8,729 MILES: DAY 1 IN HA LONG BAY

Friday, August 4, 2017

We left the house around 5:30 this morning to drive to the bus that would take us to Ha Long City. The vacation is organized by Trang’s dad’s work and we rode with other families in a charter bus for three hours before we arrived. The drive was scenic: I saw rice paddies, water buffalo and lotus flowers, the Vietnam I believe a lot of Americans imagine. I sat next to Thu, Trang’s sister, and we talked for most of the drive: regional and cultural differences between accents in spoken language, both in Vietnamese and English. She asked me about the differences between British accents and Australian accents (which was very difficult to explain) and I told her about differences between northern American and southern American accents, differences between New Jersey and New York accents, and even how I can tell the nuances in accents in my home state, Alabama. I explained cultural differences, like AAVE (African American vernacular English), and how different regions use different words. It was fun to discuss. She asked me if it was true that Americans think all Asians look the same and why that was the case. This was sort of difficult to answer. I told her that Americans who say that come from a place of ignorance and that point of view is racist, that they don’t realize that places like India are included in Asia and assume all Southeast Asian people are Chinese instead of exposing themselves to the continent’s diversity. I told her that some Americans do something similar with Africa, referring to it as a monolithic “country” instead of an entire continent, rich with so many different nations and cultures. I explained to her that I personally can’t just look at someone who is Southeast Asian and know exactly what country they are from, but I recognize that it isn’t necessary to label people in this way and that I recognize how diverse appearances are even within just Vietnam, which has 50+ ethnic groups. It was a really good conversation.

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Water puppet show

We checked into our hotel and Trang’s family wasn’t satisfied with it, so we switched to a

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On the boat in Ha Long Bay

newer one. From a distance I could see rock formations in the bay but it was pretty cloudy. After lunch, we went for an island boat tour in Ha Long Bay, which is part of the bigger Gulf of Tonkin, the incident that ignited the Vietnam War. The water is incredibly green and thick and the islands reminded me of visiting Capri, except a more natural, less commercial place. The boat tour took us to one of the islands, where we climbed a lot of steps and entered the biggest cave I’ve ever been in, which was discovered in 1993. After our climb, I tried hand-squeezed sugar cane and kumquat juice, which was delicious, and the boat tour took us to this rock formation, which is the most famous one in Ha Long Bay. Trang referred to it as “the rooster and the hen.” I didn’t take my camera because I was afraid of the humidity, so I just took a lot of pictures with my phone. Even though it was overcast and not too hot, it was so humid that, by the end of the trip, my t-shirt dress turned into a bodycon dress.

After the boat tour, we got off the bus and went to the beach. When I learned about this

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Inside the cave

body of water’s history, I never imagined I would be swimming in it a year and a half later. It was incredibly salty and I kept feeling tiny little shocks or pinches on my skin which Trang attributes to the high salt. It felt good on my skin and made my hair soft, like a spa treatment. I helped Trang’s dad with floating on his stomach and swam around. It felt very freeing.

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Stalagmites in the shape of a turtle, one of Vietnam’s four holy animals

We ate assorted seafood for lunch and dinner and I have a feeling we will for the rest of the weekend, given the location. I tried steamed squid for the first time today and was not a fan. The shrimp tastes different, less… shrimpy. More like the butter it was cooked in. It is all very fresh.

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A breathtaking view

 

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Trang and I enjoying fresh sugar cane and kumquat juice!
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Preparation of sugar cane and kumquat juice on the island
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The rooster and the hen

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