Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Vietnam Vacation: Day Two

The view of Ha Long Bay is beautiful.
[The previous day, we had arrived in Hanoi and checked into our hostel before exploring the Old Quarter. We mostly ate and hung out while overlooking the big lake. It was a lot of fun, but we were ready for some new experiences]

The next morning, we woke up ready for a new adventure. We would be leaving for Ha Long Bay where we would be staying for the majority of Sunday and Monday. We waited in the lobby of the hostel and were finally taken to a large van that already contained a few passengers. For the next 15 minutes, we picked up new people until our van was full, about 18 in all.

The drive took almost four hours. It was a bit frustrating to have to be sitting for so long, but it also allowed us to see a great deal of the Vietnamese countryside. We saw a great deal of construction, some factories, many small towns, fields of many kinds of fruits and vegetables, rice paddies, cows, goats, and a bunch of gas stations. Most of the natural surroundings were beautiful. I wish we could have stopped along the way to check some things out.


Rest Stop

Waiting at a rest stop, watching the rain
After a couple of hours, we stopped at a place that is basically a rest stop. In the United States and Korea, rest stops usually include a gas station, restrooms, food, a convenience store, and some benches. This place had a smaller food court and a gas station, but there was not a real convenience store. It had kind of a dried goods shopping area with nuts, books (many in English; including 1984 and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, along with books about Vietnam), little statues, and other trinkets. However, there was also a shop with people sewing clothes and rugs and those types of things. We saw all the things they made, but I really was not looking to buy any clothes at this time. There was also a huge section of expensive jewelry, mostly diamonds, and a lot of huge statues and pottery for sale. Most everything was way overpriced. We ended up buying a couple of smoothies for an okay price. If you are going on a trip like this, make sure to bring your own water and snacks. Buying them at this place, or these kinds of places, is a rip off.

It's Boat Time!

Woman walking in the rain while we wait to board a junk boat
Soon we were back on the road. A few hours later, and with the rain pouring down, we reached the dock where a ton of people crammed inside a building, hiding from the rain. There was a bit of confusion, but our group ended up in line getting our tickets. We each carefully entered the small boat that would take us to our actual boat. One girl unfortunately slipped and landed in a sitting position while getting on. The rain had made the floor extremely slippery.





A short, choppy ride later, we made it to our main boat. It looked small from the outside, but once we entered, it seemed to have plenty of space. +Jackie and I had a room with a private bathroom. The bed was nice and large. That is great because I love my own personal space in bed! (That is not totally true...) The dining room was large and comfortable. It was pretty classy-looking. We learned that Jackie and I were the only Americans on the boat. There were people from England, Australia, India, and some other European countries. They were all really nice and personable. We ate lunch, really good Vietnamese food and beer, and decided what to do next.

The view from our room

Going on Adventures

The group decided to try and get to the cave and kayaking as soon as possible because the weather the next day could be even worse. First, we boarded the little boat and headed over to a cave. The ride over was full of mist and fog. Rain fell on and off. The little islands popped up from behind the fog and rain, full of trees. It looked like something from a movie. I still can not really believe I was in this place and not simply watching it on television.


The cave allowed visitors a short tour through the rock formations and pools of water. Our tour guide explained the much of the history behind the cave. He also gave us a run down of all the local folk tales surrounding each rock formation. It was very interesting. Each formation had been well lit with odd-colored lights. All the reds, oranges, and greens created an eerie scene. Then, at times, it would remind me of Joel Schumacher's terrible Batman Forever. That made it hilarious! A short time later, we left the cave and went to our next stop: kayaking.








Now, if you know me, you know that I do not know how to swim. I never really considered it a priority to learn the skill. When would I ever be faced with a lot of water? Well, I now was. Everyone was going kayaking, and I wanted to try. The wind blew a bit, but the water was not too violent. The rain had stopped for the most part. It would sprinkle on and off. Jackie used to teach people how to kayak and happens to be an expert. I could not ask for a better situation as a novice kayak-er and swimmer.

I changed into my swimming trunks on another boat. Our tour guide said I could change in the tiny kitchen. I was in there changing out of my shorts and underwear while a guy cooked about a foot away from me. It was a little awkward. Nevertheless, I made it out to the kayak and slowly lowered myself into the seat. I was given my oar and we pushed off.

Jackie taught me how to do it. It took me a little bit of time to get the hang of it, but I eventually was able to help move and navigate the kayak around. We got over to the floating homes of the locals in the bay; they acted like we were not there. That is just as well because going over to see them made me feel like I was treating fellow humans as zoo creatures. It was just weird. Anyway, we managed to go around some of the islands, or whatever the giant, tree-covered rocks protruding from the bay are called, and docked at a tiny beach. Jackie and I switched sides and paddled back to dock. I had a great time kayaking, something I never imagined I would ever, ever do. The only real negative was the huge amount of trash floating alongside us while we were near the homes on the water. Also, there is no photo of me doing this. So sad.



Next, we traveled over to a nearby island with a beach. We climbed to the top of a small mountain on the island and took lots of pictures. The entire climb was aided by stairs. On the beach, we hung out in the water for a while just talking. Nearby, people played soccer, some played volleyball, and others simply relaxed and hung out. But the sun was going down and we had to get back for dinner.




Back on the Boat...Dinnertime!

We returned to the boat with a huge appetite. Our dinner tasted great. It included those roses made out of tomatoes and a bunch of vegetables cut to look like flowers. Super classy! After dinner, we hung out and talked in the dining room. Eventually, a bunch of the girls started playing cards. We floated out in the bay for the entire night. You might think that it would be hard to sleep while in a boat, but it was extremely comfortable.
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