Halong Bay

Thursday, May 15, 2014

We were up early getting our breakfast pho before heading on a shuttle that would take us to meet our ‘junk’ for our two night Halong Bay trip.

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We had splurged on a fancy double room and of course decided to save some cash by smuggling booze onboard. Undisguised, it was proudly flashed around to highlight our forward planning. The 24 pack was confiscated in about 1.2 seconds. James fought to get it back. My mom encouraged this behavior, which only inflated his confidence further and somehow we ended up making a deal with the crew that we wouldn’t drink the beer, but instead just store it in our room.

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Of course this agreement was forwarded on to the captain and while cheersing to my Mom’s arrival we had an aggressive knock on our cabin door, demanding the unopened box of booze be returned to staff where it would be closely guarded upstairs.

We agreed to hand over the box of beer, but not before we removed half of the beers, hid them in our room and resealed the box with a couple of pieces of my beloved chewing gum. We even remembered to re-fill the box with water bottles to fake the missing wheat weight. With our case of beer disguised to be full and resealed, we over-politely returned the box to the crew and giggled as we smuggled our hidden beers in our pockets to enjoy the view from the sundeck.

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They caught on, and before we even left the protected harbor, calls were being made to our hotel reception informing them of the inflated price that these troublesome noncompliant passengers would be paying upon their return to the hotel. We put up a convincing fight, eventually got what we wanted and happily and freely continued consuming our very warm, but cheap, beers on deck as we set off gliding between the gorgeous green rockery.

We had a smooth ride clearing out of the busy harbor and eventually found ourselves lost among the 2,000 limestone islands.

We were called to the dining room for a fancy lunch and then they herded us off the boat to visit the massive Sung Sot cave.

Once we emerged from the darkness of the cave, we were quick to jump onto kayaks and explore some of the islands on our own.

The day was perfect. The air was clean. The emerald water made you forget this World Heritage Site is in real danger of being quickly destroyed thanks to eager tourists like ourselves.

As we jumped back onboard, silky clouds danced in the sky, creating a beautiful stage for the setting sun to cast her brilliant colors across this southeastern sky. We were again offloaded from our boat onto the small island Ti Top, where we would play in the lukewarm water as we said goodbye to daylight.

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We were back on the boat to happily reunite with our warm Saigons. James did a freezer drive-by and snuck an exchange of his warm can for a cold one and like the amazing boyfriend he is dropped it off on our table and then disappeared to pull it again. The captain came over to our table, and interruppted the conversation I was having with the adorable couple across from me. He shouted loud enough to demand attention from the entire boat and I sat there embarrassed and confused about what the heck he was so upset with me about. He picked up the chilled beer that had just sweat all over his white tablecloth and I connected the dots.

Fed up with these junk boys babysitting our every move, I headed to the back of the ship to try squid fishing before the main course was even served. Within a few minutes I was pulling a lop of rubbery tentacles closer to the surface. After the squid ejected more ink than a Canon printer, I was getting orders to keep reeling him in. The crew collected him and within the quarter hour, served him up for dinner.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

We quickly had breakfast before saying goodbye to our favorite crew and switching to another boat which would take us to Namgat Resort.

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We expected a dumpy overpopulated island camp which would serve as our overnight home, however we happily exited the boat to our leisurely private island. We were treated to a private beach, volleyball and soccer courts, outdoor tables and a long walk across a wooden bridge to our secluded overwater bungalow.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Our final morning in Halong Bay was spent at a pearl farm. Seeing as the only jewelery I was adorning was composed of hemp and beads collected throughout Africa, I wasn’t planning on donating much interest.

Of course – it was incredible. I learned a lot about cultured pearl farming and I’d say it was a welcome inclusion into any Halong Bay package.

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A grain of sand, or any unwelcome visitor can enter an oyster and the oyster will start producing nacre around the invader. Decades later – you have a pearl!

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Patience is a virtue- but it would take a healthy couple of lifetimes to create your favorite expensive necklace. So humans are invasive and have devised a way to shave a few decades off the process. The oyster is opened up by a grafter equipped with enough tools to be confused with a dental hygenist. He very carefully inserts the nucleus (basically a starter pearl) and graft tissue into the pearl pocket, lets the oyster close back up and then back into the bay they go. The same principle applies – the oyster will produce nacre to suffocate the invader and a brilliant pearl will form. Two to three years later, you have yourself a single pearl!

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We returned to land and headed back to the vans for the several hour drive back to the Serendipity Hotel in Hanoi where we switched our bathing suits for hiking shoes and headed out to get some grub at Gecko restaurant before boarding our overnight train to Sapa.

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