April 19th, 2015 - Travel from Ha Long Bay to Hoi An, Vietnam - Day 248

Peter's POV

Today was another travel day. Today I woke up and something very strange happened the ground swayed beneath my feet. Then I realised that I was on a boat. We had a delicious breakfast and headed out for our last activity, Surprise Cave. When our boat parked and we looked around at all of the other boats in the bay we knew that we were going to be crammed in the cave with a million people. 

When we got onto dry land I resisted the urge to bend down and kiss the ground and instead looked around to try and find someone from our group in the sea of people. When we found our group we tried to listen to our guide talk about the cave but we really couldn't here a word that he said. After waiting for our guide to get tickets we started walking up the steps. After being on a boat for a couple of days we were all excited to stretch our legs and get somewhat of a workout in. It turned out not to be the case. The line up the stairs moved so painfully slow that we couldn't climb more than one stair without getting stuck in line. 

When we got to the top we were amazed by all of the cave formations. After a little while we passed all of the people and got to see the cave at a better pace.  Here are some pictures I took from the cave.

After the exit of the cave there was a beautiful view of the bay.  

When we were done with the cave, we got back on the boat and packed up our bags. When after packing up our bags we watched a tea ceremony but about half way through we decided to stop listening and move a cooler spot on the boat. When we got off of the boat we said goodbye to everyone that we met on the boat and began the drive home. 

About 3 hours into the drive my dad asked the driver to take us to the airport instead of the hotel that we came from. The driver was clearly not happy about the new information and pulled out his phone and phoned his office. He handed the phone to my mom and she told them what was happening. They told her that she needed to pay $30 extra for the driver to take us to the airport. She asked the person on the phone if the airport is closer to Ha Long Bay than the hotel and she said yes. My mom then asked if it made sense to pay 30 extra dollars if the driver would be off earlier and with more gas in his tank. The person on the phone said yes - ok then off we go. 

When we got to the airport we had a six hour wait until our flight took off. We spent the beginning of it trying to change our flight. When we got to the ticket desk we were informed by the obviously bored clerk that we couldn't change our flight, even though there were 52 open seats, because we bought the cheapest tickets possible. After asking to see the clerks manager the people at the ticket desk finally caved. We got a flight four hours earlier and headed off to check our bags. 

When we got through security we moved on to our next task, finding food. Finding food in a small domestic terminal is easer said than done when your hungry. Our last meal was at 7:00 and it was now three. We finally found food at a fast food place and tried to order a vegetable noodle soup. The waitress responded by saying that we could only order from the 3 most expensive things on the menu. Luckily they were not that expensive and tasted great. Right after we ordered our meal my mom and sister came over to our table after getting some snacks at a little shop. After doing some math in her head my mom informed us that the lady working at the cash register did not give her enough change.  We were starting to wonder if there was a conspiracy to get all of our money.  

When we had everything sorted out we headed back to our gate to get on our plane. We got on our plane and the flight went great and we were back on the ground in Da Nang in one and a half hours. When we got into the airport we found our bags and headed off to drive 40 minutes to our house in Hoi An. 

The drive was crazy for most of the time it was on a big highway, until like ten minutes before we got to our house. The area around our house is very rural, it reminded me very much of Tanzania. When we got to our house we found it to be very nice and luckily we could buy food to eat in the house. After a short dinner we all fell into bed after a long eventful travel day. 

April 18th, 2015 - Ha Long Bay, Vietnam - Day 247

No this was not our boat - ours was much nicer!

We woke up this morning to the boat gently rocking back and forth.  It was a really good nights sleep and Stacie and I made it all the way to 5:30, which is pretty good for us.  I scrambled upstairs and hunted around for some coffee.  I could not find a single soul, but I did find a pot of hot coffee at the bar and since it is complementary I helped myself.  We had our coffee and by 6:30 the kids were up and we all headed upstairs for Tia Chi on the sundeck.  We all tried to follow along, but my performance was horrible, so I stepped out to take a few pictures.  

With Tai Chi out of the way, it was time for breakfast.  All of the food on the cruise has been fantastic and this was no different.  

By 7:30 we were stuffed and headed back down to the cabin for some free time before the morning activity, which was a visit to a floating fishing village.  We had almost an hour, so I grabbed my computer and headed up to the sundeck to edit some pictures and write the dump from yesterday.  However, once I reached the deck I met a wonderful family from Chicago of all places.  Stacie came up 15 minutes later and we spent the remainder of our break time getting to know one another.  It's always wonderful to meet great people while on the road.

