Ha Long Bay – our main motivation for heading to northern Vietnam. We were worried about booking a dodgy tour… Too cheap and you’re in trouble, too expensive and you might get screwed. How to decide what to spend, and what package to choose was difficult. I requested information on tour companies from our guest house before we arrived in Hanoi. I must have emailed about 20 times asking for details, websites, and specifics. In the end, the hotel agreed to negotiate a discount for me because I found a cheaper package online 🙂
Eventually I decided to go with APT Travel:
The Mythical Ha Long Bay on Dragon Cruise
(3 days, 2 nights)
APT Travel picked us up from our hotel at about 8:00am. We were among the first 8 people to get picked up, so we had to sit in mind-blowingly, slow moving chaos as our bus made it’s way from hotel to hotel to pick up all 17 guests. We kept glancing around the bus, wondering who would help us make this trip interesting. The tour guide, Valentino, sure was taking the lead as the entertainer with his one-liners.
A factory in Hai Dong City
As with most tours, we had to make a mandatory factory stop. Hai Dong City Factory. This is a huge tourist trap where you end up paying astronomically high prices for things you can get for a good price at a local market. Despite this, we used the time to stretch our legs, and get some refreshments.
Back on the bus.
Finally we arrived at Ha Long City Port, where we were due to move from our bus to a small boat.
Justin trying to make friends.
The weather looked terrible and we began to wish that we had picked a different day to start the tour on. The sky was overcast, and visibility was low. One of the guests was feeling ill, so we waited at the port and chatted to some people.
Shortly afterwards, we were told to get our bags and board this boat. Fortunately, our hotel had been kind enough to store Justin’s monstrously big backpack with the majority of our stuff.
Boarding the smaller boat.
Off we go… Into Ha Long Bay
There were many junk boats out on the water.
Many of them looked similar, however some were very grand.
We all wait eagerly to see which junk boat will be ours.
There she is: HaLong Dragon Cruise!!
We boarded the junk boat and made our way to the dining room on the second floor.
Our cabin was on the first floor.
If those wondering why I refer to these boats as “Junks”:
A junk is an ancient Chinese sailing vessel design still in use today. They were developed in the 2nd Century. One can still find them throughout South-East Asia and India, but primarily in China, perhaps most famous in Hong Kong. Today there is a growing number of modern recreational junk-rigged sailboats.
A smaller junk.
The upper deck.
Relaxing on the upper deck.
We all explored the boat (and wished for the weather to be better).
Lunch is served.
At this point, we hadn’t befriended anyone, but we sat down between two other couples and this seemed to work out perfectly. To Justin’s left was Mark (from the Netherlands), and to his right was Guillaume (from France). We ended up chatting and laughing together. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop while Mark and his girlfriend Cleo chatted in Dutch. I was very surprised at how I could perfectly understand what they were saying. Afrikaans is very similar to Dutch, however I normally can only comprehend a few sentences when I hear Dutch being spoken. Pretty soon Justin blew my cover 😉
The food wasn’t too great, but we ate most of it.
The ice breaker, and best line from lunch came from Guillaume, when the waiter placed a soggy-looking plate of French Fries on the table and said, “French Fries!!” Guillaume quickly corrected him to ensure that we knew, “These are not from my country!!”
Time for a beer.
Justin acted as the table translator. When the tour guide announced something, Guillaume would turn to Justin, and Justin would repeat it again in English. I think that half the guests could not understand the tour guides English! It was quite comical!
The view from the upper deck.
While we ate lunch we passed by the “Fighting Cocks Rocks” which are one of the symbols of Ha Long Bay. At sunset , the island has a height of over 10 meters and it is apparently bright red. The rocks appear to have tiny legs which support heavy bodies. Even though it seems that one strong wave could throw the two stone blocks into the sea, hundreds of millions of years have passed, and the Fighting Cocks are still there. The image of the island is the logo of Ha Long Bay.
Next, we visited Sung Sot (aka “The Amazing Cave”)