No visit to Hanoi would be completed without a small tour through the thousands of limestone islands in Halong Bay. Especially since this was our first time in the Vietnamese capital. After struggling again whether to buy an organized tour or not, we ended up giving up. It didn’t look that bad. Two days trip with all the meals included and some other things we wouldn’t have done any other way.
We left Hanoi quite early and after 3 hour trip we were in Halong. We went in a mini bus with 15 other people that were going to be with us the all time. All young people. When we arrived in Halong, after maybe 30 minutes on the boat, we went straight to Dong Thien Cung Cave. The cave is very well preserved and ran by locals, but we think that all the lively colors inside are a bit too much. It felt like a disco from the 90’s.. It has lots of stalactites and our guide seemed to find some odd similarities between them and some animals, body parts etc… I think any person with a big imagination can find any shape in those walls and ceilings.
From the entrance to the cave you also have a very nice perspective over Halong city and it’s mostly high rise buildings.
We had a boat waiting for us and that was where we were going to spend the night. There was a crew of five people plus our guide, so we were around 20 people on board. Our room, though very small, was clean and comfortable enough. The shower had no water pressure whatsoever and when the group met after being in the rooms for the first time, everybody complained they didn’t have a shower due to this problem. I said I used the tap from the toilet because it was working a bit better. You can find these taps next to the toilets on every Asian bathrooms.
The boat does not navigate very deep inside the thousands of islands that make this place one of the most recognizable places in the world, but it goes far enough, so that everything we see is nature… and a few other boats. The weather was gray for most of the time and we didn’t have the blue scenery we can see in the most famous pictures. That didn’t stopped us from enjoying every single bit of that place.
At some point we stopped for an hour of canoeing and to jump to the water from the boat. It felt really good.
As we started talking more with everybody else, we felt everybody was starting to feel more comfortable about each other. Some people were doing a long term trip like us, others only in a two or three weeks holidays. The crew was trying to sell us alcohol, but the truth is nobody started drinking until the happy hour when the free beer kicked in.
We talked for some hours throughout the night, until one by one, people started going to their rooms.
The crew was sleeping in the living room, where we had our meals. One on each bench.
The following day we woke up very early for breakfast and a cooking class. Basically, all they did was to give us some ingredients that were prepared beforehand and taught us how to roll spring rolls that they cooked and served us afterwards.
Another group of people joined our boat. They were going to spend one more day navigating through the bay. After lunch we were back to the mini van on our way to Hanoi.
It was a very pleasant experience though not very enriching. Halong bay, yes, is totally worth the visit, but I don’t think is something to repeat.
More photos from Vietnam here.