Tag Archives: vacation

Things I Love (and Didn’t Quite Love) About Fiji

I’ve been in Fiji for a few weeks now and I can safely say that when you come to this tropical island paradise, expect to chill like you’ve never chilled out before. Fiji’s got the whole relaxin’ thing down!

The Things I Loved:

The People Are Refreshingly Friendly

Not a day went by where I didn’t receive a welcoming “Bula” greeting from a local as I strolled by them. Armed with cordial head nods, big islander style smiles, and cool Fijian handshakes, it’s easy to strike up a good conversation with anyone on the streets. I found that many wished to learn about me and were interested in my thoughts about their country. I also came here thinking I would get heckled and hassled to buy things on the streets like in many countries, but not here. They left me alone in that regard for the most part. Fiji, you are friendly.

IMG_2840.jpg

World Renowned Shark Scuba Diving

I went shark diving in Fiji, not once but twice! Both times near Beqa Island, one of the most renowned and sharkiest places in the world to spot a whole range of beasts from the elusive tiger ones to the motley crew of bull sharks. Scuba diving has always been one of my favorite activities, but scuba diving with sharks upped the ante quite a bit. If you are an avid diver, I highly recommend you check it out.

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Those Rotis and the Samosas

The local delicacy in Fiji didn’t really jump out at me. As a matter of fact, there is a heavy Indian influence on the cuisine, specifically in the capital of Suva. However, I did come across two glutton heavy, savory morsels straight outta heaven–rotis and samosas. The version of a roti I had is a concoction of warm potato chunks and minced veggies wrapped in a thick floury dough, lightly fried. A samosa is similar but smaller, kind of like a pizza roll but in a triangular shape and baked. It’s the perfect snack, breakfast, brunch, dinner, and lunch. I’m not sure if these are strictly “Fijian” foods, but you can certainly find them almost anywhere on the main island.

JTaQ6IgeQwG0MY6cjO2g_1415850927098.jpg
Put the potato curry inside the roti bread and then you’ll find yourself in a tasty heaven.
d7095a0fcac3441a17b135cf712a5f73.jpg
Samosas. Photo courtesy of Asiancuisine.com

The Beach-side (Budget) Resorts

Not the expensive ones, I’m sure they’re nice, but I’m talking about the budget ones like Fiji Beachouse and Uprising, both located along the coral coast far AWAY from the backpacker heavy party hostels in Nadi. I’ve been to a whole bunch of resorts during my time in Fiji and do you know what the main theme is at these resorts? Chill the heck out! Really, it was just pool, beach, billiards, hammocks, beanbags and booze. What more could you want?

fiji beachouse

It’s Relatively Cheap

I was a straight up baller in Fiji. The US dollar equaled about two Fijian dollars, but still most things were cheaply priced (aside from the excursions). Opt for the bus ride that costs less than $10 USD to get from one side of the island to the other. Accommodation was popularly priced and the food and beverages were easy on the wallet. Just stay away from the western restaurants, bars, and the chummy resorts and you’ll find the dollar stretches quite far. We found a bar where you could buy-one-get-one free of absolutely anything you ever wanted! Two pitchers of beer for $5 USD? Sold! By the way, the bar with the BOGO is called Traps. Go there for Ladies Night on Wednesdays.

IMG_0097.jpg

Kava Ceremonies

I ranted on a previous post about how much I disliked the taste of kava. Despite the stolid taste, the kava gatherings were simply something I’ve never experienced before. It’s entirely social, where groups of people sit cross-legged on mats laid out on the floor with everyone drinking kava out of a single wooden bowl. Each person that takes a drink receives a quick burst of attention filled with double claps and “Bulas”! The locals pride themselves on sharing the experience with foreigners such as myself and will never hesitate an opportunity to gather around to drink kava with their family and friends. Literally you just sit there, converse a bit, and drink kava. It’s pretty neat!

IMG_1473.jpg

The Buses With the Music

Whatever country I’m in, taking the local bus into town is typically flat and ho hum. Usually nothing special. However, every single freakin’ city bus that I rode in Fiji played funky tropical island beats that made me kinda sorta look forward to the ride. From reggae, to island remixes of modern songs, to zippy numbers I’ve never heard of in my life, the music was always bumpin’ and on point. So much that a good portion of those songs are now on a custom Fiji playlist on my iPhone, thanks to the Shazam app. These tunes will forever and always remind me of my chilled out time in Fiji and of all those awesome people I met.

fiji local buses

And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum…

Things I Didn’t Quite Love

Lack of Diverse Activities

If you ask some of my Fiji housemates, they will tell you that I was consistently bored out of my mind. Besides beaching and diving, there is barely anything else to do! Yes there is white water rafting, zipling, sky diving, but it’s either complete crap, ridiculously expensive or both. There is surfing too I suppose but it’s not really my thing anymore. With Fiji, you’re trapped on a small island with no where else to go. Yes you could go island hopping to do more beaching and boozing but I already beached and boozed a hundred times over on the main island. Now I have to pay $150 for a boat to take me to another island to do the exact same thing? No thanks. Make sure you have your Kindle ready for Fiji.

