After 3 nights in Hanoi (see next update) we headed to Ha Long Bay for our cruise. This was about a four-hour drive from Hanoi. Driving in Vietnam is different to the rest of the world. There are no rules. People ignore traffic lights and road directions, and mopeds, which are the equivalent of family estate cars due to the number of passengers, weave in and out of traffic. So a four-hour drive in the back of a minivan was not like a smooth jaunt down a motorway.
Ha Long Bay is another UNESCO heritage site, and is home to thousands of islands formed from limestone rocks. The photos really do not show how amazing this looks, it is one of the natural wonders of the world and makes the 12 apostles in Australia look small and insignificant by comparison.
We had saved some of our wedding gift money (thanks again!) on our Ha Long Cruise, so we splashed out for a suite cabin on one of the best boats. It was well worth it as the boat was amazing, as was the service and food. The boat had about 30 guests on it in total so was nothing like a cruise ship you normally think of.
Our first day, after checking in and boarding the boat complete with flower petal confetti, we set sail around midday and had lunch while sailing through the bay. Our first stop was a network of caves in the rocks. The first cave we went in to was rather small, but through a narrow passage we were presented with a massive cave complete with stalactites, stalagmites and all kinds of rock formations including the inevitable ‘fertility rock’ (see photos). After the caves we returned to the boat to visit a fishing village next. People actually live on the water in houses that float. They make their living from fishing and increasingly tourism and you can’t fault their choice of location for the views.
That night we anchored next to a pearl farm and I went kayaking in the bay we were in. We were given a lesson in making Vietnamese spring rolls on the deck followed by a shot of the local firewater. Vietnamese spring rolls are amazing, the rice wine was not!
We’d opted for a 2 night, 3 day cruise as if you go for the one night option you don’t really get to see much as you are on the boat for less than 24 hours. It seemed this was a little uncommon, and we transferred to our day boat and found we were the only passengers. A whole boat to ourselves with full crew, private chef and guide. Sounds very posh, but the day boat was a bit more rough around the edges. On our day trip we visited caves, well, tunnels that were a bit further in to Ha long bay. The first one visited we were rowed in a bamboo boat by a woman with a bamboo conical hat and a facemask (worn to preserve white skin as in Asia white skin is the aim, just like tanned skin is in the Western world). The cave went through to an enclosed lagoon with giant rocks surrounding it and we were lucky to see some of the islands native monkeys playing by the water.
Soon after leaving the first cave the rain started and didn’t stop all day. We went to a large fishing village that sold Ha Long pearls. Despite wearing bamboo hats ourselves we got soaked. It rains properly in Vietnam.
The second cave we visited that day was called the dark cave. It was low and we kayaked (Chris paddled, Sarah shone the torch) with torches on our heads. It’s quite strange to be in pitch darkness in all directions, in a kayak under a mountain of rock with no-one else there except for a few bats.
We joined back to the main boat in the late afternoon and the rain cleared enough for more kayaking around where the boat anchored. This was great as just a few minutes paddle around some rocks from the boat and you were in complete wilderness with only the sounds of the paddle on the water, the birds in the trees and surprisingly loud harvest flies in the bushes.
The next day we had glorious sunshine. Unfortunately our time on the boat ended at 10:30am but we enjoyed making use of our private terrace at the front of the boat to soak up some sun on the way back.
Ha Long Bay, we fully admit, is something that again we only heard about from the Top Gear special. It was amazing and should be on everyone’s travel wish list.
The photos are online here, but really do not compare to the vast number of islands you see when you are there.