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Kayaking at Halong Bay: The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Wearing a Flotation Device

So I don’t know if you’ve gathered this or not yet but it rained A LOT during my travels around Vietnam. I’ve lost count of how many sexy photos there are of me in a poncho. (Sorry, did I say sexy? I mean stupid). But when we got to Halong Bay it was miraculously sunny. Not burn yourself in the Tropics kind of sunny, but the sun was shining and that was good enough for us. So much so that we proceeded to shed our clothes and expose our pasty rain-soaked skin in bikinis and shorts. Luckily for you, I won’t be sharing those photos here; they are currently being incinerated for the world’s greater good. Probably just as well, you may have been blinded by the sun radiating off our white skin…..

So, the sun was shining, we were floating in the middle of the Bay and we were bored. Not to say we don’t enjoy sunbathing, but let’s face it, that wasn’t why we had come to ‘Nam. (I lie, it was part of the reason, I mean it’s SE Asia, after all. But after several days of drinking beer whilst looking glumly through rain-streaked windows a-la Joey from Friends, we weren’t really in a sunbathing mood anymore). Kayaking in Halong Bay seemed like a much better way to spend our time. In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best idea straight after a mahoosive seafood lunch, but we threw caution to the wind. And boy am I glad we did. It was amazeballs. (I promised myself I would squeeze that word in somewhere in my blog and I think I’ve done it pretty seamlessly). Seriously, it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on and a restrictive water jacket strapped to your chest.

Halong Bay – Paradise on Earth?

After six days of rain in Hoi An and Hue, it was like heaven to arrive in Hanoi on the overnight sleeper train and see the sun shining in the early morning. We hopped off the train as easily as we could with massive rucksacks on our backs and took a three hour bus journey to Halong City, where we were going to lay our head that night (more about this later). Down at the harbour we stocked up on some cheap beers to drink during the afternoon, as we had been told that the prices onboard the boats were highly inflated due to the number of tourists that flock to the area. Refreshments sorted, we headed onboard to begin our cruise into Halong Bay.

The boat itself was wonderful. We were served a fresh seafood lunch which consisted of tiger prawns cooked in garlic oil, spring rolls, whole sea bass cooked with tomatoes, rice, chips, fried squid and then fresh fruit to follow. Probably wasn’t the smartest idea to stuff my face right before kayaking, cave exploration and sunbathing, but who could resist such delicious food?? The captain and skippers couldn’t contain us downstairs for long, however, as we were desperate to enjoy the sun for the first time since Saigon.

When people had said to me before my trip that you can’t really explain how beautiful HalongBay is unless you have experienced it yourself, I had never imagined how true that statement could be. The limestone karsts rising out of the sea provided the most amazing backdrop to our boat journey. Even though there are lots of boats sailing around the Bay every day, I never felt as though the tranquillity was disturbed by other visitors. This was particularly true when we docked at one of the floating markets and decided to do a spot of kayaking. Me and my kayak partner Hannah navigated our way into a deserted lagoon surrounded by limestone cliffs and the silence that engulfed us was breathtaking. I can honestly say it gave me goosebumps to be there at that moment in time.

10 Things You Should Know Before Travelling to Vietnam

The facilities are good, use them

Before I got to Vietnam I had visions of squat toilets all over the country, like that of many other South East Asian destinations and so steeled myself for having to ‘hover’ on a regular basis.

This turned out to be a misconception and the only squat toilet I encountered was at a service station at the side of the road. Apart from this, the plumbing tends to work in much a similar way to Greece: don’t block the pipes by flushing the toilet paper down; instead use the bin provided and everything will be fine.

As with anywhere in Asia, arm yourself with plenty of tissues and antibacterial gel in case you’re caught short with no supplies. You may also be charged to use toilets if they are situated at popular tourist sites. Don’t be cheap and think you can get away with paying the minimum price unless you are male and are used to using public urinals. I made this mistake and was shown to an exposed toilet bowl with no door that could be seen from the street!

It WILL rain – there’s no best time to visit Vietnam

If you are travelling from one end of the country to the other, it will rain at some point during your trip. The seasons vary throughout the country and I encountered rain in both Hoi An and Hue. Even though it was still warm, the rain was heavy at times, but don’t let it dampen your fun.

Ponchos can be bought for a minimal price when you are there (the thinner plastic ones are good just for walking around whereas you should invest in the thicker, longer ones if you’re planning on riding motorbikes and cycles a lot).

Also, don’t bother packing an umbrella – it just adds to your baggage weight and even the lowest class of hotels tend to offer them free in the rooms. Note –  Make sure you return the umbrellas before you leave as you will be charged for them otherwise.

The trains never run on time

Once you’ve spent a few days in Vietnam you’ll realise that the Vietnamese are a laid-back people, who are never in a rush to get anywhere. This translates to their public transport system also.

Having used a few sleeper trains during my stay, it became custom to never expect to arrive at your destination at the intended time, even if you had set off within an hour of your departure time. Just go with the flow and be ready and alert to leave the train at your station when you arrive because they don’t hang around for long and you never know where you might end up if you have to stay on the train until the next stop.

The Day My Life Changed

The day I returned from my first solo trip to Vietnam, I walked back into my house, greeted my two little dogs, discovered that my hot water boiler had broken down… and cried.

Yes, I actually cried.

I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, what an overreaction to a boiler breaking down”. But it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can remember talking to my Mum that night, after a series of other domestic disasters had occurred, saying “I’m going to sell this bloody house *sniffle* and go travelling *sniffle*”. There was no doubt in my mind; I was a changed person.

Let me go back to the beginning. Well, the end of the beginning. I realise that although I’ve shared memories of my exciting trips and my rambling random thoughts on this blog, I’ve never really given an insight into my life or how I ended up where I am now: 27, living with my parents and saving everything I earn to fund a round-the-world trip. So maybe it’s time you understood exactly why I’m so homeless and confused.

Just over two years ago, my life changed in a big way. This is what I was referring to when I said the “end of the beginning”. On a grey day in March 2009 I ended a seven and a half year relationship with someone I realised I was no longer in love with. Please don’t take that as a fickle explanation as to why the relationship ended. I am not a quitter. I did not just wake up one day and think “I’m not in love with you anymore” and walked out. It was a lot more complicated than that.

Exactly a month later (to the day) I lost my job.

Granted, from a company and position I despised with every fibre of my being, but a job that paid my bills nonetheless. There I was, suddenly single after all that time, struggling to pay an overinflated mortgage by myself, a single parent to two pug dogs and no money coming in. To say it was a low point would be an understatement. And yet the whole time the only feeling I experienced was excitement. I almost instinctively knew that both of these things were possibly the best things that could ever happen to me. I had regained my independence, I had been freed from the shackles of a job I detested and I no longer felt like every day was a struggle. Instead of feeling daunted by my new situation, I embraced it wholeheartedly. People who knew me (and particularly those who had known me throughout my relationship) looked at me like a crazy person. I could tell they were thinking “Why isn’t she breaking down crying every five minutes? I would be.” But tears don’t come when you know that your life is actually improving and that everything really has happened for a reason, no matter how cathartic it may be to shed them.