A two-part day, we began today with an early morning kayak excursion through Ha Long Bay and ended with a few scoops of overpriced ice cream along the lake in Hanoi. A perfect way to say goodbye to Vietnam.
Josh and Jake woke up early to see the sunrise. Miki and I weren't convinced it was worth the 6 AM call time, but Jake dragged Josh for a whole eight minutes before the two realized they were the only young people on the sun deck, and decided to return to sleep. It wasn't as beautiful as the sunset, they reported to us over breakfast of fried pancakes and overcooked eggs (note: the cruise chef loves deep-friend things - spring rolls, fries, fried fish, and apparently fried pancakes). After breakfast, we headed out to kayak in pairs. We didn't have too much time, which was a shame, but it was beautiful and peaceful nonetheless. Even though the sea was crowded with tour boats, there was something very serene about the silence of the islands, the sun and the sea. I breathed in the fresh air and it reminded me of camp - kayaking through the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin.
After kayaking, we packed up, turned in our keys and went up to the sundeck to relax and chat with our British and Irish friends - talking about everything from differentiating accents to socialized healthcare (they're all dietitians for the National Health Service, which is their government health agency and they were explaining to me why they disliked the UK's healthcare so much...another conversation for another blog post). I may have mentioned this yesterday, but none of them had been to the US and were all fascinated by our way of life. Sophie was heading to New York at the end of the month, so I gave her a few recommendations, and the conversations started rolling from there (Snipets: "Is everyone in LA beautiful and on a juice cleanse? What's Miami like?) Soon after, our cruise director called for all those who were doing a three-day-two-night trip to head to another boat. Maddie groaned, saying she'd have to find another group of cool people to hang out with for the rest of the trip. We all nodded in agreement, saying the feeling was mutual, but it was a pleasure getting to know them nonetheless. Being social and making new friends was certainly an achievement to be proud of.
I caught up on some blogging while the others headed down to watch a cooking demonstration, and after lunch, we journeyed back to Ha Long Bay City, and piled onto buses. Back to the tourist trap shop for a way-too-long pit stop, and finally, after three and a half hours, we arrived back in Hanoi. Miki and I went back to the hotel we booked the tour through to pick up our bags, and the owner was kind enough to offer us a room at discount. We told her we totally would have but had already booked at another hostel, and thanked her for her kindness and hospitality. We got situated at our new hostel, which was actually a dorm-style room at the top of a hotel, and caught up with the Internet and iMessage. Time got away from us quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to meet Josh and Jake for dinner. The four of us walked to the heart of the tourist market to find some mediocre and overpriced food (we all were hoping to get rid of our Vietnamese Dong). The experience was certainly worth it, as the area was packed with all walks of life, people squatting on those tiny stools again by the dozens, eating their hotpots and pho. Stores had opened their doors and were selling cheap souvenirs, and we realized that because of Tet, the city really had been shut down.
We ended the night on the lake, stopping at the ice cream place I noticed the first day Miki and I explored the city. I was disappointed by the ice cream, but thoroughly enjoyed the company and the lake-side view. After saying goodbye to Josh and Jake and thanking them for the wonderful company and the many, many laughs, we headed back to our hostel to pack up and get ready for our time in Laos.
Vietnam, my dear, you have been fascinating, eye opening and thoroughly lovely. I wish Vietnamese was an easier language to pick up, so I apologize for my brash English, but know that I find you beautiful and hope to return soon. If you're looking for an out-of-the-ordinary travel experience, I highly recommend Vietnam. It so much more than the Vietnam War, Pho and fake North Face products (looking at you, Belinky). It's a country full of generous (and sometimes pushy) people, gorgeous landscapes and countless adventures.
Coming up next: an exciting and unpredictable journey to Laos. This is the country we know the least about, and we can't wait to get started!