One of the World's Natural Wonders
Ha Long Bay Travel Blog› entry 13 of 25 › view all entries
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.