Early the next morning, we drove a few hours south through the countryside to get to Halong. Along the way we stopped at a factory, which essentially functions as a rest stop. It’s run by the government and employed by people with disabilities who wouldn’t be able to find work otherwise. Everything is made in-house, from hand-sewn silk paintings, to hand-carved and painted wooden boxes, to jade figurines. The work they do is stunning.

As soon as we arrived in Halong Bay, the temperature difference was very apparent – it was significantly warmer and sunnier compared to Hanoi. We boarded our ship and had lunch, sharing a table with a family from Spain. Dmitriy dazzled with his hidden knowledge of Spanish, meanwhile the rest of us communicated through a game of charades.

After lunch, we took a small boat over to Sung Sot Cave, frequently referred to as Amazing or Surprising Cave. You climb a decent amount of stairs up and into the cave, where you’ll find various shapes highlighted with different colored lights. We saw formations that looked like animals, though the claim to fame seemed to be a formation bathed in red light that was meant to look like an erect penis – something our guide within the cave enthusiastically pointed out numerous times.

After dinner, the three of us spent a fabulous evening on the top deck, enjoying wine and stunning views.

Dmitriy woke up early and did Tai Chi on the top deck and then we all enjoyed breakfast together before taking a small boat over to discover the floating village. We chose to kayak, in place of taking a bamboo boat, though for some reason the local man in charge of allocating the kayaks had some doubts about my and Dani’s kayaking abilities. I don’t want to brag, but we were looking pretty smooth and only had one or two near crashes with the rocks. (insert strong arm emoji here)

Out of all of the places we visited in Vietnam, Halong Bay was surprisingly our least favorite. While the views were absolutely stunning, we found the afternoon spent exploring the floating village to be upsetting. The water surrounding the village was filthy, covered in a thick film and littered with trash. I also think we all felt fairly uncomfortable participating in this type of “gawker tourism”, with people in the bamboo boats parking right next to homes and taking photos of the locals who are just trying to go about their day. I still feel unsettled thinking about it and I would have absolutely reconsidered participating had I known what to expect.

After a cooking demo and some lunch, we docked the boat and headed to the airport: Hoi An, here we come!

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