Part I of II, check out Part II here

Ha Long Bay. Or rather, Bai Tu Long, the “less touristy” bay near Ha Long. We sign up for a two night cruise with Handspan Travel. At hotel breakfast, we see a British man and his two loud children. Jane says she hopes they aren’t going on our cruise. We get to the agency and, of course, they are. two monsters screaming at the top of their lungs. Even better, we get separated from the group & stuck in a van with this family. Bible storytime starts. Noah’s ark. I put on headphones and tune out. We stop for a rest and Jane is asking the driver if we can move to the more crowded bus with EVERYONE ELSE on it. I don’t care how crowded it is, she says. Turns out that while I had my headphones on I missed Abba & Frozen sing-a-longs, more yelling, and a fart sound contest that the dad happily joins.

We get to the other bus & then finally to the boat. I’m starting to be afraid we’ve made a terrible mistake but lunch is great and then we get to rest in our room. Lying in bed, looking out the window as the islands go by, knowing we’ll be kayaking soon, I feel recharged. The bay is beautiful — hundreds or thousands of small limestone islands — little mountains of rocks & green float by.

We kayak to a beach and swim a bit. While the bay is beautiful it’s also dirty & our guide admirably collects trash from the beach so we can haul it back in our kayaks. While on the beach our guide gives us a talk about how Vietnam defeated China 3 times in this bay. He uses bamboo sticks to show how the Vietnamese set traps. It’s cool and educational but then the monsters run up & steal one of the sticks then run off to the ocean. The parents don’t appear to care.

Finally back on the boat we shower and rush to see the sunset. The guide announces the evening’s activities — a movie, happy hour, and squid fishing. As Jane notes, “squid fishing” looks and sounds like a practical joke the guides are playing on the Westerners. A small boat appears next to the main boat, shining a big spot light into the water. Four fishing poles are set-up on the small boat, with neon green lures. Our job is apparently to frantically bob the lures up and down and make noise to “scare” the squid. We do not catch any squid, though a few people claim to have seen one. Some guys on the boat do manage to “catch” a jellyfish. Or, rather, to turn it into a mess of gooey, poisonous strands. The jellyfish gets stuck on 3 of the 4 rods, making them unusable. This plus the rough waters ends squid fishing. The next night squid fishing is cancelled, allegedly because of the weather.