14963142_10210416689948916_3035170820995815690_n
Bored…Photo courtesy of Joshua Smith

 

Lack of Beer Choices

You have two choices of beer in Fiji: Fiji Gold or Fiji Bitter. There’s also usually some random third choice and then a handful of imported beer that I can get back in the States. Fiji is not the place to try local brews because they only got two…maybe three. By the way, don’t let the name fool you, Fiji Bitter is so much better than Gold.

Resorts Lost My Reservations ALL THE F*C%ING TIME

Here’s the best piece of advice I can give you if you ever decide to visit Fiji. If you book ANY accommodation here, even if you get your confirmation email, call them to make sure they have your reservation because not once, not twice, not even three, but four freakin’ times I showed up to a resort to find out they “never” received my reservation. Even when I proceeded to show them the confirmation email on my phone, there was still “nothing” they could do about it. Fortunately, most of the times they were able to re-book me except for one instance where we had to find another more expensive accommodation because everything else nearby was already booked. That was SO annoying.

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This is us after battling two different hostels/hotels for our reservations and finally finding a place to crash.

“Fiji Time”

There’s this thing on the island called “Fiji Time”. Basically, if anyone (specifically Fijian locals) is late for anything, instead of blaming it on their lack of punctuality, they can usually get away with it by the excuse of simply saying “Fiji Time”. Fiji time is basically a way of saying that you were so entranced with the chilled out vibes of the island, that the importance of time became second fiddle to the sensation of island style relaxation and hanging loose. “Where’s the bus that was supposed to be here at four?” Oh sorry, Fiji time. “Where is the main teacher for this class because I can’t handle 47 kids by myself?” Oh sorry brutha, Fiji Time. “Where’s the meal I ordered like an hour ago?” Oh, Fiji time.  Most of the people I was with kinda enjoyed the concept of Fiji Time. As for me, I absolutely hate being late for stuff…so it was something I had to accept and get used to.

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Besides all of that, I’ve built a couple solid friendships during my stay in Fiji and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about them soon on here. I’d have more to report about Fiji but there is only so much I could write about when it comes to sittin’ on the beach and drinking a beer.

The island life. 🙂

Things I Love (and Didn't Quite Love) About Fiji

I’ve been in Fiji for a few weeks now and I can safely say that when you come to this tropical island paradise, expect to chill like you’ve never chilled out before. Fiji’s got the whole relaxin’ thing down!

The Things I Loved:

The People Are Refreshingly Friendly

Not a day went by where I didn’t receive a welcoming “Bula” greeting from a local as I strolled by them. Armed with cordial head nods, big islander style smiles, and cool Fijian handshakes, it’s easy to strike up a good conversation with anyone on the streets. I found that many wished to learn about me and were interested in my thoughts about their country. I also came here thinking I would get heckled and hassled to buy things on the streets like in many countries, but not here. They left me alone in that regard for the most part. Fiji, you are friendly.

IMG_2840.jpg

World Renowned Shark Scuba Diving

I went shark diving in Fiji, not once but twice! Both times near Beqa Island, one of the most renowned and sharkiest places in the world to spot a whole range of beasts from the elusive tiger ones to the motley crew of bull sharks. Scuba diving has always been one of my favorite activities, but scuba diving with sharks upped the ante quite a bit. If you are an avid diver, I highly recommend you check it out.

FullSizeRender 51.jpg

FullSizeRender 52.jpg

Those Rotis and the Samosas

The local delicacy in Fiji didn’t really jump out at me. As a matter of fact, there is a heavy Indian influence on the cuisine, specifically in the capital of Suva. However, I did come across two glutton heavy, savory morsels straight outta heaven–rotis and samosas. The version of a roti I had is a concoction of warm potato chunks and minced veggies wrapped in a thick floury dough, lightly fried. A samosa is similar but smaller, kind of like a pizza roll but in a triangular shape and baked. It’s the perfect snack, breakfast, brunch, dinner, and lunch. I’m not sure if these are strictly “Fijian” foods, but you can certainly find them almost anywhere on the main island.

