Halong Bay is one of the places everyone knows about. It is on every postcard. However, it has a reputation now that it’s over run with tourists and does not have the same appeal that it used too. We even met some people who decided against going there. If you do not make the few hours effort out to Halong Bay from Hanoi – you, my friend, are an idiot.
From the shore line you can just make out the beauty, but it is not until you are out and sailing amongst the limestone karsts that you really see it. We were slightly delayed sailing, as we had the safety briefing plus a lunch before we could head out to sea, but after that we were under way.
We had a slight mix of people to accompany us for the next couple of days. Some were only on for one night while the rest of us opted for an extra night. A choice that turned out to be so much better than only having the one. You will see so much more. Eventually, we made it to our first stop that consisted of a floating village hidden amongst the craggy rocks. While the beauty of the place takes over, we had still been slight disappointed with the standard of service from our boat – the Margarite. The food was horrible and their organisation skills were left to be desired. Nevertheless, we eventually sat on a small little boat and were navigated around the bay by a local lady who rowed with her feet. We tried tremendously hard to get a good photo of the feet rowers, but as they were so fast, it just didn’t happen, as you can see below.
After what felt like fifteen minutes, we returned to the floating docks and were on the boat. We really should have kayaked, as that option gave you double the time on the water. As our little boat tied on to the main vessel, we were given the opportunity to swim in Halong Bay. We tested the water earlier and could not wait to jump into the luke warm water. Somehow, in between testing the water and jumping in, the water temp dropped by what felt like 10 degrees. It was freezing, but we endured it, as it had to be one of the most scenic swims we have had to date.
We had just enough time to freshen up before the welcome party on the top deck. It was during this Happy Hour period we came to befriend two Scotsmen, Kenny & Billy. While we waited for our fellow guests, we indulged in a couple of cocktails, ate bowls of prawn crackers while being peer pressured into Cosmos by the responsible serving barmen.
As the others joined, we got involved in a cooking lesson on how to make some of the most delicious fried spring rolls. After the spring rolls were devoured, the party started. We were introduced to a delicious rice wine that is fermented in a coconut for 12 months in between copious amounts of tequila. At dinner we were fortunately/unfortunately sat between the Scotsman and a group of young Spaniards. What happened next is a mystery.
The only thing that is remembered from that night is the attempt to watch Top Gear Vietnam. The rest is a blur that no one recalls. Other then the barmen who continued to ask at breakfast if we wanted Cosmos or Tequila. We wearily made it on to the boat just in time to visit some caves. While the caves were quite cool, the highlight was definitely when Sarah came back to inform everyone about her first run in with communal toilets. Something no one wants to encounter with a hangover.
The two groups split from each other. The one-nighters leaving almost immediately after seeing only two places briefly, while we continued on a separate boat out further to sea. This day was definitely a highlight. We all kicked back on the top deck of the new boat and sailed for hours around the Bay without another boat in sight, stopping only briefly at a pearl farm, which, with a hangover, seemed like a ridiculous idea, but turned out to be one of the most interesting factories we have visited. There was also a cute dog, that took centre stage for a few minutes.
Eventually we turned the corner to a bay where, in summer, can have up to a few hundred people. Today it would be just us eight. We anchored up about 200 metres from shore and jumped in for a swim. Either the water was warmer, or the tequila was still warming our bodies but we managed to hang out in the water for an hour.
We sailed back to the main vessel, stopping of for an incredible kayak through low hung caves into incredible serene landscapes of towering cliffs. Again, there was no one else around. The only time we saw a lot of boats was when we anchored up in the evenings for our happy hours and cooking classes. Even with all the boats there, it was still beautiful as the glow from the little lights reflected off the calm waters.
It is safe to say that the Happy Hour the second night was much more subdued, even with the added pressure of a crazy barman who clearly was being paid commission. After dinner we all sat around and actually watched Top Gear Vietnam from start to finish. With our last sip of tequila with some newfound friends, we all agreed Halong Bay is up there with one of the most beautiful places on earth.