Lan Ha Bay and back in Hanoi for great food and shopping Bun Cha, Cha Ca Thang Long, Ca Phe Pho Co coffee terrace, Silk Road Hàng Buc


:What a day. At 6 am, I stood on the sun deck of the La Paci cruise boat and took in the spectacular scene. Moon dropping on one side of the South China sea, sun rising on the other. Clearer blue skies than the day before showed the massive jagged rock formations in the Bay in even greater relief. We set out in the little “tender” motor boat to La Hah Bay, a more secluded part of Halong Bay (and the reason I chose this particular cruise.)

We parked at a dock and piled into bamboo boats, each with an oarsmen (or in one case, oarswoman). We glided through an opening in one of the massive rocks with giant rock pieces hanging down after passing about 7 monkeys jumping around on the rock. They were black bodied with golden heads, lumpars according to our chipper guide “Anthony” and endangered. I envied the kayakers near us.

After lunch (not good), we ferried back to land and waited amidst a sea of international travelers for our bus back to Hanoi. Reminded me of our long gone days as young travelers and I can see how this trip might be a little strenuous for older folks (older than us 😚) although we have seen several hardly older European travelers.

Back to the rush of Hanoi, where we immediately made up for lost dining time on the boat (I mostly skipped the boat food) and went around the corner from Hotel Anise to one of the best Bun Cha (grilled pork) stalls in the city at 34 Hang Than. (it was among several recommendations our street food guide Mark kindly sent us for Hanoi and beyond. How great!)

We happily sat on plastic stools at a metal table to eat bowls of salty crisp bbq grilled pork slices and pork cakes in a broth served with noodles, greens and chilis and crispy spring rolls. Later we found Ca Phe Pho Co, a famous coffee house we had missed the first time…turns out it’s way in the back of a deep narrow building that is a worn former merchants mansion, You walk into a storefront gallery and silk shop, down a corridor and then up and up and up a narrow spiral staircase to an outdoor deck was with a surprisingly view — of Hoam Kiem Lake, with its famous red bridge and pagoda. Wow.

We got caught in a sudden downpour (we have yet to have our raincoats in hand at the right time) and ended up shopping along Hang Buc, the silk shop street, finding several gifts, all very reasonable. We are supposed to bargain, I think, but are not good at it. The prices are already so cheap. We had a late dinner trying another Hanoi speciality- Cha Ca, a savory catfish that you finish at your table, throwing scallion greens and dill from a big bowl into a skillet with pieces of fish atop a table Cooker. The restaurant (Cha Ca Thang Long) serves only this dish. After the fish is cooked, you bung it in a bowl with noodles, greens, peanuts, chilis and dipping sauce. Fresh and delicious. And dinner (Cha ca, a beer, watermelon for dessert and tea) cost $8. Each. We later realized we were charged less, maybe because we didn’t get as much fish because we arrived shortly before closing. This was our first sit down restaurant.

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