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Archive for July 15th, 2009

Worth 37,000 Words

Sometimes you just get lucky.

As with most visitors to Vietnam, a stop in Ha Long Bay in Northern Vietnam was a definite on our itinerary.  Whether or not to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site, a 1500 square kilometer area in the North China Sea featuring nearly 2000 limestone islets, was never a question–the only question was whether to join an organized tour or go it independently.

We had read plenty of horror stories in the guidebooks and travel sites about group tours that promise the world for a pittance and fail to deliver even the basics.  And generally, we’re not really tour-group types of travelers.  Despite this, we knew that a group tour would be much less expensive and (if all went well) much less of a hassle than getting ourselves from Hanoi to the coast, trying to negotiate our way onto a boat, potentially having to hang out for a day in a port town that didn’t seem very appealing or getting stuck in a ratty hotel on the only inhabited island in the bay.  Sooo, we decided to do our homework and give the tour group option a go.  We researched reviews online, we visited a handful of tour operators and we consulted the guidebooks.  Ocean Tours left us feeling most comfortable, so we booked and crossed our fingers (although we did that behind our backs, because apparently it’s an obscene gesture in Vietnam!!).

We were not let down.  Our tour guide was the most enthusiastic person you’ve ever met, and knowledgeable too.  The boat the we slept on was comfortable, and I got to eat delicious fresh seafood for three days straight (my idea of heaven). There are a couple of factors that the tour operator can’t control though–the weather and the other guests on the tour.  And those are the biggest risks.  An otherwise great trip can be downright ruined by terrible weather or by being stuck in a confined space with a group full of obnoxious asshats.  Thankfully, the travel gods were once again smiling upon us.

We had beautiful sunny weather and were so lucky to meet and make some great new friends on the trip–Dave and Tina from the UK, John and Gemma, also from the UK, and Maiken and Mikael from Denmark.  We had an absolute blast with them and are now traveling the same route as Dave and Tina and Maiken and Mikael, so are lucky enough to continue to get to hang out with such a fun group of people (John and Gemma, we all miss you guys!!)

As for those of you who are going, “OK, already, so how was Ha Long Bay??”  Well, there are some places that simply cannot be done justice with words.  Not with my words anyway.  So here’s a whole slew of pictures that probably still doesn’t do the place justice, but gets a whole lot closer than any adjectives I could throw at you would.  Enjoy!

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