Viet Nam was a whirlwind. This was the last leg on my four week trip and the fatigue was starting to get to me. Thankfully, I met up with one of my cousins on my father’s side, Gina, who kickstarted my enthusiasm again.
Ha Noi/Ha Long Bay
Gina and I met in Ha Noi, and she had been in Saigon for the time I was in the Philippines. Before I left the states on my trip, I told my father about our plans for Ha Long Bay. He immediately freaked out and wanted us to cancel our plans. He talked about the vicious underbelly of the city and wanted us as far away from that as possible. He described the Northerners are ruthless and crooked. His fear ultimately drove him to contact his distant relatives who live in Ha Noi to pick both me and Gina up from the airport (because the Taxi drivers are the most corrupt).
I had never met my distant relatives before, so I was given a blurry picture to identify him at the airport. After I landed and went through customs, I immediately found Gina. She had arrived an hour before and patiently waited at the exit for me. After we found one another, we were tasked with finding our distant cousin, Hoang. He was no where to be found, and after circling the terminal a few times, Gina just told me to shout his name (because we were getting desperate). After another 30 minutes, we finally find him and he drops us off at the hotel. Where his sister will meet up with us after she gets off work to take us to dinner.
Ha Noi is a lot slower paced than Saigon, yet the people aren’t nearly as friendly as the Southerners. We eat with our other cousin, Hanh, and settle in for the night before our journey to Ha Long Bay the next day.
Ha Long Bay is about a four hour bus ride from downtown Ha Noi. We booked a 3 day/2 night boat tour with Flamingo Cruises which included the shuttling from Ha Noi to Ha Long, accommodations, activities and food. The first day, mainly consists of the bus ride to Ha Long. I break out my Vietnamese (which seems to impress the locals and earns me some brownie points). By the time we get to the boat, we are given a nice lunch and told to settle into our cabins before our kayaking trip around the bay. The tour manager, Kevin, and his second in command, Tuan, were fantastic. Of course I broke out my Vietnamese, which made them love me even more. It also helped that the other people on our tour were horribly rude and demanding. Thankfully, Gina is a kayaking queen and I basically do nothing but sit there and look pretty while she maneuvers the kayak for us. The views of the bay are amazing and even with so much boat traffic, the water is really calm and relaxing.
In the middle of the kayaking tour, we stop at a cave and get to explore inside. It’s quite interesting how long these structures have been around because you can see the ancient nature behind a lot of these caves and limestone rocks. Right after we get back from the kayaking tour, Kevin notifies us that there is an impending monsoon and the Vietnamese government is requiring all boats in the bay to dock. The options are to go back to Ha Noi or stay at a hotel provided by the tour company on land. Gina and I are flexible, so we say fuck the monsoon, we’re not ready to go back yet. Because I made friends with the crew, Gina and I are invited out to hang with the guys and have beers with them. We eat, drink and end up karaoke-ing with them, which was probably one of the highlights of the trip.
On our second day, we return to the boat, and go to the beach at Tip Top Island. The island is filled with other tourists from other boat tours, but it was fun and the water was a refreshing escape from the heat. The climb from the bottom of the island to the top with the lookout is quite the stair master, but the views are worth it. Tuan actually climbed with me, and when we descended and got to the bottom, one of his friends joking called him out of never seeing him climb up the mountain before and that something or someone must have motivated him to climb up.
On our third and final day on the boat, we woke up for breakfast and lunch and made our way back to Ha Noi. Where the following day we would fly to Da Lat.
Da Lat is one of my favorite cities in Viet Nam. It is full of mountains where the sun doesn’t shine too bright and the weather is significantly cooler than other Vietnamese cities. Da Lat was our relaxation stop of the trip, where we stayed at a nice resort and got massages all day. The most exciting part of this city was our canyoning tour with Dalat Canyoning Tours. Our guides, Thu and Ba, were lively and fun! We abseiled, rappelled and jumped off waterfall/cliffs. Overall, this was the most exciting part of our time in Viet Nam and definitely worthwhile.
This trip with Gina was great. We’ve been close for so many years and with that we had never taken a trip together, just us. This was the first time, and I’ve gotta say, it won’t be the last. We get along so well and we’re basically the same person that being on the same page was never a problem. Other than the fact that I was drained from my other trips, I wouldn’t have changed anything about my time in Viet Nam with her. Until our next trip, Gina!
For more specific questions about Viet Nam, feel free to contact me. This blog is more to document my experiences and how I felt than a planned itinerary for others to follow.