As previously mentioned, Caitlin and Ashley visited us for 2 weeks from South Africa. No visit to Hanoi would be complete without a trip to Halong with a night on a boat on the bay..
We have built quite a strong relationship with Blue from Hanoi Blue’s Hostel in Old Quarter over the last 2 years – Candy and Sholto stayed there when they first arrived and have hired motorbikes from him for their entire time here and then Caitlin and Ashley also stayed there. Over the last couple of years he has arranged few trips for us. We booked a 2 night/3 day trip with Seasun Cruises for Cait, Ash, Candy and I.
We were collected from Blue’s at 8am as promised (you would think that this would not be necessary to say but it is somewhat unusual – Hanoi time is similar to Natal time – often a little late). We had a seat on coach transfer to Halong (in other words in a bus as opposed to a private transfer). We made a few stops to collect other guests so this took a bit of time – but our wonderful guide – Tu – made the best of this time to joke about the guided tour we had of the Old Quarter!
We then headed out on the 3 hour bus ride to Halong. I imagined that once we got out of the city of Hanoi the roads would open up and almost be “highway” like – not so – it is a continuous stream of street side shops (workshops, clothes shops, pharmacies etc), interspersed with rice paddies and factories.
We had a toilet break about half way with snacks and souvenirs (even 6 foot tall marble statues that they will ship to your home country!).
We eventually arrived at the dock together with all the other passengers for the other boats that all seem to depart at the same time. We were very efficiently whisked off on a tender to our boat for check in processes. Our room was a comfortable twin room with a great little western style bathroom.
We were very fortunate that we were on a smaller boat with only 17 guests and a really good mix of a family group from Egypt (Mum, Dad living in Egypt and daughter at Uni in Europe), a couple from the Netherlands (she was originally from Indonesia) , a group from USA, a family from France and the 4 of us.
Once we were under way, we were served a fantastic lunch – there was an abundance of food – at every meal the was the case. En route from Hanoi Tu had asked if anyone had and food intolerances and these were more that adequately catered for. The only exclusion during the trip was the cost of drinks (and of course gratuities). The drinks were reasonably priced and readily available.
We enjoyed our fantastic Vietnamese lunch whilst we were cruising through the fairy land of Ha Long Bay, passing by Stone Dog islet, Incense Burner islet, Fighting Cocks (the symbol of Halong Bay), Swan islet, and Duck islet a section of the bay.
The Ha Long Bay archipelago is made up of 1 969 islands (limestone karsts), both settled and uninhabited. The islands vary greatly in size and shape as well as structure. This unique UNESCO World Heritage Site is a popular place for tourists and it is good to know that large parts of Ha Long Bay are officially protected from development.
We then transferred to the “day” boat and went to visit the magnificent Sung Sot Cave (Surprise Cave). It was first named The Cave of Surprise because of the reaction of visitors when they enter the cave. The entrance seems small then the cave opens up enormously with incredible stalactites as well as more interestingly shaped rock formations such as the elephant rock and one simply referred to as a “fertility” shape – I will leave that up to your imagination. I am giving this account purely on hearsay from the kids as I opted to stay on the boat as I was aware that this is a fairly steep and long climb and I have a dodgy sciatic nerve.
After the cave we headed to Luon Cave for a spot of kayaking – which I did participate in – candy and I are ready for 2018 Duzi – she is a demon kayaker – granted it was flat water but I was well impressed with her steering skills.
We were a little unlucky with the weather but nevertheless we still headed off the TiTop Island for a little dip in the ocean and a coconut (beer for me) and the beach.
Dinner on board was once again a fantastic spread with plenty for every taste.
Tu (our guide) led the charge with a night of karaoke – almost a national sport in most South East Asian countries – it didn’t take long for the rest of the guests to get fully immersed in it. It was really amusing to read the words to songs I thought I knew but evidently, I never knew the local version of the words we really had a great laugh. Tu even got us involved in singing a Vietnamese classic.
I must admit I did sympathise with the other boats anchored near us for the night – we were definitely the party boat.
After a hearty breakfast, we headed off on the day boat to visit the local pearl farm/factory in the middle of the bay.
Then it was off to Monkey Island where the more adventurous did another steep climb to see the monkeys – as we have them in our garden at home in South Africa I once again opted for the beer option – unfortunately for them the heavens opened and they got drenched but that also put a damper on our morning on the beach (pun intended).
We returned to the day boat for another feast and then a 2 hour cruise to Cat Ba Island for the night. We dropped a few of the guests off at another cove on Monkey Island for the night.
We had a quietish evening on Cat Ba – great hotel but the karaoke bar was based under our room into the car park so was rather entertaining – but I will give them their due they shut up shop early so as to not keep everyone awake.
After a substantial buffet breakfast we headed back to the harbour for the 2 hour return to our main boat collecting our fellow guests en route. We were on a different ferry than the previous day and when one of our US guests got on board he was very sad as he had left his sandals on yesterday’s boat – no problem to Tu he made contact and we did a bit of an about turn and met up with the other boat and he got his sandals – that is above and beyond the call of duty for sure – well done Tu! Once we had transferred boats I realised that I had left my cellphone on the day boat, unfortunately I was not as lucky as our American friend and we were not able to rendezvous with the other boat BUT Tu contacted the other skipper and my phone was delivered to Hanoi the next day.
This transfer took us through the fishing villages that are scattered all through Lan Ha Bay – we even stopped at a floating shop to get some coffee sachets!
Once back on board our main boat we were given a cooking demo and then another magnificent lunch on our way back to the harbour at Halong.
It was then back to Hanoi and home!
I will certainly be heading back to Halong to take my South African mates to see this wonderful place (Jenny are you taking note?).
Our next adventure is Laos – we are off on 23 August – watch this space!