Bay of the Descending Dragon
Halong Bay Travel Blog› entry 26 of 39 › view all entries
ANDREI - We'd heard mixed reports of trips to Halong Bay! So we booked our 2 day, 1 night trip with trepidation! We'd read that the activities offered (kayaking, swimming in the sea, visit to a beach, visit to the Hang Sung Sot caves) were all too brief and people felt they had not received value for money.
5 classes of boat were on offer, since it's our honeymoon we opted for the 3rd level ("Superior class") and paid $69 each. We had a fine 3 hour journey by mini bus East and slightly North to Halong Bay City, including a break at a souvenir warehouse (a common tactic amongst big city tour operators!). There's still no sign of the Sun since we reached Vietnam - it's been solidly overcast! No sign of it on this tour, despite the trip to the coast!
Once we reached the port, we handed our passports over to Teun, our English-speaking guide, from APT Travel (a comapny panned in reviews we've seen!).
The 7 of us tucked into a nice lunch - Kyle (US-Vietnamese) & Tiffany (Vietnamese), Gustav (French-Vietnamese), and Justin & Jules (Australia) - then we set off into the bay, with many islands plainly visible from the shore. We sailed out of the coastal drizzle within 20 minutes and took in the wonderful sights around us. The sea was dead calm, and the islands in the distance were shrouded in an evocative mist of drizzle.
The tower karst islands are what's left of limestone mountains that existed before the last Ice Age. The big thaw led to the area flooding leaving the mountaintops poking out of the sea. The mythical stories, however, are a bit more poetic. One states that the bay was created when a Dragon careered into the ocean, cutting the fantastic bay as it thrashed its way into the depths. Another states that the islands are Dragons sent by the gods to impede the progress of invading fleets. Take your pick!
We sailed on to the sizeable Caba Island, where we were to pick up a French party of 10 and drop off Gustav since he was on an alternative trip (we picked him up the next day and he said there was absolutely nothing to do!).
We got 40 minutes kayaking around a few islands. I didn't think this was enough and was a little annoyed that we had wasted so much time waiting for the French. On the positive side, we did get plenty of time to relax on the boat, but it was far more interesting getting close to the islands under our own steam.
We did a spot of swimming in one of the deeper areas between islands, avoiding the odd jellyfish. The sea was nice and warm, but, again, we didn't have much time before it got dark!
Justin and Jules shared a bottle of gin with Kerry and I, so we had a good evening swapping travelling stories.
Due to the upset French, and our subsequent converstaions in French with them, Teun saw fit to show us a little paper trick (which I can't be bothered to describe) as we chatted that night.
The next day, we went to the well developed Hang Sung Sot caves - good paths and effective lighting. Got some nice photos. Teun also had a few interesting points to share with us.
Personally, I kept finding myself comparing this trip with our Galapagos Islands tour. That had been fantastic. A knowledgeable and organised guide, a hardworking crew, and fantastic sights. This Halong Bay tour seemed to be a bit messier. They should not have mixed a 2-day tour group with a 3-day tour group (thus diluting both tours). Kyle had been on this tour 5 years ago and said the organisation of the place and the development of the port area had not changed since then.
Overall, it was a pleasant, relaxing trip, even with out the sunshine! However, 2 days would be the maximum you should take on this tour, unless you go with a reliable tour operator or are part of a bigger tour group who will probably block book boats to themselves. Perhaps even a 1 day tour would be enough, if you don't want to just chill out on the boat?