To be completely honest, my desire to visit Vietnam all began when I “liked” a photo of Ha Long Bay on Instagram. It needed no filter, no hashtags. I needed it. And after far too many days in hectic Hanoi, Ha Long Bay truly was a need, not a want.
October 29th, 8 AM: we boarded the “party bus” to our “party cruise.” I was ready to go- pleather backpack on my shoulders and straw (lice-infested, but didn’t know that at the time…) baseball cap on my head. We’d accidentally/ironically booked a boat called “Ha Long Bay Party Cruise” because we did not want a party cruise. Our hostel was famous for its “Castaways” tour of Ha Long Bay, whose promo video could’ve been footage from Cabo Spring Break. Been there, done that, and never again. We unanimously chose the cheaper, more chilled-out cruise through Central Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel.
As the bus rolled out of Hanoi, our leader rallied the troops in broken English, “How is everyone doing? Everyone please introduce yourselves… anyone know the weather in Ha Long? It will be sunny… HAHA just kidding. I don’t know the weather. OK so my name is Luc but everyone calls me Sssssuhnake (Snake). Three reasons. Because I am ssssuhnake-ey (sneaky), I am ssssuhh-mooth (smooth)… and the third… hehe you’ll find out later… (side-smiles, gestures, and winks).”
Snake’s “suuuh-mooth” and “sssssuuh-ubtle” jokes didn’t end there. Our cruise’s first stop was Heavenly Palace Cave, on one of Ha Long Bay’s 1,600 islands. Its glorious stalagmites and stalactites were illuminated by rainbow spot lights- this was practically a Disney attraction, complete with my favorite dolphin-slash-penguin trash bins. Snake pointed out formations that looked like an elephant ear and a dolphin. But his names for rocks quickly escalated from animals to reproductive organs and sexual positions, bringing on a slough of cringe-worthy broken-English sex jokes. I thought “The Talk” was bad, until I heard Suhhhnake make suhhhex jokes to a suhhhilent crowd. Someone had spent a little too much time underground.
Back on board we were treated to free suhhh-angria while floating through paradise, our jaws dropping lower and lower at every curve. The setting sun bounced off the limestone walls and turquoise water. We reached a bay with a floating village and docked. We paired up and kayaked into the sunset, just like the end of a Rom-Com. When we weren’t occupied taking selfies, Daniel and I were fabulous kayakers. As a grand finale for the first day, we jumped off the boat and taught the non-Americans King’s Cup.
The majority of our 3-day “Ha Long Bay Party Cruise”’s time was spent in transport. We woke up to catchy a cloudy 5AM sunrise over Ha Long Bay. By woke up I mean we opened our eyes for a few seconds, peered out the porthole, and returned todreamland. After breakfast we docked, took a minivan over Cat Ba Island, and boarded another boat. Destination: Freedom Island, AKA Paradise.
Paradise is putting it mildly. This place was a modern-day Garden of Eden- a few huts were squeezed on a 100m wide stretch of land between two private beaches. Our posse could swim, nap in a hammock, play beach volleyball, kayak… etc, until sunset came and Daniel (from London) demanded we take group sunset photos. Nobody was down for the jumping photos, except Daniel and me. Classic, and tragic. But even more tragic was the news that Snake told us that evening: he has a serious girlfriend.
We couldn’t have had a better Ha Long Bay; a rockin’ group of friends in paradise together. No matter how many places you go or the quantity of friends you accumulate, the quality of company is so important to traveling. Plus, we’d made a new friend: Snake!