Saturday, April 5, 2014

Ha Long Bay

The same morning we arrived back in Hanoi from Sapa, we took off again for Ha Long Bay with Vega Tours. Four hours in a van, and we met our new guide, Slim. Friends with Tu, Slim had a similar personality. Very friendly, very chatty, and very knowledgeable.

Ha Long Bay is a place that I have marveled over for a couple of years now. It is one of the natural wonders of the world. It is one of those places that you pin on Pinterest just because of its beauty and you think, this is a place I would die to go to someday. The bay is filled with roughly 2,000 tall, mesmerizing, limestone islands that just keep rising above sea level. The islands are most amazing when the sun is shining, but unfortunately for us, and the millions who visit, the bay only sees the sun for 80-90 days a year. We had a fog surrounding us the whole time, but it was still beautiful.

We rode a small boat to get to ours, where they made us wear life jackets. This may be the first time in Asia that anyone seemed remotely concerned about our safety, so we happily played along. Our bay boat was much nicer than the others at the pier, which proves that you get what you pay for at Ha Long. Our rooms were clean and cozy, almost as nice as cruises I have been on.
We were starving, as it was 1 PM, and were more than delighted to be greeted by a delicious, never-ending lunch.

After lunch, we took a tour through Surprising Cave. We waited in the line of tourists, and it was so beautiful. The cave was a gigantic mass of stalactites and stalagmites and it was cool to see how the water once formed it.

From the cave, we got to go kayaking around the bay. Mikaela and I were blessed with defect oars, so we got an enormous arm workout, but it was worth it. I felt so small amongst the humungous fixtures of limestone darting out from the water. They are all covered in lush, green trees and shrubs, which makes it look like a scene from Tarzan. I kept thinking I would see a gorilla climbing one, but to my disappointment, there are no gorillas in this part of the world. We kayaked through a circular lagoon that was another peaceful spot. Kayaks are the only thing that can get in, as the entrance/exit rises only slightly above your head.

We again had a dinner to brag about.  Shrimp cocktail, squid, grilled fish, steamed vegetables, rice, and an amazing chicken that we raved so much to Slim about that he brought us leftovers from the table next to us. We enjoyed a few Bia Ha Noi, some games with our waiter, and called it a night very early (not before finding out that chocolate/peanut butter Oreos exist, what happy people we were!) We were still pooped from Sapa!

We woke for breakfast at 7, and by 8 were on the small boat to Ti Top. Here, we climbed 350 steps to a lookout point. Still feeling it from Sapa, I felt like I had to talk to my legs to tell them to move. At the top, the view was a bit disappointing, mainly due to the amount of fog. We couldn't even see past the limestone right in front of us. Even so, we took in what we could see, snapped some pictures, and made our way back down the way we had come up.

When we returned to our boat, it was already time to turn around to go back to the pier. For the next few hours, we got to relax on the deck and read, watching the limestone structures pass by on either side, taking it in before we reached civilization yet again.

I'd suggest Vega Tours to anyone traveling in the Northern area of Vietnam who is willing to pay a little bit more for a tour. I know for a fact that we got a better and more authentic experience in Sapa and Ha Long Bay after talking to people who chose other companies. 

I can't believe how quickly my time of traveling is going. Jordan has arrived in Thailand! Ironically, Jordan was actually one of the last people I saw at home, as I had breakfast at Bob's with him and Mike Lacasse the morning I left for Thailand. Now he is the first familiar face I'll see from home after being deprived for five months!

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