Smooth Sailing in Halong Bay

Trip Start Oct 02, 2011
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Trip End Dec 19, 2011


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One of the most Iconic places in South East Asia are the limestone pillars of Halong Bay, A must see when in the area. To get there we had to pass through the crazy city of Hanoi first. Hanoi is just another big, busy city and we had no interest in staying there for more than we had to. We took a 12 hour bus ride from Sapa to Hanoi during the day which was also another good way to relax after the Mount Fansipan trek.
We took a taxi to the old quarter and spent a while trying to find some cheap accommodation, but to find accommodation for less than $15 was a challenge, especially when both hostels were booked out. We ended up getting in to one of the hostels but we had one bed for $7, we were told the room was going to be full but no-one ever came and in the morning it was empty, but we got a great free breakfast.
The previous night we had booked a return bus to Halong city, leaving on the Wednesday morning and returning on the Sunday as to give us enough time to be able to do the bay and Cat Ba island  ourselves.

We stopped on route for a break where every other tour bus does where there must have been 20 - 30 bus loads of foreigners. One of our tour guides told us that it wasn't possible to take a ferry to Cat Ba from Halong City and that if we did it ourselves we would end up paying lots more, etc. We thought we would be able to do it ourselves but apparently not, everyone else was part of a one, two or three day tour and we were the only ones who just booked a bus trip.
We told him what we wanted and he gave us a price of $46 each. So in the end we did join a tour of Halong Bay.
The drive to Halong City took 1.5 hours longer than it should have when there was an accident which banked traffic for miles in both directions so it was a good thing we decided not to take the boat the same day.
We didn't want to go on the boat straight away and instead stay the day in Halong City and catch it the following morning. We grabbed a hotel of which there were plenty and set about getting some food. There seemed to be more hairdressers than restaurants and settled for a small local one for some cheap food.

The following morning we got to the tourist boat pier and waited for our bus to arrive. We talked to some Australians who said that they had a bad time with hardly any food, no towels, napkins, weren't able to swim and had to pay a surcharge for bringing their own alcohol etc. Also that another couple had paid twice as much and got the same deal. I thought they were on our bus from the previous day so I got a bit worried we were in for the same.
Our group arrived and we set off on the boat in to Halong bay.

Almost straight away we had lunch which was plentiful and delicious with fish as we drifited just out of the bay. We then proceeded to the most famous cave in Halong Bay, along with every other boat tour. The cave was very impressive but they ruined by silly colouful lighting and the sheer amount of people inside meant it was loud and crowded, even waiting to get back on the boat afterwards was busy.
Unfortunately the weather was hazy but sunny so the views weren't as good as we hoped but still unbelievable none the less. We cruised the bay for another few hours, enjoying it on top of the boat. We had a some nice people in our group, including a couple who are both deaf.

As the sunset we pulled up anchor and enjoyed a swim before the rest of the boats arrived, jumping off the top of the boat. The water was nice and warm, and clean(ish) at that point.
Soon after all the other boats arrived and we all settled in for the night, checking in to our pretty good rooms. I soon realized that the Australian couple with the bad experience had not been on our bus to Halong, so I was relieved and happy with our boat and tour.
We all had a nice dinner and we struck up a conversation, by pen, with the deaf couple who were quite inspiring for us. Their names where Jon and Heather and they came from Belgium and USA respectively. They had met in the US over a year ago and were on a one year trip through Asia, Australia and New Zealand and doing a deaf program in Thailand for 3 months.
So we were very impressed and invited them to visit us in New Zealand when they got there.

We all woke early the following morning for breakfast at 7.30 and checked out afterwards. We were to be heading back to Halong CIty with a stop for some Kayaking. Everyone but us, Jon and Heather and some few people continuing on to Cat Ba Island hopped on to another boat for the kayaking, and we were confused as to why our guide told just us to stay on board.
We stopped and dropped off the rest of the people on Cat Ba Island and waited for the group to be picked up. I got pretty frustrated and annoyed because we didn't know why were were the only ones on board and weren't sure if we were going to be Kayaking.
I don't know why but I have been so paranoid and stressed since I have been in Vietnam.

My nerves were eased as we picked up the group from Cat Ba Island and arrived at the area for the kayaking. The Kayaking was short unfortunately but still nice to be able to get close to the massive pillars and even kayak under a cave to a secluded circular area.
After returning for the kayaking, we set sail for Halong city, enjoying the sun on deck and the last views of such a beautiful place.
We weren't able to get on the bus back to Hanoi that same day as we had already booked it for the Sunday, so we decided to relax in Halong City for a few nights.
The next day we woke and relaxed, we did some hand washing where I pushed too hard on the sink and almost dislodged it from the wall, cracking and dismantling pipes. We didn't want to cop a bill so we went on search to buy a screwdriver to to a bit of DIY work, but the DIY failed and had to tell the owner. She said it was ok so we proceeded to spend the rest of the day on cheap 20 cent an hour internet, awaiting our bus in the morning to get back to Hanoi.

Halong Bay was magnificant, so beautiful!! It is unfortunate that some water pollution occurs and the water is not as clean as it would seem. The weather wasn't the best either, but still better than rain. Exploring this area on your own would be incredible but unfortunately it's hard and you pay for the privilage. I was pleased with the tour though and would recommend researching some good companies for the tours as beautiful experiences in these kind of places can be easily destroyed.
I definitely came back with great memories.

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