Cruising Halong Bay

Trip Start Oct 15, 2010
Trip End Jan 11, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, December 20, 2010

We had planned to take the train from Hue to Hanoi, perhaps with a stop along the way, but due to the visa debarked earlier our time in Vietnam was running short. Instead we caught a cheap flight with Vietnam Airways. We were pretty impressed with the airline but little disappointed to let our last chance to take another train journey go as there is no railway in Laos.

We had a one night stop over in Hanoi and the capital city made a pleasing first impression on us. The narrow streets of the old town are constantly crowded and busy. The footpaths are certainly not for pedestrians, instead they are occupied by parked scooters and workers producing the items they sell in the little shops that line the street. Many streets are dedicated to a particular trade, for example, the tin items street, which sells anything from shelving to kitchen utensils, all of which is made right there on the side of the road.

We spent the day hunting down the international health clinic, harder than you might think as it had recently moved, and making plans for the next few days. The doctor prescribed some antibiotics with which Nathan is now finally beating his gastro flu. We also booked tickets for a cruise of Halong Bay, one of Vietnam's primary attractions.

We were picked up from our hotel the following morning. It was a three hour drive in the mini van to the port where we boarded our boat. Like most boats used for these type of trips ours was a replica Chinese junk. It was a really comfortable ship. Because we hadn't gone with the cheapest option it was fairly luxurious and the group only consisted of nine other people, rather than the standard forty or so. Our fellow tourists were really friendly and we had a good time with them over the next two days, especially a German couple we befriended.

The reason hundreds, perhaps thousands of tourists visit Halong Bay each day is its breathtaking natural beauty. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage protected site and the bay contains over a thousand limestone karst islands. The towereing cliffs of these islands rise dramatically from the calm green ocean. Visibility was low during the days we were in the bay and the haze only added to the mystical atmosphere. 

Another advantage to the tour we chose with Bai Tu Long Junk is that the boats take a slightly different route to most of the other tours. As we traveled up Vietnam we had heard a lot of negative reports about hundreds of boats all on the exact same route, but that first day we only saw a few other boats. We didn't overly enjoy the two excursions from the boat. The first was a visit to a floating village, which, after some of the villages we've been through elsewhere in Vietnam didn't really captivate us. It also included a stop in at the school, which I always  dislike as it's a terrible distraction to the kids, and here it seemed particularly bad with a constant stream of tourists peering through the windows and even walking into the classroom. The next morning we were taken on land to explore a huge cave. While this was impressive in size it was incredibly manicured and, to be honest, we've seen nicer caves in New Zealand. The food on the first day of the tour really exceeded our expectations, including fresh whole crabs and beautifully cooked prawns and cockles, but sadly the meals on the second day did not live up to this. Overall though, the boat trip was fantastic and we were happy to cruise through the incredible landscape in the pleasant company of our group.
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