Relax time with friends in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide

By the time I hit Sydney, Australia (on September 11th), I was ready to CHILL OUT for awhile. Not only was I “travel-exhausted” in general from the past seven months, but the week prior I had been staying at hostels on my own and had quite a few late nights out with hostel friends (you meet SO many more people when you travel solo!) and I was ready to just slow down for a bit. Since my visits to the next three cities in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide) would involve staying at friends’ houses, I was ready to just take in “normal family life” with them all and have a nice time catching up and spending time together.

First up: SYDNEY

I spent a total of nine days in Sydney, and was fortunate enough to stay with an old college friend of mine, Megs, her husband, Alex, and daughter, Kate.  It was so wonderful to be greeted with smiling, familiar faces!  In addition, they just got a Cavoodle puppy a month or two prior, so I was ECSTATIC to be able to spend time with an adorable dog as well. [click here to see a video of me playing with ADORABLE Ginger, the puppy.] I had been greatly missing my dear Sonny (my Yorkshire Terrier dog) back home, so I was appreciative to have a canine friend to walk and play with during my time in Sydney.

Alex and Megs have a nice home in a suburb just outside of Sydney, and I could get around quite well on my own, as there was metro station nearby (a 20 minute or so walk). In general, though, it was SO wonderful to be with friends, back in a REAL HOME… I was actually a bit overwhelmed by it in the beginning. Well, in a GOOD way. After months and months on the road and throughout Asia, it was WONDERFUL to sleep in a REAL bed, eat a REAL home-cooked meal (with all the foods and spices you could ever want!), to have a NICE and NORMAL shower, and to have a washer and dryer that gets clothes TOTALLY CLEAN and TOTALLY DRY and SMELLING GOOD!  Take a look at the post I made on Facebook (to the right) about my excitement about being in a REAL home for the first time in so long. In addition, I was also inspired by their food shopping and cooking, as they purchase and eat a LOT of interesting fresh vegetables and fruit (bought straight from a farmer), and Megs made all kinds of delicious and unique meals and salads while I was there!

Anyway, so I spent the first two or so days in Sydney just around the house, relaxing, resting, and catching up on computer stuff. The rest of the time was somewhat busy, but somewhat laid back… and was mixed with family and social time with Alex and Megs and their friends, along with alone time where I wandered around the city for HOURS on end, coming home with blisters on my feet and ready to crash out in bed immediately!  Since I had visited Sydney back in 2010  and did a lot of touristy things with my friend Julie, there

Hiking with the downtown Sydney skyline in the distance!

wasn’t as much urgency this time around to hit any big sites. But I did, however, fit in a lot of nice things… did a hike/walk from Spit Bridge to Manly Beach [click here to see a video from our hike], saw a show at the Sydney Opera House and enjoyed dinner and wine beforehand, visited Bondi beach and watched the surfers, took a ferry under the Sydney Harbour Bridge over to Darling Harbor, walked walked walked EVERYWHERE around town, had a lovely wine-and-cheese pairing dinner, visited the Contemporary Art Museum, attended a lovely birthday dinner party with some great people, experienced a drag queen show at the Imperial Hotel [click here to see a video from the show], walked all over the Botanical Gardens, and had a lot of amazing meals and WAYYY too much wine!

In the end, it was a lovely stay with great friends (THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH, MEGS AND ALEX!!) and I was sad to move on!

[To see my photos from Sydney, click here.]

 

HOWEVER… I was excited for my next stop: MELBOURNE!

I initially planned to just stay at a hostel in Melbourne for an undetermined amount of time, but a friend of mine from back in Los Angeles (Shira) was kind enough to put word out on Facebook to her friends in Australia, and a family in Melbourne offered to open their home to me! (THANKS AGAIN TO YOU GUYS!!)  The mom, Justine, had been friends with Shira “back in the day” and warmly welcomed me at the airport when I arrived (on Friday, September 20th). We shared lunch together in a nice farmer’s market area and then back at the house I met the rest of the family: the dad, Bernie, the three 10-11 year old daughters: Peri, Shaini, and Marley, and their GIGANTIC “Groodle” dog, Mo. They were prepping for a big Shabbat dinner (a big Jewish family dinner) that night, in which I joined a group of their friends and family later on for a DELICIOUS meal! I then ended up spending most of that weekend thereafter with the three girls, who were curious and fascinated by my travels, my American accent, and pretty much everything about me. 🙂  They really were a riot!  It was also interesting listening to them talk about their lives, their friends, and their interests… it’s amazing how smart and tuned-in that 10-year-olds can be nowadays.

