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Ninh Binh to Halong Bay, Vietnam

Ninh Binh to Halong Bay

Today’s drive would be about 4 hours depending on traffic and stuff. We left promptly at 7am after negotiating with the driver and our new local guide Quang as to when we wanted to leave. The driver agreed and we were off bright and early. We wanted as much time as possible in beautiful Halong Bay, Vietnam. For this leg of the drive I demanded to move back a row and not sit behind the driver. It was uncomfortable because you didn’t have anyplace to really put your feet, I mean you couldn’t rest them on the back of the driver’s seat because you didn’t want to constantly be nudging the driver who had to drive all this way. Again the distance between these places was less than 250 miles yet took forever due to the incredibly slow speed limit.

After a while we stopped for Happy House and for some snacks. When we walked in we saw these huge glass jars filled with alcohol and dead snakes, scorpions and other things. The alcohol was bottled together with these creatures for g-d knows how long. To the left I noticed smaller bottles and was really interested on buying them. Not even to drink, but more to put on a mantle or coffee table as a conversation piece and for something cool. I asked Quang which one I should get and he suggested this oddly shaped bottle with a smaller Tiger snake (big puffed out neck) with a scopion and ginger mixed in. The cool thing was that the scorpion’s tail was in the mouth of the snake, it was very tastefully done.

I asked Quang to ask the lady selling them how much, he responded by saying “250,000,” I said that was too much and asked him to counter with “200,000 Dong.” After some bitching and moaning which was typical when bartering, she gave in and I got the bottle of alcohol with the snake and scorpion, score! I showed the rest of the gang who “oohed and ahhed,” and then it was back on the bus.

We arrived in Halong Bay around 1130ish, great timing, weather looked incredible; blue skies, sun out, warm, perfect weather for boating, bathing and swimming. When we got the pier it was mayhem. I can only imagine how it is during the high season. People were all over the place, hundreds of boats packed their way in to the harbour, shuffling for position so they could recruit people for a day, night or two night+ trip through Halong Bay and to the islands that are part of it.

Halong Bay for ones who don’t know are 1,900+ Limestone islands, with caves, places to swim, beaches, and places to sleep. Some of them are really tall, often oddly shaped due to the fact they are limestone which seem to take unusual formations over time. We got on to our boat, which was huge for only seven of us plus Quang. Morrie and I got our room, which was number three and we were off. I immediately put my bathing suit on, changed shirts, got my music out and headed to the top deck for some quality lounging. Unfortunately it was extremely difficult to just lounge in the sun because it was so hard not to take hundreds of photos. I think after it was all said and done in less than a full day I took about 550 photos of Halong Bay, the caves and the surrounding scenery. It was so gorgeous it was so hard not to keep snapping away. My photo has probably eclipsed the 5,000 photo mark and will probably be at 7-8000 or more when it is all said and done (I plan on taking at least 1500 photos at Ankor Wat, which is one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World).

I finally said I am lounging enough with the pictures, put my music on and just relaxed. The sun was beating down on me and everyone knows I am too cool for sun tan lotion (you can never be too cool for a jacket and a backpack but the rules never said anything about sun tan lotion!)so of course I got burnt after about an hour of laying in the sun, who cares though cause I’m tan, I look good and I feel great with a tan!

We all went down for lunch before lounging and lunch was probably a top five meal of my entire trip through Asia. So many courses I could not even keep count. Andy had mentioned no pork or fish for me so it was all about beef and chicken and variations. There was rice, greens, I split a bottle of wine with Elizabeth, a white Vietnamese wine which wasn’t bad at all, and it was a lovely lunch. Then after lunch we went up to the top deck, took the photos, lounged and before we knew it, it was time to check out one of the famous caves of Halong Bay. Quang took us around the caves (mom it was limestone and fantastic, you would have loved it, don’t worry I took a million pictures of the stalactites and mites!) and pointed out various animals, creatures and other funny looking things the rocks appeared to have formed with a little imagination. The caves were also fun because I was bombarded by like six Vietnamese women who wanted me to take a photo with them and of them. First I took one with one lady, then another, then I took one of two of the ladies, and then of the whole group. They kept following me around, giggling and finally one of them said “You are handsome man,” I said “Thanks,” smiled and continued walking through the caves. Could my head get any bigger? Not sure, but I will continue to push the envelope.

