$99 Trip to Paradise

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We were unsure about what $99 and a group of strangers could really get us, but there probably isn’t one thing that could have gone better. We signed up for a boat trip to Halong Bay at the front desk of our hostel, Central Backpacker’s Hostel ( by the way, awesome hostel- free beer during happy hour, sharpies to write on the wall, and people from around the world with one common goal- to have fun). The five of us were hooked right away with the trip, but then five became eight and eight became eighteen within an hour and we ended up with a 10% discount and the best group ever. Six Americans, some Londoners, a few Australians, New Zealanders, one Canadian, two Dutch girls, and a Swedish guy were thrown together and it clicked.

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Photo credit: Austin Banks

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Photo credit: Austin banks

There was no wifi on the traditional junk boat, but there was a lot of drinking, a decent amount of good food, a few poor attempts at squid fishing, and a whole lot of people looking to have fun, play games, and sing along to the music of a ukulele.

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We kayaked , swam, and explored limestone caves in the bay during the daytime and at night, the stars came out and so did a woman in a small boat to secretly sell cheap beer to us through our cabin windows.

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Photo credit: Austin Banks

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Photo credit: Austin Banks

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Photo credit: Austin Banks

The morning after our stay on the boat, we transferred to a smaller, rockier vessel. Maybe the foreshadowing of what would turn up later on, or maybe just some ordinarily large waves, but as our new Aussie friends would put it, Christiana and I were “spewing” overboard in no time. Okay, I guess not everything went perfectly. Given the choice to either continue boating to Monkey Island, or begin swimming, we quickly stripped down to our bikinis and jumped off the deck; it’s funny how seasickness can be cured by jumping into the sea.

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Photo credit: Austin Banks

Another boat trip accompanied by one more bout of seasickness brought us to a tiny beach resort on Cat Ba Island, closed in by rocks and dotted with wooden bungalows.

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Photo credit: Austin Banks

Another fun-filled day of kayaking , volleyball- well, I watched and took pictures while everyone else played- swimming, eating every variation of seafood, and sunbathing, turned in to another night of drinking and good conversation, backed by the sounds of waves and the Red Hot Chili Peppers coming through portable iPhone speakers. No cell service, no wifi, no connection to the world and it’s worries.

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Photo credit: Austin Banks

3 AM brought typhoon winds and rain, thunder that sounded as close as our front porch, one very scared younger sister, a loss of power, and uneasy half-sleep. The cove’s water drained enough to give us thoughts of a tsunami, but the locals showed no signs of distress. Morning came, breakfast was served, and the group of eighteen new-found friends loaded the boat. It seems that all good things do come to an end, but the memories (and photos) make it worthwhile.

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