Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cinnamon sails, Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam....

As we move into the seasons of pumpkin pie and hot spiced cider I am reminded of the rich cinnamon colored sails of the entrancing boat on which we cruised Ha Long Bay in Viet Nam.

A fleet of classical wooden Paradise cruise ships, in a variety of sizes, awaited us when we arrived at Taun Chau island, about a 3~hour drive from Ha Noi.

I was immediately captivated with these classical wooden vessels, rich with history, detail and tradition. 

The humidity was so thick when we boarded condensation had formed on our doors, but as soon as everyone was on board, the AC kicked on, evaporating these water shields. I loved the old~world porthole windows and room numbers on each of the stateroom doors. 

Each of our rooms had intimate little decks where one could relax privately to watch the world sailing by. 

Here's what it looks like from the exterior, so charming.

"Ha Long Bay" translates into the "Bay of Descending Dragons", so named because of the extremely steep rock formations that fill these waters. The belief is that these peaks were formed by dragons diving from the sky into the sea, creating these deep crevasses in the process.

The lounge chairs on the top deck were an ideal place to relax and take in the views. 

I couldn't get enough of this combination of dark wood, white painted wood and those luffing cinnamon sails

slowly negotiating along this dramatic scene of verdant spotted rockery.

Optional excursions were available during the day. 

We took an incredible hike through the massive Dau Go Cave, fashioned with lighting and pathways so you could see all of the stunning natural beauty...  including an abundance of ancient Stalagmites and Stalactites

No single image can convey the grandness and complexity of this cave, I think it took more than an hour to get from the entrance to the exit.

Floating villages along the way offered local snacks and seafood.


This buoyant supermarket provided a little bit of everything...  roasted sweet potatoes, ciggys, vino, peanuts, plums, ritz crackers, snickers bars, oreos, pretzels and a variety of beers!

As we were approaching a beach one afternoon I spotted some bright flags on the lower section of this towering formation. 

I'm not sure, but I think this is someones dwelling {maybe it's some sort of a cave?}, and {I'm thinking} this is their little patio looking out, with railed stairs leading down into the water. 

Could that be possible?? 

Très exotique!

After our hike, we hung out on a sandy beach with a bunch of monkeys, and these two.

We also did a little shopping on the cruise. 

With the aid of her bamboo handled net, 

we were able to buy these gorgeous pearl bracelets, I love every single imperfection. 

While I admired these cinnamon sails from all different angles and viewpoints, I think I enjoyed them the most in the morning while practicing Ti Chi with the instructor on the upper deck as they languished in the soft morning breezes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dumplings at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong....

I wonder if they still served those delicious dumpling at the breakfast buffet at the Mandarin Oriental hotel during the recent uprisings? 

It's hard to believe that the serene situation that welcomed us after our long flight to Hong Kong was right in the center of the protests.

When we arrived at the hotel we were beyond grateful to have a chance to fall into bed to regroup, and recalibrate our brains and bodies for the new time zone.

They seem to have thought of all of the comforts of home to help us through the process, including this attractive control center filled with useful amenities (including a magnifying make-up mirror!) 

The various levels of curtains that were hung in the room gave us a chance to customize the lighting. If one couldn't sleep they could let a little light in to this desk area, but draw the next set of curtains (where the bed is) so as not to disturb any sleepers. 

I think it is always interesting to see how hotels manage to maximize their minimal space to suit the needs of their guests. The layout in this bathroom does just that. Rather than take up an entire wall of space for the sink, they have it jutting out in the middle of the bathroom. This gives guests access to the sink from either side. The ghost seat, that fits under the sink, allows this plane to double as a vanity table, and the pivoting double-sided mirror that is on the outside edge of the sink/vanity let's one make sure everything is A-okay both coming and going..... and that dark gray marble is very soothing to the weariest of eyes.

Somebody had their thinking cap on.

It is impossible to describe how wonderful this shower felt in the morning (evening??). 
The levers and the shower heads both pivot so you can set up the ultimate cleansing rainstorm to help wash away all of that jet lag!

I'm not sure if this sign was leading up to the protest or not.... but I liked it, somehow graffiti always looks betting in another language.  I actually think it is referring to music (masuk).

The hotel is filled with beautiful Chinese art and artifacts. Many of the hallways were adorned with framed lengths of beautifully embroidered silk.

A great idea for bringing depth to wide open spaces.

And of course, all hallways (eventually) led to that fabulous breakfast buffet! We loved the expansive mix of delicacies we found here. They clearly make the effort to try to please the palates of the broad international mix of guest who come to this famous hotel.

My personal favorite was the local cuisine. I loved exploring the stacks of petite bamboo steamers that looked like little gifts (see image above).  Each steamer ensured the ideal texture and temperature was maintained for these delicate dumplings filled with a variety of meats, seafoods and vegetables.

This beautiful golden honeycomb was also a popular stop, you could scrape the honey off the comb and drizzle it over a combination of homemade yogurts, dried fruit and nuts.

I didn't even take a shot of the fresh juices, because no image would do justice to those pitchers of incredibly fresh and hydrating watermelon juice we enjoyed. There were also pitchers of fresh orange and grapefruit juice and plenty of other interesting, refreshing concoctions.

And then, everywhere, there were the chandeliers. Sometimes, large chandeliers can look a little too grand in these hotels, I think. But they really made some brilliant choices here. First of all, the crystals are not all the same, by using a mix of shapes and sizes in the strands the piece looks more interesting and natural, more like a stream of water reflecting sunlight that an over-the-top formal light fixture.

The sheer size of some of these pieces was incredibly impressive, the sparkling waterfalls were found pouring down from the ceilings above and dripping through several stories of open stairwells throughout the property.

Thank you to everyone at The Mandarin Oriental, for helping us start our journey off right. 

Ready to continue the tour?

Next stop: Viet Nam. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Falling for fall...

There's nothing like a trip to the country to make you to really fall in love with fall, the intense colors, the sweet, crisp, fresh air and that unmistakable feeling of transition. 

A few cowgirls headed to the ranch this week to savor all of the laid back bucolic beauty it had to offer and even herd up a few heads of cattle.

The sprawling hillsides were gloriously covered with shades of green and gold and the skies were thick with clouds tinged in grays, pale purples and blues.

This background was a beautiful contrasts to our horses coats and manes at the Horse Creek Ranch,

Horse Creek Ranch image
where we brushed up on our riding skills and enjoyed the countryside on the backs of our gorgeously coiffed four legged friends.

The bright colored leaves offered even more contrast and looked stunning against the drying grasses and the lichen covered bark.

And as if that weren't enough natural beauty, the waxing moon quietly climbed up over the hills, as if on cue, while we were taking a golf cart cocktail cruise to explore the grounds.

I hope you have a chance to getaway and enjoy some of the splendors of fall this weekend!