JTaQ6IgeQwG0MY6cjO2g_1415850927098.jpg
Put the potato curry inside the roti bread and then you’ll find yourself in a tasty heaven.
d7095a0fcac3441a17b135cf712a5f73.jpg
Samosas. Photo courtesy of Asiancuisine.com

The Beach-side (Budget) Resorts

Not the expensive ones, I’m sure they’re nice, but I’m talking about the budget ones like Fiji Beachouse and Uprising, both located along the coral coast far AWAY from the backpacker heavy party hostels in Nadi. I’ve been to a whole bunch of resorts during my time in Fiji and do you know what the main theme is at these resorts? Chill the heck out! Really, it was just pool, beach, billiards, hammocks, beanbags and booze. What more could you want?

fiji beachouse

It’s Relatively Cheap

I was a straight up baller in Fiji. The US dollar equaled about two Fijian dollars, but still most things were cheaply priced (aside from the excursions). Opt for the bus ride that costs less than $10 USD to get from one side of the island to the other. Accommodation was popularly priced and the food and beverages were easy on the wallet. Just stay away from the western restaurants, bars, and the chummy resorts and you’ll find the dollar stretches quite far. We found a bar where you could buy-one-get-one free of absolutely anything you ever wanted! Two pitchers of beer for $5 USD? Sold! By the way, the bar with the BOGO is called Traps. Go there for Ladies Night on Wednesdays.

IMG_0097.jpg

Kava Ceremonies

I ranted on a previous post about how much I disliked the taste of kava. Despite the stolid taste, the kava gatherings were simply something I’ve never experienced before. It’s entirely social, where groups of people sit cross-legged on mats laid out on the floor with everyone drinking kava out of a single wooden bowl. Each person that takes a drink receives a quick burst of attention filled with double claps and “Bulas”! The locals pride themselves on sharing the experience with foreigners such as myself and will never hesitate an opportunity to gather around to drink kava with their family and friends. Literally you just sit there, converse a bit, and drink kava. It’s pretty neat!

IMG_1473.jpg

The Buses With the Music

Whatever country I’m in, taking the local bus into town is typically flat and ho hum. Usually nothing special. However, every single freakin’ city bus that I rode in Fiji played funky tropical island beats that made me kinda sorta look forward to the ride. From reggae, to island remixes of modern songs, to zippy numbers I’ve never heard of in my life, the music was always bumpin’ and on point. So much that a good portion of those songs are now on a custom Fiji playlist on my iPhone, thanks to the Shazam app. These tunes will forever and always remind me of my chilled out time in Fiji and of all those awesome people I met.

fiji local buses

And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum…

Things I Didn’t Quite Love

Lack of Diverse Activities

If you ask some of my Fiji housemates, they will tell you that I was consistently bored out of my mind. Besides beaching and diving, there is barely anything else to do! Yes there is white water rafting, zipling, sky diving, but it’s either complete crap, ridiculously expensive or both. There is surfing too I suppose but it’s not really my thing anymore. With Fiji, you’re trapped on a small island with no where else to go. Yes you could go island hopping to do more beaching and boozing but I already beached and boozed a hundred times over on the main island. Now I have to pay $150 for a boat to take me to another island to do the exact same thing? No thanks. Make sure you have your Kindle ready for Fiji.

14963142_10210416689948916_3035170820995815690_n
Bored…Photo courtesy of Joshua Smith

 

Lack of Beer Choices

You have two choices of beer in Fiji: Fiji Gold or Fiji Bitter. There’s also usually some random third choice and then a handful of imported beer that I can get back in the States. Fiji is not the place to try local brews because they only got two…maybe three. By the way, don’t let the name fool you, Fiji Bitter is so much better than Gold.

Resorts Lost My Reservations ALL THE F*C%ING TIME

Here’s the best piece of advice I can give you if you ever decide to visit Fiji. If you book ANY accommodation here, even if you get your confirmation email, call them to make sure they have your reservation because not once, not twice, not even three, but four freakin’ times I showed up to a resort to find out they “never” received my reservation. Even when I proceeded to show them the confirmation email on my phone, there was still “nothing” they could do about it. Fortunately, most of the times they were able to re-book me except for one instance where we had to find another more expensive accommodation because everything else nearby was already booked. That was SO annoying.

IMG_0949.jpg
This is us after battling two different hostels/hotels for our reservations and finally finding a place to crash.

