*if you read Joyful, this will be largely repetitive
Seven years ago, visiting Halong Bay was a scavenge on the Global Scavenger Hunt, but because of our limited time in Vietnam, Bill decided not to include it this year. Unfortunately, it was the only thing I could think about from the moment we received our scavenge booklet—I wanted to go so badly. And then we talked to the Lawyers Without Borders who said they were going regardless. They regretted not doing that challenge seven years ago, and that was my fear now. We were so close to it, only a 3.5-hour drive. I don’t know when my next visit to Vietnam will be; getting to Southeast Asia from America isn’t exactly a quick hop away.
But Mark made a valid point that we’re here to do a scavenger hunt and it’s not one of the scavenges. We should just focus on the things that are scavenges that sound appealing to us. As the day progressed, however (which I wrote about in Part I), I grew increasingly sure that sticking around the city of Hanoi for another day feeling frustrated was not something I wanted to do.
Every block in Hanoi there’s a Travel Booking store. Each time we entered one hoping for a map or someone who spoke English to direct us around the city, I wanted to inquire about Halong Bay. I assumed it would be super touristy, so I told myself I would hate it anyway.
But the thought wouldn’t go away. I bought postcards of Halong Bay and made snarky comments, like, “Well, I guess this is the closest I’ll get to it.” I fretted. I justified. I pleaded with Mark to go. He stood firmly on the opposite side of the chasm, and his rationale made sense, but I was afraid I’d really regret not going.
My friend Lauren has a Three-Time shopping rule. “Are you going to think about it more than three times if you don’t buy it? If yes, then get it.” And the answer was inexplicably yes.
I know because I told myself “no” at least six more times; I went through the trouble of asking Bill (the Global Scavenger Hunt organizer) if it was a problem if we strayed from the list? He said, “Absolutely not. This trip is about you. The points are meant to be a fun incentive, but if this is something you know you want to do and might not have the opportunity to do it again, you should do it. Do the things that matter the most to you.”
The problem was that the “you” singular and the “you” plural were in disagreement.
I said fine. I won’t go.
But I Googled it as soon as we returned to the hotel (since it wasn’t a scavenge, I could use the internet), but it seemed really complicated. At 10pm, I went to the hotel concierge to ask if there was any possibility to go the next day. Miraculously, she found a private driver who was taking 6 people to Halong Bay, picking them up directly from the hotel, where they’d spend four hours on a traditional boat in the Bay, with lunch and a visit to a cave included, returning to the hotel by 8pm. It cost slightly more than a dinner of Peking Duck from a previous challenge. I felt like I had to do it.
But instead, I said no, shed some tears, and went to bed.
I woke up at 6am this morning, and I thought, “Am I really not doing it?”
And I told myself, “No, I’m really not doing it.”
Then I went to grab coffee in the hotel restaurant, still exhausted from the day before, and I ran into the Lawyers again. They told me they were going at 7am to Halong Bay—was I planning to join them?—and it was like a sign: I had to go.
So, I changed, put my bag together, and texted the concierge who made a last-minute call, and they let me in.
It was one of the most beautiful wonders of nature I’ve ever seen. Every minute a new view unfolded that I needed to take a photo of. It reminded me of Milford Sound in New Zealand, but a much longer boat trip with much nicer weather. The food was delicious, the cave was fascinating, and I even bought a hand-stitched silk painting for $10 (I watched the women and men make them in the outlet where we stopped). Plus, I got to know the lawyers better, which was nice since the scavenger hunt does a pretty good job of keeping teams from hanging out with each other for very long. I also made friends with Elle, an Aussie traveling by herself, and a kindred spirit.
Here are some of my photos from the day, but they don’t come close to capturing the experience.
The take-away: I was able to rest my feet for a day, and now I can return full-force to the competition. I’m sorry I acted so selfishly, but witnessing the voice of creation that “goes into all the earth, its words to the very ends of the world” is something I will never forget.
Next up: a 7-hour layover challenge in Bangkok (congrats, Thailand postcard guessers!) followed by a 5-night stay in a country I needed help finding on a map. It requires a visa and is a former British colony. Any ideas?? 🙂
(Just as a reminder: if you’re enjoying our travels, please visit our website and help us spread some kindness in the world! We’re raising money to donate to orphans, clean water, and refugees. $10 or whatever you feel comfortable giving! Thank you!)
“The heavens declare the glory of God,
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech,
Night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard;
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
Their words to the very ends of the world…” Psalm 19:1-4