The Expat Life: Halong Bay and Hanoi, Vietnam

Halong Bay & Hanoi, Vietnam
May 10 – 14, 2017

While living in Singapore has given me the opportunity to travel the region on the weekends, it’s been four months since I have been able to write about any of my adventures! As people say, time really does fly here. With no seasons, we work really hard during the week and then jet-set off to an island or another city just about a 2-hour flight away for the weekend–it’s that easy! And, if travel isn’t in the agenda, then there’s definitely some event going on over the weekend in Singapore, whether it be a birthday, farewell party, or even just a Sunday funday at TBC. This summer, I traveled to a different almost country every other weekend thanks to a friend who is a bigger travel planner than I am :).

Vietnam. The people, the food, the culture, what isn’t there to love? To be honest, when I first visited Vietnam last year over Chinese New Year, it was great but I didn’t leave thinking I had to go back. Maybe it was Ho Chi Minh, maybe it was the city being filled with tourists, maybe it was because almost everything was closed–yeah, it was that–but this time around, I loved everything about Vietnam and even went back to HCM a couple months later.

Originally, I was told five things to love about HCM, but they all applied to Halong Bay and Hanoi as well:

  • The people. While you can say that about a lot of places in Asia, like Thailand, the people in Vietnam are so sweet and warm that you feel as if you’ve known them for a long time.
  • The food. Speaks for itself. Vietnam, particularly HCM, has some of the best food around.
  • The coffee. Wish you could have it everyday. Packs a punch and helps smooth over the night prior like no other.
  • It’s cheap. One of those places where it may be cheaper to fly to for the weekend than to spend the weekend in Singapore.
  • Navigation. The city is easy to get around with District 1 being in the heart of HCM.

Halong Bay was first put on my radar when my aunt traveled there several years ago. Since then, it’s been on my bucket list and I was fortunate enough to be accompanied by two of my closest friends. Planning a trip in a region I am still getting familiar with wasn’t as straight forward as if I were to plan a trip in Europe, but luckily Nick planned everything and there wasn’t much to worry about other than buying flights and selecting which junk (cruise boat) to spend two nights amongst 1,600 limestone islands on.

We decided to go with Indochina’s Dragon Pearl Junk which accommodated about 20 guests. The boat was perfect–not too fancy in the sense of being modern but it had a romantic, intimate, and charming feel to it. We also lucked out with the upper deck rooms on the quiet side which just added to our experience. The staff was very friendly always greeting guests with a humble smile and the food was delicious. They even accommodated my food allergies which has been sometimes difficult in Southeast Asia.

Halong Bay was more beautiful than I had expected. Choosing the two night cruise vs. one meant we were able to travel further away from majority of the junks, reminding me of the time I used to spend on Lake Mead in the middle of nowhere away from everything. Other than a few junks here and there, there was nothing around us except calm glasslike water, limestone pillared islands, and blue green grottos which we kayaked in and out of. We didn’t swim as much due to the rain but I did manage to learn how to turn a life vest into a floating diaper ;).

The first night, dinner was served outside on the deck and then we spent the rest of the evening star gazing taking in the beauty of the moonlit bay. Mornings were lovely too. The sun when it has just risen but isn’t beating down on you yet, the feeling of breathing in the morning dew air with a slight breeze on your face, and the smell of the water which is so calm you can see the reflection of the islands in the distance–all give you an appreciation for nature and reminds us that we are only truly guests in this world full of beauty and nature.

Waking up on the water was a familiar feeling. Waking up in Halong Bay next to someone I care about was new. This trip meant a lot to me and without getting into details, it was the first of many where I could openly express my feelings and not pretend something wasn’t there. I was also happy to have one of my best girlfriends Lisa with us and to have met three wonderful new people, Taylor from LA who became our fourth, and Scott and Joanne from Chicago.

After three days in a remote paradise, we headed back to Hanoi stopping in Yen Duc Village to see a water puppet show, which was definitely odd but it broke up the 3-hr drive back to the city. In Hanoi, we stayed at the Holiday Emerald Hotel in the Old Quarter where the friendliness of the staff was beyond what any of us expected and supported point no. 01 above. While we didn’t have much time in Hanoi, two nights was perfect to scarf down bahn mi’s, have dinner at Madame Hien with our new friends, a few beers along Bia Hoi Junction, and a dance party at some dive bar to end the night. My favorite part though—riding rigged hover-boards as if we were all characters of Mario Kart through the streets of Hanoi.

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