Meeting up with my friend, Michelle

Besides family time, I got around Melbourne a bit… in the remaining four days I visited Federation Square [see video here], walked to the Docklands, took the tourist tram around the city, spent some time in St. Kilda and Luna Park, met up for dinner and drinks with an old friend, Michelle (who I originally met back on my Euro-tour in 2006), visited the Australian moving image museum, bummed around the National Gallery of Victoria, walked through Fitzroy Gardens, had lunch with a friend-of-a-friend (Alex) in a lovely park in the city center, went to the dog park with Justine and the girls (OMG their dog, Mo, is absolutely AMAZING… he’s like a real person, and truly a “gentle giant!”), and just had a lot of nice meals and home time with the family. Again, I had been in Melbourne before, back in 2010 with Julie, and we even did a side trip from Melbourne to Adelaide along the amazing Great Ocean Road, so on this visit I spent more time relaxing and just walking around the city, rather than feel the urgency to hit a ton of tourist spots around town. Furthermore, I was feeling a bit under the weather, and was starting to REALLY miss being away from James, so I was fine with taking it easy that week.

[To see photos from my time in Melbourne, click here.]

 

And speaking of “taking it easy”, I continued this mindset as I moved on to ADELAIDE!

Me and Janelle!

I decided to visit Adelaide mainly to spend time with my good friend, Janelle. Janelle is another person I befriended on my 2006 Euro trip, and I also spent time with her back in 2010 when Julie and I stayed at her house and went on a fun wine tour together. When I arrived at the Adelaide airport (on September 26th), we immediately set out in her car, headed south to Janelle’s family’s vacation home down in very small beach town, Middleton. On the way, we drove through the McLaren Vale wine region and stopped at a few wineries and tasted some lovely vino! We spent two nights at “The Shack”, which is the nickname for Janelle’s vacation home, and ate out and had drinks at the nearby neighborhood restaurant/bar. Some of her friends joined

Whales!!

us on the second night for drinks and such, and we drove around the cute little nearby towns for shopping, food, and spotting whales.—that’s RIGHT!  We saw whales!!! At this point in my travels, I had spent one month along the eastern coast of Australia, where the whales were SUPPOSEDLY in the middle of their winter migration, but I hadn’t seen ONE whale… until now! [Click here to see an amazing video of one of the whales we spotted!]

Back in Adelaide, we spent the next five or so days at Janelle’s mother’s house… enjoyed a LOT of wonderful home-cooked meals, visited the nearby beach town of Glenelg, watched movies, had lunch and wine at Henley Square, drove all around town, and had a few nice dinners out on the town. The weather was pretty dreary the whole time I was around, so we spent more time at the house… but I was perfectly fine with that!  THANKS AGAIN TO JANELLE AND HER MOTHER, ANNE, FOR THEIR WONDERFUL HOSPITALITY!!

[To see photos from my time in Adelaide and Middleton, click here.]

 

In Conclusion

At the end of my stay in Adelaide, it was October 3rd: six weeks after we initially arrived in Australia! I really hadn’t expected to spend that much time in the country, but I was glad I had the luxury to take it slow, visit lots of friends and spend quality time together, and really soak it up.  THANK YOU TO ALL THE WONDERFUL AND GENEROUS PEOPLE I STAYED WITH ON MY TRAVELS!!  I felt SO fortunate and appreciative for the amazing hospitality!

Hooray for Australia!

I was also glad that my overall experience in Australia was a mix of everything: diving the Great Barrier Reef with James, Marty, and Ann, then our crazy campervan journey down the coast of Australia , then a little together time and alone time throughout Queensland, and then my own adventures throughout these three cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide) visiting friends, staying in houses, and experiencing a lot of down-home time.

As I sat down in my seat in an airplane headed for South Africa, I closed my eyes and smiled about all the moments in Australia I would cherish… and then smiled wider, as I knew it was time to move on to the next page in our crazy travel-story. I would finally be reunited with James again after one month apart (the longest we’ve been apart so far!) in Cape Town, South Africa, for a whole new three-month adventure ahead.

Stay tuned for South African stories ahead…

 

 

Phnom Penh: A beautiful city with a horrific past

Cambodia is a unique developing country, full of amazing temples and architecture, but it is also a country that is emerging from decades of civil conflict including a massive genocide in the 1970s. Either way, it is definitely an interesting place to visit. Crossing the border from Vietnam into Cambodia (on June 23rd), we visibly saw the poverty level increase. Vietnam isn’t the richest country, either, but the level of poverty in Cambodia compared to other countries in all of Asia is pretty high.

