one reason i always wanted to visit Vietnam was Halong Bay. so i have been looking forward to this location for the whole of my trip. i'm the first on the mini bus when it comes around to pick up guests and the next stop is at the hotel where my friends from dinner the night before are staying. i see them coming out and wave hello.
the bus on the 3.5 hour ride to Halong Bay to get the Junk makes a stop at the obligatory ceramic factory and while there i am happy to run into the two young European girls from Hue. they have had an equally bad night bus to Hanoi and said a rock was thrown at their bus shattering the glass and cutting someone's eye quite badly. this explains why there are so many blown out windows on the buses. they have joined up with a large group of young westerners for the Halong Bay trip so i hope their trip will improve with the added buffer.
the port is chaotic but our guide is orderly so we get onto the tender and out to our boat with a minimum of hassle and we are off to the tour the bay. the first day we cruise around, climb through some caves, kayak around some of the formations and chat with some of the other tourists and travelers on the boat.
the second day we move away from the other boats and into a private cove where we kayak around the formations and through caves. we take our time, enjoy the isolation and magic of the area jumping off the boat to cool off when we get too hot. happy hour and dinner and i tumble tired and happy into bed. this has been a wonderful tour in part because the boat is great and in part because this group of people is tons of fun. Halong Bay has been the highlight of Vietnam.
two of the couples from the boat are heading to Sapa on the night train. i really want to go to Sapa but know should be heading instead up to China from Hanoi. the couple from the UK solve my dilemma when they offer me a bed in their sleeper so i am off to Sapa.
i also meet two Americans one of which is fluent in Chinese languages. i ask him and he agrees to write me out a list of words that i can use in China as i plan to do it without a travel guide.