Ha Long Bay Vietnam

We were headed to Thailand with some friends. My boyfriend wanted to check out Vietnam while we were in Southeast Asia. I said, if we’re going to Vietnam, I want to go to Ha Long Bay.

So, what is Ha Long Bay? It’s a bay in northern Vietnam that features thousands of little limestone islands. Because of this, Vietnam has the most islands in the world. It is a UNESCO World Herit age Site and popular among tourists. The best way to see Ha Long Bay is by boat, and you’ll see that’s how everyone visits the bay because it’s populated with tiny cruise boats everywhere. However, even with tons of other boats nearby, you still feel like your sailing in your own oasis.

Hanoi is the largest city to Ha Long Bay. Here you will find plenty of tour options that include transportation from the hotel to your ship. I recommend booking your tour through your hotel, it was such a seamless process and allowed us to enjoy our short time in Vietnam a little more. We even coordinated transportation from the airport to the hotel which was nice. We had a late flight, and I was glad I didn’t have to navigate the busy streets of Hanoi. And when I say busy, that is an under- exaggeration. I’ve never seen so much traffic. Scooters everywhere, sometimes on the sidewalk, and no pedestrian right away.

When we checked into our hotel, the Meracus, they gave us a guide to navigating Hanoi which included tips for crossing traffic – basically, don’t hesitate and be assertive. The scooters will swerve around you. Through the Meracus we booked a two-day, one-night cruise to Ha Long Bay. The bus picked us up bright and early, and we made our way east. Our bus probably had 50 or 60 people on it, but that was not everyone we would be cruising with. The Ha Long Bay cruise is quite intimate with about 12-15 people.

The boats are made of wood and beautifully designed. Our room had a balcony which I enjoyed, and there was plenty of outdoor seating on the top deck and inside the main cabin. After settling into our cabin, the boat set sail and we were off to our first destination. All Ha Long Bay two-day, one-night itineraries are the same, you just might do them in a different order.

Each boat comes with a tour guide that will also serve as your translator. Our first stop was a massive cave. We took a smaller boat to shore, and make our way through the cave with the other tourists. The cave was massive. We probably walked around for about an hour and only touched a fraction of it.

The other activities are kayaking and hiking or swimming. The weather wasn’t ideal during our cruise, overcast and cool, so it was a trip when the water was warmer than the air. The hike is a short yet steep one to a top of a lookout point with an amazing view of the bay below. If you are a fast hiker, you might be able to hike to the top and take a quick dip before getting back on the boat. The kayaking excursion takes you through a limestone tunnel and into a clearing surrounded by tall limestone cliffs. You can paddle to the edge, but beware of any monkeys!

You itinerary while on the cruise is basically booked, so it’s critical you head back to the boat at the time your guide gave you. Your meals are also planned. Everyone ate together in this gorgeous dining room with massive windows on all sides. And the food is fantastic. It was probably my favorite part, and you will not go hungry. It happened to be my birthday (and Thanksgiving back home) that first night on the cruise, and they made me a cake! My boyfriend made the reservation, so he must have told them about my birthday (swoon). After dinner, you can try squid fishing, just relax and enjoy the evening, or maybe you’ll find the crew downstairs and hang out with them as we did!

You can’t really go wrong with a Ha Long Bay cruise, and it really is an immersive experience. The cruises are intimate, the boats beautiful, the food is delicious and the scenery is amazing. Plus, you’ll learn more about the history of Vietnam and Ha Long Bay and the Vietnamese culture. So are you convinced? Ready to book a cruise to Ha Long Bay? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Until next time….



3 Days at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando

I closed Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows after reading the series for the second time and decided it was time to make a trip to Florida and immerse myself in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I convinced my best friend to join the party, my sister was currently stationed at NAS Jacksonville, so she was down to join and would bring a friend from her squadron. We were fully prepared to geek out for the next three days.

Couple of notes before I get to the good stuff. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split into two sections – Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Diagon Alley is located inside Universal Studios Orlando and Hogsmede is located in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. You can go between the two parks by riding the Hogwarts Express! If you want the full Harry Potter experience buy the multi-day park hopper pass. We spent three days in Harry Potter World, and I felt that I had seen and experienced everything I wanted too.

We went in April which I thought was perfect. It was shorts and tank top weather, but not overbearingly hot. As Goldilocks would say, it was just right. Harry Potter World is an attraction in Universal Studios, but it’s the reason why we were there. The second we made it through security it was a mad dash for Diagon Alley! Before you walk through the magical brick wall, you will see the Knights Bus parked outside 13 Grimmauld Place and Kings Cross Station. Then you walk through the brick corridor and are instantly transported to Diagon Alley. The first two shops are The Leaky Caldron and Wesley’s Wizard Wheezes, but your eye is instantly drawn to the fire breathing dragon perched on top of Gringotts Bank.

Once you’ve started breathing again, it’s time to start exploring. Check out Ollivanders, exchange your muggle money for wizard money that you can use in the park and get yourself a Butterbeer! The park even brews their own Harry Potter Themed beer. Cruise down Knockturn Alley and peak inside Borgin and Burke’s. The only ride in Diagon Alley is inside Gringotts, and it was by far my favorite ride. You take a trip deep into the vaults, and have to make a quick escape when Voldemort shows up! Make sure you explore every nook and cranny. So much detail was put into the design, that you can easily spend ½ your day there – which I’m pretty sure we did. My sister wanted to ride some other rides, so we had to head back to the muggle world.

