After getting back to Hanoi from Sa Pa, my next stop was to figure out how to get to Halong Bay. Luckily, my hostel was pretty helpful in arranging that — and would cut me a deal if I would agree to room with a random stranger! Luckily, my new forced-friend, Gabriel from France ended up being a great travel partner and real-life friend.
Day one of the adventure started with a lengthy bus ride from Hanoi to Halong, where we got on our cruise boat. Don’t think Caribbean adventure — think ramshackle 8-room, marginally seaworthy plodder (the rooms were really great though!)
Our tour guide brought us to a couple arranged stops, in particular through a massive cave complex where the rooms kept getting bigger, until the last one which could hold 10,000 people comfortably.
Halong Bay is made up of 1969 giant limestone rocks scattered about the water (you can remember the number because it’s also the tragic year that Ho Chi Minh died, a factoid helpfully
provided forced on us by our friendly tour guide). Yet, you can somehow still have water-traffic jams with all of the boats going in to the bay at the same time as us. After kayaking around some of the islands, we made it back for a delicious dinner, some unsuccessful squid fishing, and a night out on the water.
The next day we headed our to Cat Ba Island, supposedly the less-touristed little brother of Halong Bay, though it maybe doesn’t quite live up to that claim:
After an exhausting hike (my phone claims 103 flights of stairs, but I question that) we rented some scooters to putter around Cat Ba. Tried some time at the beach above, and even got in a few times, as riding the huge waves was something of a social event, all of the Vietnamese and Chinese tourists “whhhoooooaaa!”-ing like on a roller coaster with each new crest.
I also made a new best friend, who sat next to me while I was out with the group along the marina, who wanted to practice his English with get-to-know-you questions like, “How many beers can you drink?” and, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
Now I’ve made it to Cambodia and have just spent two days biking and traversing and climbing all over Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. More on that later!