“Fiji Time”

There’s this thing on the island called “Fiji Time”. Basically, if anyone (specifically Fijian locals) is late for anything, instead of blaming it on their lack of punctuality, they can usually get away with it by the excuse of simply saying “Fiji Time”. Fiji time is basically a way of saying that you were so entranced with the chilled out vibes of the island, that the importance of time became second fiddle to the sensation of island style relaxation and hanging loose. “Where’s the bus that was supposed to be here at four?” Oh sorry, Fiji time. “Where is the main teacher for this class because I can’t handle 47 kids by myself?” Oh sorry brutha, Fiji Time. “Where’s the meal I ordered like an hour ago?” Oh, Fiji time.  Most of the people I was with kinda enjoyed the concept of Fiji Time. As for me, I absolutely hate being late for stuff…so it was something I had to accept and get used to.

IMG_0171.PNG


Besides all of that, I’ve built a couple solid friendships during my stay in Fiji and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about them soon on here. I’d have more to report about Fiji but there is only so much I could write about when it comes to sittin’ on the beach and drinking a beer.

The island life. 🙂

A Hawaiian Style Send-Off At The Paradise Cove Luau

paradise cove luau oahu

Two more events are left. The seventh event is one I looked forward to the most because it’s something that I’ve done in other countries before. Still I wasn’t sure if Veronica and Katelin would like the event because of the preparation it requires. I withheld that preparation from them because a big part of the League of Eight Extraordinary Events is the surprise aspect. To expect the unexpected. With that, I told everyone to wear their bathing suits and get ready for the seventh event. We woke up early Thursday morning and drove back up to Sharks Cove on the North Shore.

Event #7 of 8 – Scuba Diving Sharks Cove

First I have to say, don’t let the name Sharks Cove deceive you. There aren’t any big sharks here. Just lil’ baby ones the size of your arm. Secondly, I should have told Veronica and Katelin that we were scuba diving because the looks on their faces when they saw the scuba gear I pulled up next to was a look of uncertainty. Chris, as usual, was game. Scuba diving is a whole lot of fun but it’s also a serious endeavor. Freak out underwater and you’re in deep trouble (pun intended). Proper training and skills are required and today, my three amigos would get a quick introductory course. Sean sat out on the sidelines because this was an absolute ‘hell no’ for him.

We met up with Devin, our dive master, near the shoreline as he prepped us and explained to us what we would be doing today. Since this was an introductory/refresher course, we would only be diving a depth of about 12 meters, not too far from the shore. As Devin explained to us basic diving procedures, Katelin began to doubt whether she’d be able to do this or not. Breathing underwater is not a natural feeling so if there are any doubts, its understandably so. The instructors eased her and told her not to worry and give it a try.

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We put on our equipment and walked down into the coves. In addition to the four of us there were four other first time divers in our group as well. Once we entered the water, just a couple of feet deep, we practiced the basics like clearing our mask from water leaks and readjusting our regulators. It was a quick and dirty tutorial compared to the half day instruction I received back in Zanzibar, but hopefully it was just enough to get everyone by. Soon enough, we put on our flippers and swam out to the buoy in the deeper part of the cove.

Devin called for two of us to swim towards the buoy and practice the skills once more. Chris and I volunteered first and just a couple minutes later, we were 12 meters underwater, sitting on the ocean floor. Now we just had to wait for the others. We waited…and waited…and waited…

“What the heck are they doing up there?” I thought as I began to regret the decision of volunteering myself to go down first. The longer I was down there waiting, the more my oxygen tank depleted which meant less time to explore the coves.

I could see Veronica and Katelin up there practicing their skills, but dangling at the surface. Eventually three divers from the other group came down and then finally Veronica. But once Veronica touched the floor, she gave me a look of absolute terror from her mask and pointed up to the surface. If I could read her mind, she would have said said…

“GET ME THE F%€% OUT OF HERE!”

scuba dive oahu

One of the dive masters saw it in her face too and knew he wasn’t going to be able to convince her to stay down. So he escorted her safely to the surface where Katelin waded. Katelin was having ear issues and couldn’t manage the descent either so the two of them stayed at the surface but were free to snorkel while we dove. And so we went!

scuba dive oahu

This was one of the easier dives I’ve been on. The water was warmish, the currents were smooth, and there was an abundance of wildlife. The best part was the lone sea turtle that slowly glided by, entirely composed as can be and not afraid of us humans one bit. We could have touched it but that would have been illegal.

scuba dive oahu

scuba dive oahu

The dive itself lasted for about 40 minutes before our tanks entered the red zone. We swam back to the cove shore and rose to the surface to join the others. It was a successful dive! On to the eight and final event which also happens to fall on Chris’ birthday.

Event #8 of 8 – Paradise Cove Luau

We couldn’t go to Hawaii without having a proper Luau and with Chris’ birthday also on the same day, I thought it would be a fitting send off for my travel companions before they fly back to the mainland U.S. The night before the luau, we had dinner with one of Chris’ college buddies who was stationed here in Oahu. The local musicians in Waikiki at the restaurant we ate in serenaded Chris with a Hawaiian birthday medley.

