Destination Asia: Of Dragons & Spice and Everything Nice – Hong Kong & Vietnam

HONG KONG

Hong Kong was the next port of call. Considering roundtrip airfare runs about $1600 from the west coast, I was glad to take advantage of this ‘jet setting’ opportunity.

It was fun to drop in for a yummy brunch and hang out with my family for the day before hitting the high seas again in the evening!

Most popular restaurants on Hong Kong are packed cheek to jowl at lunch time, so your options to dine in relative peace are either at private clubs or hotel restaurants.

Kwan Cheuk Heen dim sum restaurant

Kwan Cheuk Heen Restaurant in the Harbour Grand Hotel where we went for the dim sum brunch.

Dim sum dish with harbor view

One can also enjoy the great harbor view between bites…

Plate of crispy roast squabs

Classics like roast squabs and xiaolong bao are among my dad’s favorites.

The food, despite being in a hotel, was surprisingly good and innovative: artfully crafted ‘goldfish dumplings’ were translucent skinned dumplings in shape of the namesake fish, the baked eel was full of crispy and fatty goodness, and stuffing savory minced duck into delicate teacup-sized sesame seed ‘pockets’ livened up the dining experience.

Hong Kong X'mas Night Scene

X’mas Night Scene on Kowloon side.

Holiday night scene in Hong Kong harbor

Holiday night scene in Hong Kong harbor.

As the ship sailed past Hong Kong harbor, we made a video of the largest light show in the world (according to the Guinness Book of Records).

As lasers beam across the sky, buildings on both sides of the water sport festive holiday lights and color changing LEDs – it was a truly spectacular sight!

NHA TRANG, VIETNAM

Our first Vietnamese port is Nha Trang in central Vietnam, which is famous for its crescent sandy beaches & turquoise waters – something I increasingly shun to minimize post-vacation tête-à-têtes with my aesthetician.

The other major tourist activity, a river boat trip didn’t excite either. It didn’t seem particularly worthwhile considering we had a lovely scenic river cruise in the picturesque neighboring town of Hoi An a couple years back.

We settled on tooling around Nha Trang’s central market area and checking out local eats instead. Fortified by a succession of muchies in form of sugar cane, gelato and pain au chocolat (after all this is an ex-French colony!) we were happily occupied during our stay.

Garlic heads decorated with Christmas garlands

Garlic heads whimsically decked out for the Holidays

Trays of shrimps drying in the sun

The cadence of shrimp trays drying in the sun.

The Nha Trang Market is surprisingly big and has vendors spilling out onto the sidewalks around the market.

Po Nagar towers, a landmark outside Nha Trang

The Po Nagar tower, a famous historical landmark outside Nha Trang.

The Po Nagar temple dates back to the 7th century at the time of the Cham Empire.

It shows similar architectural influences as Cambodia’s Angkor Wat as can be seen in my photo blog  of the World Heritage Site.

Courtyard cafe in Nha Trang

The town has a number of cafés with shaded courtyards. This looked super inviting as we peered in under the scorching sun.

We had a hard time getting any cafes that would accept US dollars and ended up having to find an ATM machine first in order to join the café culture – in the shade…

PHU MY (HCMC), VIETNAM

Another one of those remote gateway ports, Phu My is a 4-hour roundtrip bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), leaving little meaningful time to explore the teeming metropolis. Luckily we’ve been to HCMC. Having toured the Chu Chi Tunnels, seen the Ben Thanh Market, and acquired the requisite (probably fake) Weasel Coffee, we decided to explore the town of Ba Ria close to the port instead.

Banh mi, the Vietnamese baguette sandwich

Banh mi, the Vietnamese baguette sandwich

The banh mi’s airy, crispy crust, coupled with the explosion of flavors between juicy savory meats and assorted pickles makes an incredible afternoon snack.

Ornate church railing

Ornate railing outside the Catholic Church.

The sun at high noon starkly highlighted the metal railing of the church ramp.

Ceramic drain cover on the Church grounds

Ceramic drain cover on the Church grounds.

The drain cover for the Catholic Church is surprisingly decorated with traditional Chinese motif of bats to attract good fortune – an interesting case of cross cultural assimilation.

A flower stall selling poinsettias

A flower stall selling poinsettias in 90 degree weather.

Sometimes it’s hard to think about Rudoplph and other trappings of X’mas when you’re practically melting in a subtropical country. It was somewhat surreal to see poinsettias in the sidewalk shop.

Bun Cha Ca, a Nha Trang specialty rice noodle dish

Bun Cha Ca, a Nha Trang specialty dish.

We missed out on a Nha Trang specialty called Bun Cha Ca. The rice noodles are served with steamed sailfish and jellyfish. The distinctive sweet and flavorful broth is from fish bones instead of traditional pork bones. Maybe next time…

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