Halong Bay

(Tamara, Amy & Gerrit)

Talk about surreal experiences…last week, Tamara signed us up for a weekend trip to Halong Bay. What I hadn’t fully realized at the time, this particular excursion happened to be a ‘Bikini Booze Cruise’, featuring DJ Hokus and Funky Buddha, with free flowing beer, wine, Smirnoff Vodka and Johnnie Walker, topped with dinner and dancing in a grotto! All this while sailing through the famous UNESCO world heritage site!

(DJs spinning tunes on board)

I must say it felt as if I had stumbled upon a Vietnamese Hooter’s convention, with endless women parading around in string bikinis while wearing six-inch stiletto heels! And sorry, guys, but I didn’t take any photos of these ladies!

(Tamara chilling out)

Just when I thought the weekend was going to be a total bust, I bumped into a Vietnamese-American family (three generations traveling together) from Austin, TX, who had accidentally signed up for this tour from the states.


Ironically, with drunken debauchery all around, I was huddled in the corner of the boat hanging out with ‘Grandma’! What started out as an innocuous conversation turned into a captivating tale as the grandmother relived her days during the Vietnam War… leading up to the moment when her family moved from Saigon to Lubbock, TX! Talk about culture shock…moving to Lubbock from Austin would be a shocker, let alone from the other side of the world with three small children without speaking a word of English.

(The Mom)

(The girls)

It was difficult to process all that she had to say. Typical conversations included statements such as, “I remember back in November of 1946, French forces came into Hai Phong and massacred 2000 people in the streets. That’s when Ho Chi Minh said, ‘No more’, and sent troops off to the jungles to fight. This incident marked the beginning of the First Indochina War”.


I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about the juxtaposition of our conversation compared to those all around the party barge!


And to add to the ‘small world’ phenomena…one of the women, Denise, happened to live on the exact same street as me in Austin (37th and Guadalupe)! We reminisced about the mixed blessings of living on the famous 37th Street Lights lane, especially over the Christmas holiday. Traffic became unbearable, as people from miles around flocked to see the epitome of ‘Keep Austin Weird’ as houses displayed the most unusual holiday decorations and sculptures while neighbors played Christmas carols on banjos. Just thinking about those days makes me a little homesick for Austin.

(Dancing and Dining in the Cave)

Alas, I’m finally starting to feel more settled in my new home. Jumble and I have developed our morning ritual of walking around Truc Bach Lake. In general, I am not a morning person – but there’s something so peaceful about waking at the crack of dawn and getting outside before the craziness begins.


I’m starting to recognize familiar faces (and familiar dogs) as I make my rounds. First there are the Vietnamese badminton players (actually, it’s some variation of badminton – more like hacky sack – where they use their feet to keep the shuttlecock up in the air). Then there’s the morning aerobics class, where tons of ladies are lined up in the park, thrusting their pelvis’ back and forth, followed by the street vendors setting up shop for the day, and finally, by old men socializing on park benches. In fact, my favorite little old man now greets me every morning with flowers as I pass by.

(Taking photos of people diving off the boat)

I so wish I could speak Vietnamese. I’ve started to take lessons but it feels like a lost cause. But I’ll stick with it and eventually something may sink in.

(Tam Binh Orphanage)

(Tam Binh Orphanage)

Work continues to improve with each passing day. I’m feeling more and more comfortable with my role and with the PEPFAR program. A few weeks ago I went on site visits in Ho Chi Minh City, my favorite being to a World Wide Orphanage facility. Hugging HIV+ children and holding HIV exposed babies reminded me, once again, why I am here…to make a difference in people’s lives.


(Look at all these kids – 108 children were at this facility!)

Sending much love to all,

4 comments to Halong Bay

  • Melissa

    Hi there,
    I randomly found your blog…you take such lovely photos! Sounds like you’re having a blast in Vietnam. I must say, that booze cruise sounds so weird! 🙂 I went to Halong Bay/Cat Ba island in 1993, and there certainly wasn’t anything like that around then. Wow, things have changed in Vietnam! 🙂
    Sounds like you are doing great work too.
    Best of luck,
    Melissa 🙂

  • Jose Carlos Cavazos

    I managed a crew for the 2010 census and though I knew Austin had a sizeable Vietnamese population, I was amazed at how many there were in the RR suburbs I covered, some who could not speak English so their forms had to be in Vietnamese! Looks like a fab time but more importantly making a real difference in someone else’s life, surely the best feeling of all. Cheers, mate!

  • What a small world. Glad you find someone to hang out with and make the best of it. Hoping I can make it to Vietnam some day. Perhaps, we will see. For now it is off to your old stomping grounds in Malawi.

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