One of the World's Natural Wonders

Ha Long Bay Travel Blog

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Houses in the Vietnamese countryside

People who made my travels more enjoyable: Michelle (USA), Phillip (England), Allison (England), Karina (Denmark), Julie (Denmark), French and Spanish families (Sorry, I'm so bad with names) 

Our driver, and tour guide, arrived at the hotel around 7am. Michelle and I loaded up our luggage and clambered into the over-crowded van. We took the last two seats available, mine was at the very back on the right-hand side. Being tall, I appreciated the added leg room, but I knew that if the road was bumpy I was going to be bounced around like crazy. Luckily the drive out of Hanoi was much smoother than I anticipated. Our van had ample A/C and the views of the Vietnamese countryside were fascinating.

Propaganda! I like how everyone in Vietnamese propaganda posters is smiling. It must be a much nicer version of communism :)
I was able to witness locals going about their daily business and I was able to see some Vietnamese homes. The architecture style was different than anything I'd seen in other countries! 

The drive from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay was scheduled to take about 3 hours. The roads on the outskirts of Hanoi were in good shape and had multiple lanes, however the roads further outside the city were not in great shape. Still, based on the condition of the infrastructure in Hanoi, the roads to Ha Long Bay exceeded expectations. Along the way we saw farms, factories (mostly run by foreign manufacturers like Foxconn) and a number of propaganda posters.

Lots of foreign companies had set up large factories
Having been to North Korea, I can say that the propaganda in Vietnam is much more subdued... After an hour or so we pulled over for a quick pit stop. There was a large tourist center with all sorts of knick-knacks for sale and a large board displaying shipping prices for around the world. Some of the items were unique and interesting, but who would buy a porcelain garden statue in Vietnam and have it shipped to the US? 

The rest of the drive went quickly and before I knew it we had arrived at Halong Bay. The staging area was a bit of a madhouse, not all that surprising considering how many tours were leaving from the exact same location. Our guides went and paid some sort of registration fee and after a few minutes we loaded ourselves, and all of our gear, onto a small transport boat (sorry I'm not very good with boat terminology).

Junks at the staging area
Once we were all seated, the boat took us several hundred yards out into the Bay. Here we met up with our official tour boat, or Junk, as they known. I guess I should have asked someone why they call it a Junk... 

The natural beauty of Halong Bay was stunning. Limestone karsts, some of which rose hundreds of feet above the water, create one of the world's more unique geologic spectacles. The setting was just superb. As our boat carried us between the tall rock formations, our tour guide began to explain the itinerary. We would all share a multi-course lunch, after which we would take a tour of a cave and then do some sea kayaking. During lunch we shared a table with a couple from England and two backpackers from Denmark.

Love the view!
Unlike Michelle and I, nobody else seemed to be affected by the heat. In fact, I was impressed with their laissez faire attitude. While Michelle and I were constantly frustrated, our European counterparts stayed calm and collected. Maybe it was their personality, maybe it was their cultural background, but they seemed to love Vietnam and not share our constant frustration. 

After lunch our junk set a course for Surprise Cave, a phenomenon within the phenomenon that is Halong Bay. Once we arrived at Surprise Cave, our tour guides instructed us to get off the junk and walk around for a bit. We spent the next 30 minutes wandering around the cave, taking pictures and admiring the scene.

Le tired
The cave itself was very beautiful, stalactites and other unique formations could be seen in abundance. Unfortunately, the whole area was so jam-packed with tourists that it was a bit difficult to truly appreciate the nature. After our tour of the cave concluded, our guide informed us that we would now travel by sea kayak to a hidden lagoon. 

Our junk transported us to one of the small floating villages in the middle of the Bay. Here, surrounded by fisherman and women selling wares, we boarded our sea kayaks. Michelle and I followed our guide for half a mile until we reached a small tunnel. The tunnel, which was only accessible during low tide, led us to the "hidden lagoon". I have no idea how the lagoon formed, but the site was simply breathtaking. Steep rock faces, covered with lush greenery, completely encircled the lagoon.

Lagoon in Ha Long Bay
The setting was so quiet and peaceful that we were even able to hear bird calls echoing throughout the lagoon. We all took the next few minutes to rest and relax. I leaned back in my kayak, admired the calm atmosphere and reflected on my time in Vietnam thus far. For the first time since I arrived in Vietnam, I felt truly at ease. To be able to enjoy that brief moment of calm, especially after our hectic experience in Hanoi, made the entire Ha Long Bay tour worth every penny.   

As we paddled back toward the floating village, the sun began it's slow descent in the horizon. Our guide told us that after we returned to our junk, we would have an opportunity to go swimming before dinner time. The one condition was that we had to swim before the sun set, no night swimming was allowed in Ha Long Bay. When we got back to the junk, I went straight for the top deck.

Look at that form :)
The junk was just tall enough that I didn't dare try a dive, instead I leapt feet first into the warm water below. On second thought, warm isn't a good adjective for describing the water in Ha Long Bay. The temperature of the water was more similar to "bath water". My experiences swimming in the Ocean are limited, but compared to the Pacific, or Northern Atlantic, the water in Ha Long Bay was extremely warm. I wouldn't describe the experience as refreshing, but I loved playing around in the water nonetheless. Once we all had our fill of swimming we went back to our cabins to get cleaned up before dinnertime.  

