The first leg of our holiday is coming to an end. At 5:20pm today we fly to Vientiane; the capital of Laos. I must say, I’ve fallen deeply in love with Northern Vietnam. I just finished the best bowl of soup of my life; Chicken Pho to rival grandma’s best noodle soup. The rice noodles are light and delicious, and the fresh lime sits at the top of the soup, too light to sink, and coats every noodle in delicious fresh flavour. Now, I’m ordering my second Vietnamese coffee for the day. Dave pointed out just now that it tastes like Baileys, without the alcohol. He’s right. Motorbikes are zooming past us, and we’re eating on a balcony on some little side street of Hanoi’s old quarter. Life is good.
Halong Bay – History and Modern Uses
Last night we returned from 3 days in Halong Bay. Translated, it means ‘Descending Dragon Bay’, and it’s located in Northern Vietnam, about a 3.5 hour drive from Hanoi City. It’s famous due to its karst limestone landscape, 2000 islands and its many fishing villages.
Historically, Ha Long Bay is significant. People have been living in the area for more than 20,000 years. The bay has also saved Vietnam from Chinese and Mongolian Invasion on more than one occasion. Now, it’s known for its beauty and tourists flock to Northern Vietnam to experience its gorgeous views.
Halong Bay Cruises
The primary way people choose to see the bay is through cruises. There are hundreds of choices to make when taking a Halong Bay cruise, we decided to go with a mid-range, 2 night trip with a night on Cat Ba Island. There are also day trips, 1 night trips and some people choose to spend the night on Monkey Island or other places in the area. 1 night on the boat was enough for me. I don’t know if it was because I was reading Life of Pi, or if the boat noises kept me up, but either way, I didn’t get much sleep during our night on that Vietnamese Junk.
Our boat was comfortable enough. We had a comfortable bed and a nice little bathroom to ourselves. The cabin was small, but space isn’t something I expect in Asia, so that was no surprise. We had a fan that worked and an air conditioner that didn’t, and all in all, it was a cool way to spend a night in Halong Bay!
Activities During The Cruise
I feel like we spent all 3 days getting on and off boats for different activities. There were a variety of things to do, including kayaking, exploring a cave, visiting a Pearl farm, visiting Monkey Island and floating past a fishing village. All were interesting in their own way.
Kayaking was probably the most beautiful of all our stops, but the weather made it less enjoyable than it could have been, but still…being on the water was very nice. This activity made me very happy that I still have a water-proof camera 🙂
We visited a huge cave shortly after kayaking as well. It was beautiful and had some pretty spectacular views.
Day 2 began at a Pearl Farm, where locals have found ways to get oysters making pearls in a sustainable way. It was an educational stop! We learned how pearls are artificially implanted to produce real pearls. This is much better for oyster populations, because before this process was discovered, oysters were found in the wild, opened up and killed just on the off-chance they were carrying pearls.
Monkey Island was our last stop before Cat Ba Island. There’s no surprise regarding what we found there…Dave also went hiking up a steep mountain. He didn’t take any pictures (because, of course he didn’t :p), but he did scrape up his leg on the jagged rocks. Vietnam doesn’t baby its tourists the way Thailand and Cuba does. They let you decide for yourself if you can do something. As a result, Dave saw 60+ year old grandparents hiking up the mountain on his way down.
Cat Ba Island
As I mentioned earlier, our second night of the tour was not spent on a Junk. Instead, we went to one of the only islands in Halong Bay where people live: Cat Ba Island. Cat Ba island is home to about 13,000 residents, and its main purpose is hosting Ha Long Bay tourists.
As we came into the area, we passed a floating village, home to about 1000 people. These villages are an incredible sight, even when you’ve seen them before. We were able to see a floating village in Cambodia during the dry season. It was very cool seeing one completely afloat!
Once we checked into our hotel, we rented a motorbike and headed for Cat Ba’s most famous sight: Cat Ba National Park.
The park itself is quite nice. We didn’t see much for wild life, but I made some canine friends! Mostly, we were just happy to be out in the wilderness, enjoying the fresh air and the peace and quiet. The hike up was hard work, but it felt so good to get some good exercise in! I’ve been too busy this year to get to the gym, and my body was definitely not happy with me on the way up, but it was well worth the trip!
We stopped at a little shop at the end of the hike and ordered some iced coffees. We figured they’d probably be instant, given the location of the cafe, but this lovely Vietnamese woman made us fabulous Vietnamese iced coffee with fresh grinds and sweetened condensed milk!
We spent the evening walking around and enjoying the town. I think my favourite part of this whole tour was Cat Ba island. I never really feel like I’m on a holiday with Dave until we’ve rented a motorbike! It was also nice not to have a guide following us around. We both enjoyed the freedom to explore the things we were interested in, at the pace we wanted.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and before long, we were on our way back to Hanoi. We met some very nice people on the way back and it was great chatting with them and hearing their stories. We also learned how to make spring-rolls, which was fun.
It was a lovely trip and I’m very glad we made it! Halong bay is definitely a must-see for anyone travelling through south East Asia.
Next, I’ll be writing about our time in Vientiane, Laos! Exciting things are yet to come!!