A van came to pick us up and take us to the dock where we would take a ship to Halong bay. Halong Bay is made up of 1,969 islands of various sizes. It is known for being one of the natural wonders of the world. Fun fact: "The folk tale has it that the dragons descended from heaven to help locals by spitting jewels and jade to the sea, forming a natural fortress against invaders; these precious stones are represented by the lush green outcrops. Several islands boast beautiful grottos and caves with contiguous chambers, hidden ponds and peculiar stone formations."
When we arrived at the dock we were surrounded by people who were trying to sell us anything from water to pearl necklaces. It was extremely overwhelming. The poverty rate in Vietnam is very high and you will find it that people are trying to always sell you something. They have no problem getting right up to your face and constantly ask you to purchase something from them.
Liz and I chose to do our tour through a company and not through our hostel because we were not in the mood to have a crazy night of partying and drinking. We looked forward to spending a relaxing day and night on our ship which was called the Golden lotus. We shared our tour with a family who had 2 small sons, one Lucky and the other called Joshy, they were half Asian half Australian, a German couple and 2 guys from Spain.
We sailed through the beautifl limestones and took us on a tour through one of the caves. Unfortunately the cave was extremely touristy and they had placed neon lights within the cave to give it more of a disney land effect. It was an amazing cave and our tour guide was great. We bumped into another tour group whose tour guide was Vietnamese who spoke like he was Australian. It was nuts!!! He told us that an Australian guy was his English teacher thats why he speaks English with an Aussie accent. He was also so dapper in his suit jacket and fancy chain around his neck. Our tour guide and him were walking around the cave joking around and amusing both groups. After the cave Liz and I went kayaking around the small limestone islands it was such a beautiful sight and so peaceful.
Side note: The boat was aware of my dietary needs (no shellfish and no pork). The chef made a number of "special" meals for me. Lets just say I've never eaten soo much tofu in my life. The waiters were bringing me plates of fried tofu, regular tofu, tofu and veggies and tofu in sauce. I never want to look at tofu again.
That night we took it easy and enjoyed a cup of tea, playing card games with the two little boys and practicing my spanish with the 2 guys from Spain. They had to correct a couple of my sentences... what can I say its been awhile. Liz and I both had a really good nights sleep on the boat.
The next day Liz and I finished up breakfast and we would be heading to one of the islands called Cat Ba Island. We were told by other friends not to do the monkey temple and so we chose to ride bicycles instead. Once we got to our destination they dropped the tour group to the national park where the monkey temple was and they took Liz and I to a house with a shed full of old bicycles. All the bicycles were old and not well taken care of and they made soo many noises when you peddled or changed gears. It was hilarious and we decided to make the best of it.
We rode our bikes through the town, there was really not much to see at all. We passed by a couple of locals bulding houses and little kids were running out to say hello which I thought was cute. Finally we got to a part up the hill and saw a bunch of trucks moving big rocks and the road was no longer a road anymore. We didn't know if we needed to go up the hill to get back to our starting point so we decided to hop off our bikes and walk them up the hill. All the workers were laughing at us and saying hello and giggling. Luckily we ran into a couple who were biking down the hill and they told us it was not worth it to head up the hill because it was dangerous. We decided to head back and we rode passed a cave that was closed off to tourists. There were a bunch of little kids on bikes who told us we could not go in there so we waited until they left and Liz and I headed to the cave and hid our bikes in the bushes. We snuck into the gate that closed people off from getting to the cave, climbed up the stairs and there was another gate that was locked so no one could get in. It was pretty dangerous to get around since all there was was a ledge of grass to walk along and climb over the fence. Well you know me I always have to get myself into trouble. So Liz watched me climb over the ledge and over the fence and got close enough to the cave. She thought I was going to kill myself. It looked like a great cave but it was way too dark to explore.... oh well so much for that. We headed back and returned our bikes to the shed and we were taken to our hotel.
We got to the hotel and I found out that they were also notified about my food issues. Again I was served a number of different tofu dishes.... god help me. After some food Liz and I wanted to head to the beach so we decided to walk and find our way there. Luckily we met 2 really cute English guys, who were on motorbikes, and they were nice enough to give us a ride to the beach. Liz and I took a nap on the beach and walked to another beach where we met a couple of American and Canadian girls and we talked about our travels and the dangers we have encountered and items stolen from us. I was able to relate to the girl who had her camera stolen.. yah it sucks.
That night Liz and I went out to a bar and met 2 guys from Holland who told us that we had to go to Sapa located in northern Vietnam. They showed us pictures and told us about their village tour and I really wanted to go. I emailed Chris via facebook and asked him if he wanted to travel with Liz and I to Sapa (northern Vietnam) where the rice fields are and Hmong tribe live. He was on the 1 day tour and he told me he would let me know.
The next morning we got back on the Golden Lotus back on to the main land. They dropped us off at a restaurant and we got the "VIP" treatment which meant we got to sit in a seperate room with chairs covered in cloth with the other VIPers. The other tourists sat in a bigger room with harder chairs. Again lots of tofu... I never want to eat Tofu ever again. I then headed out to go to the bathroom and low and behold there was Chris sitting with his tour group. I didnt want to interupt him so I waited patiently and told him that he had a couple of hours to determine whether or not he wanted to go to Sapa with us. When we all arrived back in Hanoi, Chris apparently flipped a coin which determined his fate which meant he was coming to Sapa.
So we went back to the tour company where we booked our Halong bay tour and Chris and I played a game of phone tag on who was buying the train tickets and if we could get on a sleeper bed.
*Side note: What is it with men and not being organized??? I dont get it dudes... get your sh*t together.
Chris and I played phone tag for too long and by the time we figured everything out there were no sleeper beds left... I wanted to kill him. So what did we do???... we booked hard seats and we would be taking a long train ride up with the locals.
Like I have said in previous posts the Asians love their AC. The three of us tried to sleep on the train but it was soo cold I felt like we were in Alaska. We started to take clothes out of our bags to keep us warm. I barely had any warm clothes with me so I dealt with what I had. So we took a very long 12 hour freezing cold train ride, with the locals who wouldnt stop staring at us, and the three of us got 0 sleep. When we finally arrived, in the town close to Sapa, we joined a group of tourists from the train that Chris had met earlier. There was a sweet couple who live in Switzerland named Greg and Cecile, a French guy named Thomas, and 2 other girls. We got on a mini bus and Chris was nice enough to let me nap on his lap and off we went to Sapa.