Christmas Day started early for us. We woke up early, grabbed a quick buffet breakfast at our amazing hotel (highly recommend Landmark Hotel in Hanoi…friendliest staff ever), and were greeted by the smiling face of our bus driver who would be driving us 3 hours to our destination of Halong Bay. We booked a 2 day, 1 night cruise on a five-star Chinese ‘Junk’ and were eagerly waiting to spoil ourselves with the luxury accommodations.
My eyes were glued out the window the entire three hours. I just couldn’t believe all the foreign, beautiful, national geographic-like scenes we were passing by. There were water buffaloes plowing fields (unfortunately not close enough to take a picture of with my small 55mm lens), people selling things off their bikes, children playing near the streets, old men playing cards outside their shops…the list could go on and on. Sigh. If only I could print off memories from my brain.
I did manage to get a few quick shots as we were leaving Hanoi of the hustle and bustle of the street. The last one with the two girls on the scooter is close to a normal sighting in Vietnam. Throw in the family dog and a few chickens on the bike, and you’ll know exactly the craziness of what we were seeing every day.
We arrived at the boarding dock 15 minutes later than scheduled, and were greeted by our friendly tour guide. He pronounced his name Juan, but I swear it was spelled WAY different. The Vietnamese accent is a little hard to decipher at first, so that could have been my problem.
We had a short boat ride to get to our actual cruise ship…which was a small and intimate ship that housed about 50 people max? We had around 20 on our tour.
We were given really yummy warm cider welcome drinks and were then briefed on our tour schedule.
Our room. Comfiest bed I’ve slept in for a while!
Halong Bay had the greenest water. I was hoping for some sun, but it remained overcast and misty the entire time we were on our cruise. :(
We then enjoyed a nice lunch of traditional vietnamese food: spring rolls, rice, pork, shrimp, and a fruit dessert. And I had to get over my fear of only eating shrimp already peeled.
The first stop on the tour was a hike up a nearby rock face. The hike wasn’t too bad; and true to Asian style, it consisted of 365 stairs to the top viewpoint. The view was great though! Once again, I just wish it would have been a sunny day.
Back down on the beach we were given the option to swim (keep in mind it was 60 degrees outside), or chill on the beach for 30 minutes. We opted for #2 as would any sane person, and had fun exploring the small beach surrounded by many magnificent jutting rocks.
The second part of the tour consisted of jumping inside a bamboo boat being guided around by a rather small (in comparison to the 30 people that hopped on the boat) Vietnamese lady or gentleman. We went by a small island where monkeys were playing on the beach, then headed through a little cave into a serene and still bay…only accessible by the cave. It was beautiful…and so quiet.
After getting back to our cruise ship, we decided it would be good to at least participate in a little Christmas cheer and donned the Santa hats Derik and I had brought. The following photos are the result.
If the day wasn’t already fantastic enough, we still had a few more events on the agenda. One of them included a class on fruit/vegetable art. Sandra even got to make a tomato flower that was put on the ‘showcase’ dish.
Then came the squid fishing. Our guide seemed a bit skeptical when he told us to go try our luck at Squid fishing. Apparently people don’t often catch squid. That didn’t stop us! At the rear of the boat a bright flood light was already shining into the water to attract the squid. All we had to do was throw a line in, baited with what looked like a mini squid with 8-9 prongs sticking out of the bottom, and move it up and down. Easy enough.
We weren’t out there 10 minutes when Ethan and Derik saw a squid. The water was clear enough that you could see him ‘flutter’ and ‘dash’ by, check out the lines, nibble, and ‘flutter’ away. He even got scared once and inked the water jet black. :) Sweet. It wasn’t long after that when Derik calmly pulled the shimmering sea creature up on the deck for all to see.
After throwing that one back into the ocean, we didn’t have a single bite the rest of the evening. Oh well.
Late night drinks at by one get, one free, were also part of the evening. The nicest part was that we had the whole lounge area to ourselves, apparently everyone else went to bed at 9:00pm.
We stayed up until about 11:30pm playing card and dice games, reading the Christmas story, and trying another round of squid fishing. All in all, our Christmas was pretty awesome. Definitely not your ordinary Christmas day…but how many people get to say they caught a squid right out of the ocean for Christmas? Or watched monkeys play on the beach? I definitely felt blessed to be able to share the experience with Derik and Ethan and Sandra. It’ll be a Christmas I will always remember.