Songkran to Halong Bay

So I know I’ve been bad about keeping up recently. I was kindly reminded by my ex coworker Alicia that maybe I should think of seeking out some guest bloggers due to my lack of posting.
But no worries lets hope I’m back. I’ve been in a bit of a funk since my dear mother left me here in SE Asia. I sailed away in a cab headed to my thailand home for a quick laundry load and a quick repack. It ended up being an even quicker repack than initially anticipated due to the fact that our ticket was written only in Thai and our landlady misinformed us of our departure time.
But we did make it to the bus station in one piece and we even got to witness a rather bizarre breathalyzer award show. Very strange and a story for another day.
We took our bus up to Chiang Mai which normally departs around 6 and arrives in CM around 6:30am. Unfortunately due to the largest Thai holiday of the year we didn’t end up arriving until close to 11am. It was quite a long ride.
Songkran, Thai new year is beyond words. I don’t even know how to start or where to end when it comes to trying to explain the holiday. All I can say is that it was a perfect time for me to get out of thailand for a bit. I think I might have exploded didn’t get out soon. “They” say around month 6, the new country’s customs/ foods/mannerisms/everything no longer seems as cute and beings to wear on you heavily.
Helen and I did manage to make it to the bus station relatively dry and we changed clothes in bus station bathroom.
The end of Thai new year took us to Bangkok for a night and an early departure to Hanoi, Vietnam.
I arrived with a stomach full of butterflies due to the fact that I was only able to bring one passport picture for my visa because everything in Bangkok had closed shop for songkran for over a week. We arrived and were efficiently shuffled through two different lines, paid our fees, stopped by baggage claims and were swooped off into a car headed to our hostel before we could catch our breathe. One of the most efficient travels to date!
We arrive and are greeted, quickly rushed in and told not to pay the cab or even think about touching our bags. With the amount of attention we were receiving you would have thought were staying in a suite rather than the $6 dorms! (I’m still on the fence about May De Ville, but customer service and sales is something they long ago perfected.)
Our first night wasn’t the best. The dorm was nice, just not our style. The room smelled of feet and no matter how many windows I opened I couldn’t seem to air it out. I woke up early to run the lake with a fiend from orientation which was a nice change of pace. The lake was beautiful and about 1 mile around. Reminded me of lake Merritt in Oakland and my LIC days.
The lake was full of people exercising which was also a great change of pace from thailand. The air seemed a bit cooler, possibly a bit less humid, but defiantly more polluted. I’ve never seen a city with a crazier traffic plan than Hanoi. The lack of sidewalks and paved roads left you in a daze trying to dodge motorcycles, bikes, vans, taxis and other people. Horns never stopped honking and one had to use wit and confidence when crossing the street.
Day one and two Helen and I spent admiring the French influenced arcetictchure, sipping the most amazing coffee I’ve ever had (they roast their beans in butter giving the coffee a rich chocolately flavor maybe similar to guinness beer that is like nothing I’ve ever tasted-pure perfection), eating pho and trying our very hardest to book a scam free halong bay tour.
Some how we managed to book an amazing tour: ODC tour company and our boat was named Elation. It was absolutely perfect. A quiet group of about 15—mostly couples and parent and son group. We somehow managed to snag the suite which had an amazing window view, huge bathroom and our own private balcony off the back. Helen and I could not of been more proud of ourselves because the planning is normally left to Alicia, but I’m happy to say she approved of our choice and gave it her Alicia soon-to-be-tour-guide stamp of approval.
We spent the first day on the boat taking in the breath taking views and relaxing on the upper deck. We ate fabulous meals that were even more courses than the pink beach club. Lots of veggies, fish and delicious fresh fruit juices were my favorite.
We kayaked around the bay. Which one would think this means you are dropped in a secluded closed off area of the bay without any large cruise ships, but no not in SE Asia. We bounced right alongside the old junk boats through a tunnel which did finally bring us to a quieter area. We paddled around a bit and then headed back to the boat.
Our boat was smaller than a lot of the others which was nice because it meant it could take us right up to the dock. We docked at a beach and climbed way up high to a breath taking view point. The craziest part of the experience is you climbing with a million other halong bay tourist, all of us gently fighting our way to the top.
The view looked like battleship—fake little toy pieces playing a game below. I think this is the most impressive, most beautiful and most touristy thing I’ve done the past six months.
We went for a quick swim after our climb but the water was cold and we opted for a beer on the beach instead. The day ended with a sunset toast on the top deck, another fabulous Vietnamese meals and a quick spring roll cooking class. We were all zonked and went to bed early, knowing that we had an early morning wake up call.
Breakfast was at 7 and we once again enjoyed a great meal. Then we headed to the amazing cave—which was fine but I always think of the trip we took in AR to see the caves when I was in elementary school and caves just aren’t really my thing.
But back out on the water again I was happy as a clam! The ride to and from halong bay was about three hours and cars really never stop honking here. I did notice one to many cars seemed to be honking at us for an extended period and we did eventually pull over for a flat tire. It wasn’t like thailand though. We got off the van and weren’t immediately sweating. There was even a nice breeze. The area seemed like a car shop area, but quite a few families had come outside to check out all the foreigners. Alicia, Helen and I started playing with one of the adorable kids and the next thing you know the mom invites us over to sit. She tosses her baby at someone else and rushes inside to fix us some delicious green ice tea. If that’s not southern hospitality, I duno what is! We were told people wouldn’t be as nice here as they are in thailand. The conclusion I’ve come to so far is that those that are nice are really genuinely nice and those that want to rip you off genuinely want to rip you off. I don’t have much other way to explain it. We’ve had our fare share of encounters of rip offs in just two days, but also some extremely kind gestures too.
The trip was perfect and we got to spend one more night in hanoi with Alicia. Alicia is my fellow wine drinker and fellow expensive food lover. So the three of us spent out last night dining at the number one rated tripadvisor restaurant in Hanoi. This marked our last night traveling together before Alicia heads home to the US and Helen and I head on to see the rest of Vietnam.
We left Alicia tonight, both of us a nervous wreck after reading mixed reviews about our quickly approaching 15 hour bus journey. Now on the bus breathing a small sigh of relief— we have aircon, the seats recline and there aren’t extra people sleeping on the floor just yet. And we have an extra exciting journey ahead. We will arrive in Hoi An tomorrow and will be staying with a family. We can’t wait! Tripadvisor is full of positive reviews and I’m hoping to maybe get in a yoga class or two. And to top it off Hoi an is beach city. I think this travel is slowly but surely heading in the right direction and the homesickness is starting to subside. Lets hope, because if not it’s going to be a long three weeks!

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