Once we got into our hotel in Phnom Penh, in a decent area of the city, we felt comfortable going out to explore a bit. Our first mission: find cheap local food!  The area surrounding our hotel was scattered with a TON of western food places, selling food items from $3.50 to $10 USD which is EXPENSIVE by Cambodian standards!  Sure, it’s smart of them to set those types of prices, but I was actually pretty annoyed when we started looking at restaurants, knowing they were blatantly overcharging tourists because most people don’t know any better.  I mean—hey—if you can get a meal for $3.50 USD, that’s a steal, right?

Our exciting $1 dinner!

NOPE. Try $1.50 per person. 🙂  Yep, we were pleased on our very first night to find a local food joint that sold a delicious dish of noodles, meat, eggs, and veggies for only $1 per plate! We ended up getting a third plate and splitting it, but we continued to go back to that same restaurant night after night for our $1.50 per person dinner. Awesome!

Originally, we didn’t plan or want to spend too much time in Phnom Penh, and instead spend more time in the city of Siem Reap—home to the amazing Angkor Wat temples—but we needed to apply and wait for our 60-day Thailand visas… so, we had four days in Phnom Penh to sightsee.  But we were happy we stayed and visited . . . the city is home to some impressive and beautiful buildings and temples.

We explored the National Museum of Cambodia, and were surprised by how many artifacts and statues were displayed right out in the open—NOT in glass!  There were a lot of amazing things to look at, and we took our time from room to room. The temperature outside as well as inside was, however, a bit distracting, as we were pouring down sweat in the 95 degree hot and humid weather as we tried hard to concentrate on the history we were reading about. We paused a bit in the center garden area to feed the fish in the pond, which were CRAZY hungry for the fish food we threw in the water.

I loved the unique architecture in Phnom Penh!

We also spent an afternoon at the Royal Palace, and wandered around the many impressive and beautiful buildings inside the courtyard. I really loved the unique and ornate architecture of many of the buildings, especially the curvy spikes found on many of the buildings, which are called the “chovea” and represents a dragon’s tail. I took so many pictures and just soaked it all in… there was just something about these buildings and the design of them that really drew me in.

On another note, we spent one entire day completely taking in the incredibly shocking and horrific history of the genocide that took place in Cambodia from 1975-79. A little background:  In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, a communist group led by a man named Pol Pot, took over the capital city of Phnom Penh. The Cambodians rejoiced as the civil war had come to an end. However, three hours after the Khmer Rouge victory, all civilians living in the cities were forcibly evacuated to the countryside, signaling the reign of terror. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge planned to bring the country back to “Year Zero” creating an equal society comprised of one agricultural class. Thus, every intellectual Cambodian became an enemy, and soon many educated people in the country were imprisoned and/or executed as a result. More on that later…

Prison S-21 grounds

Just within Phnom Penh, there is an old high school that had been turned into a prison (called Prison S-21) during these times to be used basically as an “execution center.”  Today, this old site has been turned into the “Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum,” and now houses some former prison cells and beds, as well as rooms with information boards of the prison history and photos of many prisoners who were executed there.  James and I visited this site, and learned that back during the period of the Khmer Rouge regime, these buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 prisoners were killed here.

The sad thing about this all, is the majority of prisoners and those killed actually didn’t commit a crime: they were imprisoned or killed simply because they were educated, or if they were “suspected” of speaking out against the Khmer Rouge.

NOTE: if you have a sensitive system, or are easily shocked by details of human torture, then you may not want to read further… 

Prison cells at S-21

Most prisoners at S-21 were held there for two to three months, routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, searing hot metal instruments and hanging, as well as through the use of various other devices. Prison guards would torture the prisoners to get them to “confess” to false crimes, or to name family members and friends who supposedly have spoken out against the regime (who were then also imprisoned or executed).  Some prisoners were cut with knives or suffocated with plastic bags. Other methods for generating confessions included pulling out fingernails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, holding prisoner’s heads under water, or waterboarding; which is a form of torture in which water is poured over cloth covering the face and breathing passages of the captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. Although many prisoners died from this kind of abuse, killing them outright was discouraged, since the Khmer Rouge needed their confessions. [If you want to read more about this prison, click here.]

