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I Haven't Been Everywhere But It's On My List I love to travel and experience the world but part of the fun for me is documenting those experiences through photography and writing. Follow along with me and enjoy the ride!

We're On a Boat: Ha Long Bay

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 22 July 2015 | Views [286]

The Bay at Night

The Bay at Night

Ahoy there!
Yesterday we set sail for Ha Long Bay (after a 4 hr bus ride from Hanoi).  We left the hotel around 8am and got to Ha Long City just after noon.  We hopped on the dingy and puttered off to our cruise!  We were given a few options and ended up choosing the slightly more expensive option and it was more than worth it!  When we got to the docks it was clear that the tour companies were running a pretty tight ship (pun intended) because the tourist shuffle was unbelievably fast and easy.  We got off the bus and our luggage was loaded into a giant cart that took it down to our dingy.  Less than 30 seconds after we had disembarked, another group who had just finished their tour were piling on to the same bus.  We were ushered toward our dingy, all given fluorescent orange life jackets and we were off!  
It was a short and pleasant ride to the boat because it was our first glimpse of the beauty of Ha Long Bay (the harbor view was NOTHING compared to the views that were to come!).  We got to Viola Cruise, were given some refreshments then went to our rooms to get settled.  After that, we headed up to the sun deck and got to know some of our travel buddies.  There were 14 of us in total - 2 couples were from España, 1 couple from Qatar, 1 couple from Scotland, 1 couple from the Philippines, 2 friends traveling from Australia together and Jeanette and me.  Baz and Shane were childhood friends and we quickly became friends. 
We had a great time enjoying the nice weather and getting to know everyone and after about an hour we were called down to board the dingy again - we had reached our first destination!  The first stop was Sung Sot Cave, also known as Surprising Cave.  It was absolutely massive!  It had been done up a bit to make it more appealing to tourists with lights, stairs, etc. but it was still a beautiful wonder of nature.  Similar to our experience at the Grand Canyon last summer, Jeanette and I cannot wrap our heads around how something so seemingly benign as water can create such beautiful natural art.  It's just water!!  After about an hour of exploring the cave with our hilarious tour guide, Victor, we boarded the boat again and headed for the beach!
It was nice to cool down a bit in the water, but we had really high expectations after the absolutely amazing time we had at Shek O Beach in Hong Kong that this was a bit of a disappointment.  The water was just barely cooler than a luke-warm bathtub and it was the beach all the cruises (there are HUNDREDS that go through Ha Long Bay) take all the tourists so it wasn't exactly the cleanest.  Despite this, it was hot and it felt good to be in the water.  After a little more than an hour, people watching, and eavesdropping on travel stories of other tourists, we headed back to our cruise.  
Ha Long Bay, which means Descending Dragon, was recently named an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  According to local legend, when Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight agains invaders.  To assist the Vietnamese ind defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors.  This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade and these jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall agains the invaders.  Numerous rock mountains quickly appeared on the sea and enemy ships crashed into them and each other.  After winning the battle, the dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of Earth, and then decided to live in this bay.  The place where the mother dragon descended was named Ha Long (Descending Drag) and the place where the dragon's children wriggled their tails violently was called Bach Long (Dragon Tail) after the white-color foam made by their tails.  Ha Long Bay features thousands of limestone rocks - this type of rock is actually slightly soluble in water so they are particularly susceptible to cave formations.  The bay is also home to almost 2,000 islets of various sizes and has been through 500 million years of geological evolution and transformation.   
