9th March 2012
Up early and breakfasted we still we only just ready when the coach arrived to take us to the sea. From Hanoi its 2½ to 3 hours depending on traffic and you pass through 4 districts on the way; at some point there were power stations and coal mining, but mostly it was vast fields of rice sweeping in every direction. The guide on the bus told us a little history of Vietnam and pointed out the new high speed rail link between Hanoi and Halong Bay, its only very partially complete so I think his job is safe for a while at least.
Before arriving at the sea we had a comfort stop – or is it comfort shop? – 20 mins in a giant warehouse of silks and crafts, books and bowls. Very pretty work and there were plenty of tourists with their wallets out. We grabbed a coffee/juice and waited for the bus to come back for us so we could continue to the boat.
We arrived at about 11:30 to distinctly chilly weather and then hung around in confusion for a while as the guide went to get the permits and passes and tickets necessary for us to do, see and visit what was on the agenda. Then we boarded the tender and steamed our way through the boats to our junk. She was in lovely condition, wooden hull gleaming as she bobbed in the gentle swell. We jumped on board for our welcome drink and talk and then we were given the keys to our cabins and left to settle in.
The cabins were extremely nicely appointed with wonderful bathrooms. The main lounge area was pleasant, although some of the windows and doors didn’t quite fit properly and in the chilly conditions this was a little unpleasant at times!
We settled in and then reported back to the lounge for lunch. As we steamed through the giant rocks jutting out of the sea, we were served course after course of sea food, pork and chicken. Being five we had a table to ourselves, but had food for six – we ate really well and it was truly delicious.
After lunch we anchored in a bay by a floating village and decamped onto the tender to be transported over to a dock where we could either take a kayak, or be rowed around in a bamboo boat. As we only had a single change of clothes with us, and it was far too cold to don swimming trunks and rash vests we had to pass up on the kayak, even though we really wanted to, and opted for the boat. Our lady rower took us around the bay, pointing out the floating school, and taking us through natural stone arches in the rocks into the blue/green lagoons behind.
At one point, she motioned for Oskar to come and row the boat. He did not need to be asked twice and he took the oars, rapidly finding it was not as easy as she had made it look! Luca and Mateo had to have a turn too, and with help from the lady we went forward instead of in circles.
We rowed back to the dock and rejoined the tender back to the junk. We were soon under way again and steamed on through the rocks as the sun started to sink. Ere long we arrived at a large bay between several karsts and set the anchor, along with what looked like 50 other boats all settling in for the night.
The guide announced that we were to have a Spring Roll making demonstration and then we were expected to join in and have a go. Our resulting efforts were then cooked and served up to us to sample. They were actually very very tasty indeed, and they were polished off in next to no time!
We had some time to relax and so we went back to our rooms to freshen up before dinner. Again, it was a large feast of seafood, chicken and pork. After dinner we talked with fellow travellers for a while before heading off to bed. It had been a very nice day indeed.
10th March 2012
Next morning we were up early for breakfast (we had to be) and meanwhile the boat weighed anchor and steered a course to the famous cave of Halong Bay. Despite some early mist, the view cleared as the morning progressed and we arrived at around 08:30, jumping onto the tender to ferry us over to the cave entrance. We tried very hard to remember that this was another fantastic natural cave, but it was hard after Phong Nha and Paradise caves in Vietnam!
The caves were fairly impressive all the same, and as you can see, subtly and beautifully lit! It did not take long to walk through it, and we were soon back on the boat and weighing anchor to set off back to Halong City. We were served another feast for lunch before we boarded the tender to return to shore. Then, we were shepherded onto a bus for the journey back to Hanoi.
The trip was uneventful enough and we made another stop at yet another tourist goods warehouse. Here, as we were waiting for the bus to swing round and pick us up, there was a cry of “Oskar!” and looking up we saw Brook hanging out of an arriving bus. It was John, Debs, Brook and Lavina. They had but short their trip to Halong Bay and were returning to Hanoi too. The children were happy and excitedly hugged each other, so sweet to see. John, Debs, Tania and I nattered on for a few minutes catching up on the last few days and arranging to meet up later in Hanoi.
We headed to Kangaroo Café to meet John & Debs, but they had just about finished their dinners when we arrived. We spent a pleasant ½ hour or so with them before they left and so we did not have a late one – we were all pretty tired. It was just as well as we had been invited by Tuan to a Vietnamese wedding celebration the next day and had an early start.
Halong Bay was a must see, and we enjoyed it. But 2 days was a bit too rushed, and we felt a little package toured. We like our independence, but Halong Bay is somewhat of a monopoly in terms of getting out on the water to see it. The weather had not been warm. It had been misty, which lent an etherial feeling to the scenery and we witnessed the rocks looming out of the fog. I think I would have liked to spend a little more time there, and explored some of it on our own, but we were restricted by availability and by our invitation to the wedding. We may return one day… who knows?