The luau I reserved for our final event is well known on Oahu. It’s called the Paradise Cove Luau and it’s one of the more popular ones on the island, but also one of the most touristy. I came to this specific luau 12 years ago and loved it so much that I thought I’d give my friends a taste of it. Since this was the last event and a send-off, I told them prior that we’d be attending a luau and to wear something bright and on the colorful side.

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Once we entered the site, we were treat with a complimentary Mai Tai and cards loaded with $16 worth of credit to use towards beverages and souvenirs. Of course, we used them for the beverages as we walked around paradise cove beach. A stroll through the cove took us through festivities like arts and crafts and Hawaiian games. Periodically, different spectacles were put on for the guests such as the Shower of Flowers, the underground oven cooking at the Imu Ceremony and the Hukilau on the Beach. Merely casual entertainment as we waited for the main event: a buffet style feast served up by the locals of Paradise Cove.

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu

paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau oahu

The food was absolutely amazing! Roast, chicken, seafood, pastas, salads, and a few Hawaiian specialties thrown into the mix created the best dinner we’ve had on the League of Eight Extraordinary Events. And also the perfect meal to celebrate Chris’ birthday in Oahu.

paradise cove luau

paradise cove luau oahu

paradise cove luau

We spent the last couple of hours watching the incomparable Paradise Cove Extravaganza. Award-winning entertainers and performers put on an unforgettable display of songs and dances of Hawaii and Polynesian cultural as the sunset in the distance. That’s taken straight from their website and it is 100% true! This is the second time I was able to witness it with my own eyes.

paradise cove luau

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu

paradise cove luau hawaii oahu
Courtesy of Chris O’Sullivan

The End of The League of Eight Extraordinary Events?

And with that, completes the league of events that took place over the course of two weeks. One week in Alaska and one week in Hawaii. Here’s the rundown of events:

  1. White Water Rafting Denali National Park (Alaska)
  2. Ace ATV Denali (Alaska)
  3. Glacier Bay Kayaking (Alaska)
  4. Shark Cage Diving (Hawaii)
  5. Lunar Legends SUP (Hawaii)
  6. Peddle Bar Honolulu (Hawaii)
  7. Scuba Diving Sharks Cove (Hawaii)
  8. Paradise Cove Luau (Hawaii)

Oddly, I loved planning the whole thing. It took months to execute but I found it to be truly exciting as I could have gone wherever I wanted and made any event I could have thought of. Alaska and Hawaii were the perfect hosts and the people we met there have but nothing but nice. We didn’t have a single issue with the locals we met in each community we visited.

Even though the League is over, that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. I definitely plan on creating another one sometime in the near future, but I’ll be cranking the notch up a bit and taking this party international. I’ll keep everyone posted on that!

As for Veronica, Chris, and Katelin–my traveling companions for the last couple weeks–it’s that time where they head back home to the States. Veronica, Katelin, and Sean flew back to Michigan the morning after the Luau. Chris hung around for a couple extra days to kick back and relax before he headed back to Philadelphia to resume his teaching duties. Thanks for joining me guys. You’ve all been great!

scuba dive oahu

As for me? I’m continuing onto my Quest to the Seven Continents and flying to Auckland, New Zealand to spend a couple weeks there with a few friends from home as we road trip through the North Island.

The Quest to the Seven Continents continues in New Zealand!

Vancouver Canuckleheads

The idea to go to Vancouver has been in the making since last summer. You see, I have many Canadian friends and one of them lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her name is Lana. She was part of my team that successfully climbed to the tip-top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Another Canadian friend of mine lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Her name is Katie and she joined Lana, a few others and I on a week-long trip to the tropical island of Zanzibar.

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The plan was for Katie and I to fly over to Vancouver for a few days in February and hang out for a bit. I haven’t seen Lana nor Katie since Tanzania almost two years ago so I was pretty pumped to see them again. After a long flight from Detroit to Vancouver, I walked through the airport to find them standing with a sign they made for me.

'Mambo' means 'hello' in Swahili.
‘Mambo’ means ‘hello’ in Swahili.

How nice! We took a quick train towards downtown Vancouver, where Lana resided. She lives in a pretty cool apartment with her sister who is never home. After getting settled in, I had one thing on my mind. There was something I wanted more than anything at that moment, that only Canada offers best. That something was poutine and Lana knew the place that had the best poutine in town!

