I was a little sad to say goodbye to Hanoi this morning. It felt like we just arrived and barely scratched the surface. There are definitely differences between the north and south: people’s physical appearance, the food, the culture, the way the two cities look, the differences in shopping, traffic… the list goes on. It was a fun but short stay in Hanoi – I could have easily stayed longer, but we needed to move on in our trip!
We boarded the bus and drove 4 hours east (I think!) to the coast where we reached Ha Long Bay. Our drive took us through the countryside which was beautiful. We saw rice fields, water buffalo and drove through many little towns and cities. I put on my iPod and listened to some tunes…. Life is a Highway came on (as it always seems to while I’m travelling) and I couldn’t help but think about how cool it was to be driving through the countryside, in Vietnam!
Once we reached the Bay, we took a little boat out to our junk boat that was anchored out at sea. We were welcomed as we came onboard and were handed a glass of yummy tea – I wish I knew what it was! Our boat was beautiful with wooden interiors and very lovely rooms – our shower on the junk boat was the best one we’ve had the whole trip!
After getting settled, we went back on the little boat and were taken to an island in the Bay. After trekking up about 100 stairs, we were inside a rock cave, with stalagmite and stalactite rocks. Our tour guide told us this was the first level of the cave and inside in he showed us some rock formations that looked like animals (similar to finding pictures in the clouds). We walked a bit more inside and then came to the second level of the cave. It was even bigger, but of course, the third level was the biggest. It was deep, wide and incredibly tall. Having never been to a cave like this it was amazing to see such an amazing creation of mother nature.
Following the cave, we went to the beach on a different island. We got lucky and the rain had stopped but it definitely wasn’t gloriously hot or sunny. As a result, the water was freezing – definitely colder than lakes in the Okanagan! I stood in knee deep water for a while (which is usually as far as I go) but eventually I decided to go in the whole way – this trip was about seizing the moment and doing things I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to do. Swimming in Ha Long Bay definitely was one of those things. It was probably the coldest swim I’ve ever done, and even though it felt a little warmer once I was in, it was still a pretty short swim! Before we left the junk boat, a lady rowed up in her fishing boat selling all kinds of things out of her boat… she was sort of like a mobile convenience store. A bunch of people bought 4 beer for about $6 so we had a beer on the beach.
Our final activity for the day was optional, but one I had known I wanted to do since I found out about the trip. We had time to rent a kayak and paddle around the bay in partners. So Shannon, another teacher on the trip (who I actually went to China and Korea with too) and I got in a kayak and paddled around at dusk, as the sun was setting! It was so calm and peaceful out on the water, in what is probably the most beautiful place I have ever been. We stopped paddling part way through and just sat and enjoyed the moment (with another beer). I tried to take it all in because I know there is no way to capture the experience in writing or pictures but it was amazing… definitely my favorite part of today!
The evening was pretty low-key… good food and company with everyone who came on the trip. It has been such a great group of people and professionals. The staff on the boat gave us a lesson on making spring rolls (not the deep fried ones). They are SO easy – spring roll lessons for everyone when I get home! I went to sleep with the boat anchored in the middle of the bay and our little window looking out onto the darkness of the Bay. There are many other boats similar to ours, so once it was dark, it looked like we were staying in a floating city.
We were asked to be up early so we could visit a local fishing village in the Bay. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this because that was the only information we were given. We took the little boat over the village and went in groups of 4, in a local’s fishing boat, on a tour of the area. We were shown around by a very sweet man who seemed excited to have us. He paddled us through the village which had 63 homes and a local school. He then took us to the gateway of the community which was the rock formation that had a key hole in it. We were out on the water at 7:30am so it was misty with daylight still creeping in. It was so calm, peaceful and serene… definitely a perfect moment. I could have spent hours on that boat, floating on the water, looking at the scenery of Ha Long Bay. It was easy to forget all the busy-ness, chaos and noise of our daily life… just escape to another place. By the end of our tour, this had taken over as my favorite part of the trip. Such a rare experience, that I’ll never be able to replicate or likely even experience again. To me, this was paradise!
Once we arrived back at our junk boat, I took some time to sit by myself and think about the trip. I have felt very overwhelmed in Ha Long with how blessed I am to have had this opportunity, to travel to a country like this and have all these different experiences. There is no way I could/would have organized/afforded a trip like this on my own, without saving for many, many years. It has felt like the trip of a lifetime and has very much reaffirmed my love of Asia. Having been here more than most of the other people on our trip, there is a comfort, familiarity and level of safeness that I continue to feel. Common people in stores or on the street have once again been so friendly and kind…. Whether waving as we go by, helping us cross the street (literally taking our arm and guiding us through the crazy traffic), or giving us directions when we are turned around. The food, culture and weather is unique and different from what I experience in my everyday life at home. I have loved every moment of this trip and am coming home with some memories that I will remember forever. I would come back here in a heartbeat.
In the mix of emotions, I’m missing family and friends and somewhat dreading our marathon 2 days of travel to get home. Coming home will feel good, by the time we land in YYC. I am looking forward to my own bed, seeing faces I love and telling all the different stories from my time here…. Farewell Vietnam. xo