We decided to splurge a little while staying in North Vietnam and book a 2 day cruise in Ha Long Bay. When you stay at hotels and hostels in South East Asia, many offer tour packages that are discounted though their business. The tour we booked was thru Galaxy Premium Tour Company and was around $160 per person. What was nice about the tour is that not only do they take care of your accommodation and food, but they also pick you up from your hotel. So off we went with backpacks in hand on a early Saturday for our trip. We were crammed into a small van for about 4 hours over some really bumpy roads to the ship. The drive probably could have taken 2 hours max back in the U.S. , but due to slow vehicles, rough roads and a two lane highway it took twice as long. I would probably say that this was my only complaint of the trip.
Arriving to Ha Long Bay was fantastic as we got to stretch our legs and more importantly observe the beauty of the nature before us. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO site known for its thousands of limestone rock formations/isles that have many caves and sinkholes within them. It has taken millions of years for nature to create what we were so fortunate to experience over two days. Our tour guide, Mr. Viet, was very enthusiastic about educating us about the bay and also entertaining us with jokes and PG humor. We checked into our small but nice rooms (they have a.c. !!) and met for a big lunch in the dining room. We had a small break as the ship drove through the bay to our next itinerary – Surprise Cave.
I believe that Surprise Cave was both of our favorite part of the trip. It is so beautiful inside and as you get deeper into the cavern you experience how large the cave systems are. Look at the pictures very carefully and notice in relation how small some people are to the cave. There were many groups of tours going on at the same time, but you learn how to just ignore all the chatter and enjoy what you are observing. Angelo enjoyed the caves and thought that the inside looked like you were on Mars! I totally agree! It felt like you were on another planet and that E.T. was going to jump out at you at any time and offer you a Reese’s Pieces!!
Descending out of the cave we saw a BIG spider. It may look small in the picture, but it was almost as big as my hand. No exaggeration. Then walking on the dock to our boat we saw small fishing boats with women selling various shellfish and sea food. When we got back to the boat everyone got changed to go to a beach and swim. Angelo took some photos but he did say that the water was dirty and his clothes smelled after swimming in the bay. I guess Ha Long Bay is somewhat polluted and the water is not so great to swim in, but more on that later.
That evening everyone met up after a very beautiful sunset on the deck of our ship for a big dinner. At our table we befriended a very nice couple from Spain and enjoyed our dinner with them. After our feast people were able to participate in squid fishing (yawn), karaoke or just relax on the ship. A couple of us gave it a good try singing our favorite 80’s and 90’s hits in between the Vietnamese classics and Indonesian pop music.
Sunsets and Karaoke
The next day people woke up at dawn to do tai chi on the deck, but Angelo and I opted to sleep in. After breakfast we hurried out to the fishing village to kayak. Unfortunately Angelo fell into the water getting into the kayak. He began feeling ill later that night which led to a sequence of serious ailments that Angelo has been fighting off for awhile now. So moral of the story is, don’t go into the water! Kayaking was ok, but the fishing village was just a couple of houses on stilts and I feel weird looking into people’s homes anyway, so we just circled around the rocks. We headed back to the ship for a cooking class (it was more of an assembly line) to make spring roll. The chef didn’t trust me, I tried to roll mine and he rudely intervened to finish what I was doing. So I just sat down with Angelo and watched the others. We ate lunch and checked out of our rooms to head back to land.
Overall it was a great experience. I would suggest that if you visit Ha Long Bay to get your own boat if you can afford it or just do a day trip exploring the caves. The best part of the trip was the enjoying the scenery and nature.