Today we headed out to Halong Bay, one of the Seven Wonders of Nature and a World Heritage Site. Halong Bay is made up of thousands of limestone karsts and islands spread throughout the bay.
Early in the morning we were greeted by Tom, our tour guide, who stayed with us throughout our adventures in Halong Bay. On the way to the boat, Tom shared with us many facts about Vietnamese culture, food, and experiences. We were surprised to hear we had already visited many of the sites he spoke about and tried the majority of the food he suggested. We arrived in Ha Long Bay midday and boarded our ship. Immediately after boarding we shared lunch together cooked by the fabulous crew on board. We ate fresh squid and fish, salads and fresh fruit and vegetables. We were fortunate to be the only guests on the ship and therefore the lunch allowed us time to come together as a group and share our experiences so far in Vietnam. Stories were shared among the group as we reflected on our journey thus far.
The cruise ship adventure allowed us to stop at several locations throughout Halong Bay. After lunch, our first stop was to hike to the top of Titop lsland which included climbing almost 500 steps to the top. Once at the top, we had the opportunity to a few moments to view the beautiful scenery and take group pictures. After climbing, we were given time to swim in Halong Bay. Although not everyone had bathing suits, many were able to enjoy the water, even though it was chilly! After swimming, we headed back onto the boat and got in our kayaks. In groups of two, we kayaked around the limestone islands, and even stopped at one island to step inside a cave.
Kayaking was an absolutely incredible experience. For many, it was their first time in a kayak. In discussing the experience with our peers, many shared the kayaking put into perspective just how small we actually are in the world. It was one of those experiences that almost made your head hurt when you thought about the immensity At this point in our SAHE experience as we enter into our last semester, it can become overwhelming thinking about jobs, finishing strong and the unknown future. However, while in the kayaks everything was quiet, still, and we were in the moment. We did not have cell phones, we did not have immediate work obligations or papers to write. It was just us, the water and the islands. Therefore the hour long kayak provided a quiet and peaceful opportunity to reflect on our experiences in Vietnam, in SAHE, and generally our lives. Similarly some of our peers shared the experience made them realize we aren’t alone in our adventures. Paddling the kayaks was difficult at the beginning for some pairs. It took teamwork, persistence, and cooperation to steer and move the boat. However, we were all in it together and we cheered one another on. Although tough, we had the support of our team and SAHE family which we hope will continue on into our final semester of SAHE. Overall, it was a very peaceful and perspective shaping experience.
After kayaking, we heading back on the boat for dinner. Once again the cruise crew prepared a delicious meal. This time, they also taught us how to make spring rolls. Everyone had the chance to prepare the spring rolls that we would later eat with our dinner. The crew played music for us and we were able to talk with one another. Once again, dinner was a great opportunity for us to come together as a SAHE family and share stories and experiences. It was a great bonding time. After dinner, we participated in many fun activities including karaoke, squid fishing (we almost caught one!) and a game of murder mystery.
Overall, it was a wonderful, active and tiring day. Physically our bodies were tired from all the climbing, swimming and boating. Mentally, many of us were overcome and in awe of the opportunity to travel to Halong Bay. We think it may takes weeks and even months to process the beauty and immensity of the islands that make up Halong.
Nicole and Jessica