May 4, 2017

Cruising the Red River with Pandaw

I have never taken a voyage aboard one of the popular big ship cruises but I am a fan of small ship river cruises, especially in Asia. I love river travel. Asian rivers are dynamic. They transport people and goods plus many towns and cities grew up along waterways.  At low water time the fertile shore become gardens. The small cruise voyages like those John and I have taken with Pandaw include everything: accommodations, meals, twice-daily guided shore trips, local beverages, evening programs, personalized service, and even the tip is included making it a stress-free, value-laden vacation. 

Our ten-day cruise on Vietnam’s Red River included so many special activities.  Small villages often make one specific product. I especially enjoyed watching villagers make paddy hats, furniture, metal items, fashioning bonsai trees, cooking local sweets, and going about their daily life.  There were also very special programs. Before returning to the ship one day, even though Lunar New Year was over, Pandaw had arranged for a
private lion dance to be performed on a jetty - they even brought chairs from the ship so we could watch in comfort. Another day we went to a temple where a group performed a traditional folk song, “Hat Xoan.” “Hat Xoan” is seeking recognition as a world cultural heritage to be preserved. Xoan singing is believed to have been developed during the reign of the Hung Kings (2890 to 250 BC). It has been passed on within certain families for generations.

One of my favorite cultural shows in North Vietnam is the Water Puppet Show.  I have been to the theater in Hanoi a couple of times.  Puppeteers stand in water behind a screen to operate the puppets that relate various Vietnamese legends accompanied with drums and cymbals. The shows originated in the paddy fields during the 11th century. The water puppet show planned by Pandaw was not in a theater but performed outdoors just as it used to be.  Many local people gathered around to enjoy the show.  

The shore trips often included unique transportation: tuk tuk,
ferryboat, or a row boat.  There were bikes for those who wanted to bike instead of walk. At the end of each shore trip we were greeted at the vessel by staff with a cool, lemongrass-scented towel and a fruit drink. We left our shoes with another staff member who cleaned them and returned them to our room.  How is that for service? 

There were also on-board presentations including traditional music
and dances. One day there was a cooking and fruit carving demonstration?  Each evening there was a presentation often a movie featuring Vietnam. 
Each evening there was turndown service along with the agenda for the next day on our bed. There were only 22 passengers on the cruise – same number of staff!  The passengers were mainly from England and Australia. There were lounge chairs at various places on the deck for those who wanted to read or just watch the world go by. The accommodations were comfortable with a desk and a roomy (for a ship) bathroom with a shower.  And, there was internet most of the time. 

One evening was magical.  We stopped at a sandbar in the middle of the Red River. The crew built a bonfire and set up white-tablecloth dining with a bar on the beach for a BBQ under the starts.