There’s nothing better than to wake up after a good rest to the rocking of a boat out on the sea and the sound of gentle waves. We were reminded of once again of splendid beauty we were surrounded by when we opened the curtains and saw the karsts.
Our good breakfast was followed by a quick visit to the uber touristy Halong Pearl Museum where the area’s pearl harvesting activities are displayed; you can walk along the oyster farm; watch an oyster being artificially inseminated and finally (and obviously) buy overpriced pearl jewellery. It was quite clear from the backpacking look of our group, not many of us were going to invest in pearls, but oh well, an itinerary is an itinerary and needs to be followed.
Our guide, who was never mister congeniality and seemed content to simply ‘say his lines’ about the region and tour, at this point had given up on being, well, a guide, and simply sat to one side smoking cigarettes while we tried to make sense of the museum.
We returned to the junk to check out and get ready for the next part of our tour, which would be based on Cat Ba Island. Our new guide, a much more jovial fellow, who despite his self professed inexperience was keen on making sure we enjoyed the tour and made a good impression while on the boat and told us about the cycling and trekking we would be doing on the island before heading to our private beach
On Cat Ba we were given our bicycles for the 6km cycle to Cat Ba national park where we would be doing some hiking. At this point of the tour, our numbers had dwindled a little to a smaller group which included the backstreet boys (the drunk English lads) who had worked hard to regain everyone’s affection after the awkward start to the tour; an English girl doing a solo trip and Vietnamese couple.
The 6km cycle was relaxing and fun but also extremely beautiful as the landscapes with lush green covered limestone mountains and then stunning rice fields. Raquel and I and the Vietnamese couple were riding at a much more leisurely pace while the boys were doing their thing of competing with each other see who was faster.
At Cat Ba national park, we left the bicycles for light trek through the quite dense jungles of the park until we reached a couple of caves, where our guide and the English entered into a testosterone fest of pulling themselves up vines to see who could get higher while the rest of us watched enthralled (note the sarcasm) at their display of manliness.
With the show of masculine force done with, we cycled back to our boat to be transferred to our private beach. Now I knew it would be something but nothing prepared Raquel and I for the sheer beauty that awaited us. The private beach looked like the ideal honeymoon destination with white sand, the trees, the limestone cliff behind the beach, the wooden bungalows… everything… We felt like we were in paradise.
As soon as we arrived at the beach we were given a fantastic seafood lunch, which we all enjoyed while the surf, broke on the beach. Once again we got to know everyone better with everyone sharing stories (we all realised that the English guys weren’t as bad as their initial impression made them out to be).
After lunch we were given the option of staying put on the beach or going to Monkey Island for a while. Most of us agreed to stay put and kayak and/or enjoy the beach.
Raquel and I decided to simply chill out until dinnertime. We used the time either just soaking in the sea or photographing a little and chatting as well. If there is one thing Raquel and I do well, it is chat… We never shut up… We talk a lot which usually makes time pass rather quickly.
Dinner once again was good and we enjoyed some good company in the form of Rachel, the English girl on a solo trip of Vietnam. We shared stories about solo travel, the different ways Christmas is spent in the Northern and southern hemispheres and cultural differences between the English and Portuguese (and South Africans).
With dinner and good conversation done and dusted, I took some final long exposure shots of the bay at night with karsts before going to bed.
The next morning we got up early for breakfast and check out, which was once again was good. We were extremely sad to leave the beach and would have loved to stay an extra few days, but we had more to see and do in Vietnam.
The boat transferred us back to the Imperial Cruise Junk for lunch and a cooking class. By class they meant, how to make a spring rolls, but hey at least it meant we could eat what ever we made!
With that our Halong Bay tour was over, we were whisked back to shore and onto the shuttle bus to take us back to Hanoi for a night of rest before heading to Hue the next night.
It was a great three days and despite the initial misgivings of some people on the tour it turned out perfectly.
This post is based on our day of the 14th and 15th 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