One look at a picture of Ha Long Bay, a Unesco Heritage sight that is considered by many to be the 8th natural wonder of the world and it was instantly added to our Vietnam “must-do” list. We booked a two-day, all-inclusive tour and hopped in a van that transported us out of the colorful noise of Hanoi and into the countryside, where rice paddies and quaint towns strung together like patchwork into the horizon of distant mountains. Finally, after four jerky hours in a cramped van we had arrived; we boarded the mahogany liner that was to be our living quarters for the next 24 hours. We sat on the top deck in awe as the ship navigated through limestone islets that rose up like statues in every direction out of the mint green sea, and through the floating fishing villages where fishermen and their families worked, slept and lived.
The highlight of the trip was kayaking in a torrential downpour of warm rain. As soon as we escaped the line of sight of our tour guide, we bailed ship, literally, and jumped–clothes and all–into water so warm the heavy raindrops turned to steam as they hit the water’s surface. Kaela and I were beyond giddy – heads turned to the sky, arms raised in ecstasy, and mouths wide open, welcoming the rain. Other people in our group were like, “You Californians don’t see rain much do you?”
We spent the night on our ship where we made friends and traded travel tales with other backpackers. Luckily, the rain cleared the next day and we went for what was meant to be a quick dip, but we just couldn’t stop swimming. We spent the next hour and a half, swimming from islet to islet, exploring natural water caves and floating on our backs, staring up at the magnificent cliffs that surrounded us. We spent the second night in a stilted, bamboo-hatched, bungalow on a private island, and fell asleep under the gauzy cover of a billowy mosquito net.