Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cruising Vietnam, aka We're on a Boat!

We've left the mountains behind -- goodbye Laos and on to Vietnam!

We arrived in Hanoi on Friday evening, and were immediately overwhelmed by the lights and noise and millions of swirling rushing zigging and zagging motorbikes in the narrow roads of the Old City. We spent a night just walking around, mouths agape at all of the things (so many things!), sampling Vietnamese food and desserts along the way. 

Friday Night Market Hanoi

The next morning we were on our way again, this time changing things up completely and going for the must-see super-touristy experience: a 2-night/3-day cruise of Halong Bay. And so I'm happy to report, WE'RE ON A BOAT!

I've never been on a cruise before, and as someone who likes movement and independent exploration, and detests organized tours as a rule, I imagine cruises would not usually be my jam. But this one is short, involves only one night on the boat, and is the best way to see the epic awesomeness of Halong Bay. (Super-touristy experiences are super-touristy for a reason -- there's something there worth seeing!)

Halong Bay has 1,969 islands, some big, most tiny, all weirdly beautify like something out of Avatar or Pirates of the Caribbean or Jurassic Park.

Our first stop was a huge cave on one of the islands. It was discovered by fishermen in 1993 and has since twice been named a "Natural Wonder if the World."

The colored lights, paved path, crowds of tourists, and pleasant music over a loudspeaker made it all feel kind of like waiting in line for a ride at Disneyland, but the cave was so freaking cool that I didn't mind the kitschyness at all. Plus the colored lights made the nooks and crannies and stalagmites and stalactites easy to see. Big, airy, and well-lit = my kind of caving!

For our next activity, we went kayaking around a floating village, between some rock-tower-ish islands, and through waterway caves under the mountains. We only had 45 minutes, but the great thing about tandem kayaking with someone who is good at kayaking is that when Andy paddled harder, we moved so fast! Like four times faster than when I paddle on my own. 

We kayaked in and out of little coves, speculating on the best places to hide our hypothetical pirate ships, properly defend the bay from possible muarader invasion, and scoping out the very real awesome climbing routes up various rock faces. 

Around five o'clock they anchored us between some islands. The tour guide told us it was time for swimming and that we couple jump off the top deck (maybe 15-20-ish feet up) if we wanted to. I am not afraid of many things, but jumping off high things into water is one of them. It took a few count downs before I was airborne, but I did it! (One...oh jeez no I can't! Ok try again. One...two...NO WAY I'm not doing this. Ok ok ok I will. I promise I'll go this time. One...two...three!)

Oof look at those tan lines!

Then we did it again to get it on video. I can't control the screaming, it just happens.

There are 12 people in our cruise total -- four French medical students, a Spanish couple, a German couple, and an Irish couple. They're all nice, but kinda meh. I don't know if this is a cultural thing or just a bad luck thing, but they are not good at conversation. How do people just not ask questions? Don't they know that's how conversation works? So Andy and I are doing our own thing. I can't imagine being on a longer cruise and having to sit with strangers at every meal. My inner introvert can only handle so much. 

Next stop: Monkey Island!


Sandy beach + warm water = hooray vacation! 

Day two of this experience is at a little beachside resort on Monkey Island. (Though there are no monkeys at the resort, a fact that I am happy about because monkeys and their grabby hands and old people-ish little faces kind of creep me out.) To get here, we left the cruise ship, then took a bus across a bigger island, then a small boat to the resort, arriving around lunchtime. 

I didn't take any pictures of the food, but it is delicious. Seafood me please all the time! My only complaint is that ummm slices watermelon is not and never will be dessert. Come on.

It's hot and humid, so bathing suits on and into the water STAT. It is the rainy season, so about every hour or so a storm cloud moved in, dropped some rain on us for a few minutes, then went on its way. I love a lightening storm on the beach!

Our final morning was sunshiny and nice. We did the same trip in reverse (small boat -- bus -- cruise boat) and ended with lunch on the boat as we made out way back to the harbor. We'll be in Hanoi tonight, then who knows? Maybe on to more beaches!