After the caves, the gang got some ice cream pops being sold at the end of the caves, good thing because it was so damn hot out and humid that I was dying for something cold. Elizabeth snapped a few quality photos of me with a great background (yes dad you will get see some of them) and we were back on the boat. The time was about 5PM and it was time for a swim! We all decided to pass up on Tito Island and just told Quang we wanted to moor up somewhere and swim off the boat. Time was running out and we all wanted to swim. I told Andy I would feel more comfortable with a life jacket, as I wasn’t the best swimmer, and if we had been snorkeling it would have been fine with the floating and the mask on, but this was straight up treading of water and swimming, both of which I am g-d awful at. She laughed, then I told her I was serious and she got me one. We all jumped off the back of the boat, one after another, making various hoots and hollers as we did it. It was a lot of fun. We swam around for awhile, I finally got back to the boat’s ladder, climbed up it and jumped off a higher level of the boat. Unfortunately one of the feet slipped off and I kind of did a belly flop in to the water from probably 9 feet up. It hurt a little but I came up fine, little red belly, nothing major and continued to swim with my really embarrassing life jacket.

After swimming we all went up to the top deck to watch the remarkable sunset. Clear blue skies, perfect sun, temperature was cooling down, everything seemed perfect until Andy got us some Halida beers, and now it was perfect. I had a few beers, relaxed in the chair, snapped some photos of the sunset and just enjoyed it all.

After the beers and the sunset we all decided to get back in to the water and swim to the other boat that had moored on the same line as us about 150 meters away. I joined in but quickly regretted it realizing that A. I hated to swim and B. that I was carrying a ridiculous life jacket and that was so embarrassing in itself. But I did it anyway and when I finally made it to the other boat, feeling like I wanted to die, I had to tell all the people on the boat that I was the life guard taking the life jacket just in case, haha, well better than nothing. Andy tried to blow up my spot but I just kept avoiding it and deflecting my humility back to her, it was a funny back and forth. After chatting with the people on the other boat, who were similar to my age, we had to swim back to the other boat. At this point I told Andy to just leave me and let me float away, I was dead tired, didn’t want to swim back. She kept with me the whole way, I swam a bit on my back, on my front and finally after what seemed like an eternity got back to the boat. It was time for dinner but I wasn’t hungry. I was really dehydrated from not drinking enough water, being in the sun, sweating, mixed with the salt water from the bay and swimming I needed some high quality H2O. I grabbed a 7up (which is so good in Asia) and a bottle of water and first chugged the H2O then the 7up, had some quality burps which opened up everything for dinner and was all set. I changed, took a shower quickly, then made it for dinner.

Dinner was another fantastic meal. Not as many courses as lunch, but had a ton of variety and greens. Elizabeth told me to eat all the greens so that I could get back on track with my bowel movements. I said ok and just ate all the string beans. Thank g-d I listened to her because after a few minutes I ran to the toilet and had a nice release and ever since my system has been back on track, all systems are a go!

After dinner we all scurried to the top deck to relax under the stars and enjoy the little cove we had parked in for the night. It was the same place as we had swam but now all the boats had their little lights on, the deck was dark for a bit which made for great ambience, but after a while the light was turned on and that was ruined. The ladies decided to drape a sarong around the light, and it worked creating an even better ambience on the top deck. I chatted with Morrie and Andy down below, then with Andy on the top deck, and relaxed. Mixed in with calling mom for a phone number and too say and ask her about pearls the night was pretty good. I then brought my laptop which had been charging up to the top deck after writing a little for my blog, played some music, which was enjoyed by all and before I knew it, it was like 12am and time for bed. I found myself on the top deck alone writing for my blog and it was really peaceful. Great breeze, temperature had gone down a little bit and in the distance was an awesome light show (lightening storm) in the distance.

I eventually decided to pack it in and get to bed as we had to wake up early yet again 630-7am and breakfast would be 730am. When I woke up I heard lots of noise, turns out it was pouring outside. The storm I had seen from the distance had made its way to us and it was nuts out. The waves had not picked up but the rain was pouring down on us. I changed, made my way up to breakfast where everyone appeared to be wet from having to climb up one floor outside to get to the main deck for food. Breakfast was extremely light; toast, one egg, jam, pineapple and that was it. It seems like the order went lunch, dinner, breakfast in terms of the order of meals from best to worst, which was fine considering I would have preferred a fantastic lunch and dinner to a great breakfast and a crappy lunch and/or dinner.


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