Unless you own a yacht, the only way to visit Halong Bay, a premier tourist destination in North Vietnam, is to join a tour. Travel agencies in Hanoi trip over each other selling you multi-day boat tours to marvel at the limestone karst formations that rise from the sea like so many iceberg in the summer Arctic sea. Most tours include several 'activities' - kayaking, visiting caves, fishing, cooking classes, time on the beach etc. - ensuring that everyone has something to do when they are not sunning themselves on the deck, Bia Hoi in hand.
There is a wide price-range across tour companies that seem to follow identical schedules, but as one of them explained to us, they are "Same same, but different" , a common catchphrase in these parts. After minimal comparison shopping, we settled on a 2-day tour including one night on the boat.
Halong City is the gateway to Halong Bay and is about a 3-hour drive from Hanoi. Once the group had been gathered from various hotels in the morning, we headed there arriving around noon. Several groups converge here to go aboard one of hundreds of boats, some day trippers and others on longer trips to more remote islands. Some paperwork had to be completed before the Captain gave permission to board.
Meals on the boat were an elaborate affair and the vegetarians were assigned a table that they shared with a couple of seafood averse Irish gals and a Vietnamese couple who spoke no English but smiled a lot!
We were given barely an hour after lunch to potter around the boat and take in the scenery before we disembarked to visit "Surprise Cave", a large limestone cavern on Bo Hon island with stalactites and stalagmites. While it was not quite on the scale of Mammoth Caves (Kentucky) or Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico), it was still spectacular and worth the hike up. Indeed the guide informed us that this cave was just one of hundreds in the area.
Barely having returned from the visit to the cave, we were on to Activity #2 - kayaking. Donning life-jackets, we gently lowered ourselves into a 2 person kayak for an up-close look at the limestone karst. We were able to get very close to the base of these hulks where continuous wave action has created innumerable caves. (Sorry, no pics of kayakers, we did not want to risk the camera so close to water).
Activity #3 followed immediately, a visit to TiTop island. We had a choice of hiking to the top for a panoramic view of the bay or cooling off on the beach. Since we were already soaking wet (with sweat) and the tropical waters are just the perfect temperature, there was no question what we (and everyone else) opted for !
The boat was moored safely for the night among the karst and a gentle breeze kept us on the top deck will past nightfall. Mercifully, day 2 was totally free of activities and were left alone to actually sit back and enjoy the seascape of limestone pillars before it was time to depart back for Hanoi.
Now that's a good way to spend a few days on the other side of the world. Pics look lovely. From, on Jul 24, 2012 at 06:30AM