Limestone Islands

For the born traveller, traveling is a besetting vice. Like other vices, it is imperious, demanding its victim’s time, money, energy and the sacrifice of comfort.

-Aldous Huxley

Ready…… Set….. GO!!!  Halong Bay, here we come!!!

(Again, I’m going to split this into two posts- to save your eyes and my tired stubby fingers from typing so much.)

Arriving to the famous Halong Bay was such a bitter-sweet moment.  Bitter because once we leave here, we only have 3 days left on our trip, but very SWEET because we have been seriously looking forward to this part.  Literally from the moment we arrived in Vietnam, we were both so excited for our journey in Halong Bay.

You may have noticed this place on various Facebook pages- EarthPorn, Places to See Before You Die, etc.   These pictures will instantaneously sell you to buy a ticket to Vietnam- just for this place in particular!   Thousands, yes I did say THOUSANDS of picturesque islands, emerald green water, and various types of authentic junk boats filled with anticipating tourists.  You would be crazy not to visit this place.

I booked a 3 day- 2 night tour through Viator  (what did we learn?  DON’T USE VIATOR!!!) for roughly $280 AUD per person.     All of the tours were pretty pricey, so my cheap ass decided on this one in particular because it was one of the cheaper ones, AND you get to spend 1 day and 1 night on an exotic little island called Monkey Island!       Yep…… SOLD.  We are so stoked for that!   All of our meals, accommodation, and transits were included- so that was a bonus!  The only thing you will really spend money on is WATER and or booze.  The bottled water is definitely overpriced on the boat, but you have no choice but to pay it.  If you bring your own water or alcohol on the boat, you have to pay a service charge.  It’s a bit ridiculous, but what can you do?

Once we checked out of our lovely Happy Moon Guesthouse in the horrendous city of Hanoi, our shuttle bus picked us up at 8 a.m.   He informed us that we had the whole van to ourselves for the 2.5 hour drive to Halong Harbour, BUT when we arrive, we will be sharing a boat with roughly 20 English people…. who just so happened to be in their early 20’s and apparently love to party.    I instantly visualised this scenario going really well or really annoying.  I guess depending on our mood and the vibe, we will either party it up WITH them  (lets not get ahead of ourselves… I’m laughing as I typed that last sentence out)  or our old asses will retire early and complain that it’s too loud.   Yeah…. I predict the second scenario to happen.     What can I say, we are old for our age!  🙂

Waiting to board the boat!
Waiting to board the boat!

Once we boarded our Monkey Island Junk Boat, we all settled into our rooms before eating a buffet lunch.  Our tour guide was really looking out for us because he hooked us up with the “honeymoon suite”.  Decently large room, private bathroom,  and a private deck with views of the glorious bay.    For lunch we shared a table with 4 English girls who were very friendly and outgoing.   It’s amazing how many different accents they each had, but I was thoroughly obsessed with each and every one of them!   Listening to English people talk is a strange and exciting comfort to me… So I was very happy sharing a table with them!   Plate after plate…. after plate…. after plate… of FOOD just kept on coming.  It was seriously ecstasy.  Most of the table were vegetarians, so you can imagine I was loving my life having the meat to myself.   As I was sitting there enjoying my food bliss, I noticed the group consisted of ALL females except for 2 guys.  (How lucky for them, or unlucky if these girls are menstruating all together! haha)   17 English girls… and 2 English boys….   That’s a lot of oestrogen on a small boat and a small island for the next 3 days.  This shall be very interesting!

Our honeymoon suite! ;)
Our honeymoon suite! 😉
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Our private corridor

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The upper deck we didn’t get to use much!

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LUNCH!
LUNCH!
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Yummy tofu
omelettes served with EVERY meal.
omelettes served with EVERY meal.

We spent the first couple of hours cruising through the bay, winding in and around all the various islands.  It was a very cloudy and smoggy day, so the colours were not as vibrant as I had imagined.  The tour guides and boat crew were very adamant that we can’t sit atop the boat while it’s moving.  I have no idea why considering every other boat that went by, people were sitting up top.  This left 21 of us to congregate in a very small area at the front of the boat in this sweltering heat.  We also learned that the aircon only works from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m.    At first I didn’t think that was a big deal… I would rather have air-con while we are sleeping, but i quickly learned it was kind of a big deal.  Small boat, 21 of us plus the boat crew, extreme humidity and heat, and the blazing sun….   2 weeks into our trip and I still have never felt this filthy and disgusting in my entire life.  Somehow I didn’t think it could get any worse, but from this moment forward:  it did!

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Little lighthouses
Little lighthouses

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No he does not normally smoke… He’s oddly a “holiday” smoker.

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Riding for over 2 hours through the bay, and this view never disappears.

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Our guide is the one on the right. He was so odd.
Our guide is the one on the right. He was so odd.

