, and that indeed awoke the buying instinct in the others! The pearl farm made good business that morning.

The embroidering ladies in Sapa

“Come sit down with us”, said the lady with a warm smile (the one looking at the camera in the photo here below). Rather, that’s what I concluded that she said since she gesticulated to me to sit down as she pulled out a traditional very low Vietnamese stool for me, like the ones they were sitting on. She was embroidering with a group of friends in the village Nam Cang, in the Sapa region.

The inhabitants in Nam Cang are of the Red Dao minority tribe. Ladies very often wear the traditional head dress you can see here and look at their pants: embroidered all over in a geometrical pattern. And they all seemed so welcoming.

Of course I accepted the invitation and sat down with the ladies. The verbal exchange was somewhat limited: I spoke to them in Swedish and English, and they addressed me in the Red Dao language. But they had no problems understanding what I wanted to know about their embroidery: yes, they had made their own pants and they often sat in that particular spot, central in the village, together. They sold a few items, including bags and purses (which they showed me and which I found difficult to resist buying), but no pants. At least they didn’t have any available there and then. I would have loved a pair.

On the previous day I had had my first encounter with a Red Dao lady with a warm smile. She was with some friends at a popular panoramic view stop on the road from Mu Cang Chai to Sapa. They sold a few items that they had embroidered and also other things such as ginseng roots.

On the way from Sapa town to Nam Cang there were ladies embroidering along the way and as we arrived at our lodge, the Riverside lodge, the ladies working there were sitting by the entrance, busy with embroidery.

One of my worse subjects in school was embroidery. I was very impressed by their skills.

After dinner there was a surprise concert for us six guests in the lodge. Three ladies were singing and three men played traditional instruments. The trumpeter had some issues with his mouthpiece, so he went to the kitchen to sort out the problem in order not to disturb. All the while the ladies were singing. He blew forcefully. His efforts were more than audible in the dining room and it was hard not to laugh at the cacophony when the wailing trumpet sounds mixed with the singing. I admire the ladies who just kept on, totally undisturbed. The mouthpiece problems were eventually sorted out and the performance could go on as planned, ending with us all, singers, musicians, staff and tourists, walking around the dining room in a procession.

 

Who can say no to happy water?

We stopped in a small village near Ha Giang in northern Vietnam for no other reason than to see if there was anyone around who would invite us in so that I could get some insight into village life in these parts.

My guide, Hung, who had a great talent for immediately connecting with people, spotted a lady working in front of her house.

Although we were clearly disturbing her, she greeted us kindly and invited us to stay. She continued with her chores though and called her husband who was on his way out anyway, having heard unknown voices.

He didn’t seem surprised to suddenly have complete strangers at his door, greeted us with a big smile and asked us in. He headed straight towards some big plastic cans at the back of the room and got a bowl out. He filled it from one of these cans and offered it to us: it was his home-made happy water, distilled rice wine. I’m not so fond of strong alcohol, so I was a little hesitant – I certainly didn’t want to offend this kind man by declining a sip, but at the same time I was afraid that I might make some kind of grimace against my will when I got the drink in my mouth.

But I needn’t have feared anything: his happy water wasn’t at all sharp and it had a nice soft taste. I didn’t have to be persuaded to have a second sip (we all drank from the same bowl).

I asked about a photo on the wall, and it was, as I had thought, the couple’s wedding photo.

They looked very happy on the photo (as people usually do, luckily), and they seemed to be just as happy today. Before we left, the man filled an empty soft drink bottle with his happy water and handed it to me as a farewell gift. What hospitality!