I couldn’t resist that title. Man, I think I am funnier than I probably really am. Anyways, here is the story of our Ha Long adventure.
We left La Selva (our awesome accommodations in Hanoi) in the morning after a hearty Vietnamese breakfast of Bun Cha, well at least I had that….the rest of the troop had pancakes or French toast, in order to get to the boat on time for our long anticipated three day cruise at Ha Long Bay.
On the limousine ride to our port of call, we met two super people from the United States that were on a mini tour of Asia. She works for the online video game “League of Legends” which is supposedly taking the world by storm. She is an event organizer for massive e-sporting events. For those of you not in the know, these events are held at arenas. Like NFL football arenas, where teams of gamers play against each other for virtual dominance. All the while, which is kind of Hunger Games-ish, there is a team of computer programmers and a master game controller that can throw curveballs in the “playing field” at any time and screw both teams up. Sounds interesting, and watching the spectators (which I don’t understand…watching people play video games) who were going nuts like it was the super bowl. He works for AirBnB and was the guy who started up AirBnB Experiences, which is the branch that books tours, classes, lectures, and adventures through AirBnB.
Other than chit chatting with them, the drive was relatively uneventful. Once we arrived at the port, we were all shuffled into a waiting room where we were all put in to a waiting area destined for the two boats that awaited us at sea. Deb and I quickly looked around the room and decided who we did and didn’t want to spend the next three days with, which is always a fun game with people watching.
When our names were called, we got loaded on to a small transport boat which would take us out to the larger cruise ship. Thankfully, the majority of people that we subliminally since vibes to the organizers of who we did not want to be on the boat with worked as the majority of those people were not put on our boat.
We hopped on board and went into the dining hall for a quick debriefing safety lesson on how to put on our life jackets and where the safety boats were, which we hoped we would not need. We got our room assignments, and it was great that we had two fantastic rooms that were beside each other. They were supposed to be adjoining but who cares, the boys took one room and the girls took the other.
It wasn’t long before is the typical cruise ship activity started and we hopped on a day shore excursion boat to head off to Dau Go Cave on Cat Ba Island, which is the main island in Ha Long Bay. These caves were the main caves that were inhabited by early humans tens of thousands years ago.
Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site, which seems to be a theme of where we are visiting along the trip. It has this designation mainly owing to the fact that it represents major stages of the Earth’s history, and the evidence of early human history.
It is reported that there are over 2000 of the limestone monolithic islands. It looks kind of planet of the ape-ish in the middle of the water, and only 40 of them are inhabited.. However they like to “that there are only 1969 islands since that was the year that Ho Chi Minh passed away. Ok, totally plagiarizing from Wikipedia, but I couldn’t remember the legend of these islands (everything in Vietnam is tied with legends and deeper meaning with respect to their history)…so here it is (I am smattering it with my photos to add depth):
According to local legend, when Vietnam had just started to develop into a country, they had to fight against invaders. To assist the Vietnamese in defending their country, the gods sent a family of dragons as protectors. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders. Under magics, numerous rock mountains abruptly appeared on the sea, ahead of invaders’ ships; the forward ships struck the rocks and each other. After winning the battle, the dragons were interested in peaceful sightseeing of the Earth, and then decided to live in this bay. The place where the mother dragon descended was named Ha Long, the place where the dragon’s children attended upon their mother was called Bai Tu Long island (Bai: attend upon, Tu: children, Long: dragon), and the place where the dragon’s children wriggled their tails violently was called Bach Long Vy island (Bach: white-color of the foam made when Dragon’s children wriggled, Long: dragon, Vy: tail), present day Tra Co peninsula
The tour of the caves was nice but fairly unimpressive compared to the other caves that we had seen while we were touring around South Africa. It’s pretty bad when you start picking apart places and comparing different places around the world full on know that the majority of your friends and family have never been to these places, and quite possibly never will. So I am entirely grateful for the fact that I am with my family, in good health, and doing something that I love which is adventure traveling.
