Here we are the morning two days ago on a Ford Transit Van. We’re off!
Their holiday was just about to end so we were just getting our first taste of something Vietnam is infamous for, their unbelievable traffic, the thousands upon thousands of motorcycles and the random way they all drive.
Keep in mind I am from the Philippines where driving conditions are nowhere near ideal. But i have to hand it to the Vietnamese. There is an art in driving here that involves randomness and a free flowing abstract kind of thinking where you can literally drive any way you want and go anywhere you want but still keep an eye out for other vehicles and avoid collisions.
The key is that they don’t drive very fast, which is good, but imo that was why the 3.5 hour drive to Ha Long from Hanoi isn’t as enjoyable. Back home our Superhighway would let you cruise at 100-120kph and you can make the distance in less than 2 hours easy. Over here you are constantly dodging motorcycles and even other vehicles going the wrong way.
Again coming from where I am I am in no position to tell anyone how they should be driving, but the trip out of town can be stressful especially when you regularly encounter up to 5 people on a motorcycle (2 adults, 2 kids and a baby), none of whom are wearing helmets, with the driver either texting or on the phone, all on the highway with the van you are riding blowing its horn at them while inches away at 60kph.
At any rate, we get there eventually. Ace quickly made his first set of friends with our van partners Lily and Zoren from Serbia whom we also spent our dinners and lunches on the trip with.
I’m probably going to come across as the overly proud parent, but Ace was a hit. He always charms crowds of people on any trip we make and this trip was no different.
On the boat he made friends with a Serbian couple (Lily and Zoren above), two Aussie newlyweds (Chris and Melissa, pics later), a Leo from Singapore and a Vietnamese girl whom we refer to as Ms. Saigon, Stephon from Austria and his girlfriend companion, a Brit couple whose names we did not get, and Anthony and his family from Brisbane.
Here is our itinerary (2 days / 1 night):
and here is our fantabulous boat:
Once we got there we were happy to be told that we were bumped up to a ‘family suite’ and it was equally fabulous. It was airconditioned and had a queen sized bed,
The only slight problem was that you can smell the diesel smoke from the engines when it’s running, but we spent most of the time on the upper decks and in the restaurant anyway.
The first tour immediately got under way after an hours worth of sailing. We had a choice to either kayak the route or take a small boat with someone else paddling for us.
Here’s a floating village. They were basically small floating bungalow houses with four hours of electricity per day, which some spent wisely playing 90s techno music as we found out when we came near one.
Seriously, it’s an amazing sight, and more so considering they have not turned it into a tourist disneyland as would usually happen back home. Here we tourists just floated around not bothering them as they went about their business.
We also passed a pearl farm where we were educated about them. There were a few bracelets going for as much as USD2,000.00 on display.
After this was dinner.
And then DAY TWO of the itinerary was the highlight with a visit to an enormous cave.
I didn’t have as good a time here as I’d like because there were just too many people and it is also a very physical workout. All of the tourists from the other boats seemed to be there as well and the line stretched across what seems to be ten stories worth of very steep stairs.
You go up there, then go down about half that inside the cave, and go another set up after that exiting it, then go down another set of very steep, twisting stairs going to the pier.
The caves are beautiful and interesting, but I was sweating most the time and was worried about Jill and Ace. Fortunately Jill is a champ at this sort of thing and Ace just slept the whole way.
There should be stricter warnings before you go in there for the claustrophobic or unfit, because if you stop to rest you will be holding up a line of a hundred people. I would have enjoyed this far more if there were less people and with more time to take it all in. As it was we sort of rushed it, which is the last thing you want to do on a vacation.
After the caves we rested on the boat, had lunch and lounged around as the boat made it’s way back to the pier,
Here is a gallery with other pics I did not add to above.
The highlight of the trip for me is not the amazing rock formations or the tranquil village per se, but the company and the people we got to meet while sharing such an exotic location. We had ample time to talk and share stories about home, the places we had been and learn about how they did things and where they came from.
Lily and Zoren are the first Serbians I had ever met, and they were well travelled having gone everywhere both in Eastern and Western Europe. Zoren could hardly speak English so Lily spoke with us most of the time, and when we asked her her favorite place without batting an eyelash she said Istanbul, Turkey. It has since made us start thinking of a trip out there too.
The young Aussie couple, a nurse and a brokerage agent, were also blast to be with and you cannot help feel hopeful for them as they start out life as a married couple. If I had any regret it wasn’t that I wish I had climbed into a cave or looked at another rock formation. It is that I wish I had spoken more with Stephon who was also the first Austrian I had met and was extremely friendly to boot. I just didn’t have time to talk to him more.
Overall the trip was fun because of the people, not just the sights or the tour itself. They all couldn’t have enough of Ace and when we finally separated Lily told us to take care of him because he was such a special baby. We will keep in touch for sure.
Next post is back to Hanoi, a visit to the War museum and the Temple of Literature.