Our Volunteer Vacation Weekend – Free Time!

The words that come to mind when thinking about this weekend’s trip to Ha Long Bay include: stunning scenery, luxury and ultimate relaxation. After a very productive, but somewhat tiring first week of teaching, 2 days on the Valentine was just what we all needed!

The four of us (minus Warren who had his own adventure to Viet Tri) set out from the Handspan office at 8 am Saturday morning and were entertained by our tour guide, Nam, and his Hanoi trivia. After a stop at a workshop benefitting victims of Agent Orange, we arrived at Ha Long City in a downpour. Thankfully, once we had taken a tender to our boat, been greeted with a drum performance and a “welcome drink,” and gotten settled into our beautifully appointed cabins, the skies began to clear. The boat had just 5 cabins, so we shared with 6 others: an adorable young couple and a glamorous Malaysian family.

As soon as Toni, our very industrious cruise director, laid out the itinerary, the first of three impressive meals was served. Ruth took pictures of every course, as the presentation itself was something to marvel at! With our stomachs/tummies/bellies full, we made our first stop at Teatop Island for a “walk” up the “hill,” which we soon discovered was more of a treacherous hike up a mountain of slippery stairs. The views at the top were pretty incredible! But I think we all gained an appreciation for why all of the Vietnamese people seemed to stay on the beach below, while only the Westerners were silly enough to walk up all those steps!

Next stop: kayaking! Toni opted out, so Patrice got to ride along with the guide, while Ruth was stuck with me. We managed pretty well though; I only ran us into the wall of a stone cave a couple of times. We paddled through a bat cave and between the beautiful karsts and saw some interesting wildlife, including BROWN jellyfish, as well as pink and blue.

Lounging on the sun deck, sipping fruity drinks and taking in the sunset, I think all of us were as relaxed as we have been since arriving in Vietnam. Another delicious meal followed and most of us found it impossible to keep our eyes open after that; however, Ruth stayed up later than everyone else, trying her hand at squid fishing and watching some of “The Quiet American.”

We rose early on Sunday morning (as soon as the engines turned on for me) for tai chi on the sun deck. The teacher was incredibly graceful; I much less so. We then set out for the “surprising cave,” a set of three increasingly big chambers filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and rocks in the shapes of dragons, turtles, a heart which Patrice spotted, Toni’s King Kong and a “finger.” The colored lights were a bit much, but they couldn’t ruin what was truly an incredible natural site. We showered, packed up and, of course, ended the trip with another meal – topped off with mango and watermelon smoothies adorned with mini-American flags, of course. We had a few intoxicated passengers up front on the bus ride back, but Patrice enjoyed some friendly conversation with the guys in the back. Feeling refreshed when we returned, we had an efficient lesson-planning session and stuck with the tried and true Chica restaurant at the hotel for dinner. All and all, a wonderful weekend and a much-appreciated respite from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi!

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