Dinner was a two-part adventure. I use the word adventure because I was once again exposed to something entirely new. First, we all had a chance to create our own spring rolls. Touristy, yes. Fun, absolutely! My set of rolls ended up being rather misshaped, but they were still delicious.

Breathtaking Sunset
The second part of the adventure began when we all sat down for dinner. Again I was exposed to foods that I had never eaten in my life. Some dishes were consistent with what I had already eaten in Vietnam, but most were not. For an inexpensive boat tour, the food and drink that we enjoyed was surprisingly delicious. After dinner we sat around chatting with our fellow tour mates. Unfortunately, the day's activities had taken their toll on our energy level and one by one we all retired for the evening.  

This was the first time that I had spent the night on a boat, and the experience was, for lack of a better word, interesting. I'm not a huge fan of boats and having grown up in the mountains, nearly a thousand miles from the ocean, I am not very comfortable on the water. So, as you can imagine, when I woke up in the middle of the night during a torrential downpour, my uneasiness intensified.

Trees!
I opened the door to our cabin and I couldn't see a thing other than the rain splashing down on the deck of the boat. I spent the rest of the night anxiously wondering if we were going to sink. Still, it wasn't all bad, and our first day in Ha Long Bay had been a resounding success overall! 

 

kkrater says:
Ahh interesting, well maybe one day I'll check it out.
Posted on: Jul 26, 2010
babyaly1 says:
Aw why, it's pretty much the same, river, large rocks, lots of caves :) Yangshuo was pretty awesome, but I didn't care for Guilin.
Posted on: Jul 26, 2010
kkrater says:
Yes! My friend said it was almost exactly the same as Guilin! I kinda wish I would have gone there instead.
Posted on: Jul 25, 2010
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Houses in the Vietnamese countrysi…
Houses in the Vietnamese countrys…
Propaganda! I like how everyone in…
Propaganda! I like how everyone i…
Lots of foreign companies had set …
Lots of foreign companies had set…
Junks at the staging area
Junks at the staging area
Love the view!
Love the view!
Le tired
Le tired
Lagoon in Ha Long Bay
Look at that form :)
Look at that form :)
Breathtaking Sunset
Breathtaking Sunset
Trees!
Trees!
Farmer working the land
Farmer working the land
Rice paddies
Rice paddies
More rice paddies
More rice paddies
Countryside homes in the distance
Countryside homes in the distance
More houses in the countryside
More houses in the countryside
Older propaganda poster
Older propaganda poster
Vietnam is the worlds second larg…
Vietnam is the world's second lar…
More houses
More houses
Dilapidated houses
Dilapidated houses
Farmers
Farmers
Nearing Halong Bay
Nearing Halong Bay
Our shuttle craft
Our shuttle craft
Staging area
Staging area
Already dying from the heat!
Already dying from the heat!
Junks in the harbour
Junks in the harbour
Bridge near Halong Bay
Bridge near Halong Bay
My first view of the famous karst …
My first view of the famous karst…
View from the top deck of our junk
View from the top deck of our junk
I hope it wont rain!
I hope it won't rain!
Its soooo hot outside (Im dying)
Its soooo hot outside (I'm dying)
Chillin on the lower deck
Chillin' on the lower deck
Fighting Cocks
Fighting Cocks
Amazing rock formations
Amazing rock formations
So lush
So lush
A lone junk
A lone junk
People live on the water in floati…
People live on the water in float…
More floating houses
More floating houses
Cliff diving anyone?
Cliff diving anyone?
and more houses
and more houses
Apparently monkeys live on the roc…
Apparently monkeys live on the ro…
Swimming anyone?
Swimming anyone?
Temple on top of the cliffs
Temple on top of the cliffs
Michelle on the boat outside our r…
Michelle on the boat outside our …
Another distance shot
Another distance shot
Junks in the distance
Junks in the distance
Dragon on our boat
Dragon on our boat
I changed in to some cooler clothi…
I changed in to some cooler cloth…
Very nice junk (this was the top-o…
Very nice junk (this was the top-…
Cool rock formation
Cool rock formation
Hidden Cave
Hidden Cave
Inside the cave (way too many tour…
Inside the cave (way too many tou…
No flash
No flash
.
.
Ha Long Bay in a nutshell
Ha Long Bay in a nutshell
Feet!
Feet!
View from Surprising Cave
View from Surprising Cave
Another view
Another view
:) Smile Michelle!
:) Smile Michelle!
Entering the lagoon
Entering the lagoon
The lagoon
The lagoon
More lagoon
More lagoon
Our British tourmates
Our British tourmates
Michelle in the kayak
Michelle in the kayak
Serious photo
Serious photo
Crazy photo!
Crazy photo!
People selling fish
People selling fish
More floating houses
More floating houses
Women selling wares
Women selling wares
Kayaking tourists
Kayaking tourists
Michelle swimming
Michelle swimming
One of our interesting, yet delici…
One of our interesting, yet delic…
Intense rainstorm (sorry the pic d…
Intense rainstorm (sorry the pic …
Ha Long Bay
photo by: Paulovic