Halong Bay was a great experience; two days of relaxing on a comfortable boat surrounded by amazing scenery, plus awesome attractions/activities spread throughout the trip. We were picked up at our Hanoi hostel and driven four hours east to the coast, where we boarded a small, wooden cruise ship and were shown our (very nice fancy ensuite) cabins. Lunch was served as we cruised out of the harbour and towards the bay, along with hundreds of other almost identical boats. Halong Bay is stunning and looked quite ethereal in the mist that hung to the islands – it was indeed the perfect location choice for the filming of some of the latest King Kong film due for release soon.
Our first stop after a few hours sailing was ‘The Surprising Cave’, so called because it is absolutely massive inside. It really is breathtaking, as the guide took us down sets of steps, pointing out stalagmites/stalacites, freshwater pools, various rock formations that apparently looked like animals (?) and the sheer cathedral-like size of the place. It was incredible and well worth a visit, despite the swarms of tourists visiting (there’s enough room for everyone inside).
Back on the boat, we headed for another island and on the way saw a funny sight: on the cruise boats all food and drink is provided, but all drinks and snacks must be paid for and are quite expensive – so we passed a boat with a woman leaning out her balcony, buying things from a floating supermarket a.k.a a woman paddling snacks and drinks around in a row boat. This is not technically allowed by the big boats and items bought can be confiscated so it was amusing to watch this “illegal” transaction take place as we passed. We reached an island which had a high viewpoint of the bay and a manmade beach along the shore, but we were cold and tired so we just had a nap for our time there and watched some Americans trying out yoga in the freezing water. We then had an hour to kayak round the islands, passing the ‘market’ boats and local fisherman, as well as finding a bat cave and getting thoroughly soaked.
That evening we learned how to make fresh spring rolls before dinner and tried some delicious Dalat wine, before a choice of star-gazing on deck or squid fishing. The fog made it hard to see stars so we tried out fishing, and it was really good fun! A light was shone off the back of the boat which attracted the squid, and we sat on the end with fishing rods and waited to catch them. Some of them were huge, and when you reel them out they squirt water everywhere and wriggle. I thought this was all fun until someone told me they wouldn’t be put back and were actually tomorrow’s breakfast. It was interesting to see how much ink they release, how quickly they glide through the water, and that they are so transparent you can see their insides!
After an exciting night falling asleep on the boat to the sound of water gently lapping the hull and waking to some amazing scenery, we began our second day with a trip to a pearl farm. It was so cool! Our guide showed us the different types of shells and the pearls they produce, plus how long it takes and what happens for a pearl to be produced. Then a ‘pearl doctor’ showed us how an artificial particle was inserted into a selected shell to begin the pearl creation. Our guide opened up an older shell to show us a pearl inside and the gift shop was full of beautiful pieces of jewellery. Thank goodness we didn’t bring any money!
It was a steady cruise back to the harbour and a long (and slightly hair-raising) drive back to Hanoi, where we stayed one more night in a different hostel. We would recommend Hanoi Friends Inn to anyone, the staff are exceptional in their friendliness and willingness to accomodate and help guests; I’m sorry we only stayed one night!