Halong Bay Vietnam
Wake up call!
“Honey, wake up, it’s 8 o’clock. Shit, we overslept!” were my first words to Julia as I woke up to the tune of the alarm clock I thought I had set up the evening before to wake us up at 7.30 am. This was supposed giving us plenty of time to grab our stuff from the dorm and eat some quick breakfast before being picked up at 8.15 am for our so much anticipated two night trip to Halong Bay we had booked the day before.
But now, instead of casual morning we jumped out of our bed and frantically started putting together our things, which we mostly packed the evening before, when suddenly we heard someone knocking on our dorm door.
“Shit, I knew it. It’s definitely the driver. Of all the times we are being picked up, this one has to arrive 15 minutes early!”
I opened the door, and just as I thought, it was the bus driver accompanied by a receptionist informing us that our ride has arrived. I informed the pair that we would be downstairs in 5 minutes and promptly closed the door to help Julia finish packing.
Three minutes later we were downstairs, three floors down at the reception, checking out of our hostel in Hanoi. Accommodation and laundry paid for, passports safely retrieved, we also received very thoughtful packed breakfast from our hostel (sandwiched scrambled eggs and a banana) for the journey and off we went.
Crazy Hanoi traffic
We climbed on the bus that was supposed to take us to Halong City, found our seats and watched crazy Monday morning traffic in Hanoi as the bus circled around Old Town picking up remaining passengers.
What followed were four hours mostly filled with fear for our lives as our bus driver kept on overtaking other traffic and we simply lost count of the near misses we had with other buses, trucks, cars, motorbikes, pedestrians and assortment of livestock.
We also stopped for 30 minutes for lunch at a tourist trap of a shop selling overpriced food and souvenirs. We ended up buying cup of tea and a small bottle of Vietnamese rice vodka just in case. One can never go wrong with a deck of cards and stashed bottle of booze. Vodka came in very handy, but I’ll get to that later.
Welcome to Halong Bay
After arriving in Halong City we were greeted by a short, dark-haired Vietnamese man in his 20’s dressed in smart black trousers and white shirt, who was to be our guide.
“Please, sit here,” he told us as he motioned toward a sitting area underneath a roof, “We are waiting for another bus to arrive”.
“Great,” I thought.
We put our bags down, sat and waited… And then waited some more. In the meantime I explored very empty looking cafe the size of a classroom containing only couple of tables and two shelves with souvenirs and some biscuits, both for prices that could only be described as extortionate.
Suddenly our guide reappeared out of nowhere all smiling and told us that we would be boarding now. This was very welcome news so we quickly grabbed our bags and followed him to a taxi boat, sat down and in no time we were gliding the harbour waters to finally board our ship.
Less than five minutes later we were sitting in a small dining room listening to our tour guide as he was explaining our program for the next few days. This would include visit to a cave, kayaking, night on the boat, pearl farm, and finally a night spent on Monkey Island followed by a journey back to reality/Hanoi.
We were then directed to our cabin, rather small but really cosy room with just enough space for two backpacks and a double bed. This, however, was not a problem because it was not our intention to spend a lot of time in the cabin. And in no time we were upstairs on the sun deck soaking up the beautiful afternoon November sunshine and enjoying amazing views of Halong Bay.
Shortly after we were called for a lunch where we finally got to know some of our fellow passengers over plates of delicious Vietnamese food.
Entering a cave full of surprises
Lunch eaten and back on the sun deck to continue enjoying the views and some overdue work on our tans before we’d make our first stop at the Surprise Cave in a few minutes.
We had heard nothing about this cave before so quite naturally we were wondering what surprises would the Surprise Cave offer. Surprisingly, it became one of the highlights of our trip.
The entrance to the cave was really narrow and miniscule but soon we entered its giant spectacular main chamber and I was rendered speechless save for exclamations of “Wow!” and “Amazing!” for the next few minutes. The whole excursion took about 30 minutes, which felt slightly rushed because in a short moment we supposed to be going kayaking in the sunset. We definitely felt that we were running behind schedule because earlier that day we had to spend nearly an hour waiting for a busload of latecomers who actually never turned up.
Sunset worth every penny
The sun was going down very quickly and we were worried that we’d either miss kayaking or would have to do this in a complete darkness. Luckily, we made it just in time although we were again only allowed about 30 minutes to explore the area before we’d head back. This, however, was balanced by being able to witness an amazing sunset over Halong Bay before heading back on our boat for some dinner and apparently a small sunset party on the deck.
The “party” turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, with half a glass of bitter wine per person, some cut apples for refreshments and Justin Bieber CD as our music. Most of the fellow passengers packed it in very early so the rest of us moved to the dining room and ended up playing cards. So much for a party boat!
The next morning we had to wake up very early, at 7 o’clock for breakfast before very short but quite informative visit at a local pearl farm. Did you know that it takes upwards of several years for a pearl oyster to produce a pearl and that each oyster can only produce one pearl in its lifetime? The science behind pearl farming and the amount of labour behind each pearl was quite astonishing.
After returning back on the boat we had to check out of our cabins because in short while we were supposed to continue our journey on another boat en route to Monkey Island beach and Monkey Island resort, our next stop for the night. Boarding the second boat was as easy as jumping from one deck to another with our backpacks on. It was situation like this where I fully appreciated our decision to only travel with lighter carry-on sized backpacks.