1.12.13: Hello Ha Long

It’s Romantic Getaway Weekend and where better to escape to than Ha Long Bay? Recently voted one of “The New 7 Natural Wonders of the World” and a UNESCO Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay (that’s “Descending Dragon” Bay in Vietnamese) is touted as everything from an absolute must-see to a overrun tourist trap. There’s only one way to find out…

At 8 am, we meet our guide Tun and our fellow travelers–a Chinese-South African family of four from Capetown, a young couple from the UK, two recent law-school graduates from Montreal, and a threesome of actuaries from Orange County–and hop on a bus for the three and a half hour ride to Ha Long City.  After a month in Hanoi, it’s a revelation to get a look at the countryside: rice paddies, water buffalo, graveyards, giant billboards, brick factories and small provincial towns float by outside the window.

Dockside, the scene is bustling, with folks being herded around from bus to boat and back again. Our vessel is called the “Classic Sail,” equipped with seven cozy cabins, a dining/lounge area and an open deck on top for sunbathing and star gazing. Tun lays out the agenda and the fun begins!

After an extremely delicious multi-course lunch prepared on board by our two chefs, we kayak to TiTop Island, one of Ha Long Bay’s 1969 mostly limestone islets and named after Soviet cosmonaut Ghermann Titop who visited here with Uncle Ho in 1962. After pulling the kayaks up on the sandy beach and playing with the local dogs, we climb 427 steps to the top of the island in our bare feet (much to the admiration and amusement of several Chinese tourists…one even takes pictures of us) where gorgeous 360 degree views abound from a little pagoda. Then a paddle around some of the other islands (bat caves!) and back onto the boat for a spring roll how-to (fresh in summer, fried in winter), another tasty meal (jellyfish!), a lesson in the fine art of carrot carving, a little squid fishing (weirdly thrilling and requiring only a hook, a bamboo stick and a bright light), and it’s off to sleep, lulled by the little waves and the slow jams coming from our neighbors’ cabin…

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