DAY 48: May 29th.
I’m writing many entries now in hindsight- it’s been about a week since I left Halong Bay. Typically a week would still render tons of details and memories but something tragic has happened in that week. While I constantly adjust and pivot to small inconveninces- this was a MAJOR horror story. I’m currently lying awake having just ended a long controversial family conversation with Kim.
Anyway, I was dozing off and I heard nails and screeching in my room. I’m in an eco-friendly bungalow with not the best insulation. I like it here but to explain it better… everything is solar powered, no WiFi, no AC and a compost toilet. My room is separate with a curtain door to the toilet and then an actual door to the shower which is a Jack & Jill style, there is no one in the conjoined room. I’m thinking the rats (ew) are in the area by my toilet. I first thought they were under my bed. I now have all the lights on. So… Halong Bay, or was it Tralong Bay?
Halong Bay tour from Hanoi
I had booked this tour before arriving to Hanoi. I knew I wanted to see Halong Bay, another UNESCO site checked off my long list. I’ve actually never seen the UNESCO list. There’s an app for it but I don’t have storage for anymore apps- the World Heritage UNESCO app; I need to save space for pictures. This is another tour I booked with One Trip. I chose the full day option that guaranteed to take me to more remote parts, with less tourists. It would also include kayaking and fresh lunch from the fishermen.
When I originally booked I was told that based on the commute alone it was a deficit and would be cancelled without more guests signing up. Turns out Sarah and Audrey book things at the last minute. My trip was confirmed just a day and a half before departure. And luckily it would only be 3 of us and 2 guides. I really liked these 2 guides and wish I could remember their names. I blame this on my tragic week.
What I do remember is: one was a young girl studying to be a teacher. Well studying in the teacher field to have the Uni paid for, she doesn’t actually want to be a teacher. The other was a young man on his second degree; he was studying business management and typically is in charge of payroll with One Trip. They were asking us about ourselves as well. We had a 2.5 hour drive followed by a boat ride.
I told them how much I loved VietNam and my obsession with Hoi An. I even joked about needing to marry a vietnamese man so I could buy property there. Of course this made our girl guide suggest her male counterpart- he was funny and went along with it, calling me his fiancé for the duration of the trip. The two other tourists just finished college; they lived in VA. Audrey studied computer science and would be moving to Seattle. Sarah studied enginerring and would be moving to DC.
They’d only just arrived to Vietnam but sadly wouldn’t be going to Hoi An. We stopped for breakfast as well as snacks on our commute. Eventually we made it to a ferry. The ferry took us to Cat Ba island and then we took another car to the bay. We were on the southern end of Halong Bay. We were in… Tralong Bay.
Arriving to the Bay
When we arrived we boarded a very large boat; it would be the largest one we would see that day on the bay. Even our guides kept commenting on its size. They were used to larger groups with smaller boats. Ours was 3 stories and we were provided a cooler of water and beer. Us girls cracked open a beer to celebrate our travels as we cruised along the bay. The crew, 2 guys and my fiance/guide stayed downstairs.
Unbeknownst to us they were making a huge spread of seafood and things to eat for lunch. There was also 4-legged animal options but I was so excited for the seafood. I knew it was fresh! I had jellyfish salad; they said it was raw- it was delicious. Then shrimp, fish, and squids. The food was all amazing and fresh. I was impressed they were able to make all of this so quickly. I guess we had already been cruising for 2 hours. I was just highly amazed by the talent.
kayaking in Halong Bay
After lunch we cruised a little longer passed some sea villages in the water. We finally made it to our kayaking spot. I chose the male guide to kayak with me. It was our pre-honeymoon. I kayaked with him mainly because our female guide doesn’t like the sun and wanted to nap. We ended up kayaking for twice as long as normal. We went through a couple caves. We spotted some giant eagles and some little swallows. Our guide was surprised at how excited us Americans were to see the eagles. He thought we must have them all over the states since it’s practically our mascot. We informed him it was rare.