We returned to the boat and were thrown a Sunset Party, though it was a bit too cloudy to actually see the sunset but we had good drinks and good company so it didn't matter.  Then we had a huge meal and shared a table with Baz and Shane.  We were laughing, joking, and learning the wonders of each other's land the whole dinner then topped it off with some delicious drinks.  When everyone was done with dinner, a few of us went down to go squid fishing!  We were given a bamboo stick with a plastic lure then the guide walked away.  We later found out that it wasn't squid season and it seemed like a pretty fat chance that we were going to catch anything.  We were all excited when we saw a few squid though!  After "fishing" for about 40 min, we decided our efforts were in vain and we went back up to the sun deck, which we were now calling the moon deck, and chatted all night!  
The Scottish woman was a teacher studying to become a principle so we got to hear all sorts of crazy stories (she had to suspend 1 girl who brought in 8 handles of vodka trying to fit in and get invited to a party) but it was interesting to hear that high school wasn't much different half way around the world.  The woman from Qatar is actually from Australia and works in global sporting events - she has worked the Sydney Olympics, the Asian Games, and the London Olympics.  Baz, from Melbourne, works in outdoor education and was telling us some of the stories about kids who have had to be evacuated on his trips.  We stayed up way past our bedtime swapping stories and having a great time!
The next morning we were up pretty early, had breakfast and made our way to a floating fishing village.  We hopped off the dingy and all lined up to get in our kayaks.  2 by 2, our group departed into the bay in their kayaks until it was just us and the Scotts left.  The Scotts got in their kayak but all the paddles that were left were broken and barely held together with duck tape - but, hey, at least they had kayak!  A few men were walking around talking in what seemed like slightly frantic Vietnamese and our tour guide told us just to wait but it looked like Jeanette and I were out of luck and we would be enjoying the view from the dock.  Only then did we see a fleet of Kayaks rounding the bend coming back after their excursion. Whew!  The Scotts got their paddles, and Jeanette and I got our gear and we were on our way.  
We had an hour to go explore the bay on our own and it was an incredible experience.  To see the giant limestone rocks jutting out of the sea up that close was breathtaking!  We saw how water had formed caves at the bottom of the rocks, thousands of crabs scuttling at the water line, and the bright green of the trees growing on the islets.  We paddled over to an old building that looked like a tiny temple with Chinese characters painted on the front door, though we couldn't figure out exactly what it was.  For much of the trip, Jeanette and I just paddled or floated in silence taking in the beauty around us.  Words can't describe it and the pictures are great but they really don't do it justice.  You truly have to see and experience it to believe it.  
After the last kayak of our group glided into the dock, we hopped back on the dingy and went back to our boat.  We had some free time to relax and enjoy ourselves after we both took a quick shower to rinse off.  I never really realized how content I am just sitting on a boat watching nature happen around me but it was so peaceful I wished I could stay there forever.   My daydreaming was interrupted by an announcement that it was time for our cooking class and we were going to make the traditional Vietnamese dish of spring rolls!
They set out all the fillings for us - pork, cucumbers, green papaya, shrimp, fried egg slices, and rice paper - and we got to choose what we wanted, fill up our rice paper, roll them up and dip the in the fish sauce!  They were so tasty!  After we all made (and ate!) 2 or 3 spring rolls, the chef came out to show us how to make a carrot net.  The night before, the chef had made a delicious fish and garnished it with a net made from a carrot and all of us had decided it must have been a machine.  Even after he started slicing the carrot, none of us really believed it would turn out looking like the net we had seen the night before.  He took a whole carrot and stuck a kebab stick through the center then made a series of slices 2 slices on opposite sides but at the same distance then rotated and moved down the carrot 1/8 in or so and made 2 more slices on opposite sides.  He kept rotating and slicing until he reached the bottom of the carrot then turned it on its side and shaved off a very thing layer of the carrot.  In his hands it looked like tiny carrot slices, similar to what you would see in a store bought bag of iceberg lettuce.  But then he took the slice and pulled it apart and it was in deed a net!! Check out my Vietnam 2015 album to see his amazing handiwork!
After the cooking demonstration and lunch, we pulled back into port went through the tourist shuffle in reverse and were back on the road to Hanoi.  It was an incredible 2 days and I am so happy we did it.  It was an experience we will both remember.  


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