We couldn’t leave Vietnam without a visit to Ha Long Bay… right. Well it actually turns out that Bai Tu Long Bay, a bay near Ha Long is just as pretty and is a bit less crowded. So we opted for a cruise in this nearby bay in a smaller boat with only 15 or so passengers. It really turned out great, and it just so happened one of my old water polo buddies Kathy Kula joined us for the cruise to finish up her own Asian trip.
After almost 20 years of not seeing each other we were hanging out like no time had passed, we just happened to be in Vietnam. We departed our hotel by 8:00 Saturday morning in a fancy van/bus like transport; Kathy and I got to catch up while the kids played their ipads and enjoyed the Saturday morning off school. We stopped for lunch and were treated to a water puppet show. The puppet show didn’t disappoint, it was a traditional play involving dragons, peasants and water buffalo plowing their fields. The kids loved it and I believe Caroline said it was one of the most favorite things she has done on the trip to date.
We continued on after lunch to the city of Ha Long, we didn’t stop long in the town heading straight to the dock to meet with our boat. We reserved our cabins on the Dragon’s Pearl Junk, to get there took we had to take a shuttle boat. After boarding we unloaded our luggage into our rooms, Caroline shared a cabin with Kathy, which caused a lot of consternation with the other girls (they all wanted to stay with Kathy), but we negotiated a truce and explored the ship. There were three levels, cabins on the bottom, galley on the second level and lounging area on the upper deck.
We boat set off and cruised though Ha Long Bay, gawking at the amazing scenery for several hours until reaching our designated anchorage for the night. We were treated to a demonstration on how to make spring rolls, then went on a short kayak ride before dinner, some of us brave souls even jumped into the water. BRRRRR…. The water was freezing, but it was very refreshing, if only we had a water polo ball. Next time.
We were treated to a fantastic dinner, the food just kept coming, there were about 9 entrees. I am sure we wasted a bunch of food, but that seems to be how they plan the meals. We went straight to bed as everybody was incredibly exhausted. The next morning we had a lovely breakfast as the Pearl motored on to our next kayak destination and barbecue spot. The weather was cloudy and misty rain, but the scenery was still amazing. The limestone pinnacles seem to go on forever and the mist and fog seemed to give the area a mystical feel. Our kayak ride went on for about two hours which was probably about an hour long than necessary for the kids so they second half was filled with lots of whining and not a whole lot of paddling but we finally got to our beach for the barbecue. The kids found lots of fun shells and coral but unfortunately the rain started and we had to have our barbecue on the boat.
After lunch we visited the Thay Cave, a large limestone cave. Our tour guide told us that the limestone islands in Ha Long Bay were formed when a massive limestone formation became vertically fractured causing many separate islands of intact limestone surrounded by fractured limestone which was eroded away preferentially. The cave had been there for quite some time as noted by the huge stalagmites and was a shelter for stranded fishermen before weather satellites.
Once back on the ship we motored to our mooring spot for our second and final night on the edge of Bai Tu Long Bay and ate dinner before heading to bed. We had way too much food again but enjoyed the Vietnamese cuisine that was offered. The kids really like rolling food in their rice paper, we might have to try that at home. The next morning the weather was much of the same… foggy and overcast. We ate breakfast and headed to a traditional floating fishing village and pearl farm. Then headed back to the dock and our waiting bus back to Hanoi.
When we got back to Hanoi, Kathy offered to watch the kids while Maddy and I had some time to ourselves Yipppeee. Thanks Kathy!!! We followed the kids and Kathy to dinner and got them settled, before going off on our own in the old quarter of Hanoi. We enjoyed a hot pot dinner and stimulating conversation.
The next day we completed school while Maddy had to finish work for vChief. Once finished the kids, Kathy and I went to lunch and then toured Hoan Kiem Lake before meeting up with Maddy and heading to the ethnological museum. What a diversity of ethnic groups in Vietnam! We all had dinner on our last night together. Coincidentally we had similar flight times out of Hanoi in the airport the next day so we shared a taxi and said our goodbyes to Kathy. Back to Thailand.