Journey to Halong Bay

If you haven’t been to Halong Bay, you haven’t truely seen Vietnam  – Our tour guide Tom

Halong Bay, located in Quang Ninh Province of Vietnam, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an extremely popular tourist destination in Northern Vietnam. Drawn in by its thousands of limestone karsts, dry and wet caves, and gorgeous views, we decided to dedicate a full day to the legendary Halong Bay.

We were jolted awake unpleasantly from dreamland at 7am, and consumed our breakfasts in a zombie-like state. Then we hopped on a ghetto ‘Mercedes’ shuttle bus where we would sit uncomfortably on bumpy/muddy roads for the next 3.5 hours. Thankfully, we had a lovely tour guide named Tom, which means Shrimp in Vietnamese apparently. In the past, children often died young, and there was a folk belief that ugly or unattractive names would protect the child and make them less appealing to the Gods. Therefore, his sister’s name is Oyster and his brother’s name is Crab. Along the way, Tom shared with us folk stories, Vietnam’s history and progresss, as well as his own personal anecdotes. He even sang a cultural Vietnamese folk song used for courting girls. Due to Vietnam’s unique history, his grandfather spoke French, his father spoke Russian, and he along with his generation speak English.

As we bounced along the bumpy dirt road weaving precariously between speeding motorbikes and narrowly darting oncoming traffic, we were treated with views of the raw and true Vietnamese country side. Rice paddies stretched out past our field of vision, dotted with farmers in their characteristic Vietnamese straw hats and oxen. For a moment, it was like we were transported back to history. The idyllic views definitely compensated for our unfortunate transportation experience.

With numb legs and sore necks, we finally arrived at Halong Bay Harbour. Since North Vietnam has all 4 seasons and often falls victim to big thunderstorms, we were extremely lucky to have clear skies and lovely breeze to complement our experience.

We boarded the Ha Long 36 Imperial Cruise and immediately all climbed up to the sun deck to enjoy the splendid view. Soon, the limestone islets came close into view. It was magnificient, and reminiscent of Guilin, except more spectacular with more water and exotic allure.

Soon, we were surrounded with beautiful limestone karsts and islets, floating fisherman homes, and quaint village boats laden with fruit and other wares. Vietnamese heaven on earth.

In this heaven, we enjoyed a decently filling meal family style with 3 other travellers from Chicago. One girl was in her third year of teaching English in Japan, and the trio of old high school pals were in the process of tearing up South East Asia for a week. We enjoyed some nice conversation, and headed out to explore the bay. Since we had already kayaked in Sai Kung , we opted for quaint little wooden boats to take us around for a spin.

Our rafter took us through a wet cave and into a completely pure and untouched haven of nature. The boat, the views, the ambience, the camwhoring with good friends provided quite a multi-sensory experience. On our way back to the big boat, we passed by solitary floating fisherman’s houses where young children frolicked with dogs as if they were on land. An old grandma enjoyed a nap in her hammock.

We headed back to the sundeck and thoroughly enjoyed the calming wind that almost lulled me into taking a nap. Everything was so nice. We docked at one of Halong Bay’s most famous dry caves, Dong Thien Cung. The stalactite and stalagmite cave also reminded me of the Guilin Reed Cave, but it was so much bigger and more spectacular.

After a good 4+ hours on the boat, we docked back at Halong Harbour and piled into a slightly more comfortable and larger shuttle. The bumpy journey back to Hanoi got increasingly so on our way back. Halfway to Hanoi, a thunderstorm started forming. The sky flashed different colors and there was a torrential downpour. By the time we arrived back in Hanoi, the rain had overwhelmed the Old Quarters’ drainage pipes so there was water everywhere. The rain was relentless, so we were in for quite a nasty shock when we made a mad dash to the hotel, umbrellaless.

Eventually, we ventured back out into the icky wetness in search of amazing Northern Pho. We got what we wished for, although we had to sit at the side of the seat on ghetto wobbly children’s stools with our knees up to our ears. Authentic Vietnamese experience, and the best Pho I’ve ever tasted for $2 USD!

Since I packed very lightly for this trip, I haven’t been able to update my recent posts with pictures. I will be adding pictures upon my return to Hong Kong!

M

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