28.07.2013 - 28.07.2013 26 °C
We woke early this morning as the trip we had bought to Halong Bay started at 8am. It has cost us $25 each, and after looking into it we would have struggled to do it cheaper on our own, plus we would have had to worry about what bus, what time etc. With the tour we can just go and follow the guide, plus we get lunch.
Our guide picked us up from our guesthouse on time, we then had to walk through some of the city to the lake where the bus picked us up. We collected several other people on the way which involved a lot of waiting which was annoying but we just followed suit. The first thing we noticed was that there was a lot of people on the tour, at least 40, which we think was too much. It was a very diverse group, and we even had the obligatory screaming baby to contend with. Within 5 mintutes of getting on the bus the heavens opened, we were not that bothered at this point as Halong Bay is 3 and a half hours away from Hanoi so chances are it would not be raining there also.
We were wrong....
The journey to Halong Bay was not too bad, we had a break after around 2 hours where we got a coffee and some biscuits, the we carried on our way. The closer we got to Halong Bay the worse the rain got. Some of the roads were even flooded as we neared Halong City, but this was the least of our problems. With the rain came very overcast skies, mist and even fog, meaning you could not see very far at all, not ideal when you are going to be out at see looking at a natural wonder. We were a little disheartened but there was nothing we could do about it so we decided to make the best of it.
When we finally arrived we were a bit shocked by the wharf. We expected something a bit special but it was just like a very busy ferry terminal. Perhaps if we could have seen the view through the windows and we were not running to take cover from the rain we would have had a different opinion. The whole port was mobbed with hundreds of people waiting to board boats and there was 200 plus boats on the water. We boarded our boat around 1pm, and found a couple of window seats. We had to be seated with six at each table for lunch so our guide sat an elderly Chinese family at our table which turned out to be great, Although they didn't speak a word of English we communicated best we could. Lunch was served and we followed the Chinese families example of how to eat it. It was delicious, we had rice, a clam broth, steamed fish, spring rolls, nuts, an egg dish and stir fired vegetables. We seemed to be the guests of honour at our table and the family loved showing us how to eat each dish. We ate lunch as the boat pulled out of the harbour, as w got closer we could see the limestone cliffs of Halong Bay and it was an awesome sight to eat lunch to.
Our fist stop after lunch was at a floating village. The boat meandered through the limestone cliffs and pulled up next to the village. You could go on kayak or pay for one of the villagers to row you into a cave under one of the larger limestone cliffs. It was still bouncing down so we opted out and just admired the view around us. Most of the group went on the boats and all came back drenched, not ideal when you have to sit for another few hours in wet clothes.
The mist was still thick by this point, and you could not really see the limestone cliffs until you were upon them but the views were still amazing. In every direction big limestone islands tower above the seas, some small mounds, others vast rocks outcrops with greenery on them. The mist gave a eerie atmosphere and we could not see that far so we could not get a scale of how magnificent Halong Bay was. We were a little disappointed but did not let it ruin our day. The boat took us to see some of the more famous shaped cliffs such as the 'Fighting Cock', so called as I looks like two fighting cocks.
Our final stop was a cave which was our favourite part of the day, Although a tough climb up some steps to the entrance the cave was vast, full of stalagmites and stalactites, inside was illuminated by hidden lights in various colours, the walls were as smooth as glass where water had run over it for years and formed some distinct shapes. We got in front of the rest of the group so we did not have everyone in our photos and made our way through. We were in there around half an hour and when you emerge at the other end you have a vantage point over some of the bay. The view would have been great had it not been for the mist.....
We had been on the water around 4 hours and then our boat made its way back. Thankfully, or sods law, the mist started to lift as we made our way back so we could final get a scale of the place. It is astounding seeing the cliffs spread all the way to the horizon and as far as you can see left and right. Unfortunately the overcast skies meant the light was poor and our photo do it no justice but it was beautiful.
We set back off around 5:15pm, and the bus driver we had decided to drive as slow as possible so we did not get back until 9pm. We were starving by this point so stayed out and made our way to another of the beer joints and ordered beers and food. Tonight we shared, spring rolls (yes again), pork dumplings, pork kebabs and fried chicken, It was awesome. On the way back to the guesthouse we called at a weekend night market and browsed the stalls.
Although the weather was against us we have enjoyed today. It has been a long day, and we do not think that group tours are really for us, mainly because we do not like waiting for everyone, but we are happy to have seen Halong Bay after looking forward to it for so long. Tomorrow night we move on to Hue, via train, we have thee day to spend in Hanoi, a city which although manic we have grown to like, mainly due to its culinary scene, but there is a lot of charm here too. We are looking forward to the rest of Vietnam.