I’m labeling this past week our “adventure week.” We’ve just finished the northern half of Vietnam and it’s possible that this’ll turn out to be my favourite part of our entire trip (though, of course, I can’t be sure for another few months!).
After we left Hanoi, we headed down south to Cat Ba Island. All of the tour companies will tell you the best way to see the karst outcroppings is to take a one- or two-night cruise through Halong Bay, but we’re convinced our way is better. Most of the cruises are overpriced and full of people. We talked to some who’ve experienced them and heard that you see more boats and people than the nature around you (though we have heard good cruise stories as well).
Instead, we made our way to Cat Ba Island, and with the help of Asia Outdoors, went kayaking through Lan Ha Bay instead. Lan Ha Bay has the exact same scenery as Halong Bay (we looked across the channel to double check haha) only the karst formations are closer together – meaning most large ships can’t make it through the area.
We spent the day kayaking through deserted enclaves and swimming in hidden grottos, with a delicious lunch on the main boat tossed in the middle. We had four other kayakers with us when we went (our guide said it was the smallest group he’d had all season), and there were hours when we didn’t encounter a single other person. It was so serene. At the end of the day, I was tempted to ask our guide what qualifications I’d need to do his job – anything to stay in the area. But Chandler quickly reminded me of what we had next – Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park…and Paradise Cave.
Before we continued our way south, we had to pop up for another night in Hanoi. We made it back to our hotel (Serenity), and they gave us a free upgrade for staying with them a second time (in case you’re keeping count, this is the second time we’ve gotten a hotel upgrade on this trip!). The room was even bigger, as well as nicer, but came with even more stairs to climb – we got a workout every time we left or returned!
Fun fact: the Vietnamese people that I’ve met so far have easily been some of the kindest people I’ve met in my entire life. Less fun fact: Vietnamese tourism companies in Hanoi are among the most corrupt I’ve encountered in my entire life.