We bought a tour to Halong Bay from one of the tourist offices in Hanoi (read about Hanoi here). We were picked up from our hotel in a bus full of other tourists and started the four-hour long ride to Halong Bay
Going with a tour group, we had the usual stop at a factory selling something. They had good restrooms and terrible coffee, but the stop was only 20 minutes, so it was ok. Arriving the docks we got on a mini shuttle ferry to take us to the boat. We were greeted by the manager. A one in a million high on himself character impossible to explain, and an adventure to be around. The boat was a one-year-old modern boat and after getting complimentary welcome drinks we got the keys to our cabins. They were better than expected, had a balcony and a bubble bath in the bathroom, and the bed was great. Ten minutes later it was lunch. The weather was nice and the windows went from floor to ceiling and the view of the limestone monoliths was captivating.
Halong bay, meaning descending dragon is a 1550km2 area in the north of Vietnam, bordering china in the north, where you can view about 2000 limestone rocks spear through the waters. About 1600 of the limestones appear as monoliths topped with jungle vegetation. The area is a Unesco world heritage site. According to the legend, the gods sent a family of dragons to help the Vietnamese fight off invaders when they were forming their country. The dragons were spitting out jewels and jade that turned into rocks forming a wall that the enemy ships struck. After the victory, the dragons wanted peace and decided to live in the bay. Geologically the cliffs are made from volcanic activity in the early stages of the earth development.
Many of the limestones are hollow and there are many grottos and lakes inside the islands. We visited the Surprising cave. That was made for tourists and beautifully lit up and with paths to follow, the grottos were covered with stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the roof. The most amazing grotto was the last and biggest one, however, the view from the top when you got out was the most stunning site for me.
The area also Inhabits 1600 people in four fishing villages. There were many floating marked lady’s calling to get our attention, wanting to sell Oreos, fruit and water or soda. The ship had canoes so we had a paddle around the bay in the afternoon before getting ready for the sunset at the roof bar of the boat. After sunset, it was dinner and karaoke. Karaoke is a big thing in Vietnam. I still did not hear anybody that could sing but they seem to enjoy it. We retired to our balcony with a glass of wine, watching the moonlit bay, looking to see the glow in the dark plankton. We did not see any but had a great laugh listening to the manager singing karaoke.
At sunrise, the next morning it was time for Tai Chi on the rooftop. After breakfast, we started the journey back, enjoying the scenery from the rooftop of the boat in the nice weather. We enjoyed the two days of slow pace after busy Hanoi. Before lunch, we had a cooking, class learning to make Vietnamese spring rolls, and had them for lunch accompanied with pumpkin soup, fried noodles and vegetables, and chicken.
Arriving the docks again we said goodbye to the manager and we were loaded into the bus going back to Hanoi. We were supposed to be let off at the train station to get on our overnight train to Hue, but because of a traffic jam in the Old town, we suddenly found ourselves stranded in total chaos with our luggage. We ended up getting on a cyclo each, hustling through traffic hanging on to our big suitcases to get to the train on time. We got there in time to stop by the kiosk to get some nuts and fruit for the (train trip to Hue)