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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: 20.9063, 107.082
For nearly two weeks, Vietnam has been trying to deliver me a message, one of such profundity, that it is rivaled only by the depth of the Vietnamese culinary repertoire. I paid no attention to the early murmurs that started in HCMC, but they didn't stop, growing louder and louder as the days passed, until they could no longer be ignored. Vietnam's pleas had been muffled for so long, that they finally erupted into a cacophony on par with HCMC's chaotic traffic, shattering the peace and tranquility of Halong Bay, resonating between the iconic limestone pillars dotting the serene waters. "Dude ... your ass be gettin' fat, stop eating so much of our food!!!"
Vietnam served notice today, its declaration conveyed with such force, that the button on my shorts burst, skipping across Halong Bay like a skillfully-tossed skipping stone delivered with a deft flick of the wrist. It is said that the Vietnamese manage to stay so skinny not in spite of, but because of, the large volumes of food ingested throughout the day. There is some logic in this, as it's obvious that the Vietnamese are constantly snacking on something, maintaining an elevated metabolism. Vietnamese food is
also quite light, rarely loaded with protein, comprised mostly of fresh vegetables, served on a foundation of rice or rice-based starches.
Of course, the Vietnamese don't normally eat like we did here - starting the day with an all-you-can-eat gorge fest, stuffing ourselves for hours at a time on food tours, and still managing to fit in snacks and the regular meals. Imagine how badly this could have turned out had we been in a different country that served up heavier cuisine? Luckily for me, the weight gain was only on the order of a couple of pounds, but it could have been far worse had this been in a destination like Sicily. The button wouldn't have simply shorn off, the entire pair of shorts would've exploded like a salad roll overstuffed with pork!
There are a few reasons for such overindulgence in Vietnam - the main one is the typical holiday mentality of "We're on vacation, so will eat and drink whatever we like!" However, there are some other contributing factors somewhat unique to Vietnam - being so hot, humid, and crowded, a stroll to work off a large meal was rare, since we never got very far before wanting
to retreat to the calm and cool of our hotel room. It simply isn't a relaxing or enjoyable activity in Vietnam, so we hardly burned off any calories before retiring for the evening.
Perhaps the most nefarious negative influence on our waistlines was Vietnamese coffee - what makes it so rich and tasty? The usage of condensed milk is a huge factor in the pleasure of the drink, adding not only flavour and body, but also excessive and empty calories. The average Vietnamese coffee has probably 1-2 tablespoons of condensed milk, which contains 100-120 calories! It's the coffee equivalent of dark matter - sweet, milky goodness that is so dense with taste, its gravitational pull is strong enough to suck you in like a black hole!
Our mornings invariably started with at least one, usually two, and sometimes three Vietnamese coffees - do the math, and you'll quickly see where the button on my shorts disappeared to! But it didn't end there - there was always another iced coffee or two during the day and evening, and even worse, the occasional coconut coffee. That delicious, rich and creamy coconut slush? It's made with coconut milk, which packs a robust 550
Home In Halong ...
... though we were only on the cruise for less than 24 hours, we spent a good portion of it chilling on the terrace.
calories per cup. Let's say that a coconut coffee has a half cup of coconut milk and a tablespoon of condensed milk - conservatively, there's 300-350 calories in that thing But hey, we're on vacation, so it's time to indulge!
Fortunately, that button burst just a few days before the end of the trip, so the shorts were no longer required. My initial thought was that this wasn't the end of the world - since we would be stuck on a touristy cruise in Halong, there would be little incentive to keep eating, as the food would surely be mediocre. There would be no more weight gain! But then ... it turned out that the food was pretty tasty - stuck on a boat with nothing to do, other than lounge on the upper deck with beer and cocktails, and an excellent chef on board? What could possibly go wrong with our waistlines?!?!!!
While there are a few caves and beaches to visit in Halong Bay, it's really about enjoying the vistas. The little limestone islets dotting the bay are perhaps Vietnam's most iconic sight, making Halong one of its most popular tourist destinations. It really is as beautiful as the photos
Not Quite Sunset at Halong ...
... we missed the actual sunset, distracted by the two-for-one drinks during happy hour!
would suggest, but it wasn't quite as impressive as expected - the problem was that we had come from Sapa, which wound up being the most pleasant surprise of the trip. Perhaps the bar was set too high by our two days of hiking through the rice terraces, or perhaps our Halong visit was far too rushed - whatever the case, we departed Halong feeling like we had only come here to cross off another spot from the tourist bucket list.
Due to its popularity, Halong's attractions are understandably overrun with visitors, and its waters are dotted with far too many cruise boats. For those reasons, and because the kayak tour might cause us to miss out on sunset photo ops, we skipped it altogether, and hunkered down on the top deck with a few drinks. Only a handful of other guests decided to do the same, so things became eerily quiet our passengers, and those on all the other boats, departed on their kayaks.
It was then that our perceptions of Halong quickly changed - now that we could enjoy the views in glorious tranquility, we began to see what all the fuss was about. Halong is filled with tourists for
Halong Bay At Dawn ...
... though many had woken up early to catch the sunrise, we also all missed it - the sun was hiding behind the limestone pillars.
a reason - there are very few places in the world that are as ethereal as this ...
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