Halong Bay, Vietnam
As part of our amazing luxury exploration of the ‘rocks in the sea’ (Halong Bay), we chose to select a home stay at a small village called Yen Duc. The great thing from the moment we set foot in this quaint little village was the fact we didn’t know what to expect. Upon arrival we were greeted by our village host, Na, a charmingly smiley young woman. After some ‘chit chat’ with tea and a ginger and rice soup snack we proceeded to the oldest house in the village and a chat with a real local. It becomes quite apparent that tea is a drink that unites; funnily enough one of the most used sayings in the north is “No Tea, No Talk”. An hour with this fine gentleman had us understand the truth behind Vietnamese traditions and the importance of families. A 6 metre wide family tree, certificates of age achievements and photo after photo of family members are just a sample of this. In each Vietnamese home and most buildings, will stand an alter, to offer respect to their ancestors who came before. It is not only a centre piece to provide offerings and ask for guidance in times of need, but that of an education tool for young people to understand key principles in life, very humbling and an explanation into the kindness of the people. I do believe a small explanation is due regarding the super big family tree; as we were made aware, a couple of generations ago, men were allowed to wed to more than one woman in an attempt to boast the population – which led to the Vietnamese man, with humour, to ask my partner if she would be happy with this – how times change. Reality struck home when we then were invited to take part in a couple of everyday activities that would eventually lead to feeding ourselves in the evening; first up was an introduction to making rice and then, catching our fish. The latter was a fantastic experience, mixed with adrenaline, mud and slippery fish. Photos should explain all, but essentially we were booted up, sent into a deep sinking mud invested pool with a bamboo net and asked to catch our dinner for the night. After a fairly pathetic start, we managed to catch around 6 fish between us, it wasn’t really a competition but I did catch 3, but really there were no winners…except me. That evening we tucked into that very carp, along with a billion other dishes, needless to say, we were stuffed. The next morning we woke up and was out at 7.30am slapping ourselves in the face, literally. As part of a warming up routine, we, alongside 3 staff members, were embraced in a little light exercise that mainly involved slapping your entire body (including the face) stretching and giving a standing up massage to the person in front of you – being at the front was a bonus. Shortly afterwards we cycled around the village visiting the local market, biting on a 33p sugar cane and after the biggest breakfast ever, being asked to stuff ourselves with a Vietnamese donut (sticky rice, pork and green bean), the food was unrelenting. We ended up in another locals house, but this time helping make traditional house brooms with a lovely old lady – I think she would openly admit, I properly hindered the process more than helped with my compete lack of ability to correctly shave off the outside of a twig. After a very enlightening experience, we returned back to Hanoi with a great sense of achievement, not because we went, but because we educated ourselves a little more and topped up our humble meter.