Many prisoners that were held at Prison S-21 at some point were blindfolded and loaded into trucks and brought to a place called, “Choeung Ek,” or otherwise known as, “The Killing Fields” where they were then murdered and buried with piles of hundreds of other bodies.  This area is about 10 miles outside of Phnom Penh, and James and I also visited this site as well. The grounds at this time are

It’s grown over with grass now, but you can see the area where a hole was dug and bodies were dropped in and buried. Very eerie…

mostly grown over with grass and mainly consist of information boards, but the whole experience gives you a sad and eerie feeling. We were given audio guide devices with headsets when we arrived, and spent a couple hours at the site, sitting on park benches, and listening to the gruesome, horrific, and heartbreaking details of all that occurred in the surrounding fields. It was INCREDIBLY SHOCKING to look around us and listen to the appalling and gruesome details of what happened here only 35 years ago! What was even more disturbing is to learn that many of these mass graves in this area have not been excavated yet, so after heavy rainfalls, it is common for bones and clothing to rise to the surface!!!—due to the large number of bodies still buried in these shallow mass graves.

It’s all SO SICKENING. And we felt pretty depressed, sympathetic, and sickened as we learned about the past and visited these places around Phnom Penh.

So then the BIG question is: WHY????

Why does genocide like this happen???  As we read gruesome detail after gruesome detail, I was BAFFLED by all this human torture, lack of human regard, and I just couldn’t understand WHY or HOW anyone would or could commit these acts against other living, breathing human beings and think that it’s OK??  Not only did genocide happen in Cambodia; we also know about the Holocaust in Germany, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and Darfur in present day.

Just a few of the million+ people who died in the genocide

As I read more and more about Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia, it became a bit more evident. Genocide often revolves around one dictator who has very extremist beliefs, and initially “sells” the public on the wonderful change he will bring to the country, especially if that country is in dire need of a strong leader.  Once in office, things often quickly take a turn for the worse. This person and his followers often believe in order to achieve order and extreme power, they must extricate anyone and everyone who may oppose their beliefs, or get in the way of them achieving their mission.  Typically, people who may “get in the way” are often educated, well-spoken individuals… especially teaches, priests, and monks. It was said that if a Cambodian had on glasses, knew another language, had foreign friends, was highly religious, or held a job other than farming, he or she was considered “a suspect” and would be taken to prison and tortured into admitting to crimes they had not committed.

In addition, country-wide, western influences such as capitalism and city life were expelled. Religion and all foreigners were to be extinguished. Schools were closed, embassies were shut down, and the use of foreign languages was banned.

To further the actions of this horrible regime, there were several factors that aided in their efforts:

  • Brainwashing. Many people who were part of the Khmer Rouge were uneducated and young.  The Khmer Rouge brainwashed children into becoming Khmer Rouge soldiers. They taught them to hate their parents and many of the child soldiers’ first victims were their own parents.
  • The nearby war in Vietnam. Most genocide is committed under cover of war or during the conduct of it. And when there’s a war, the leaders intent on genocide know they can get away with it. They have impunity. It’s easy to go further and believe that war is also a good way to harm and even get rid of other people.
  • Silencing opponents. By imprisoning or executing anybody intelligent, there weren’t many educated people left to teach others what was REALLY going on here. People were forced to submit to their demands and rules.

Fortunately, the genocide under the Pol Pot regime ended in 1979 when the Vietnamese invaded the country, liberating the Cambodian people. It is estimated that around TWO MILLION PEOPLE, or 25% of the country’s population died by starvation, torture or execution during the three years, eight months, and twenty days during the Khmer Rouge regime. Most of these people were from the educated class.

What does that mean for Cambodia today?

Half of Cambodia’s current population is younger than 15 years old!

Half of Cambodia’s current population is younger than 15 years old.  Although the country is somewhat on the upswing, it is still a very poor country, mostly composed of undereducated individuals. Since a huge portion of the educated population in the 1970s was extinguished, including many teachers, it left the country at an extreme disadvantage. Many Cambodian citizens are farm workers and cannot regularly attend school; the literacy rate in Cambodia is only 77.6% (2008).  (As a comparison, the overall world literacy rate is 84%, and the nearby countries of Vietnam and Thailand have 94% and 93% literacy rates, respectively.)  Today, only about 45% of Cambodian kids finish elementary school. The figure is much lower for children who live in rural villages.

