Ha Long Bay – a beautiful National Heritage Site – A must for any Vietnam itinerary.
Downstairs, breakfasted and ready to go at 8am, apparently our obscure location meant they got lost and also the bus couldn’t get down the road! Our guide for the days though Cheong or Jacky for us westerners, found us and we carried on to pick up some more tourists who would be joining us on the prestigious Elizabeth Sails – one of only two boats with a traditional roof out of the 503 on the water. All the boats have been painted white at the governments insistence – we later found out that it was because they believe that western tourists prefer the white to the traditional browns! Wrong!!! A lot of the boats look shoddy and old because the white paint is cheap and thin and so they appear grey. A quick coating of high quality white waterproof paint would make all the difference.
Ha Long bay is about 3 hours away from Hanoi and with the rest stop for the Happy room – bathroom – it’s about 4 hours to get to the port. Jacky did his thing and we were soon on the little boat heading to the big boat – we had a mixture of 2 days 1 nighters and some 3 days 2 nighters, the latter heading to Cat Ba island for their second night. In total we were 16, with some Brits, Irish, French, Spanish, Singaporean and some local Vietnamese along for the trip too. Halong Bay is a beautiful UNESCO world heritage centre made up of many Limestone Islands, there are a number of explorable caves as well as visitable floating villages.
One of the most visited caves is that of Thien Cung – a quite impressive cave that you can explore, over many years various different stalagmite and stalactite formations have evolved into various recognisable images, but it will depend on your imagination as to what you might see. Fantastic structures though and as always, our guide Jacky told a good story. He also told us how Ha Long Bay was formed according to Vietnamese folklore. Many years ago when the Vietnamese were fighting invaders the gods sent down dragons to help them out. The dragons spat jewels and jade which turned into these huge islands right in front of the invading forces causing them to crash and sink. After the invaders were defeated the dragons decided to settle and you have Ha Long Bay which means descending dragon and is where the mother dragon settled, where the children descended is Bai Tu Long island and you also have the Bach Long Vy Island which is the tail of the child dragon wriggling.
After a walk up into and through the cave it was back to the boat and on to the kayaking – we stopped at a floating village with kayaks to rent and went off on a paddle around a couple of the huge islands, considering how many boats and tours were out, it was a pleasure to paddle around for an hour, with just the 16 of us, from our boat. And then a quick dip as well, which was much appreciated after the caves. Whilst much cooler out on the water, than it had been in any of the cities, it was still fantastic to jump in and have a swim around. Met a couple of kids on a 3 month trip, they were spending a couple days at Ha Long before 3 weeks in China. Was cool to chat to them, thinking about what I wanted to do when I was their age (I sound/am so much older than I think I am) Told them to keep travelling as long as they can, work can wait, it’s not going anywhere.
Back to the big boat and dinner and drinks as well as carrying on the conversation with Ted and Amy – a nice sunset too over Ha Long Bay – chilling out on the roof deck before finally heading to the somewhat cramped quarters and another night of not much sleep 😉
Up at 7.00am to grab breakfast and also say bye to Amy and Ted as they were off to Cat Ba and monkey island.
Check out meant paying for our beers from the night before – 13 beers – $26usd or aed100 – Winner 🙂
The boat set off towards the largest floating village in Ha Long bay – Ba Hang – 265 people, 63 families. Primary and Secondary school 2 classrooms next to each other – you know the school because it has the loudspeakers attached to it to get the kids in. Women marry men on the mainland and stay in the village to work as they get more money there. The men are not allowed to move to the village. Men from the village though are allowed to marry from the mainland and bring the woman to the village.
Cement boats bring water, petrol, meat and veggies to trade for seafood. The villagers keep the big ones to sell to tourists – trade the smaller ones to mainland and locals – clever!
Back to the Elizabeth and heading to the mainland for lunch. We then had a bouncy 4 hours back to Hanoi, so bouncy that our Irish friends had a word with the driver to just slow it down a bit, we arrived back into Hanoi at what we thought was the perfect time to wait for the night bus to Huè. We got picked up at 6.30 in the small bus, 11 seater plus luggage space, 17 people + luggage later and we were on our way to ‘big bus’. Why they said to be picked up at 6.30 I don’t know. The overcrowded little bus dropped us at the side of the road, pointed us to a small office where we
were then told, ‘Big Bus leaves at 8.30pm’ Great!
A note of caution here, the small office very kindly allows you to leave your bags there for the time you are going to wait – the exact words being ‘we will take care of them for you’. In my mind, this meant they would be put on the bus so we didn’t have to worry about it! WRONG!!! There is no
queuing system as such and it’s basically a shit fight to get on the bus and try and bag a seat. We managed to get on and get a couple seats and watched as the ensuing chaos carried on. It wasn’t until the bus was about ready to go, when I had this nagging feeling that our bags might not be on the bus at all! Luckily I acted on this feeling, barged off the bus, ran to the office, saw our two bags still sitting there and then had to argue with the driver (who had literally 30 seconds ago let me off the bus) to let me back on because I wasn’t a ‘new’ passenger, I already had a seat and he’d stamped my ticket. Also, if you are over 6’2″ tall and or over 2 feet across the shoulders, I would carefully consider the bus as an option. It’s not the largest space in the world and for some it might even feel a little claustrophobic. Throw in the stinking toilet and the little roaches running around and it’s an interesting experience to say the least:) Thera was taking no chances and wrapped her head in a pair of boxer shorts to make sure no little cockroaches ended up on her face!
In the end though I think I might have got an hour or two shut eye and we were dropped in the centre of Hue for an 8 hour run around to take in some of the historic buildings and tombs in the area. A little more sleep would have been preferable. Also Thera had started to feel a little under the weather as well. The lack of sleep, the coughing and the headache were definitely taking it’s toll 🙂 Onwards!!