He kept pointing them out as we cruised. It was hard to catch pictures of them but they had massive wing spans, even from the water I could tell they were big! We were lucky enough to come at low-tide and go through the secret cave to a private lagoon. The cave is so narrow only one person can row, and even then, it’s difficult. There are also many jagged rocks to avoid while staying within this narrow, tube-like path.
I was happy to have a break from paddling. I could just sit back and anticipate the end of the tunnel/cave. My imagination ran short of reality. This lagoon was stunning! The four of us had it all to ourselves. I would’ve loved to swim but we spotted jellyfish earlier in the bay. I could’ve stayed there longer but eventually the cave would close and we would find ourselves stuck. We went back the long way for more views of the limestone cliffs. We saw many oysters on the walls of the cliffs as well as crabs. We even caught a swimming crab on our paddle.
I think we all had a great time. I really enjoy kayaking and am thinking about kayaking in the Tidal Basin when I get back to the DC area. I’m also moving to CO. soon- at least that’s the plan right now. I’m sure there is plenty of kayaking there.
Getting back to Hanoi
We made our way back the same way we came. First to Cat Ba island to catch our taxi to the ferry to arrive to the mainland and taxi back to Hanoi, with a stop at the same rest stop. We first drop off Sarah and Audrey, who are traveling together. I recognize where we are. Although it wasn’t far, it took about 10 minutes to get to my place because the driver went back to the highway to retrace his steps. Perhaps it’s a one way road at night because of all the tables lining the streets. We were in a blend between a bus and a sprinter van- except not as nice inside. Earlier, Sarah and I envisioned how we would flip the van into a house on wheels. If only… this van would be perfect.
I finally arrived and the gracious staff at Cocoon impress me again. They offer me a place to shower and change for my day of travels. They knew after my excursion I’d be off to the airport and on my way to Manila… they didn’t know how long that day would truly be. My final destination was Boracay.
HAN to MNL
They had a taxi for me at 22:00 and the driver let me pick the music. We started with Dive by Ed Sheeran. Then YouTube did it’s thing but it kept repeating songs so I chose another and somehow it ended in rap. I’m still confused by this.
I continually was lucky at the HAN airport. I was in a long line for check-in and the business class line was empty. Right as I was about to turn into another zig zag where a family of 6 had planned on cutting me off, a crew member asked me to check in at the business class desk. So she pulled me from a huge line, at least an hour wait, to go straight through. This happened again when it was time to board.
I was hungry now and most places were closing up. I was thinking Banh Mi but settled on Pizza. This turned out to be a mistake. I ordered pepperoni but they said they only had chicken. I asked for just plain cheese instead. They asked if I wanted ketchup on it… Umm, no? Then they kept looking at me like I was weird, “just cheese?” “Yeah, like sauce and then cheese and no toppings” I replied. I thought I’d explained it well enough. Then a lady behind the counter shows me the ketchup bottle and points to the words tomato sauce. Oh, brother! This is how Vietnamese people make pizza. Whatever. I said sure. Then they didn’t do it and brought me a circular cheese bread; except it wasn’t as good as cheese bread. I made a ketchup, salt and hot sauce combo dipping sauce and ate my american food in another country. At least I could charge my phone and the food was still edible.
I went to my gate shortly thereafter to find out we were delayed. We started to board about an hour later. They asked me to check in on the business class side and avoid the line. However, I still ended up in a regular seat. Well sort of, I had the window in the emergency exit aisle. So, extra leg room but no arm rest. It’s ok, I made it work. I must’ve fallen asleep because I don’t remember getting our customs/border forms. The lady next to me pointed to the pocket in my seatback.
I filled these out promptly, ready for my next stop: Boracay.
Reading this back now and having researched more about airport etiquette and tips from flight attendants. I’m starting to think I was pulled purposely- targeted to be in the emergency seat. Did you know they did this?
I guess I am flattered.