Things in Cambodia seem to be moving in a positive direction, however. Tourism nowadays, mostly due to the temples in Siem Reap, including Angkor Wat, has been steadily increasing, creating many new jobs and generating a significant amount of revenue for the country. And the World Bank’s December 2012 forecast predicts Cambodia will experience an average annual GDP growth rate of 7 percent over the next five years. To address disparities in literacy rates, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport has designed and implemented inclusive policies such as bilingual education in provinces with a large minority population, scholarships for girls and students representing other vulnerable groups, and non-formal education opportunities for youth and adults that are not integrated into the public school system.

But overall, traveling in Phnom Penh and learning about the history of the genocide was definitely an interesting and eye opening experience. And once again, the experience made us even more grateful for our upbringing and our freedoms in the US. We took all that we learned with us as we continued our adventure further through Cambodia. More on that coming up in the next post . . .

To see photos from our experiences in Phnom Penh, click here.

 

 

 

From bustling Hanoi to the lovely Island of Cat Ba, Vietnam.

Most cities in Vietnam are bustling with many colorful people, shops, and thousands of motorbikes… it can be quite hectic! That is exactly what we experienced as soon as we landed (on May 26th) in the northern part of the country in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

Motorbikes & more motorbikes, everywhere!

In the shuttle van from the Hanoi airport to our hotel, we faced an insane barrage of motorbikes all over the road, with anywhere from one to FIVE riders on each bike (including children and babies), weaving back and forth and around cars and buses, and riding less than one foot from each other. It was a pretty incredible “show” to watch with your own two eyes! And that’s just from INSIDE a vehicle: try walking along the sidewalk-less roads of Hanoi or trying to cross the street as a pedestrian. There was definitely a learning curve here, in regards to our manner of crossing the road.

We thought China was busy with so many motorbikes on the road, but Vietnam was a whole different ballgame. In China, you really needed to WATCH OUT, because the motorbikes and cars would run you over in a moment, no problem, no blinking… so you just waited FOREVER for a break in traffic and RAN! In Vietnam, however, there rarely was a break in traffic, and you simply had to hold your breath, say a little prayer, and step out into the middle of the insane traffic, keep moving at a constant pace, and watch as all the traffic fluidly zoomed around you. When you reached the middle of the road to face the oncoming traffic in the opposite direction, it was the same thing. In general, when crossing the road as a pedestrian in Vietnam, you are better off just GOING, rather than hesitating. The motorbikes pretty much all expect you to be confident about crossing the road, and they will, in turn, be confident about NOT running you over. It was quite an interesting dynamic that took a week or two to get used to, and to be a lot more confident about crossing the road and trusting that you wouldn’t be run down by a motorbike.  It was like the video game “Frogger,” but in real life. [Click here to see a video of the crazy Hanoi traffic!]

Hanoi Military Museum

Hanoi was an OK city, and we spent three days there… which was probably one day too long. To us, there weren’t many desirable activities to engage in, and it was basically just “a big city” and that was that. We did, however, take the time we were there to enjoy a fun and slightly silly “Water Puppet Show” at night, stroll along the Hoan Kiem Lake nearby, sample a few lovely Vietnamese dishes, visit the Hoa Lo Prison—which was used during the Vietnam War to house political prisoners and POWs (including John McCain), and marvel at old aircraft and tanks at the Vietnam Military History Museum. Oh yea, and we attempted to do a walking tour of the old quarter of Hanoi city—from a Lonely Planet guide—but that was pretty much a joke, as the street layout there is a complex myriad of interconnecting streets and was very confusing; we were lost like 90% of the time. AND it was like 95-105 degrees and we were soaked in sweat and exhausted. Fun! 🙂

So… it was a WELCOME change to head out of the hot and energetic city of Hanoi to a lovely little piece of relaxation: Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba is located in the world renowned and GORGEOUS Halong Bay in Vietnam. Actually, most travelers who visit the northern part of Vietnam usually skip Hanoi and go directly to Halong Bay, and the majority of them often spend a night or two on a boat tour, floating around in the bay. Upon research and chatting with other travelers, we found that a LOT of these boat tours were quite disappointing, disorganized, overcrowded, and not really worth the money: well, UNLESS you drop a ton of cash on a “luxury” tour. Since we were in no position to spend that type of money and are now more “do it yourself” type of travelers, we took public transportation (bus to bus to ferry to bus) and made our way DIRECTLY to Cat Ba Island.

