Back to The Bay

There are many, many bays out in our neck of the woods, but only one makes it onto the required visit list for those traipsing around Southeast Asia: Ha Long Bay. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognized for its hundreds of karst formations and caves. It is, in a word, stunning. And it’s a pain in the neck to get to.

When we visited last year, we took a long bus ride in from Hanoi. This time, we thought it might be easier to fly to Hai Phong, a port city just across the bay from Cat Ba Island, which would be our starting spot. Getting to Hai Phong involves flying to Ho Chi Minh city and then transferring from the international to the domestic terminal. The ensuing flight delay as you wait for your plane to Hai Phong will make you unbearably punchy.


Then there’s a cab ride over super-bumpy streets (half the city’s roads seem to be in the midst of an infrastructure project) to a hotel, because you get to Hai Phong so late at night that you can’t do anything but head straight to bed. The next morning, you get up and arrange a cab ride to a ferry. If you’re smart, you’ll know which ferry to ask for (this is especially important in Hai Phong, where not many people speak English). If you’re us, you just say “ferry,” and your cab driver will take you on a 45-minute ride, during which you start out being excited by the sights on the Vietnam roads:


IMG_4727Eventually, when you’ve been in the cab for a while and there’s no ferry in sight, you begin to get nervous — so nervous that it’s hard to get excited even when the cab driver tells you in very broken English that you’re driving over the longest bridge in Vietnam. Instead, you wonder why you’re on the longest bridge in Vietnam in the first place, when you especially booked a hotel not too far from the ferry terminal. And then you know you’re in trouble when your ferry — which is supposed to be a speedy hydrofoil — looks like this:

IMG_4732This ferry was not the one we’d planned on. There was barely enough room to stand, and that problem only grew worse as the people on board began to huddle for shelter from the rain. But we made it work by staying in one place and not moving an inch.


The ferry did take us to Cat Ba Island — but to the north side, and the boat we were supposed to meet was at the south. So it was time for another long cab ride! And then we finally made it to our home for the next three days: Dai Duong #9:


Our boat last year was a disaster, so this time around I requested a boat that wasn’t falling apart — and Cat Ba Ventures came through. Aside from the astroturf on the deck, which was strange, it was better in just about every way.


Our activities were very similar to last year’s. We kayaked a lot…



… we visited caves …

… we saw Cat Ba langurs, an endangered species (this is Prescott admiring the langurs; I was unable to capture the actual monkeys with my camera)…


… we swam (well, mom and I swam) …



… we collected shells (mom is working on her collection below) …


… we watched sunrise …


… and sunset …


… and we just looked out and admired the scenery (and I took about a hundred pictures of rocks and hills):IMG_4815





We also ate like kings and queens — the chef on this boat was even better than the chef on the last one. He had taken a food-carving course that left us oohing and aahing at every meal:


All of these decorations require exclamation points. This fish is has been caught by a carrot net!


And this was first time I’d ever worn a vegetable behind my ear!


We also added some new forms of entertainment to this voyage. We played a lot of Bananagrams at night and Mom did a bit of pencil drawing and watercoloring during the day. Prescott upped his photobombing adventures …


.. and Mom played with our perfectly-folded napkins.


We all took turns standing and looking out from the top of the ship:

IMG_4883IMG_4894IMG_4961But the greatest addition to our trip was Mom’s recorder (which was made even more fun when she learned that our guide played his own homemade flute). She played it on our kayak trips, which was lovelier than I can say.



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