Halong bay, for anyone who doesn’t know is the place that the ‘top gear’ presenters ended their motorbike trip in Vietnam.
The place with the masses of small islands and rock formations in the sea.
All in, there’s approx 1700 of these islands and we had heard mixed reviews of the area. Some people said that it’s a dirty place and that it has too many tourists. Ironically, it’s usually other tourists who complain about the number of people doing the same thing that they are doing 🙂
Bai Tu Long is a bit further out from Ha Long Bay, it’s about another hour or so away so it’s as busy. We were assured that each place had similar scenery. Most people who are on a bit restriced on time tend to go to Ha Long Bay.
In the end we opted to go to both places. We booked a trip with Ethnic travel. The full trip meant that we’d be away for about 3 days. Instead of taking our big backpacks, our accommodation in Hanoi kindly offered to keep a hold of it for us.
Instead, that meant that we had to buy a smaller bag to take our 3 days worth of stuff. The buying of the bag involved the great Asian tradition of ‘haggling’. In the end, we opted for a “genuine” north face bag and that was to be our luggage to get us through the next few days.
The whole trip involved a few boat trips, meals on the boats, transfers, a tour guide, some cycling and kayaking.
On the first day, we were supposed to be going on the boat from Ha Long Bay and staying 1 night on the boat. However, the weather was forecast further out to sea that night put an end to the plans.
Instead, we went another hour or so along the road and went on a boat trip to Bai Tu Long bay. We had lunch on the boat, saw some amazing scenery, went to visit an oyster farm where the staff took us through the process of how a pearl is made.
Before the oyster farm, we went out for a shot on a kayak. It was round about then that I discovered how difficult it is to steer someone when the clearly forgot to put a steering wheel in the thing.
We set sail for a big rock and sailed round. We were in a 2 person boat and pretty useless at trying to make it go where we wanted it to go to. So, we zig zagged our way around the sea for a while and eventually got back to where we started.
After that and a bit of swimming in the sea, the boat took us to a small island where we went to a ‘homestay’ which was a retired fishermans house with lots of rooms.
Electricity on the island goes off at 10pm and only goes on at 4pm. The people who live on the island have to pay an expensive rate and a few of them have their own generator but otherwise, it’s very much a case of going back go basics.
At the homestay, we were shown to make spring rolls which were going to be part of dinner. As well as that, there was the usual massive amounts of rice, prawns, tofu and various other things to eat followed by fruit.
The spring roll making was good as they were all cooked at the same time so it meant that the strange shaped ones that I ended up making never found their way back to me and I got to eat some ones that were properly cooked.
After dinner, one of the tour guides informed us that there is a local market that starts at 4am. I thought he was joking but he wasn’t.
We got up very early and went out with our torches to see what this market was about. It was much busier than I expected. There were people selling popcorn, bread, clothes, fruit, veg, meat and of course, massive amounts of fish.
After the market, we had an outdoor breakfast of pancakes and then a bike run to a beach on some really dodgy bikes. The clip that held the seat up on mine wasn’t working properly, the gears didn’t change and the breaks seemed to slow you down instead of stop you.
There was very little traffic on the road though so slowing down was ok. I mentioned about the mess of the bike to one of the tour guides and he was happy to swap as he was quite small.
After a swim in the sea, we cycled to a small harbour where another boat was waiting to take us back to Halong Bay.
Most of the people on the tour were going back to their hotels in Hanoi at this point but we went on another very nice looking boat and had a huge lunch.
After lunch, we were back on the kayaks and our guide took us to a floating village. As the name suggests, it’s a village that floats. It’s quite far out on the sea and there’s not very many people who live there but to see the houses and the people bringing large amounts of produce back to their village was really good.
After that, it was shower time and dinner time. There were more crew than customers on the boat. 6 of us, the tour guide and I think 7 or 8 staff on the boat. Of which, we had a very talented chef.
Dinner was a mix of various cooked veg, meats and fish with rice. During dinner, the boat sailed to our docking spot in the sea where we would spend the night.
In the morning, I woke up about 4am and we went up to watch the sun coming up. The sun rise against the backdrop of stunning rock formations and a few other boats was one of the best that I have ever saw.
From there, it was breakfast and then another kayak trip. This time to a nearby cave on another one of the rock islands. Our guide walked us round the cave and gave some information on it. After that, it was a few hours of sailing through some of the best scenery that I have ever saw.
We slowly sailed through the area of where the rock formations are in the blazing hot sushine while lying on a sun lounger with my ipod on. After a few hours of this, we were called back from the top deck to enjoy the work of the onboard chef again.
Lunch was served a short while before we got back to the harbour and then we had to leave the area and head back to Hanoi.
After what we had read, I was unsure on what to expect. Some places, it’s very obvious why a lot of tourists go there.
I’m writing this in our hotel in Hoi An which is a very nice town but I will be amazed if I see any better scenery over the rest of our year in Asia.
Some might disagree and some might be able to tell me of other nicer places and I’d love to see them but for now, this is one of the best places that I have ever saw.