The first day, after about a 3 hour bus ride to Halong City, we boarded our boat, which was a 3 story wooden boat with about 6 bedrooms on the bottom level. We cruised for about an hour through the many limestone formations for which Halong Bay is famous
. The weather was very foggy, which, while making it difficult to see in the distance, turned Halong Bay into a mystical place; The limestone formations were surrounded by a white smoky haze. After about an hour of cruising, we arrived at a cave. Our guide was extremely hard to understand, so I have no idea which cave this was, but it was beautiful. To make it more majestic (and more appealing for tourists), they lit up the cave with blue, green, and pink hues, bringing attention to various stalagtite and stalagmite formations within the cave. While not exactly natural looking, the cave made me feel like I was had traveled into some sort of fairy tale world. After the cave, we cruised to a different part of the bay and got into kayaks. Marissa and I shared a two person kayak and paddled by a cave and around one of the limestone karsts. It was fun getting so close to the water, and we even saw a jellyfish swim by. That evening we hung out on the boat, chatted with other travelers, and had a few drinks.
The next day we cruised to Cat Ba Island and went for a short but strenuous hike. Or should I say climb. This hike was straight uphill, and at times I had to use my hands to pull myself upward. At the top, we should have been rewarded by breathtaking panoramic views, but because of the fog, all we saw were the tops of trees surrounded by whiteness. There was a sketchy, rusty lookout tower at the top (which I imagine was erected for the war), that had a sign saying minimum 5 people at a time
. Seeing only 1 person up there, I made my way up. The steps were very spaced out, so I could see how high up I was with every step. At the top was a platform made of wooden planks with gaps here and there. It was pretty exhilarating being so high up (and on such a rickety structure), and because of the fog, I was completely surrounded by whiteness. I couldn't see anything! I felt like I was in the clouds. After the hike we went to a hotel where we would be staying the night on the island. The rest of the day should have been filled with swimming at the beach, but because of the weather, I just went to a café on the harbor and drank a couple of beers. There were a bunch of travelers staying at our hotel, and we went out for some pool playing that night, which of course is always fun for me! :)
On our last day we got back on a boat and cruised by a floating fishing village. What a different life these people lead! I couldn’t help but notice the little kid with the plastic tricycle on a 400 square foot house on a floating wooden platform. Where does he ride this thing? After the floating village we cruised back to Halong City and then took a bus back to Hanoi. Halong Bay was nice, but I think sunny weather would have made a huge difference. Oh well – next time!
Halong Bay is perhaps one of the most famous and most touristed areas of Vietnam. For those of you unfamiliar with Halong Bay, it is a natural wonder, designated a World Heritage Site in 1994. It is a bay of more than 2000 islands, huge limestone formations jutting out of the water, and a plethora of grottoes and caves created by thousands of years of wind and waves. Even though I usually try to steer clear of organized tours, I heard it was easier and cheaper to book a tour of Halong Bay in Hanoi. So for $40, I booked a 3 day/2 night cruise of Halong Bay, which included all transportation, food, and accommodation. Not bad!