#OTNTravels: Ha Long Bay | One To Nothin'

#OTNTravels: Ha Long Bay

Continuing on with the recap of my solo trip to Vietnam over Thanksgiving. See Days 1 & 2 here.

Day 3 - Thanksgiving

I woke up at 6am to get ready and hit up the continental breakfast at the hotel before getting on a bus to Ha Long Bay. It was not your average cold scrambled eggs and crappy coffee, friends. It was incredible, super strong Vietnamese coffee plus an array of delicious, fresh lychees still in the shell, mango, egg rolls, mini hotdogs, AND eggs to order. Next level. I'm big on breakfast, if you didn't already know. Then I got picked up from the hotel in a bus complete with ornate seat covers and a hilarious female tour guide named Linda, who assured us that we'd be eating rats on the cruise ship (she might not have been joking--I ate a lot of things I didn't recognize on this trip--but I laughed anyway). The bus was full of tourists, none of which were from America and none of which were traveling by themselves. I sat in a row by myself and zoned out listening to music the whole way there, feeling a little bummed that everyone else seemed to be coupled up, but also very zen meditating to the sounds of my offline music library and the bumpy, twisty 4+ hour ride there.
Once we arrived we lugged our suitcases onto the small boat to take us to the cruise ship. I made friends with an amazing couple from England, a couple from France, three friends traveling from Australia, two friends from Greece. We all ate lunch together after checking out our cabins--we were all pleasantly surprised by our 3-star boat. Aside from the ant-sized blankets and the freezing winds ripping through the boat, it was pretty nice! The staff brought out a giant feast that we had to eat at very specific times to stay on schedule. Our first excursion was to Ti Top Island which was described as a hike. It was actually a giant clusterfuck of tourists trying to follow this 15-min path up to a pretty view. Normally at least half the folks would be sunbathing on the beach or playing in the water, but it was freakin' cold. Needless to say I wasn't entirely impressed with this island, but luckily we didn't stay long--had to stick to the schedule! 
Next we stopped at "Amazing Cave" and thank the lawd we went after prime tourist time, so we got to enjoy the cave in all its glory. It was pretty cool to see the formations, but let's be real, the highlight of the cave excursion was absolutely the giant phallic formation BATHED IN A PINK SPOTLIGHT. We. could. not. stop. giggling. Then we headed back to the ship for a "sunset party" even though it was way too foggy to actually see the sun setting. We learned how to say "Cheers" in Vietnamese and toasted our vinegar-tasting red wine before turning the jams up and getting tipsy. We ate dinner and bonded over beers (I heard rumors, that were later confirmed through experimentation, that liquor is often 'watered down' with a cheaper alternative that gives you the worst hangovers ever), karaoke, and stupid American pop songs, specifically Britney Spears's "3". Happy Thanksgiving! 'MERICA!
The rest of the night consisted of me getting up randomly throughout the night to layer more of my clothing on to prevent myself from freezing to death. Did I mention there was no hot water either? All part of the experience, y'all.
Day 4

The next morning we woke up bright and early for breakfast and our next adventures (some of my new friends were too hungover to make it... woops). We headed out to the pearl farm to learn about how cultured pearls are made (I got to pick which oyster they cracked open and watched them pull the pearl out of it--gross and awesome) and kayak around the bay. Kayaking was by far my favorite part of the cruise--the water was SO green, the rock formations so beautiful, the company so lovely, and the quiet so, so peaceful. I could've stayed out there for a few more hours, but unfortunately we were still on a strict schedule. We headed back to the boat, ate lunch, learned how to make spring rolls, and had to say goodbye to our new friends. Luckily I ended up meeting back up with some of these folks later on though. Next up was the 4-hour bus ride back to Hanoi where I stayed at that same hotel from the first two nights. I definitely looked at the hot water and human-sized blankets with a renewed sense of appreciation this time though. 

Day 5

On day five I didn't have a plan or much motivation to explore, TBH. I went bright and early to get THE BEST crab noodle soup at Gian Truyen (also recommended by a friend) and iced coffee at Cafe Lam. It was v strong and tasted a bit like beer. I then checked myself in for an all-day massage at La Belle Spa. #selfcare I legit spent five hours getting massaged from head (AND FACE) to toe all for about $100 USD. Like, what is life? Everyone there was amazing, so sweet and chatty (before and after the massages) and brought me amazing tea, dessert, mango juice and dried fruit. I was a full-on jelly fish when I left that place, but my friends from the cruise were in town that day so I went off to find them. It took a while because I got distracted by a free outdoor concert going on by the lake and gave in to buying a faux North Face in preparation for Sapa the next day. 
When I finally met up with them, we drank beers at an American gangster-themed bar (lolz there were giant murals of Tupac and Biggie). Eventually we went off to explore the touristy spot--they blocked off the streets from motorbikes and cars on Saturdays and it's glorious. I bought some rice dish that I still have no clue what it was but it was incredible. Finally I had to head back to the hotel to catch a ride to the overnight train to Sapa. That was quite an interesting experience as well. I roomed with three other solo travelers. They were super friendly and I saw them throughout my stay in Sapa too. I didn't sleep much though because the train is v loud and without Advil PM I don't do well in loud train cars with strangers snoring around me. It was exciting nonetheless and I'd highly recommend it for adventure-seekers who a) don't want to waste a day to traveling and b) don't want to waste money on lodging for a night. I felt very safe and, let's be real, I didn't go to Vietnam so I could be comfortable.
Up next: Sapa... TBC.

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