To sea!

Trip Start Oct 10, 2008
Trip End Oct 27, 2008

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Huong Hai Junk

Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, October 20, 2008

Another overnight train took us back to Hanoi to arrive at 5am. We would be picked up near the train station at 7:45, so in the pre-dawn morning we went looking for breakfast. There wasn't a single cafe open, but a guy on a corner when we asked "Ca phe?" replied, "Food?" We nodded and he pointed us to a dark alley where 4 people were perched on 1 foot high stools. We joined them. It looked like we'd get noodles with some meat (a choice of 2) some sauce and some herbs. We each chose one of the meats. I wasn't sure whether I was getting roast dog or not, but it tasted like pork, so what the heck. Joe's looked like it would be tofu or pressed chicken. Turned out to be chicken. It was delish. The lady selling continued to assemble to go packs for sale later with her assistant and the two men having breakfast were polite enough to be subtle about watching us. It was great food, if a little odd to be squatting in a dark alley as dawn broke having breakfast.

We were picked up for a 3 hour van ride out to Ha Long Bay. The drive went through more beautiful, but flat rice paddie countryside. The others on the van were all sent to different boats. It was mass confusion with what looked like 50 junks anchored or moving around the harbor to the small dock.

We ended up on a boat with 4 golfing Aussies, another Aussie couple, a Brit who had recently moved to Hong Kong accompanied by his 2 adopted Chinese daughters (his wife had to work), a New Zealand couple. All the adults were mid-50s and up. We were off the dock and having an 8 course lunch as we motored into a sea of limestone karsk that jutted everywhere.

The people on the boat were terrific and we did a bit of swimming (needed after a rather sweaty trip) and some kayaking through a cave into a lovely little lagoon. None of the rocky islands have beaches...the rock just seem to push vertically into the air out of the sea...well, except one that we're pretty sure had the sand trucked in to make a beach for the tourists. There were tons of toursit boats and lots of fish farms, pearl farms, very small fishing boats and ladies paddling what I liked to call "7-11 boats" as they supplied all the junk food and soda you could want, along with cigarettes and conical hats.

After an 8 course dinner that was the same ingredients in a slightly different order with slightly different preparation (a theme that would recurr for each meal other than breakfast) we hung out in the pleasant breeze and chatted.
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laurihart on

Advice on Booking HaLong Bay Cruises
We were on the 3 day/2 night cruise with Huong Hai Junks. The boat was older, although the onboard guide said it was 5 years old. It did not have a sundeck on top, just a seating area off the dining area. There were only 8 cabins on the boat (we wanted a smaller crowd).

We chose the 3 day/2 night option because with the 1 night option you really only get about 24 hours on the boat which didn't seem like much time after a 3 hour drive each way from Hanoi. With the extra day you get out of the tourist boat ghetto where the boats are anchored shouting distance from each other and into a more remote area where you get to do some kayaking and swimming off the boat. The kayaking was another big factor in our choice of boats/tours.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, you're back to the tourist boat ghetto for the night. If the tides are not significant, then swimming off the boat in this area is not appealing as there's rainbow oil/diesel slicks on the water.

The staff on the boat we were on were not service oriented. I don't speak Vietnamese, but you could tell from their attitude that they were talking trash about the passengers. Getting a drink before dinner required enticing the staff away from the TV set in the dining area that was showing a soap opera. The staff was great about pushing wine, which our onboard guide did indicate they received commission on.

The onboard guide was ok. He was nice enough to let me go out kayaking early the last morning when I was up before many on the boat. On the other hand, he had a conversation with each couple on the boat detailing how little he made that seemed like a blatant play for a bigger tip at the end of the trip.

So, if you're looking for a boat with good service, the Huong Hai Junks might not be the best choice.

There are many, many, many choices of cruises. Many are not to be found on the internet. Even if you do a lot of research (as I did), you may not find a great boat. Your best bet is to find a tour agency that really knows the Ha Long Bay cruise business.

All that said, the cruise was spectacular. The scenery is amazing and the kayaking was great and really gave you an opportunity to get out on the water and paddle through caves, into hidden lagoons, to see monkey's on islands, and to paddle past a fishing village school. Also, the food on the boat was pretty good and plentiful, if predictable (the lunches and dinners each day were almost identical).

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