We had planned on waking up extra early to see the sunrise over the limestone cliffs jutting out of the emerald green water but when our alarm went off at 5 am our priorities seem to have shifted a little and we snoozed for another hour. It’s just as well it seems because it was an overcast morning and there hadn’t been a sunrise to see anyway.
We finally roused ourselves just after 6 am and met a few other sleepy folks for some morning tai chi on the sundeck. We started with some very simple stretching to the sounds of a flute playing and every so often a voice would interrupt to say “audio input one” a la the mavis beacon 2.0 voice from our middle school computers. At this point I had one of those moments where you realize you’re doing tai chi in Vietnam, on the sundeck of a boat, in one of the most beautiful places in the world…and it was pretty freaking awesome.
15 minutes in, our instructor must have decided we were really getting the hang of it because he significantly upped his game from neck rolls to what I can only describe as intricately choreographed slow motion dance fighting. The three of us struggled to follow along, occasionnally slow motion punching a tree or kicking a railing before it thankfully ended another fifteen minutes later.
After a quick breakfast of pho, fresh fruit, and tea we all loaded onto the shore boat and headed off to see a cave in one of the islands. It seems this cave is quite popular because all of the other thirty or so boats had done the same and we were now in a race to be the first ones there before the cave was swarmed with other tourists. Thankfully we won the race and started a quick ascent up a hundred or so stairs where we paused at the entrance. Inexplicably, even though we had the virgin cave right in front of us, our guide decided we really needed a ten minute breifing on the history of Ha Long Bay as we watched all the other tourists we had beat walk right by us taking what should been our turn in the cave.
We pushed through the now present crowds to enter the cave and it was indeed a big limestone cave. Some of the formations were pretty cool, there was some neat colored lighting, and everyone once in a while there was a rock that “looked like” a monkey or a dragon or monkey riding a dragon but truth be told it looked like a lot of other limestone caves we had both seen before. Perhaps the cave was more surprising (it’s name is actually Surprising Cave) if you not been to one before.
We headed back to our boat to pack up and check out before being transferred to a smaller day boat that would take us to our bungalow resort for the rest of the day and that night. After we got on , our day boat pulled up to another cruiser where who should walk on but the Dutch couple we had now said goodbye to three times previously only to see each other again every time.
The day boat fully loaded, we got a very repetetive briefing from our new guide about the island and the ride to it. Every single sentence was repeated at least twice in a row and we heard that the boat ride would be one hour and twenty minutes about thirty times. We spent the rest of the ride admiring the views out the window and sarcastically bantering with the German girls next to us about how long our boat ride would be. Along the way we sailed through a real floating village with brightly colored shanties floating on large platforms made out of blue plastic 55 gallon drums, often with a satellite dish and solar panel as well. It was very reminiscent of the Mongolian herder’s gurs and we both were impressed to see people still living this life.
We arrived at our resort after almost exactly one hour and twenty minutes and feasted on a lunch of course after course of delicious fish, pork, chicken, and vegetables. After lunch we were shown to our beach side bungalow which was a little worse for the wear, but how bad can a beach side bungalow really be? We spent the afternoon lounging on the beach, swimming in the warm water, and kayaking around our little island; discovering coves, beaches sharp with broken seashells, and some rather large birds of prey along the way. At one point I was complaining about how fine the beach sand was and that it was getting caught in my leg hairs only to look up and see Lynn making a face that immediately made me realize what a ridiculous complaint that was.
Returning to our resort it was getting dark and we were dismayed to discover we had no idea how to turn on the lights in our hut. Lynn managed to find a few light switches behind some furniture after searching for a bit but none of them did anything. She flagged down an employee who didn’t really speak English and invited him into our bungalow to have a look. He was just as confused as we were, but he was able to come back with someone else who brought three different light bulb types with him and after trying a few of the different fixtures, managed to find one that was controlled by a switch we could see.
Lighting issues resolved, we headed to a buffet dinner and were joined by our Dutch friends for an all you can eat feast of chicken, pork, fish, vegetables, and very sweet french fries. If we have not already mentioned it, the downside of our Dutch friends (who we keep calling that because we only ever learned one of their names) is that they are horrible chain smokers, so after a little while we had to excuse ourselves for some fresh air, night swimming, and a few games of billiards before calling it a night.
Daily Walking Mileage : Only 2 miles, but an hour of kayaking and 30 minutes of tai chi dance fighting
- It’s an hour and twenty minute boat ride from the big boat to the resort, just in case that wasn’t clear.
- Catba Island, which is the main island in Ha Long Bay, means “Lady Island” and is called that because traditionally only women lived on it, while their husbands lived in the floating fishing villages in the bay.
- Fisherman used to use the Surprising Cave to hide out in during typhoons in the bay until 1994 when it was made a protected site.
- Ha Long Bay means “Descending Dragon Bay,” because everything, it seems, has to look like something else.