The second day we entered through Islands of Adventure to check out Hogsmeade. This might be the only place you’ll ever see snow in Florida. While in Hogsmeade, you must do what our favorite trio does and stop for some Butterbeer at the Three Broom Sticks and get your chocolate frog at Honeydukes. I can’t tell you how excited I was when the charge on my credit card statement read, “Honeydukes.” The first ride is Flight of the Hippogriff which is like your typical rollercoaster except you can pick which dragon you want which will vary your experience. Hopefully, the line isn’t too long, so you can ride all three. Watch the Durmstrang dance on the stage and make your way to Hogwarts! This is another moment where you’ll want to make sure you’re still breathing.

Hogwarts is an interactive 3D ride, and the line takes you through the corridors of the castle. It was my second favorite ride. We took a break in the outdoor patio of the Three Broom Sticks where we tried all the different varieties of Butterbeer – frozen, cold, ice cream and potted cream – while gazing at Hogwarts in the distance. The Islands of Adventure park had more rides that my group liked, so we ventured back into the muggle world to check some of them out.

At this point, we had not taken the Hogwarts Express yet! So, before we concluded day 2, we boarded the train to from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross. I unloaded the candies I had bought at Honeydukes – chocolate frogs and Bernie Botts Every Flavored Bean when the train started to shake. We heard a voice that told us to stay put, and the cabin lights dimmed. Then we heard a thud, and a dementor was at our window! We saw another one at the door of our train cabin, but luckily Harry was there to cast Expecto Patronum. Did I mention I really like Harry Potter? We made one last stop at the Leaky Caldron and called it a day, plus the park was closing.

My sister and her friend did not join us for day 3, they had to report back to base, so she took off and my friend and I headed back to Harry Potter World that afternoon for round 3. We rode rides twice that we really liked, did some shopping. I really wanted a Gryffindor tank top since that is my house, but I could only find the Dark Mark (yes, I got it). We took the Hogwarts Express back to Hogsmeade and then again back to Kings Cross. We were sitting at a table in Diagon Alley enjoying a Harry Potter themed brewed beer when a voice came over the intercom and said the park was closing. I felt pretty proud that I closing down Diagon Alley. It was the perfect way to end the perfect trip that was all things Harry Potter.

So, would I go again? Absolutely, and I think 3 days is the perfect amount of time. Plus, I read they have a new ride coming out. I haven’t been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios LA, but that one is condensed on a much smaller scale. I’m sure I would love it just as much, and it’s a lot closer to home. Okay, now that you have read my blog, I have a request – go do something Harry Potter. Start reading one of the books, download the audio books, watch a movie or book a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! And when you do, tweet me @keeliec5, so we can nerd out over Harry Potter together.

Until next time…



Ride On – A Guide to the Mae Hong Son Loop

In July, a friend of mine posted on Facebook, “Who wants to go on a motorcycle tour in Thailand?” I got my motorcycle license in September and was boarding a plane to Southeast Asia for 16 days in November. I had just started my new job that April. To have enough PTO for the trip, I didn’t take a single vacation day since I’d started, and we went over the Thanksgiving holiday which was 2 free vacation days. I flew out Friday night on a red eye, was back in Reno by midnight Sunday and at work the following day by 9 am. I was exhausted, the jet lag was real, but it was all worth it.

Now that you know logistically how I got there, here is my quick breakdown of the Mae Hong Son Loop. So, what is it? The Mae Hong Son Loop is about 600 km long, has 1,864 curves and is in the northeastern mountains of Thailand. Because of the beautiful scenery and the tight curves, it is a popular motorcycle route. Your trip starts in Chiang Mai and you can complete the loop in either direction. For the novice rider, like myself, I recommend starting clockwise towards Mae Sariang with Pai being your last stop. Rent your bike in Chiang Mai; I used Tony’s Big Bikes. I ended up being too short to rent an actual motorcycle, so I ended up with a 150 CC scooter. It worked for me. This was my first motorcycle ride, so I didn’t need a lot of power; just something I felt comfortable with.

I was riding in a group of 6. Quite a few of us, myself included, were complete motorcycle rookies, so we took our time. We completed the loop in 10 days. Our first stop was just off the main freeway – the 108 – right before the turnoff for Doi Inthanon National Park – the tallest point in Thailand. We stayed a second night near the park, and the following day made it to Mae Sariang. Guide books say you can finish the loop in 4 days, we did it in 10. After Mae Sariang, we continued to Mae Hong Son where we spent a few days and then Pai. Pai was the “happening” place, and I recommend at least 2 nights there.

There are beautiful vista points to stop along during all parts of the trip. Some of the best meals I had were random huts along the side of the road where our only communication was “fried rice” and “pork”. November was the perfect time to go. The weather wasn’t overbearingly hot, and we only had one afternoon where we couldn’t ride because of the rain.

Driving in Thailand is different than driving in America. First, they drive on the left, and second, their rules for passing and staying in your own lane are quite passive compared to the States. Just stay confident and you’ll be fine.

Riding the Mae Hong Son Loop in Thailand was an adventure for the books. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and is one trip I will never forget. Check out my video below. It was my first time using a GoPro, so bear with me. Until next time…



Bonus: Want to see us playing with elephants in Chiang Mai? Click here!