Before C + I embarked on our vacay, I consulted my Crook buddy, Tai, about the must-sees + must-eats for Vietnam + Thailand. The musts for Vietnam were Bun Cha (an INCREDIBLE street food!!) + UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay.
Since travel between Halong Bay + Hanoi made a day trip not logically worth it, we sprung for a 2-day, 1-night cruise tour with Christina Cruises.
The tour started when Christian + I got picked up at our hostel with along with a girl from Belgium. Soon three fellow New York City kids joined the tour + I immediately felt at home. Also on our tour were three Mandarin speaking women from Singapore, a group of men on business from India + three super cool cats from Cali.
Our tour guide, Can, was awesome + more dryly sarcastic than many New Yorkers I know. I loved listening to his anecdotes + the accent of his English-speaking voice (which is where the “haloooong bway” of this post’s title comes from).
It was fantastic to see a bit of Northern Vietnam on the 4-hour rides to + from Halong Bay. I was struck by the flatness of much of the land, the beauty of the rice paddies, lushness of the foliage, dryness of the soil + humble functionality of the buildings in towns we passed along the way.
But what makes Halong Bay special is the thousands of beautiful limestone karsts + islets jutting out from the water as far as the eye can see.
Even on an overcast day, Halong Bay is a beautiful, special place to be. On our first day + night on the cruise, we checked out a cave, kayaked, went to a beach + learned how to make Vietnamese spring rolls!
Day 2 of the tour was a cruise of more of the bay. We hoped that we would be able to check out the sunrise that morning, but a rain storm made that an impossibility. However, the bay is so beautiful that even rain didn’t dampen the experience (cue: rimshot). In ways I think the tranquility + peacefulness of the area was heightened by the rain.
When we got back to Hanoi, it was our last night and we went to a fabulous not-for-profit restaurant, KOTO, that Christian had read about in Lonely Planet. According to KOTO’s website,
KOTO stands for “Know One, Teach One”: learning should be passed on; knowledge is there to be shared. This is the essential idea of KOTO’s founder, Jimmy Pham, a Vietnamese-Australian who more than 10 years ago opened a training centre in hospitality in Hanoi, giving disadvantaged youth the possibility to learn and strive in their lives.
Dinner was incredible! I was so touched by the vibe of the restaurant + it’s mission that I will absolutely make some form of donation once I’m Stateside with an income!
On our last night, we went out to a bar near our hostel + watched for hours as foreigners sold whippets to the Vietnamese bar-goers who huffed themselves into nitrous induced stupors… A seriously wacky + unexpected turn to the evening. Being avid people watchers, C + I couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away!
The next afternoon, in the cab to the Hanoi airport, I found myself already calculating how long it might take me to earn enough money to take a trip through more of the country.
I loved our time in Vietnam!
The NYC guys on our cruise tour introduced me to this song. I think it embodies the wacky wonderfulness of our whirlwind Hanoi stay.