On our second day in Vietnam, we spend the morning on a bus to Halong Bay. We didn’t think were would go to Halong Bay as we only had 2 and half free days in Hanoi, but after 1 full day in The Old Quarter, we decided we’d had enough of the hustle and bustle and booked ourselves onto a Halong Bay tour.
Halong translates to Descending Dragon and thousands of limestone peaks jut out from the green sea in an area of about 1500km2. Two million years in the tropical climate have created these unique formations. It is a tourist destination, but for good reason: it really is beautiful.
Pick up from our hotel is early and every seat on the bus is accounted for. They have those aisle seats that fold down so that when all bums are on seats, there are no aisles at all. If someone in the back row needs to get out, all 4 aisle row seats need to get up, fold their chair up and get out in order for the back row to access the aisles. No exit in case of emergency would never fly back in NZ, but here, it’s pretty normal.
Our guide speaks good English, is informative and reminds me a of circus announcer with his liberal use of “Ladies and Gentleman”. When we get to Halong Bay, our boat has around 20 passengers and we have plenty of room as there are seats and tables inside and a full sun bathing deck on top.
Our tour includes lunch and we eat egg, squid, whole fish, vegetables, deep fried tofu, rice and fries. Each table gets an identical spread to share between 4-6. The others at our table weren’t fond of the whole fish. I’ve grown up eating bones and I love eating whole fish. Oh well, more for me! Only chopsticks were available and I was impressed that one lady learned how to eat with them in just lunch. Beers available and cost a tiny extra.
I took a peek into their tiny kitchen.
A continuous stream of tour boats head into Halong Bay and small boats motor from tour boat to tour boat selling fruit.
The tactics can be quite aggressive and some sellers use their small children and babies to win sales. One fruit seller is in a row boat and rows over from far away to sell fruit to us. The Koala buys from her just because he couldn’t bear to have her row all the way over and not sell anything.
We stopped by a fish holding platform though I suspect that very few tourists would buy fish. It was more like visiting a zoo then I guess. Some of the creatures were alien to us.
Kayaks are optional and we have a great time in a 2 person, paddling around for a little while. Despite winter, the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day at Halong Bay.
We stop off at some extensive limestone caves before cruising back in the brilliant pink sunset.
It’s about 9pm by the time we get back to our hotel so we’re pretty much just ready for bed. It’s a long day but we are glad we traded a day in Hanoi for a day at Halong Bay.
Halong Bay Highlights:
- Setting out with all the boats. It felt like we were all part of something big and epic.
- Kayaking in Halong Bay.
- The pretty pink sunset.
- Not at Halong Bay, but on the drive out there, I enjoyed seeing scooters piled high with goods. One of the most interesting was a scooter carrying 6 live pigs in addition to the rider. I wish I had snapped a photo, but they were gone too fast.
Halong Bay Tips:
- We went on a 1 day trip, but there are many different trips for different tastes. Keep your wits about you though as there are dishonest tour companies out there. Check if you need to bring your passport. I’ve read that overnight tours legitimately require passports while some scams involve holding your passport for ransom. We didn’t bring ours with us at all as we thought it was safer that way.
- Buying fruit is a way to help out the poor locals. They’re not trying to scam you into buying fruit. They just want earn a living.
- As with any tour that includes a long drive, use the toilet whenever you can. It can be many hours until the next one.
- Some tourists brought a change of clothing for kayaking. We did not and while we got some drips from the oars, the air is incredibly dry in the north and our clothes dried in no time at all.
- We paid close to 1 million dong for our tour (that’s about $62NZ or $48US). This included pick up and drop off, lunch, boat, tickets to Halong Bay and caves and kayaking for 2 adults.