We hopped back on the boat and headed back to the main crew ship where we had a cooking demonstration for fresh spring rolls. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and so I certainly will be trying this at home. Wilson and I watch the demonstration and then put it all together, whereas Deb and Lulu were playing Bananagrams and they just showed up and made the spring rolls.
Unfortunately dinner was a long and drawn out affair when it could’ve been so much quicker. So that we did not have to be sitting around at the dining table and we could be off doing other things. He got to the point that the kids got really antsy and they went to the other end of it ship and did gymnastics and dancing to the music in their heads. They then went off to the nightly experience of squid fishing. Kind of like deer hunting at night where you shine the lights in the water to attract the fish, the squid come swimming up to the surface and then you snag them with your pole.
Wilson loved doing this, and if given the chance, he would have done this all night. In fact, he caught two squid on our second night, and he was so excited, it was as if he had won the lottery.
Unfortunately the place where all of the boats are anchored in the bay is quite crowded and you can hear the music and announcements from one shipped to the next. I guess it wasn’t that magical as we have built it up to be. However the kids are having a ton of fun and nobody was seasick. That, as well as the fact that the beautiful bedrooms, including en suite bathrooms, had panoramic windows. Wilson and Lulu wanted to have baths in the clawfoot bathtubs in the rooms, but at times forgot that people outside might be watching.
Off to bed in preparation for a big and busy day tomorrow.
I woke up early and sat out on the deck of our room, which was probably around 530 in the morning. Promptly a local woman in a boat came paddling around with a floating 7-Eleven shop and her boat asking me if I wanted wine, beer, or Pringles. I thought it would be too early to start drinking and eating chips, so I politely declined.
After breakfast, we hopped on the day boat and headed back over to the big Island of Cat Ba and we hopped on some bikes to pedal our way to a local village.
Lulu couldn’t find a bike that fit her and she kept falling off to the side, so she “conveniently” decided that she could’t ride one of the bikes that were available. I think Lulu simply manipulated the situation, which meant that she had to ride on the back of my bike. Thinking back to our biking experience in Austria, it was a lot of fun having her on the back of the bike and meant that I have a loving hug from my daughter as long as we were on the bike together.
With a couple of 10% climbs under our belt, we made it over to the village, which was a smattering of small houses nestled in the dense forest, with most of them no bigger than 20×20, with mud floors and thatched roofs. One of the places had a nice sign outside advertising that it was a homestay type of accommodation. At the time, this made us think ahead to our upcoming “homestay” in Ninh Binh, which we were beginning to wonder what we were getting into.
Cat Ba island is home to about 12,000 people and was only populated about 100 years ago. This was a place that during the Vietnam war a lot of women came to stay at while their men went up to war so that they can protect themselves and their families. That being said, the village had all the basic necessities.
One of the stops was to see how old they make rice wine, which is a local drink. Majority of rice wines are flavoured with some fruit or flour. But someone at some point in history got the bright idea of making snake wine.
This involves killing several local venomous snakes and leaving them out in the sun for a couple of days so that the blood, venom, heart, and intestines dry up. They then coil up a bunch of snakes and put them inside the jar and fill it up with rice wine. After this, they let it ferment for anywhere between 8 to 10 years so that the full flavour of the snake can be appreciated. Ya, right. Just extra time to kill off any of the deadly venom. They say the snake wine is good for the health of a man, so I opted to have two glasses. Go big or go home. I am a man after all. It tasted like tequila, and I don’t think there is anyway that you would want to eat that worm in the side of the bottle. The fruit and flower ones were nice but didn’t have the same testosterone kick that you got from the snake wine. I could feel the hair growing on my chest and my muscles popping out of my shirt. Probably placebo effect but who cares.
