Well this wasn’t meant to happen.
This day was meant to be filled with more cycling, beach time, relaxing and more delicious Vietnamese food. Instead, I was up at 1am with stomach cramps and aches, and by 6am I was sick and vomiting – something I haven’t done in years.
Perhaps it was the local gin I picked at the bar we went to after our cooking class. Maybe there was something on the glass. Or maybe I just touched something and picked up some sort of terrible stomach bug. Whatever it was, it made me very ill, and though resting throughout the morning before our flight to Hanoi helped, by the time we got to the airport in the afternoon I was so sick I couldn’t stand up in the line up to get onto the plane. I was sick again – in public! – as we walked down the aerobridge to board the plane – and a doctor had to come to check my pulse and feed me electrolytes. Luckily, we were still allowed to board the flight, and were given a seat in the back row so that I could lie down and rest. My dear Tyson was an absolute knight in shining armour, taking control of everything and looking after me in every way he could. I don’t know what I would have done had he not been there.
Luckily, I was feeling significantly better by the time the plane touched down in Hanoi, and was happy when we arrived at our next homestay, run by tour guide Luang and his family, to a hot shower and warm bed. Luang was a gracious host, accompanying us to the local pharmacy to buy some medicine and inviting us to a free dinner with his family at home. We had an early night, and the resting seemed to do me a world of good.
The next morning, we were up early: Ha Long Bay was on the agenda. I was glad to be feeling better as I had really been looking forward to this part of the trip. We were picked up in a minibus and driven four hours to Ha Long City’s harbour, then transported (‘like refugees’) on smaller boats to our traditional junk boats and cruise ships which sat in the harbour ready to set sail. We had purposely picked a smaller boat, and had the pleasure of sharing our 8-cabin junk with two Norwegians, a couple from Belgium, a German/Japanese couple, a French family of four and an Indian family of five.
Ha Long Bay, often touted as Vietnam’s top tourist destination, has been UNESCO World Heritage listed since 1994. Its limestone islets – over 2000 of them – rise up from the emerald green waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and feature caves, endemic vegetation and a variety of bird and other animal species. Nowadays, overnight cruise ships, like the traditional Vietnamese wooden junk boat we were on, meander around the islets while their passengers admire the beauty of this natural wonder which has only been managed as a tourism destination for the last 15 years.
The cruise was beautiful – we had the opportunity to go kayaking on the water, visit a local fishing village, go into a cave on one of the islets (sadly visibly affected by poor tourism management and planning) and enjoy a Tai Chi class on the sundeck of our boat. For New Year’s Eve, we celebrated together with other guests on one of the larger ships at a gala dinner with a buffet, live entertainment, dancing and games.
Unfortunately, after this, it was Tyson’s turn to get sick – most probably due to the consumption of an undercooked piece of pork at the gala dinner. Upon our return to Hanoi we were back at the same pharmacy, this time in search of Imodium. Though thankfully, both of us started feeling quite a bit better with the help of modern over-the-counter medicine, it would take a couple of days in Hanoi’s Old Quarter before we were back to feeling 100% and ready to embrace a new challenge: our first ever Workaway project.