Our first stop for the day: Thien Cung and Dau Go Caves.  We all boarded a small boat that took us to one of the islands where these gigantic and beautiful caves are.   Similar to Paradise Cave, but obviously smaller.   Lit up with various coloured spotlights, it had an entirely different feel than any cave I have been in.  I felt like we should rip off our disgusting clothes and start a rave in this secret (not so secret) vibrant gem.   Although I think our stiff tour guide definitely wouldn’t have approved.  🙂

View from the cave... amazing!
View from the cave… amazing!

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What does that look like???
“Hey Patty, did you lose something??”  hahaha.

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I can't get over that oddly shaped rock...
I can’t get over that oddly shaped rock…

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After exploring the cave, we hopped back on the boat and stopped at another island designated for swimming.  Everyone in our group was SO excited to finally wash all of this disgusting dirty sweat off of our bodies and feel the cool water on our bare skin.   I must say, it wasn’t as tantalising and exciting as I had pictured.   If you watch Modern Family, remember the episode where Claire comes home from work and she is anticipating a relaxing bath after her hellacious day?  Only to find Phil already in the bath- with baby ducklings- obviously dirtying up the luscious bath for poor Claire.   Completely random, but it made me feel like that.  I was SO anticipating this refreshing, amazing, crystal clear cool water….. but it was like hopping into a dirty duckling bath full of hundreds of peoples sweat and filth.   Even with the sun on the other side of the island, swimming in complete shade at this point, it was so warm and not in a good way.   Of course we still had a blast anyway.  Playing around with gopro pictures and Patrick and I playing around like kids at the local swimming pool.  It was so much fun, but I felt 100 times dirtier than before.   Yuck!

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Dig my hair?
Dig my hair?
Always taking advantage of the fact I suck at swimming
Always taking advantage of the fact I suck at swimming

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Once we were back at our humble abode boat, we had the choice to go for a sunset kayak, or lounge on the top of the boat for sunset.  We were completely wiped out, so the idea of laying on the sundeck sounded like perfection.  On the other hand, when are we going to kayak in Halong Bay again?  Especially at sunset?  Who bloody knows!  I am beyond words happy we ended up going.  Sitting on the water while the sky turned completely orange with the sun slowly setting behind the thousands of floating islands.   We followed the guide to a “secret” bay only accessible by kayak/small boat through a shallow cave.  Once you are out of the cave, you truly need to pinch yourself.  This…… This sacred place…. it is Mother Nature at her finest.  Clear turquoise water completely surrounded by a perfect circle of mountains.  Because this moment was so special to me, I could not be disturbed trying to photograph it.  Not to mention my camera was hiding in a waterproof bag because I kept visualising myself accidentally dropping it in the ocean.  Patrick was so adamant to take a photo, but I just didn’t want to.  I was in a blissful zone cherishing every minute we spent in this bay.   Eventually the sky turned a bright magenta pink that completely blew us away.      Of course lounging on the top of a boat, sipping cocktails while watching the sun go down, IS amazing… but I think this kayak adventure was amazing BLISS.  🙂

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Even though I hated Hanoi, I decided to be a typical tourist and rock one of their shirts... along with a Vietnam hat. :-D
Even though I hated Hanoi, I decided to be a typical tourist and rock one of their shirts… along with a Vietnam hat. 😀

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The private bay. Patty insisted on taking a photo, but it just doesn't do it justice
The private bay. Patty insisted on taking a photo, but it just doesn’t do it justice
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That tiny crack straight ahead, is the very small cave to enter here
BAM! How's that for a sunset kayak!?!
BAM! How’s that for a sunset kayak!?!

After showering and changing into fresh clothes, a nice little bell rang us for dinner.  We shared a table with a few of the same girls from lunch- exchanging stories, drinking cocktails, and eating more glorious food.  I found this supper to be absolutely hilarious.  Well, more so hilarious NOW.  At the time it was pretty miserable.   Even though I had just showered, washed my hair for the first time in at least a week, and had fresh clothes on, I already needed another shower 10 minutes into dinner.   As I looked around at the rest of the group, I noticed just how humorous this situation was.  It was ‘The Menopausal Supper aboard Halong Bay’.  With 18 girls dripping in horrendous sweat, using their dinner napkins to continuously wipe their faces, and finding anything to use as a makeshift fan…. I said to myself:  “Mom, I think I know how you felt for so long.  Menopause is a crude bitch.”   Of course dinner was delicious as always, but it was dreadfully hard to enjoy in this circumstance.  Is it 9 p.m. yet???? We need Aircon!!!    :-O      After dinner, everyone continued purchasing cocktails and moved the “party” to the upper deck.  Surprisingly enough, they weren’t “partiers” at all.   Patrick and I were in our own world trying to take some decent night photos- which wasn’t a great success with the boat rocking back and forth so much, but that’s ok!  By 10 p.m.  I was more than ready to retire in our air-conditioned honeymoon sweet!  🙂  This was my first time sleeping on a boat, and I think we chose a pretty incredible spot to experience that!

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Our neighbours for the night!

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Early rise, buffet breakfast,  and check out of our lovely room.  Another very hot day ahead.  It’s time to say goodbye to the boat crew and start our expedition to Monkey island!

Thanks for reading!

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