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Halong Bay

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Halong Bay. It is iconic Vietnam. I had been looking forward to kayaking through the labyrinth of soaring limestone cliffs ever since I knew I would be in southeast Asia. It was just as spectacular as I had hoped. Though the tourism in the area is a bit disappointing, in the way development tends to be, It was never the less very worthwhile.

We had initially planned on going on our own. Extensive research suggested it was our best bet for optimizing cost to quality. But then our hostel offered an off season deal for a two night three day mid range package for $99/person all inclusive. We doubted we could get it much cheaper on our own, and it assured a nicer boat and a night on Monkey Island. Not to mention, they picked up and dropped off at our hostel, meaning we didn’t need to think at all, which in fast independent world travel is a welcome change.
Our group, consisting of ten others proved to be a great bunch of people, ranging in age from 18 to 25 and a variety of countries and backgrounds. We had a fantastic trip and attribute much of it to our great group, which is always the risk you run in group travel. We were also lucky in that we had absolutely no rain. And in the rainy season that is rare indeed.
Our first day we drove the three and a half hours to the port where we would meet our boat and have lunch. All of us were waiting in anticipation to see the boat, for we all had heard stories of the boats looking pristine in the tour catalog and being an absolute mess once you get there. One even sunk last year killing several people. So we were delighted to find our boat to be in great condition. Our rooms were small, but clean and even boasted AC. We were served lunch, which was also better than expected and set sail around the bay. After lunch we boarded kayaks near a floating village and paddled our way through caves that let out into secluded bays with cliffs shooting straight up, blocking the sun and casting a chill over the water. The small village had a few dozen houses floating on rafts scattered around the bay. There is one school, and a store in which fish are stored in nets in the water and fished out on demand. That was it. The residents lay sleepily in hammocks on their porch or prepared food behind their house while bobbing in time to the crests of the current passing through. We also stopped at a cave, which was impressive in it’s sheer size, but disappointing in the crowdedness and random neon lights used to illuminate the cave making it look fake.
After kayaking and caving we set sail again and anchored in the middle of the bay where we would spend the night aboard. The highlight of the day was jumping into the extremely warm water from the top deck of the boat as the sunset behind the cliffs, concluding day one.
The second morning we found ourselves land side hiking 2km up into the forest for views of the forested landscape. The humidity was so ridiculous all of us were literally dripping with sweat as we clamored over rocks to reach the top. The view, though good wasn’t particular spectacular and the platform extremely crowded. Our guide had also decided it would be a good idea to basically run up the mountain, shaving the time it normally took in half. I personally prefer a more leisurely hike where I can take in my surroundings. So instead of resting at the top we opted to slowly make our way down, on our own, enjoying the forest, redeeming the hike.
That afternoon was spent on monkey island. Though I didn’t actually see any monkeys, which was fine by me, as I opted out of the hike to go find what evidentially was slightly too aggressive monkeys that tourists had taken to feeding on the other side of the island.
I had thought I had seen the largest spider in my life in Laos. I had been mistaken. In our bungalow, which was sort of open air, whilst Alex was in the shower was easily the largest spider I have ever had the displeasure to be within a few feet of. It was the size of my hand, but the body was double the size of my thumbs. And it was fast. It may have been scared of us, but we could not sleep in that room knowing that it could potentially climb on our faces in the middle of the night. We were tired, and just wanted a good night sleep. So, after that and finding droppings of some sort on our bed, which increased in number when we returned, we opted to pay to upgrade to the sea view villa. It was a good choice. For only $20 we had three times the size, more functional AC, no bugs, a rain shower and deck overlooking the bay. Both of our moods improved dramatically. Though we can rough it when needed we both thoroughly enjoy where we sleep and put a lot of effort and research into finding unique and exceptional places to stay. So far, they have made our trip just that much better. Many backpackers pride themselves on how cheaply they sleep, and can’t understand why one would care, given “you are only sleeping there.” But to us it matters a great deal, we don’t need much, but it’s those little extras that make a difference. Something we’re willing to pay a bit more for, even if it means we can’t travel as long. We both agreed, no more bungalows this trip.
Once that was sorted the afternoon was spent lazing around the beach, swimming, and general do nothingness. Specifically, doing nothing with a breathtaking backdrop.
Overall our trip was amazing, and given that it’s low season it wasn’t too crowded. But if it had been high season I would think it would be worthwhile to pay a bit more for one of the luxury cruises that takes you to less seen areas, as the main bay can get so crowded it looks like a boat parking lot. Or else, go it alone. But for off season we both agreed it was a good choice. And a check off the bucket list of natural wonders of the world.

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