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Poutine is a popular Canadian delicacy that isn’t quite suitable for breakfast, lunch, nor dinner. It’s perfect for that time when you’re feeling like a fat kid and just want to satisfy all of your inner cravings. It’s a load of fries smothered and covered with mainly gravy and chunks of cheese curds, then topped with everything else you might like. That big one in the picture above is mine and yes I finished it all! I love me some poutine! You gotta try it!

Afterwards, to get a good scope of the city, we rented tandem bikes and rode along the shoreline of downtown.IMG_0400 IMG_0334IMG_0389The weather was consistently cloudy and wet, reminiscent of the gloominess of Seattle, but it was still better than the polar vortex that was wreaking havoc on my end of North America where I lived. It started to rain a touch, scattered around the area here and there, but not before we found these cool smiley statues!

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Afterwards, we returned our bikes and picked up some red wine from around the corner and played the Canadian version of Cards Against Humanity. As of this post I still have never played the American version, but it was similar to how I expected it to be. Pretty ridiculous, but fun!

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We wanted to meet up with some of Lana’s friends that same night, so we took a cab downtown and popped up at a pub where there were loads of people and a reggae-ish band playing on stage. It was a really great time!

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Maybe it was too great? Immediately after, one of Lana’s friends took us all into his office building to continue the shenanigans and that’s when I drew a blank. I just remember that at one point, I exited the bathroom facilities and walked into an empty office workplace. Where the heck did everyone go? I took the elevator downstairs thinking everyone went there, but still no one. That’s when I found I couldn’t go back up stairs because I didn’t have an elevator key. We may have gotten a little nuts that night but thankfully, one of Lana’s friends found me trapped downstairs on the first floor of the building. “We found the American!”. I reunited with everyone and graced with some of the best pizza I’ve had in a long time. Turns out everyone went to the roof looking for me, when actually, I was in the bathroom vomiting whatever the heck I was drinking at that pub. I must have been in there for a while! Thankfully, I was surrounded with good company.

Yup, we did a whole lot in the friendly city of Vancouver. I even tried maple syrup glazed candy salmon. Not a fan.

This was just the beginning of my cool stay in such a cool city. Soon, the three of us would head up north to Whistler, one of the best places to ski in North America!

 

Descending Dragon’s Bay

Halong Bay is considered one of the new seven natural wonders of the world and is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you come to Vietnam, it’s one of the excursions you MUST do. It definitely seems like the pleasure trip; fortunate passengers literally sailing through thousands of small islands made of limestone aboard a wooden ship.

One of many thousands of small island at Halong.
One of many thousands of small island at Halong.

Sounds like heaven! However, the only way I would agree to go on this outing is if I had a pirate ship. I’ve seen pictures of it on the internet and it’s definitely possible. Lucy felt the same. We booked a tour through Ethnic Travels. Their whole mantra is taking their guests to places where most tourists don’t go. Sounds perfect! And one of their boats resembled a wooden pirate ship with giant red sails! We’ve turned down many tour companies offering us a cruise through Halong Bay because their boats didn’t look anything like a pirate ship, but with Ethnic, we were also able to nab a great deal, thanks to Ibrahim who is a master bargainer.

A minivan picked us up in the wee hours of the early sunlight. Inside it were six other passengers who would join Lucy and I on the ship, including a couple from the Netherlands, Jurre and An. It was about three hours drive east in northern Vietnam until we finally made it to the port of Halong City. There were many tourists and fellow backpackers crowded about, eagerly waiting to board their boats. What made our cruise extra special was that the eight of us had an entire ship to ourselves, unlike most other ships where there could be 20+ passengers on just one vessel. In addition to Jurre and An, in our group we also had a couple from Switzerland and two friends from Singapore. It was a solid bunch and we were primed to board our ship!

Ha long means “Bay of Descending Dragons”. The legend goes like this:

In the ancient world, when our ancestors were in a war with barbaric adversaries from the northern region, the heavenly gods blessed our ancestors with a family of powerful dragons to help defend their earth. The dragons descended upon the empty sea, which is now called Ha long Bay, and began to spit diamonds onto the calm waters. Upon hitting the surface, these diamonds transformed into thousands of small islets, becoming a complex barrier against the barbarians. With the help of the dragons island barriers, our ancestors were able to defeat the barbarians and keep their country safe. The family of dragons fell in love with the peaceful waters and with the gratitude of the people, and so, decided to remain on earth. The mother dragon lives in what is now Ha long Bay and her children live in Bai Tu Long Bay, an area of equally rich waters neighboring Ha long Bay.

What a cool story! Not only will I see Halong Bay, but the next day we will be able to see where the dragon children live in Bai Tu Long Bay!

