Heaven On Earth (I'm Serious...)
I think we're still in awe with what we just witnessed. Halong Bay has been on my bucket list for a few years and I was so nervous pulling up in our shuttle at the bay with hopes that it would live up to my expectations and dreams. But little did I know, it was one million times better than what I had imagined. My eyes were not prepared for what I was about to see (yep, I had my holy-crap-I'm-here-and-I'm-crying moment within the first 10 minutes of being on the boat)! Don't go skipping ahead to the photos just yet...I only took 200 so no need to worry.
Now, we left off having just spent 4 lovely days in Hoi An and booked a one hour flight ($50 again...so cheap here) to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. At this point we have officially traveled from south to north (total length is 1,025 miles...California is 840 miles to get some perspective). I forgot to mention but hours before our flight, Teedo received an hour long Vietnamese massage and I rode on the hotel's spin bike. Therapeutic experiences for the both of us and we were feeling as cool as a cucumber when we left Hoi An. Then we landed in Hanoi and we were back to big city chaos (but not half as bad as Ho Chi Minh City though). My main reason for ever wanting to come to Vietnam in the first place was to experience Halong Bay in an overnight junk boat. We booked our cruise with a reputable company called Indochina and decided to splurge a little on this portion of the trip to get a really great experience. Some guide books talk about rats on boats...could you imagine us cruising around Halong Bay and sharing our experience with rats. I think not, so the $20 boat tours were out. We chose to cruise to the left of Halong Bay (called Bai Tu Long Bay) to avoid all the tourist boats and after hearing some other traveler's responses, we're glad we did.
Alright, Halong Bay. I'm not even sure where to start. The name translates to "bay of descending dragons" and once again, this is another designated UNESCO Heritage Site. It is located in the upper northeast section of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. According to local legend, dragon's were sent to Halong Bay to protect the Vietnamese people from invaders. They spewed thousands of jewels and pearls that turned into limestone islands in which the invader's boats crashed into. The mother dragon and her children stayed to protect the Vietnamese...the mother remains in Halong Bay and the children, in Bai Tu Bay. Between the two, there are over 2,000 islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited and unaffected by humans. These islands and views go on for hours one way in a boat (unless, of course, they were just circling us around the same ones. If that was the case...yep, I still loved it!). Let me throw in a few pictures for a visual...
After our (bumpy) 4 hour shuttle ride east to Halong Bay, we boarded a magnificent boat called Dragon's Pearl, suited to occupy 20 passengers and 6 crew members. Within minutes we were cruising among the limestone islands all while we were running around the boat like we had just arrived at the 'Real World House.' There was our cabin to check out, other tourists to meet, the upper deck with lawn chairs to test out, photos needed to be taken, lunch was being served, and a quick tear was shed. I was so excited...and I just couldn't hide it! Bad song, sorry...hope it doesn't get stuck in your head. After lunch, our first stop was the beach for swimming, kayaking and spelunking. We dabbled in all three activities, of course.
When we returned to the boat, it was time to sit back and relax on the upper deck lawn chairs while watching the sun go down. We ordered some cocktails, played a round of travel Scrabble, and enjoyed the views as we sailed along another hour to our mooring spot for the night. Dinner was served at 7 pm and we gorged ourselves with fried spring rolls, fresh crab, jumbo shrimp, chicken with rice, vegetables, and more that I can't even remember. I recall laying in bed that night thinking 'We are so blessed. So lucky. Spending time with my mom and making memories that will last. Life is good! (as my dad would say).'
The next morning we woke to a spectacular and stunning sunrise. Breakfast was served on the deck and we were briefed by our guide as to what we were about to see today...a floating fishing village, of which there are few, with a floating school. We boarded our passenger boat (dingy) that took us to a floating village where three hundred people have lived in the middle of nowhere for generations. We were rowed in a small boat by a local woman to tour the village and school. She worked so hard to row us around. We felt a little bad but also learned that the cruise company is giving a portion of our trip dollars to the people of the floating village. We saw that the people built their houses out of wood so they float and often string them to nearby islands during typhoon season. Most houses have either no power or run off of generators which they use for only 2 hours in the mornings. Some of these one bedroom houses have televisions (which seemed a little out of place). Fun fact...twenty years ago the government initiated a required education program for the children of the floating villages. Those who complete the schooling then go on to boarding school in Halong City for high school and university. For the first time ever, families are allowed to enter and live in the city to be taken care of by their children that have met the required education.
We returned to the cruise boat and were served lunch outside (I feel like all we do is sight-see and eat. Then repeat). The last few hours were spent watching the limestone islands pass us by as we finally returned back to hustle and bustle of city life, boats, and noise.
What can I say about Halong Bay that hasn't already been said? It definitely tops my list of one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. Every turn in the boat brought a new view that seemed more spectacular than the one previous. It is a place to reflect, a place to be amazed, to cry or laugh, to see and do. It's hard to even imagine we were there. Sitting amongst all those islands darting up from the teal blue sea. Pictures will never do justice and words will never describe the beauty and magnificence of this place. You'll just have to trust us when we say add this place to your bucket list NOW! You will not be disappointed.
Thanks again for visiting! I receive a lot of messages and emails from you all and really appreciate you reading along with us. It's so fun to write about our experiences. Sadly, the last leg of our trip is upon us...Next up we will write about three days in the busy capital city of Hanoi and one day in Mai Chau, a sleepy village surrounded by mountains. I'm not sure we're ready to say goodbye yet but we're going to keep on pounding the pavement until we've seen everything we want.