The bright and sunny afternoon we arrived on the Island (on May 29th), we immediately headed down to the main wharf area for sunset after we checked in to our hotel. As soon as we sat by the water, the bargaining began (as it does throughout most of Asia), and we haggled with the Vietnamese woman in the area to get our beers for $1 each, brilliant! It was truly a wonderful moment, sitting together by the water, sharing beers over meaningful conversation, and we both just soaked in the atmosphere and conversation and smiled.

The next few days were so lovely, as we spent most of the time jetting around the Island on a moped, relaxing on one of the three Cat Ba beaches, or enjoying time in and on the water. I think the one main thing we will both remember in such a reminiscent way about the Island, and Vietnam in general, is our time zooming around on the motorbike we rented… which, by the way, cost only $5 for the entire day! They didn’t ask for a driver’s license, we didn’t even fill out any forms, and we weren’t asked to leave a deposit. Heck, we didn’t even pay for the rental until we got back! Yea… we just got on and drove. Gotta love Vietnam! Of course, we took it easy in the beginning and practiced around the flat beach areas, especially since James has never actually driven a motorcycle or moped until now. But on the Island, there is a LOT less traffic than mainland, and you don’t really drive fast enough for anything major to happen. And in case it does: well, that’s why we have good, full-coverage international health insurance, right? 😉

Beautiful coastal view from our motorbike!

Anyway, we coasted around Cat Ba Island, through the mountains, along the gorgeous coastline, past many lush green fields with workers farming the land, all adorned with the typical conical Vietnamese hats. We visited “Hospital Cave” one day, which was apparently used during war times to hide injured soldiers and such, and another day we visited the National Park and did a pretty difficult, hot, humid, and buggy hike up the mountain to a tower that provided some pretty gorgeous views of the surrounding forests. Occasionally, as we were driving around the Island, a car or bus would whizz by, and once in awhile we shared the road with other motorbikes, cows, goats, and sheep! I sat on the back of the bike with a huge smile across my face, taking it all in, hanging tightly around James’ waist, and just appreciating the amazing experience and the lovely views. Many times in the days we spent on the motorbike, James expressed how freeing, exciting, and wonderful the experience was for him as well:

“I tend to play it safe more often than not so I never understood the appeal of driving a motorcycle.  However, after speeding around a few winding roads through the countryside and overlooking the beautiful Vietnam coastline (with a cute girl hanging around my waist)… Yea, I definitely saw the appeal.”

Nice 🙂

[Click here to see a cool video summary of one of our days around the Island on the motorbike.]

The three beaches on Cat Ba were small, although clean and inviting. We chose to spend most of our time on “Cat Ba 3” beach, as they actually had dancey-type music playing on the speaker system, and that’s definitely my type of beach hang out! The water was warm and the waves were large enough to body surf. Now… all I really needed was a tropical drink, and I’d be set!

We also took a one-day boat tour of Halong Bay, which is a MUST for any visitor to the area. We booked through “Cat Ba Ventures” and had a really wonderful experience!  The day started out by slowly coasting past the beautiful rock formations that Halong Bay is recognized for, along with small fishing villages and floating villages as well. At one point, we stopped in an area and transferred to kayaks, and then spent a good hour kayaking around the bay, through cool caves, and into a beautiful cove where we watched hundreds of cool-looking jellyfish glide through the water beneath us. After a enjoyable lunch and a little swimming, we visited a cave and climbed up a slope of the mountain for some pretty breathtaking views of the bay, which was also ideal for some amazing photo opportunities. Next, the boat docked for awhile in another part of the bay, and we were able to swim a bit out to shore to a tiny deserted beach and we spent some time searching for beautiful sea shells. Lastly, we stopped at “Monkey Island” for a snack and more relaxing, and watched as some other tourists fed some of the wild monkeys that live on the Island.  It was a very rewarding and wonderful day, and some of our best memories from the Island. [Click here to see a fun summary video of our whole day tour experience!]

Overall, our five days on Cat Ba Island was our favorite experience in Vietnam!  Between the gorgeous ocean views, the relaxation on the beaches, and the freedom to jet around the Island on our own motorbike, it was a perfect little Island experience.  It was also a nice ESCAPE that we both really needed at that point in our travels, and we thoroughly enjoyed and soaked it all in.

And it also was relaxation definitely needed, since the couple weeks ahead would be a lot busier, bouncing from one Vietnamese city to the next! To be continued in a future post . . .

 

 

Click here to see photos from our three days in Hanoi, Vietnam

Click here to see photos from Catba Island and Halong Bay.