We hopped back on our bike and headed back towards the day ship. During the bike ride back, we came to a fork in the road. Lulu, my rear tire navigator, said, ‘Go to the left”. At that point, we couldn’t see Deb and Wilson who were ahead of us, since we were a little slower than most with the extra weight and climbing the short, but steep, hill climbs. Despite taking our time and stopping for some photos along the way, we beat Deb and Wilson back to the boat. Don’t know how that happened…but then Deb came back pedalling asking where did we go…she went back to find us since we didn’t catch up… Then we figured that Wilson and her went right, when we went left, at the fork in the road. That would explain why the scenery was a bit different. Oh well, we’re all back together!
We got back on the boat where we had a quick lunch and then we jumped into some kayaks to paddle around the huge monolithic structures in the area up close and personal and stop over at a secluded white sandy beach. Lucky Wilson drew the short straw and got to ride with me in the back. He was given the option to be the power partner (in the front) or the directional partner (in the back). He took the back as I was her strong daddy that just had the snake wine. Haha. Wilson didn’t like steering for very long though as I wanted to go over to a different beach than everyone else.
It was an awesome beach and had tons of cool shells that would have otherwise been picked over at the other beach. Secret seashell stash!! We finally headed over to the other beach for a quick look see.
The girls were having a much better time paddling than the boys as you can see below.
It was fairly impressive to see these rock structures towering out of the water and he couldn’t help but think what helps form these mountains over time.
We had a little bit of playtime on the secluded beach, which a nice same-sex couple were having a semi pornographic mini photo shoot in their white speedo‘s and rice farmer straw hats. Everybody on our kayaking tour sat there with their mouths wide open as it was quite the site to see.
I guess that was sex education for the kids for the day.
As we paddled back, we passed by one of the four floating fishing villages that exist in Ha Long Bay, where people live on floating houses, and their lives are sustained through fishing and marine aquaculture.
We headed back to the boat where everybody was completely bag from the adventures and the sun that we all had that day. each evening before dinner we had the opportunity to go for a swim, which was a lot of fun jumping off the back of the boat.
For some reason, despite the fact that the water was 15 m deep, they wouldn’t let me jump off the top of the boat. Something about liability and me having had two glasses of snake wine. Fair enough.
Tonight‘s cooking lessons for deep fried spring rolls. Much like the fresh ones, except what is pork in them and you fry them up! It was funny because we were sitting with another group of Canadians laughing and having a good time while the kids were off squid fishing on their own. Who knows, they might of been actually in the water and we wouldn’t of known. Proud parenting moment for both of us.
It was happy hour, so we were enjoying ourselves. We were sitting at group of tables off to the side, And given the fact that it was our second night on the boat, we were veterans compared to the newbies that had just arrived on the boat that day. All of the newbies were sitting front row and centre watching movie cooking demonstration like we did the night before. But we were just listening haphazardly and then when it got time to get up and make the spring rolls, we just got up and did it like we were seasoned professionals.
We had another long and drawn out dinner, which was not bad. I lost all of my weight that I put on in Europe when we are in Africa but now that we are in Vietnam and Lulu is back to her “I’m not eating that” shenanigans, I feel like I have to eat her food in order to be polite to our hosts. I hate seeing food go to waste. I would rather it not be made at all then to just go in the garbage. Hopefully somebody on board eats the leftovers.
The next morning got up the next morning very early for a little snack before we had a short kayak ride in the neighbouring bay. I think really it was just to get all of us off of the boat so that they could tend to the people that were just starting the second day and getting themselves ready to go off on their day excursion.
This time, Lulu got to be in the front of the kayak, as Wilson didn’t want to be in the same boat as me. I don’t blame him.
We paddled around a bay that was close to us, which was interesting in the sense that it had a temple built right into the cliff of one of the islands, and there were about a dozen graves and tombs nestled into the cliffs as well.
Interesting. Anyone could just paddle up, say a prayer and leave.
After the paddle, we came back onto the boat and headed back to sure where we caught up with Ninh Binh chauffeur Danh to take us to our home stay and the next part of our Vietnamese adventure.
Here are some more photos from this leg of the adventure that I thought I would share with you all…