Hanoi to Halong Bay

Hanoi Travel Blog

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We woke up and got our things together for our trip to Halong Bay. We headed downstairs to the reception to wait for the minibus to collect us and the receptionist ushered us to the dining room for breakfast (which I didn’t really fancy, but he insisted there was enough time, so I conceeded).

We ate the classic egg/omelette and toast, with fresh fruit, tea/coffee and fruit juice. Just a few moments after we had ordered, the minibus arrived. The driver was insistent that we continued our breakfast and he would return in 20 minutes. When the driver returned we boarded the minibus.

It was quite a culture shock. After spending the past couple of weeks in Asia, barely seeing another Westerner, we were faced with a bus full of white people.

The bus was pretty much full, apart from one seat near the door with plenty of leg room (for Fab) and a couple of seats at the back, which I squeezed into.

The journey to Halong City took around 3 hours, and it went fairly fast considering we’ve been averaging 12 hours for each journey we have taken. Upon arrival we were ushered to our boat, which looked very typical of the Halong Bay boats you will see in the bay. We were told to leave our bags at the door, and come and find a seat to have lunch when the next people arrived.

 We grabbed a seat near a couple of American girls who were planning a big trip around Asia, and enjoyed the luminous orange, sugar filled, carbonated drink we were served.

Moments later we were told that lunch would be a while so we could go to the top deck while we waited. There were sun loungers, and a variety of chairs to relax in the sunshine and watch the view.

Lunch was ready shortly after we pulled out from the harbour, so we again went down to the dining room. We found a seat next to 3 British lads, one of whom looked identical to a friend of Fab’s (and bizarrely had the same name).

Lunch consisted of prawns, fish with lemongrass, ginger, garlic, rice, cucumber and tomato salad, bok choi, fruit, omelette and a few other things. It was very tasty and between the 5 of us we finished the lot!

After lunch we headed back up to the top deck to see the scenery.

It was really beautiful - the stunning limestone karsts dominated the waterway, and the deep water sparkled green in the sun.

Legend says that when the Vietnamese were fighting off the Chinese invaders, a family of dragons came down and began spitting out jewels and jade, which turned to islands in the bay, creating a wall to the invaders. The dragons liked the place so much that they decided to live there, hence the name Ha Long Bay (Ha Long means ‘descending dragons’)

The only thing that ruined the ambience was the miniature party going on behind us, with the British lads and a group of girls who were being dropped off at Cat Ba island for a different trip, with their iPod speaking blaring out the trance music… you get the idea.

A while later we were given the key to our room, which was very nice and a decent size considering how small the boat was.

We had our own bathroom and a really comfortable bed, but no electricity. We later discovered that electricity was ‘rationed’ and it was only switched on between certain times of the day, which makes sense.

  As the boat sailed through the waters, we neared the cave we were to visit. After climbing a good amount of stairs in the blistering heat, we reached the Thiên Cung cave. This was only recently discovered and it is a fantastic sight. We were taken around the cave, being told the stories, and shown the animal and human shaped stalactites and stalacmites that filled the area. It was quite a sight. After the Thiên Cung cave, we walked to another cave called Hang Dau Go, which was very different, but still quite remarkable.

We only had 45 minutes to look around both caves, so headed back to the boat to move on to the next location; Cat Ba island to drop off the group of girls.

After a quick shower, we headed back up to the top deck to watch more of the scenery. It really is a magical place. We soon arrived at Cat Ba island, and then continued on to our final destination for the day, where we were to take part in kayaking and swimming if we wanted.

I was a bit apprehensive about the kayaking, having never done it before, but we had already paid for it in the cost of the trip, so thought it silly not to take part.

 We arrived at a wooden jetty where we alighted the boat, and put on our lifevests.

There were nets of fish between the walkways and a couple of docile dogs wandering around. There are people that live in Halong Bay that have never stepped foot on dry land before, and I believe where we were was one of those places.

We got into our kayak and off we went. It was GREAT fun! I loved every minute of it (apart from when Fab tipped the kayak from side to side, and upon my screams of protest, started singing “rock the boat, don’t rock the boat baby”)

We headed off into the sunset, and it was just beautiful. Sadly, I didn’t take my camera with me, for fear of it getting wet (which it would have) so I have no photographs of it, but I’ll never forget it. The water was really warm and soft, and a gorgeous bottle green colour.

As we paddled around I noticed this pink/white/yellow coloured thing floating in the water - it looked like a plastic bag.

I said to Fab, (not really believing it myself) “is that a jellyfish?”. He looked over at it, and the look on his face was enough to tell me the answer! It’s tentacles must have been at least 2m long, and it’s body 1m across. It was absolutely monstrous.

“Let’s get closer to it”, I said. As we got closer we realised it’s true size Fab exclaimed “F*** that!”. Certainly stopped him rocking the kayak anymore. It was pretty intimidating though as if it could grab us from the sea, so we didn’t stay too close for too long.

We continued paddling around, seeing how fast we could go (quite fast) and how close to the karsts we could get (we touched them) before heading back to the jetty to get back on the boat. We had been told that if we stay out too long, it gets dark fast and we could get lost out there. Not ideal in jellyfish infested water.

We got back onto the boat and got ready for dinner. We sat with a nice couple from north England and a guy from London, and chatted about their travels and what they’d done and where they’d been. It was quite interesting and we learn some interesting things.

Dinner was pretty similar to lunch; fish, vegetables, salad, fruit, chips, rice and so on. There was plenty there though, and so we were satisfied. After dinner we headed back to our cabin to get an early night (or so we thought.)

It seemed that the Halong Bay cruise we chose catered to the booze cruise market, and so the loud dance/trance music was turned up, and the alcohol was flowing. Shouts of “vodka, vodka” echoed throughout the ship, and the stomping of drunken feet went straight into our little cabin. Nonetheless, we fell asleep ready for an early morning.

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photo by: mario26