After our break we were summoned to the main deck for the mornings activities.  We all boarded our little transport boats and were taken to the start of our floating village tour.  The villages were created as permanent resting places for the fisherman so they did not have to head back to shore every night.  At one point this village had a population of 300, but that has dwindled over time down to 100 and the main income has switched from fishing and pearl farming to tourism.  We had a short information session and then boarded our bamboo boat for the a tour of the village.  The thought of living in a place like this is beyond my comprehension.  It is beautiful and serene, but must be an incredibly difficult life at the same time.  Here are some pictures of the village:

Our tour took about 30 minutes and then we jumped back on the transport and were back on our boat a few minutes later.  We had a little time before lunch, so we laid down for a little nap.  It feels strange to be in a situation where we HAVE to be places at certain times after being so free to make our decisions of when and where to be for so long.  I have to say I don’t really care for the regimented schedule, but we wanted to see everything so we did not skip much at all.  

During lunch, Lea started to turn a bit green.  We were crossing some open water and the boat was pitching pretty good from side to side.  She bailed from the dining room and headed down to her cabin to lay down and get some more rest.  The staff brewed her some special tea with justices to make her stomach better and provided her with some bread to fill her up.  We were on our way to an island where we were going to ride bikes to a small village.  However, in order to get to the island we needed to cross some open water.  About halfway through lunch the captain came in and informed us the sea was too rough and we would not be able to make it to the island.  We needed to turn around and head to an alternate activity - sea kayaking.  

The kayaking was great.  We went through some caves and saw some beautiful lagoons and then at the end we had the chance to swim around the transport boat, which was fun.  

Once back on the boat we showered and after a little break we headed up for happy hour and some cards, and a wonderful barbecue.  Another good, but exhausting day and an early bed time.  


April 17th, 2015 - Hanoi & Ha Long Bay, Vietnam - Day 246

We woke up this morning at 5:30 AM after 6 hours of sleep conscious that we somehow needed to get another 17 million Dong in order to pay for the cruise on Ha Long Bay, and we needed it by 8:00 when the driver was supposed to pick us up at the hotel.  No money, no cruise.  I started by opening my computer and logging onto the hotel wifi.  I saw that I had a Skype message and immediately listened to it.  It was Charles Schwab with a fraud prevention alert.  We have had many of these over the course of the trip, so in some sense I was relieved that Schwab had just shut my card down last night because of unusual activity - 5 ATM withdrawals in 5 minutes in Vietnam.  I called and let them know it was me and my card was active again.  I also called American Express just in case and they let me know they would be able to help me get up to $4000 worth of local currency, but could not start the process until after 8:00 AM Hanoi time, which would be too late.  Since our Schwab card was now active again I went downstairs and started withdrawing from the hotel ATM, it worked, we were back in business.  However, after another 5 transactions the ATM told me I had exceeded the limit of withdrawals.  I anticipated this would happen and figured I would just have to walk to find another ATM figuring it was a local bank limit.  However, after a 20 minute walk and 5 more ATM’s I knew were were in trouble again.  I still needed at least 10 million more and that was just to pay for the boat, without any incidental expenses along the way.  I hurried back to the hotel and called Schwab back.  I found out I had reached my limit for 24 hours, but that they could raise the limit for today only.  They did that and once again I was back in business.  I went down and did another 7 withdrawals and finally felt like we had enough cash for the boat and for incidentals.  

We packed up, ate a great buffet breakfast and then met the driver.  We paid him and 3.5 hours later we were boarding our boat in Ha Long Bay.  We had been upgraded to a nicer boat and when we arrived at the dock we were excited to see our boat waiting for us.  

45 minutes after we arrived we boarded he boat, found our rooms and had a wonderful lunch.

The bay is simply stunning, with thousands of tree covered rock islands jutting straight out of the sea.  

After lunch we were able to relax a bit before we arrived at our first destination - Vung Ha Beach.  

We decided to kayak to the beach rather than take the small transport boat.  It was a short trip to a beautiful beach, where we were able to swim and relax for about an hour.  I spent a little time flipping the kids off my shoulders like they were 7 years old again, which was fun.  

After the kayaking we returned to the boat, had a little rest and then showered for dinner.  When we were ready we made our way up to the deck for happy hour and a game of euchre.  It was a beautiful evening and being able to relax surrounded by incredible views was just what we all needed.  


Dinner was fantastic, a five course meal capped off with a wonderful grilled sea bass.  Everything on the boat do far has been great.  Once the meal was over we made a bee line to bed.  The last couple of days, plus the time zone change had gotten to all of us and we were ready for a good nights sleep.  

Here are some other pictures from the day: