Attention: this is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been! Halong Bay was breathtaking and a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget. It is no wonder why this place is a UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
As I mentioned in my previous post, while in Vietnam we were spoiled rotten. We had our own private guide, Nancy, and our personal driver to take us around. We left Hanoi early in the morning to make the 4 hour drive to the bay. This wasn't a typical relaxing drive, this was grip your seat, close your eyes and try to keep breathing kind of a drive. Our driver was fantastic and must have been fully aware of the terrified American (as in me) in the backseat and he was always calm and somehow resisted laying on his horn like the rest of Vietnam drivers and just deferred to flashing his high beams repeatedly when driving into oncoming traffic or vice versa. Vietnam is full of crazy drivers, too many motor bikes loaded down with families of 5 or over piled with farm animals or other various things, and other cars and trucks in various states of disrepair, or super nice cars thinking they are on the autobahn. Traffic lights, stop signs, lanes? Meh, who needs them. Everyone just drives (at great speed) and somehow it all works out. And not to mention the roads are in terrible shape, so it's not like your traveling at great speeds on nice roads. We were bumping and jostling down the roads and I learned pretty quick to keep my head leaning to the inside of the car after my head slammed into the side of the car a time or two. But, on the plus side the car was nicely air conditioned and there was a ton to look at. Water buffaloes eating grass on the tiny median of the road, endless rice paddies, duck farms, cows, I even saw some ponies grazing on the side of the road (Safety? Fences? Nah.)... it was quite pretty, really.
We arrived at the pier mid-day and were taken by boat out onto Halong Bay for our 2 day/1night on the Indochina Sails cruise.
This boat was so beautiful! Heavenly. Our stateroom had nice big windows looking out onto the bay, a big comfortable bed and a surprisingly large bathroom for being on a boat and of course it was a place we could crank up the AC. The boat was all dark wood and elegant. The top of the boat was the best part with comfy lounge chairs and umbrellas to escape the mind numbing heat.
We arrived on the boat and were served "welcome drinks" and then sat down to an amazing 7 course lunch (and of course the accommodated my food issues making me special dishes!). The food was ahhh-mazing.
We headed out past Head Island, Turtle Island, Heaven's Gate Island and arrived at Luon Cave. We got to go kayaking in the bay to explore the cave and coves. This was my favorite part of the whole trip!
Then we got back on the boat and sailed over to Tiptop island where we hiked to the top of the mountain for fantastic views of the bay and then went swimming and relaxed on the beach.
We had a delish dinner buffet on the boat and anchored in the Luon Bo area for the night. After dinner Brad got out his ipad with this cool astronomy app and we sat up on the deck looking at the starts and identifying them with the ipad. You point the ipad at the sky and somehow it knows what you're looking at and it tells you what's up there... my dad would love this.
We slept comfortably on the boat, but I woke up really early and quickly got up on deck so I could enjoy the quiet early morning. I got some coffee and sat up on the boat deck, watching boats and islands pass and I don't think it could have been more peaceful. Brad joined me after awhile and we participated in morning Tai Chi on the sundeck.
Our last excursion was Surprise Cave. I am NOT a fan of caves, but did not want to miss out on this opportunity. It was a million degrees of tropical heat as we set off for this cave and climbed the stairs with massive amounts of other people. Claustrophobia was already setting in and I wasn't even in the cave yet. Once in the cave at least it was cool and we got a break from the heat, but I was fighting the urge to turn around and run, so I just told myself to stop being so ridiculous and stuck my face behind my camera. The big spaces and the cave itself wasn't too bad, I only had one really bad border line panic attack moment when we were smushed between tons of people and had to go through a tight spot in the cave where you had to bend down and go through a little tunnel ... dislike! But there was this teeny tiny little old lady getting piggy backed through the cave by her grandson! If she can do it...! My irrational fear made me enjoy getting out of the cave a lot more that touring the inside, but at least I can say I did it and was able to have mind over matter!
It was time to go back to the harbor and on our way we enjoyed a big breakfast on board, as well as some breakfast beverages (a pina colada is pretty much a smoothie, right?!) and then went up on the sundeck where we hovered in the shade under the deck umbrellas (one million bazillion melt your skin off degrees) and enjoyed one last tropical drink.
Of course we had our exciting 4 hour drive back to Hanoi where we saw the same crazy drivers, animals and rice fields, but in reverse. I was sad to leave Halong Bay, I would have loved some more time on the boat and beautiful bay!
So, that concludes my summary of our amazing trip. I am so happy I got the opportunity to see Taiwan and Vietnam, especially so luxuriously. I could get used to 5 star hotels, 5 and 7 course gourmet meals, art, music, culture and first class plane seats (on one leg at least)! Glorious. It was such an incredible experience. It's easy to have the travel bug when you get to travel like this!
So what's next on the travel agenda? I get to have a trip home to the States in a little over a week! Excited is an understatement. I can't wait to see my family and friends. Then skiing in New Zealand is tentatively scheduled for August. It's going to be a great summer!