As we boarded the ship, we were treated to a lunch in the cabin. Lunch that contained seafood…lot’s and lot’s of seafood. Blah! Thankfully there was rice, chicken, and a medley of sautéed veggies to hold me over until dinner. Soon enough, we began our descent through the bay!

Not a fan! But I managed to at least try a few bites.
Not a fan! But I managed to at least try a few bites.
She was loving it! After all her favorite food is prawns.
She was loving it! After all, her favorite food is prawns.

Technically, I am a tourist, but I really don’t care for that label. I prefer “adventure seeker”. I climbed to the top of the ship and set my eyes across the distance, past hundreds of islands, through the courses of our route.

All aboard for adventure!
All aboard for adventure!

Before boarding the ship, I was a bit worried about becoming sea-sick. Regular readers already know that motion sickness has been my worst enemy while traveling amongst the continents. And stupid me forgot to bring prevention tablets for this trip. Fortunately, the waters in Ha Long Bay were blissfully calm and serene. The ship glided smoothly among the surface of the sea, like an airplane in a clear sky. Islets of limestone, scattered around the region created a soothing, tranquil effect. The clouds were as white and puffy as I’ve ever seen. It was the perfect day for sailing.

Happy as a clam :)
Happy as a clam 🙂

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After a couple of hours, we cruised to a floating village. Literally dozens of small, worn wooden homes and shops floating on the water. Four locals came to our ship by rowboat and picked us up for a tour around their village. In this village, children learn how to row and swim at the ripe age of four! As peaceful as it is here, it can be a bit of a drag. There isn’t really anywhere to walk to and since this village is so far from towns on the mainland, the villagers must often wait long periods of time for water and food to be delivered. In any case, the villagers catch, sell, and trade a hefty amount of fish and crustaceans; a couple of food sources they will never run out of.

Floating Village
Floating Village
Children learn to steer a boat at an early age.
Children learn to steer a boat at an early age.

After rowing for a bit, we boarded our ship and sailed to a spot on the bay that was surrounded by numerous caves and towering islands. We then had the opportunity to jump into the water! My neck hasn’t felt 100% yet so I first jumped off the mid-deck. Awesome fun! The water was warm and deep. I immediately got out and went to the top-deck and decided it was okay for me to jump. I decided wrong. My neck felt a sudden painful jab as soon as I hit the water, and sent a jolt down my spine. I didn’t flip or anything, just kinda jumped like a silly man into the water. I played it off like nothing was wrong. The others had no idea! Most of us decided to swim about 100 yards over to a cave nearby called “Drum Cave”. It hurt me to much to freestyle swim, so I backstroked the whole way. I couldn’t really hear or see what the others were doing, but I just knew to swim to the entrance. When I made it, I looked up and saw the others going the opposite direction. I didn’t know why, the entrance was right here by me! Anyhow, as I started to slowly climb the sharp rocks, I was getting cut up all over my hands, legs, and feet just by the slightest touch of a rock. I didn’t even make it to the entrance because I was getting slashed up so much as the others, who were still so far away, looked on. I looked at my fingers and saw all of the blood collecting on each of my fingertips. A shark is going to come get me! I saw our tour guide flagging us to come back to the boat. But, why? We just swam out here? Did she spot something in the water? I saw the others starting to swim back. So off I went too! My mind started to play tricks on me. My neck was hurting so I had to swim upside down and my blood was spewing into the ocean, so I fastened my pace, juuuuust incase a shark really did pick up my blood trace and wanted to take a bite out of me. In the process, I grew fatigued and switched to resting strokes. At one point, I looked up and saw the others had already made it while I was still so far behind. I eventually made it to the ships anchor and kinda chilled there for a bit, regaining a bit of energy. In the process, the anchor was also scrapping my legs, so off I swam back to the ladder onto the deck, finally! My neck and chest were hurting and my fingers were a bloody mess. Lucy bandaged me up and I went to go put on my neck brace. “Why didn’t you guys swim to the cave?” I asked her. “We wanted to go around the other side and the water was warmer where we were”, she replied. Pssshh.

An and Jurre!
An and Jurre!

We all then spent the rest of the evening on the top deck, reveling under the moonlit, night sky.

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The next day we woke up pretty early. Kayaking to caves a bit further away was on the agenda. Lucy and I got into our kayak and paddled away! It was drizzling a bit, with a few booms of thunder, but not enough to stop us! We paddled our way through to a cave, almost hidden behind a giant limestone, and docked our kayak on the sandy shore of a small island.

