Halong Bay, Vietnam, Asia
We woke up this morning after a surprisingly good night’s sleep at Astoria Hotel and packed up our things. We had a very basic breakfast at the hotel, but it was enough to give us the energy we needed to get through the morning. In hindsight I wish I had eaten more, but I’ll get to that in a bit. We were picked up by the tour company at 8am and we were in a pretty nice little minibus for the ride to Halong City. There were only nine of us in total for the boat trip tonight, so the bus wasn’t too crowded. The group consisted of Dad and me, two American guys (Ben and Dominic), two Polish born Canadians (Theresa and Bishek) and three Aussie guys (Matt, and two others…).
It was a four hour drive from Hanoi to Halong City and we made two stops on the way. The first was at an art store where you could see about thirty workers embroidering pieces of art with a lot of colored thread. They were very impressive, especially from about 10 feet away, it looks like it would just be a painting. They were very expensive though, so there was no chance that was going to be my piece of Vietnamese art to bring home. We stopped there for about a half hour and then moved on to the next stop which was a pearl factory. Again, the tour guides were just hoping for a little commission if we bought anything, but I wasn’t too impressed.
We finally got to Halong City at about 12:30 and boarded our boat, the Eclipse. It was really nice, and pretty big for such a small group of us. We started out with a lunch that was at least seven courses, and six of them included seafood. I’m sure it was very good seafood, but since I’m not a fan, I didn’t eat much more than sticky rice by itself. This is when I was really wishing I had eaten more at breakfast time. Ah well.
We had a really nice sail around Halong Bay and arrived at the Cave of Surprises. Our group got onto the smaller ferry boat that we were trawling and headed into the cave with our guide, Peter. That wasn’t his real name, but I’m guessing his Vietnamese name would have been a lot more difficult to pronounce. The caves were pretty impressive in size and by the lights they set up inside. All the different color lights gave a pretty cool visual effect. We walked around the caves for about a half hour, and then took the ferry to a floating village. This is exactly what it sounds like. There are a few platforms set up near each other that can only be accessed by boat, and people live on them. They have fish farms, schools, temples, and everything they need set up on the floating platforms.
One of the other things they do on the platform is rent kayaks. This was an inclusion in our boat trip, so Dad and I hopped into a kayak and set off into the bay. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We were out there in the harbor, with no cameras, just taking in the sights. This was quite the rarity, so it was a very nice change. We spent about an hour kayaking and we saw some pretty cool caves and floating villages. The people in Vietnam have been so friendly, it’s been a great surprise. I was told to expect the Vietnamese to be some of the coldest that I would encounter on my trip, but we haven’t experienced that at all. They are almost always smiling and very willing to help.
We got back on the ferry and came back to the Eclipse for the night. We watched a pretty spectacular sunset from the boat and then got ready for dinner. We had dinner at 6:30pm and again it was almost completely seafood, but this time there was one plate for me. There was a chicken stir fry that didn’t taste great, but at least it wasn’t seafood. We sat with Theresa and Bishek for lunch and dinner and they were a lovely couple. They come to Hong Kong every year for a jewelry trade show and check out a different country while they’re out here. Theresa was also nice enough to bring me some Polish sausages since she knew I wasn’t a fan of seafood. They must have had a little stash of food because after dessert Theresa came back to the table with a thermos full of Baileys. That was a great treat and a wonderful way to finish off the evening. We sat at the table till about 10:30pm talking and then finally called it a night. We’re getting up at 6:30am tomorrow for breakfast, but at least in the bay we don’t have to worry about any big swells or anything. It should be a very quiet night for sleeping.