Halong Bay: 24 nearly-perfect hours!

What is there to say about Halong Bay? Go. Just, really, go. It's indescribably gorgeous, and lushly-covered limestone cliffs (called karst) seem to just never end! I really wish I had planned for two overnights on the boat, or even three since I loved it so much.

I had booked only a one-night trip, which really is only just over 24-hours, even though they sell it as a "two-day" experience. Sadly, the fabulousness is book-ended by a pretty miserable 3-4 hour drive. Apparently, this is one of the "good" roads in Vietnam, but its certainly not great, and yet it wasn't soo bad as to be entertaining (a la India). Luckily I had some nice folks to chat with on the way up, though for some reason I wasn't picked up with the correct group. So, at port, I was escorted over to my actual group, who turned out to be really quite fun! There were about 20 people on board, mostly international couples, but as we were introducing each other around, a very dynamic & outgoing lady turned out to be from San Jose, and was actually traveling with her brother. I already, sadly, forget their names, but both of them were a riot. She was asking if I was traveling alone, and had I paid a single supplement (I hadn't), and immediately started teasing me that I was going to have to share a room. A seat or so over on the little shuttle boat a young guy piped up that he was in the same situation, so of course this lady starts wooo-ing & setting about to be a little matchmaker. Too funny. Anyway, once on board out "deluxe" boat (which was pretty basic, but actually fine), I actually got to talking to the guy, and he was super cool- from RI, but grew up on a boat mostly in FL/Carribean, & had just finished a huge surf trip. He ended up sharing a room with another hilarious fellow singleton, an older gay guy from San Juan, so nobody get any ideas!!! The three of us were joined at our table for lunch by a nice Swiss-German couple (and no, I didn't try to talk to them auf Deutsh Rebecca!). Lunch (and dinner) were surprisingly good, and very plentiful. Both started off though with the strangest thing- it looked like a clear broth soup, but was extremely gelatinous. Not solid, but extremely goupy. And not only did I eat both, but enjoyed them!! People who know me would've been amazed. :)

After lunch, we really were able to start seeing the karst popping out of the fog. The weather when we set out was really pretty bad, but it was clearing up as the day was going on. We bypassed the cave the day-trippers visit and instead went a bit further into the midst to visit "Surprising Cave". This was a quick hike up one of the limestone cliffs, and then we kept going from room to room in a surprisingly (ha!) huge cave. There were no ecological explanations really, only pointing at rocks & guessing the shapes they resembled. Also, this was no sacred natural wonder- they'd put in a walkway & steps & lights and such all over. But still- very cool. After exiting, we headed down to the floating village for kayaking time! My new buddy Zach & I shared a kayak and zoomed around to as many caves & islands as we could in the short 40-minute time limit. Sadly, my "quick-dry" pants were now soaked, but it was worth it. Really, just incredibly tranquil, even with lots of other boats in the water. Apparently, if you stay 2 nights, you can elect to actually kayak through a series of caves, which I can only imagine would be unreal.

At dinner, our table was joined by an adorably-awesome Irish guy, Seamus, who had just finished his 2nd day doing that kayak through caves. He, Zach, & I proceeded to hit it off wonderfully, and just chatted & chatted all through the night. At this point we were docked, so up on deck it was quite pleasant (around 60 I'd say?), and for whatever reason, the rest of the group just left us three on our own. (Maybe the crazy SJ lady was entertaining them all on the middle deck?). I finally had to call it a night around midnight, and left the boys to their beers.

The morning we set off early, during 7:30 am breakfast, towards Cat Ba island, where a few of our group were disembarking for a day of trekking w/an overnight on some monkey beach, Zach included. Needless to say, each time I thought it was pretty enough, we'd round another bend for yet more gorgeous scenery. Just have that on repeat in your head for about 2-3 more hours. Ridiculousness. I took so many photos, it's absurd. Anyway, after dropping off a few & picking up a few more from Cat Ba, we headed sadly back to port (sadly, only b/c it was ending- still the same amazing karst all around us).

One more meal on board (all had fresh seafood, that again, I enjoyed!) before we had to board the bus. That bus ride back started what would be over 24 hours of constant travel from Halong City down to Hoi An, which may have led to my mini-collapse I described in my last post. Still, completely & utterly worth it for the fab 24 hours I had in the bay! I tried to limit my photos, but it's really hard to chose!