There were only two things I knew I could not miss out on visiting on this trip to this part of Asia: Halong Bay in Vietnam and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. When we arrived in Hanoi it was the first thing I was intent on getting sorted, and we did, by booking a three day tour of Halong Bay after our Sapa Trek.
Having just finished our Sapa Trek we were back on the train for another eleven hour ride back to Hanoi. This time the journey was much better with no loud Vietnamese teenagers making noise all the way during the ride.
We arrived in Hanoi at 4:45am (way too early for my liking) and made our way to Hanoi Hostel, which, as we had booked the tour through them, offered us a shower and breakfast before being picked up for our Halong Bay tour. As promised, we were offered all of the above and even a room for us to rest a bit before being picked up by the minibus.
The minibus arrived on time to pick us up at the hostel, but soon after we boarded the bus, I became very worried about the rest of the trip as sitting behind us was a group of four really hung over and drunk guys from Birmingham, which decided that singing Celine Dion songs at 8:30 on a bus with 16 other strangers is a great way to make friends and warm the rest of the group to you.
However just before we got on to the minibus, Candy warned that the tour operator had phoned her saying the weather was pretty awful that morning and that the tour might not go ahead exactly as planned, which left the whole group slightly worried as Halong Bay was one of the main reason everyone was in Vietnam!
We started our four drive towards Halong City with multiple worries ahead of us (drunken English men and no go on the tour). Soon everyone seemed to be napping until our first rest stop, which was a torrid little place selling overpriced souvenirs to anyone crazy enough to pay those extortionate prices.
After half an hour we were back on road and the weather kept getting worse, so much so that we arrived in Halong City to a torrential downpour. Everyone on the bus was clearly worried about the possibility of missing out on their Halong Bay cruise, especially considering that some people mainly came to Vietnam for this.
When we arrived the guide said that we had to change the plans a little and have lunch on land instead of on our junk in the bay and hope the weather cleared up by the time we finished. Everyone nervously sat down for lunch, Raquel and I squeezed onto a four-person table with five Argentineans and an English girl… Yes eight people on a table for four. We made the most of it and simply ate and chatted a little.
The Gods were clearly rooting for us not only did the skies clear up and the rain stop, which meant the cruise was a go, but also the five English lads who were hung over were starting to behave and were trying to be nice and regain some of the lost goodwill toward them.
We were quickly whisked from the restaurant to the a little passenger transfer boat which took us to the Imperial Junk where we would be spending the rest of the day and night. Excitement was clearly in the as we sailed into the bay with the majestic karsts. Most of the people on the junk had already been to quite a few stunning places, but I think everyone was clearly left in awe at the beauty that we were faced with.
Raquel and I, got a nice little room with a balcony which, obviously, had just the most amazing view of the bay. The junk, for Raquel and I, just seemed perfect from the dinning area, to the upstairs deck with sun loungers, and of course the beauty surrounding us.
The Vietnamese aren’t that adept at finding good names for places at times and clearly our first activity of the afternoon was one of these, by being less creatively named, the “amazing cave”. What the cave lacked in name, it certainly made up for in magnificence, as even the tiny initial portion of the cave would have been a worthy tourist attraction.
However there was more to come as this entrance opened up into a grand cavern complete with great stalactites and stalagmites and even though the lighting in the cave was slightly scizofrenic with an array of colours, it didn’t take away from the sheer splendour facing us. I have been lucky to see some other great caves, like that of Jeita in Lebanon, but this something else.
Once thoroughly wowed we were ferry off to one of the “floating villages” from where we would do some kayaking in the bay. I’ve only done kayaking once before, in the mangroves of Abu Dhabi, but enjoyed it a lot and have wanted to do it again for a while now. Raquel and I were the first ones in and made quick work of the trip as I think excitement got the best of us and we sped along instead of taking the leisurely pace that everyone else adopted.
The English lads though, didn’t seem to agree with kayaking as all five of them managed to flip the kayaks and almost allow them to sink, this all to the amusement of all us on the tour, except the guide and the kayak owners…
After kayaking we were taken back to junk for a shower and then dinner, which was simply sublime! Dinner was followed by… well nothing more than the thing the Vietnamese love: Karaoke! My God was that not a great idea… Raquel and I, and the English (which included the lads and one girl on a solo trip) decided that public displays of vocal inabilities was not for us and retired to either bedrooms or the deck for some photos. The view from the upper deck was truly sensational as the lights from the other boats dotted the bay with what seemed like fairy light amongst the limestone karsts.
Unfortunately our bedroom was right next to the dinning area and karaoke, which meant I (as Raquel collapsed into sweet slumber as soon as we got into bed) was subjected to a truly awful rendition of “Satisfaction” by the Argentinean girls, which sounded a lot more like cats being raped by honey badgers whilst being forced to watch Twilight. It was so bad that even the one of the Vietnamese crewmember took away the microphone from them in order to sing his own rendition of Vietnamese classics, though soon enough everyone retired to the bedrooms for some rest for the next day.
To be continued…
This post is based on our day of the 13th of September 2012**Practical Details** The 3 day/2 night tour was organised through Hanoi Hostel with Vietnam Opern Tour for $103 per person and included the following: :: Coach transfer from Hanoi to Halong City (return); :: All meals during tour including 3 lunches, 2 dinners and 2 breakfast; :: One night on the Imperial Cruise Junk (Double room with Bathroom); :: One night on Cat Ba island on private beach bungalow with double rooms :: Included activities: Sung Sot cave, Kayaking, Pearl Island, Cycling, Trekking and cooking class