I leave my luggage packed, I have breakfast and ask for a taxi to the airport. I find it hard to believe that I will be able to do the trip back to the airport in time, so I don’t risk it. After a short flight to Hanoi, the second biggest city in Vietnam at the north of the country, I arrive to the hostel in bus. This time the GPS on my phone is working, thank God and all the dragons in Taiwan. In reception, I ask about different day trips that you can do from Hanoi and I pay for one of them.
Since there is a day in the middle, I try to explore the city, as much as traffic lets me and I discover a lake with activities going on as well as local markets and a Chinese temple, which I did not visit. I walked to a park and went for a coffee. Vietnamese coffee is quite popular and famous. I don’t think it’s because of the coffee itself, but for the way it is prepared. The most usual ways were iced black coffee (with sugar added) and iced coffee with condensed milk. Condensed milk was first used because during the war period there was no fresh milk. Following the same principle of using condensed milk instead of fresh milk, there is the “egg coffee”. At the beginning, it tasted too much like egg and it was not that popular, but the recipe has been improving and it became a thing in the 80s. I personally think it is like an espresso with a thick cream on top.
After the exploration day in Hanoi, a bus picked me up to go to Halong Bay, which is an area in the coast considered World Heritage by UNESCO. The hostel made it really easy to cancel a night so that I could do the tour of two days-one night.
After a 4 hour ride, we get to a port, where we take a small boat that will take us to a bigger boat where we would be staying the night. We leave our things in the room and we get lunch. After that we get an hour break and they took us to see some caves and a beach. The caves are inside the big mountains that come out from the sea. The guide told us two of the theories. Legend has it, a dragon landed on that area and that is why there are so many mountains. According to Vietnamese (and Chinese) mythology, dragons don’t spit fire, but energy. With that energy, stalactites and stalagmites were formed. Now, from a more scientific point of view: tectonic plates and a little extra info; I heard other guides saying that some scientific think that there might be some fossils of monkeys or trees in the caves.
When we got back, we had another hour and a half break and then dinner. With a full belly, we went up to the upper deck of the boat that had a terrace where we sitter and talked: three Spaniards, an American girl, a Turkish guy, two Swiss and two Germans. Most of them were backpackers travelling South-East Asia. Each had started before or after and from one side or the other. Some were starting and some were finishing. It was a really awesome night getting to know like-minded but all sorts of different people.
Honestly, the tour was a bit expensive, but waking up to that freaking paradise was kind of priceless. Looking back, I would have liked to do some research on the company because the guide told us very few details, in my opinion and they took us to very crowded touristy places. After breakfast they took us to the Pearl Museum, which I thought was interesting, but I wouldn’t have gone, should I had had the choice. Specially because at the end, they led us to a pearl shop in case we wanted to buy something for our family and friends. We went kayaking for an hour after that. I was paired with an old German man, so we went really slowly and relaxed taking in the breathtaking scenery.
Back in the boat, we took our things and waited in the terrace for lunch and the small boat to get back to Hanoi.