Ha Long Bay was the perfect way to end our time in Vietnam. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me catch up from our last post.
On Thursday night we decided to check out a Czech-style beer hall in Hanoi. It was pretty cool, but strange at the same time. It felt a little like eating at Epcot; the hall was really large, but not nearly full, and we were a little bewildered by all the staff just standing around. We ordered a couple of their own brews (they had 3 types: gold, golden, black) and some Czech sausage and Gouda. It was pretty tasty; I tried the golden and the stout and there wasn’t much difference other than the color. We had a good time, but we weren’t always sure what to do with our chopsticks… or the various dipping sauces. I’m sure they were curious about our methods as well, haha.
The next morning I woke up around 4:30am feeling pretty sick. I’m not sure what it was – we ate the same food and Zach didn’t get sick – but it wasn’t fun. I was sick most of the morning and had trouble getting back to sleep. Luckily I started to feel better as the morning went on because we had to meet at The Kangaroo Cafe at 8am to leave for Ha Long Bay. So we checked out of our hotel, left our bags there, and headed over to the cafe. Unfortunately it had also been raining since I had been up and the forecast showed that it would be raining at Ha Long Bay as well. It rained as we drove out of Hanoi and fizzled out along the way giving us hope for a clear bay (it’s about a 4 hour drive to Ha Long City). As we got closer to the bay, the rain picked up again. Somehow we got lucky and when we arrived at Ha Long City the rain had stopped completely. It didn’t rain the entire time we were on the bay!
When we arrived at the port we unloaded our minibus and were met at the water by a smaller boat which then took us out to where our boat anchored. Our boat was really cozy and comfortable; we had 15 people in our group which was the perfect size, any more and it wouldn’t have been as much fun (Kangaroo Cafe promises to have small group sizes on their tours). Everyone in our group spoke English – Aussies, Brits, Irish, and 1 other American – so it was really enjoyable to spend time listening to everyone’s stories about Vietnam.
Once on board we were given our room assignments and given a little time to settle in before meeting back on the main deck for lunch. Our room was nice… we’ve noticed a trend here in Hanoi: our shower is always the actual bathroom and it was the same in our cabin too. Of course we didn’t spend much time in our cabin anyway.
Lunch was more than impressive. We were served family style with plate after plate of amazing cuisine – fries, stuffed crab shells, fried fish, the most delicious egg roll I have ever eaten, steamed rice, veggies, some sort of hot cabbage salad, and a little sweet coconut bread thing for dessert. Following lunch we cruised to the most populous part of the bay and anchored our boat. We were then taken to a cave for a look around (Zach and I are both pretty indifferent as far as caves are concerned) and then to another karst where we could climb to the top for amazing panoramic views of the bay. Even though it wasn’t sunny, we had excellent views of all the limestone karsts surrounding us and the slight haze made it a little more haunting.
After making the long hike back down the karst we got a little time to wade in the water before climbing back on our small boat and then back to our junk (the term for the style of ship we were on). While the staff prepared our dinner we had a nice chunk of time to enjoy the peace and the scenery as we sailed further away from the other junks to a more remote area of the bay.
Dinner, like lunch, was incredible. We started with some thick, green goo, then the plates just kept coming: cucumber salad, some sort of clam (pippies to the Aussies), shrimp, small fried pork cutlets, vegetable medley, watermelon, and walnuts with choco-pies for dessert. I may have forgotten some things… We also had a steady stream of – wine and Tiger and Ha Noi beers. We stayed at the table well after the meal was finished chatting with Brady (American) and Andrew (Aussie) and Lucy (Brit). Eventually we migrated outside to the deck and had a great time late into the night. It was really nice to be surrounded by nothing. It’s so loud in the city here and even in the country it’s fairly noisy, but out on the boat at night, surrounded by giant dark mounds of land, we really felt like we had escaped. It was perfect.
In the morning Zach and I rose a bit early to catch the early morning light on the karsts. We got lucky again; the skies were clear and the sun was just beginning to peak through – it was what we had been hoping for.
Normally you are given the option to kayak in the bay on the first day, but our guide had decided to wait for our second morning to see if the weather was better. We were so happy he had waited. After a light breakfast of baguettes and jam, we were taken to a little place to rent kayaks – $5 a person – and given an hour to cruise the bay on our own. Zach and I had been looking forward to this the entire trip. There were four couples in total who went out kayaking and we generally stayed in sight of each other so that no one would get lost or left behind.
Kayaking among the karsts (and in one case, underneath) was truly incredible. That was definitely one of the highlights of this trip. I don’t know that our photos can do it justice.
After getting back on our boat we had a little time to pack up our things and “check out” of our cabins. Everyone settled their drinking bills and then we all hung out on the deck to get in some final relaxation before getting back to the dock. We got back in our minibus and said goodbye to the bay. I would definitely enjoy doing that again.
We stopped in Ha Long City for lunch and then were on our way back to the noisy streets of Hanoi.