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On the island was the entrance to what turned out to be an enormous cave that you could see through to the opposite side. Our tour guide told us that this is called “Fairy Cave”. There was a huge crater in the center of the cave edged out with boulders that grew in size the further you went. On the opposite side, we had a framed view of another island, about a few dozen meters across the water. Worthy of photos, but I didn’t have a camera on me, in fear of it getting wet and destroyed. I must go back to the ship and retrieve my GoPro! The others were walking around the cave so Lucy and I decided to hightail it back to the ship. As we kayaked away, it started to rain and thunder heavily. It was so sweet!

Lucy in the front!
Lucy in the front!

Once we made it to the ladder of the ship, I went up, retrieved my handy GoPro and jumped back into my kayak. l wondered why the others didn’t follow us. Where did they go? It continued to downpour but Lucy and I were lovin’ it! On the way back to Fairy Cave, we witnessed sinister lighting strikes shatter the sky as the surface of the sea fluttered with zillions of pelting raindrops. We made it back and saw our group standing near the entrance. Apparently, they were waiting for this storm to succeed, by the suggestion of our tour guide. Whoops…

Anyhow, Lucy and I trekked back into the cave, now with my GoPro in tow, to document what we’ve seen. Worth the effort.

Lucy and I went into the cave while the others waited for the storm to slow.
Lucy and I went into the cave while the others waited for the storm to slow.
Fairy Cave
Fairy Cave. I am that bright orange spec.
Our group!
Our group!

Later on the same day, we sailed back to the dock of Halong City. We parted ways with the Swiss couple and the two Singaporean friends. A couple from Barcelona, Spain joined our group and we took a minivan to Bai Tu Long Bay, the next destination of this excursion. Our new boat was a bit smaller, as we didn’t have any private rooms this time. The rain and thunder ceased and we were able to set sail through Bai Tu Long Bay. Bai Tu Long was similar to Ha Long Bay except the islands were noticeably bigger and more connected than the limestone islets of Ha Long.

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We cruised for a few hours, some of us even falling asleep on the roof of the boat. We eventually reached a large island where bicycles were awaiting each of us. We biked about three kilometers to a secluded beach. There was no other person there but the six of us and our tour guide. After playing around there for a bit, we continued on our bikes through the island to a small village.

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At the village was a guesthouse where we would stay the night and enjoy authentic Vietnamese cuisine. It included fried spring rolls, sticky rice, strewed spinach, chicken, and of course tons of seafood. Bleh! I enjoyed the non seafood things and then called it a night in one of the hottest sleeps in Vietnam thus far!

The morning we woke up to pouring rain and muddy streets. Thankfully we didn’t have to ride our bikes all the way back to our boat, but instead we took a miniature pick-up truck thingamajig back. The pouring rain turned into a harsh thunderstorm, so instead of kayaking again today, we just sailed back to shore. The water was a tad choppy so I made sure to lie down, not look at the water, and try to fall asleep so I wouldn’t get seasick. Worked like a charm! When we returned to the dock, the storm began to lessen, so our tour guide arranged us rowboats to a nearby island. On this island, was a tall mountain with a cave hidden within it.

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One of the dragon children was rumored to live here deep within the caves. There were dragon statues and simulacrum hidden within the overgrown brush of the islands’ forest.

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Jurre, An, Lucy, and I climbed maybe a quarter of the mountain and found the entrance to the cave; and in we went.

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This cave was deep. It was long and maze-like. Not to mention, total darkness. We needed torches to navigate through. It looked as though a small museum was being built here awhile ago but has been abandoned, maybe temporarily or maybe not. It was kinda eerie because the abandoned showcases and other random man-made objects lying around rendered a haunting influence within the cave.

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We could hear bats flying about, but could not see them. We went for several minutes, with diverging paths coming every few careful steps of the way. Our tour guide suggested we turn around because it was easy to get lost inside. I agreed that it was easy to get lost, but I wanted to continue further. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my own torch and I would have been lost in the cave forever. On the way back, Lucy spotted a spider the size of my fist!

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We exited the cave and continued our way up the mountain. Once we reached the summit, we had a great view of Bai Tu Long Bay! This completed the end of our stay at the bays. The three days flew by and was as relaxed as I imagined. Except for the whole bleeding in the ocean thing, but that’s a story in itself!

Later on in the day, we packed our bags and took a van back to Hanoi. As soon as we got off the van, Lucy and I immediately took a taxi to the bus station. Literally, no times to go to a hotel and regroup. We parted ways with the cool couple, Jurre and An, but only for the night. The next morning we would all reunite, after a long 11 hour bus ride to the northwest to an otherworldly place called Heaven’s Gate or more famously known as Sapa.

Halong, you have been an amazing host!
Halong, you have been an amazing host!