Ha Long Bay Excursion
Phew! I reallly thought I lost my photos! I left my memory card in the hotel computer and for an entire day, I thought it was gone for good until someone returned it, so now I’m going back into yesterday’s post to add some pics.
This is where we were — Ha Long Bay, Vietnam!
Jen, Melissa, Esther, Tammy and I got up early on Tuesday for a 3 and a half hour bus ride up to Ha Long Bay, where we’d be spending an overnight on a Junk boat. You can really learn a lot about a city and its people by looking out the window for a few hours. Here’s what I learned about North Vietnam:
1. It’s beautiful. The green that I saw out the window is not a green I can describe. It’s florescent green. Also, there are rice fields everywhere!
2. Vietnamese people are really hard workers. We saw them out in the fields doing manual labor — and carrying A LOT of STUFF on their mopeds and bicycles, which leads me to the third thing I learned…
3. You can never carry too much stuff or too many people on a bike. We saw people riding their mopeds piled high with boxes or bottles or chickens or baskets or straw. We also saw mopeds with complete families on their bikes! The most people I saw on one moped was four. Also, the law requires adults to wear helmets, so it’s not uncommon to see an adult driver with a helmet, while the todler sits in his lap without one.
4. Vietnamese drivers are fearless and moped drivers believe they can go anywhere. There were several close-calls on the way from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay between moped drivers and our bus. Even with tight roads, close cars, thousands of mopeds (with multiple people on them) and lots of STUFF, they were still trying to cram into tight spots… like the moped drivers swerving in between busses and cars.
5. Vietnamese people cannot handle semi-cool weather. Everyone in Hanoi kept scaring us about the weather in Ha Long Bay, telling us how incredibly cold it was going to be. We were almost considering buying coats, but the day we left for Ha Long Bay it was about 68 degrees and very humid so it felt like the mid-70′s. Halfway up to our destination, we realized we were the only ones in T-shirts. All the vietnamese people we saw in the streets were wearing heavy fur-lined coats, hoods and gloves — winter wear! We all realized, this is winter to them and they are freezing! Then it suddenly dawned on me why the previous night, the hotel concierge who helped us to our rooms dropped off our bas and turned on the HEAT. I was confused then, but now I get it.
So we got to Ha Long Bay and checked into our “Junk” boat with the Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians who were on the mini-bus with us. There were 12 of us altogether, including us 5 girls.
I was expecting a rickety old scary-looking boat, but the “Junk” boat ended up not looking like junk at all! It was a cute boat with a fancy dining room, nice, clean rooms on the bottom floor (similar to the small hotel in which we stayed the night before) and an awesome deck with lounge chairs.
Once we got settled in, we ate lunch of lots of fresh, interesting foods I had never seen before and cruised out to Ha Long Bay, comprised of 2,000 limestone formations jutting out of the water; some you can actually walk through, some you can kayak through. It’s a maze of caves and our tour guide Ken took us through one of them. We realized very quickly that Vietnamese people love dragons. Like consetelations in the sky, Ken sept pointing out all the dragon formations that had formed inside the caves. We could see faces and trees and other stuff, but no dragons even though we tried really, really hard to see them. Here we are in the caves looking at the formations:
Afterwards, we went to this one formation with a beach. We climbed over 400 steps up to the pagoda at the top and watched the sunset over Ha Long Bay.
Then after climbing up to warch the sunset over Ha Long Bay at the pagoda at the top of one of the formations and then climbing back down, we went beachcombing for shells at the foot of that rock formation.
We spend the rest of the evening relaxing on the deck and enjoying each other’s company. Tammy, Esther and I were beat and the jet lag sent us to bed relatively early.
The next day after breakfast, we toured Ha Long Bay in kayaks.
We didn’t have any instruction on how to steer or what to do but luckily Melissa, with whom I shared a kayak, knew how to steer and taught me.
We were a pretty good team and we went realy fast — except when we stopped to shoot photos and videos, which was often, and caused us to lag behind.
We caught up with Jen and her kayak partner, Christine from Canada:
And then we kayaked through a cave:
After we were done with kayaking, we got on the bus to head home. We stopped at this beautiful hotel called Viet House to have lunch. It had a beautiful view of the bay. We saw other tour groups there, and ran into them again at pit stop we made were bethrooms, and shops of course. It seems as though some of their biggest products are embroidery and pearls. I was careful not to make eye contact if I didn’t want to buy something. It was a little strange though, that at the pit stop with the shops, the people making the embroidery were actually there working! Now that I think about it, they looked really young…
After a 3 and a half hour bus ride, we finally arrived back in Hanoi but we had to get dropped off across the street because it was rush hour and the bus couldn’t drive down our street! Why? TOO MANY MOPEDS! Here we are trying to not get hit as we cross the street:
We capped off the night walking through the market. The streets are lined with everything you could ever want to buy and it’s REALLY cheap! There were the scarf street, the bag street, and ESPECIALLY the shoe street. Yeah, they sold LOTS of shoes. There were also people cooking in the street and selling food. There people sitting outside and eating. The thing is, vietnames people are really small and very flexible. I noted they were all sitting on little plastic foot stools. What we use for foot stools, they use for chairs!
Melissa, who is 4’11″ told me she sometimes feels America is a little “oversized” for her… but this country suits her size perfectly!
Went to see a puppet water show, did some more shopping, realized that I couldn’t find my memory card, and now I’m here. Off to explore Hanoi in the morning, and then we’re gonna visit the indiginous hill tribes of Sapa in the northwestern mountain region tomorrow night!