After a couple days in Hanoi we booked a two-night excursion to the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ha Long Bay. It’s a four hour drive from Hanoi if you are lucky... The roads our crowded and the lane markings are simply suggestions, so we put faith in our driver and tried not to pay attention to the traffic. At the marina, there were hundreds of boats. We boarded ours, The Imperial Legend, and set sail during lunch. The lunch was served family style and they kept bringing plate after plate out. It was delicious but way too much food! Since it was family style seating we also got to meet a lot of other travelers on the boat. We got some great advice for the rest of our trip and enjoyed hearing about other people's adventures. We cruised for about two hours to a kayaking cove. The weather was chilly and overcast, but not raining so we sat on the top deck of the boat to enjoy the scenery. Ha Long Bay means “Descending Dragon” and it was easy to see what the bay was named that. The estimated 2000 limestone islands look like dragons swimming. It was beautiful to see, and slightly eerie with the overcast. There were tons of boats cruising the islands in the bay, but the kayaking cove only had one or two other boats. We enjoyed being able to kayak right up to the rocks and see the erosion of the limestone. We didn't see anyone rock climbing, but the islands looked like a perfect spot for it! After kayaking we jumped into the bay for a swim even though it was cold out.
In the evening we anchored for the night. The sleeping area was packed but made for an awesome view at night when the boat lights lit up the cove. After dinner (another huge and delicious meal) we tried squid fishing with a bamboo rod, fishing line and a hook (no bait). The captain of the boat told us to sink the hook then jerk it up to the surface before we let it sink again. We tried it for a bit, but it got pretty boring and the captain was the only one able to catch anything. The boat also had Karaoke (a Vietnamese pastime). Our tour guide Hi kicked things off with some Dancing Queen before others started preforming The Beatles, NYSNC, Spice Girls, and Backstreet Boys. The text translation was off on almost all the songs though so it made it difficult to sing and really funny to watch.
The next morning, we went to Surprising Cave which was only about a five minute boat ride from the sleeping area. The cave was insanely touristy. There were so many people being shuffled through and it made us miss the remoteness of South America. The cave had three chambers and luckily the crowds thinned a little as we went through the chambers. There were some cool rock formations that Hi pointed out to us as we walked through and the cave exit was fairly high up so we got a great overlook of the bay. After returning to the boat we grabbed our bags and were put onto a day boat to head to some Bungalows further out in Lan Ha Bay. The boat picked up people from 2 other boats before making the hour and half ride to the Bungalows. There were very few tourist boats cruising around the bay, but we passed tons of floating fishing villages. They were very colorful and we imagined what it would be like to live on the water like this.
Once we reached the Bungalows we dropped our bags off, ate a quick lunch, then headed out for Cat Ba Island where we rented a motorbike. When we landed on the island the boat guide basically shoved Chris on the back of a motorbike to have him go help grab the other rental bikes. He was gone for almost 20 minutes and I was starting to get a little worried. I asked the boat guide if he was coming back and the guy said "No, they take him to China now." It was pretty funny and shortly after Chris came cruising back on a motorbike! The bungalow staff had told us there was a great hike to the top of Cat Ba National Park that offered great views of the island, but when we got there they said it was a two hour hike, and we didn’t have enough time before we needed to return to the bungalows. We ended up cruising around the island to the main port area and around the town. Once we got back to our port, Chris tried to teach me how to drive. It did not go well. Let's just say the mirror may have no longer been part of the bike when we returned it and we had to pay the guy a little extra to cover some damages...
Back at our Bungalow there was an outdoor BBQ for dinner. There was way too much food and it was very cold outside (cold for Vietnam at least), but we had some awesome company while we ate. We sat with an English couple that had been traveling for 18 months and a Norwegian couple who was traveling for three months. We ended up talking for a few hours. We heard some crazy stories and got amazing advice on how split up the rest of the time we have in Southeast Asia. The next morning, we were sent back to our original boats to head back to Ha Long Bay and then to Hanoi. We unfortunately got put on a separate bus than the rest of the group because there were too many people. We waved bye to our group and ended up waiting an hour and a half for our bus to pick us up. An accident was delaying the buses, and it took us almost six hours to return to Hanoi. Luckily we made it back with enough time to catch our flight to Hoi An!
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.