Hello all!First off we would like to thank Sean & Jo for recommending such a good tour company & guide to go to Halong Bay. ODC and Bien were great. Whoever is reading this and planning on going to Halong Bay, we highly recommend going with ODC and asking for a guide called Bien. He is great. So thanks guys!
What can you say about Halong Bay without using all the cliches? The place is magical, ethereal, stunning and surreal. There, I have used them all. We were on a 3 day tour of the area but could have spent 3 weeks exploring all the different islands, caves and grottos.
Before we got on our boat we bumped into an old/new friend! We met J in Japan back in October. Like us he has been traveling around and as fate would have it we met again! Don't you just love travel! Talking about Japan, our hearts go out to the people & the nation. In our view it is the greatest nation on Earth with incredible people. One thing we do know is that the Japanese are highly resilient and will get through this crisis.
Our 3 day trip entailed spending 1 night on our Junk boat, 1 night on Cat Ba island and the last day exploring some of the other bays. Our boat was fantastic with the cutest cabin we have had so far. The weather was not the warmest but thankfully the visibility was good. Some travelers and guide books claim that Halong Bay is too busy / touristy. They are being incredibly snobbish about it. To come to Vietnam and not see Halong Bay is like going to Arizona and bypassing the Grand Canyon. The place is truly a natural wonder. Imagine being on a boat on the ocean with thousands of islands and islets jutting out all around you. It is magical.
One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was a visit to a cave. Bien our guide called the cave " The amazing cave" and he was not joking. As soon as we walked in we all went WOW! The cave was huge! At least 10,000 people could fit in it and with room to spare! It was beautiful too. Outside the cave, the local fishermen live on houseboats and when the weather gets really bad, they all move into the cave. If I was them I would have set up permanent residence by now.
We had a great group with us on the trip. How many times have we said that in the last 7 months? Some of them went kayaking whilst some of us (Kaz & I included) went up one of the islands to get some shots of the bay. In the evening we all bonded over fantastic fresh seafood and karaoke. Karen, A Scottish lad called Andrew (hey mate!) and I basically took over the mic and belted out tune after tune. At one point Andrew & I sang an Abba tune. Not a pretty sight or sound! Good fun though and a great way to end a brilliant first day.
Cat Ba island was a great stop on our Halong Bay trip. When we got there we found some bikes awaiting us and we cycled through what has to be one of the most scenic cycle routes out there. The route is set by the sea with open views of the ocean that's dotted with limestone cliffs on our left. On our right were rice paddies and green fields with the occasional water buffalo in sight.
After we settled in our hotel we explored the island some more and went in search of its beaches. Our route took us to a private resort and we were about to turn back when this old lady started beckoning us and pointing forward. For some reason we decided to follow her not knowing what to expect. She led us past the resort onto a path built on the side of the cliffs so that all we saw in front of us was the ocean. At one point the view was so spectacular that Paul and I both exclaimed 'Wow'. The old lady turned back to us, spread out her arms and with a wide smile on her face said 'Vietnam!'....and with that she continued on her way leaving us there wide-eyed and gawping at both her and the beautiful scenery. Thank you old lady! We never got a chance to show our appreciation.
After our night in Cat Ba it was back on the junk for our journey into Halong City and eventually Hanoi. That night we jumped on our first train since we left Thailand and headed off to Vietnam's old capital city, Hue!
More when we get there!
Lots of love
Karen & Paul