I’m in Vietnam, having landed in Hanoi a few days ago. I’m also part of a pretty well-organised tour. What’s nice about going on an organised tour is that I can relax into sightseeing a little more and enjoy the ride, rather than actively drive my travelling. It’s a nice break.
I arrived late into Hanoi, so didn’t see the city at first. Instead, the following morning we travelled to Ha Long Bay via a pottery workshop. The cynic in me definitely felt that we were being ferried through a gift shop of some kind. It was fine, there wasn’t any pressure, and we moved on to the Bay.
Arriving at Ha Long Bay was a bit like bedlam – lots of people rushing around trying to sell to tourists. Lots of people getting boats ready for new voyages.
But getting onto the boat was a complete change from this. The gentle rocking of the boat on the water – the peaceful isolation you experience when you’re on a boat in the middle of the sea.
The tour promised a jaunt on a junk. Whilst it was a lovely boat, the government recently decided that all captains should whitewash their boats so that they look more modern: a real shame because this modernity removed some of the charm from the boats.
In any case, on board everything was ship shape. I’ve been on a few liveaboards in my time, but the room I got on this boat was incredible: double bed, en suite – the works. A far cry from the shared pump toilet and single bunk I had on my first liveaboard in the Red Sea.
Ha Long Bay consists of thousands of small limestone islands. As we steamed out into the bay, we ate fresh seafood and got a briefing on the day’s activities.
Our first stop was a limestone cave called the “surprise cave”. We were told that it was called this because it contained a surprise. The first surprise about the cave was just how many tourists there were here. Sure – there were a lot of boats moored nearby, but the cave entrance felt almost crowded. The rock formations and light inside the cave were beautiful:
Emerging from the cave we were greeted by this beautiful panorama across the bay.
There was a whole infrastructure in place to service the tourists. The people working on this infrastructure appeared to live on floating villages on the bay. The dwellings are typically converted boats jury-rigged to be less mobile but more comfortable structures often with incredibly long mooring lines to secure them to nearby rocks. As well as providing transport services to the tourists, there were the usual hawkers trying to sell tat, but with the twist that the hawkers were selling tat from a boat:
The cruise around Ha Long Bay also stopped off at “Ti Top” Island. Named by Ho Chi Minh after a Soviet cosmonaut who visited the island. It had a pretty great beach, which was packed, so I opted to climb to the summit to see the view. It was hot and very humid, but I wasn’t disappointed:
Sunset was beautiful and the moon was so full that we couldn’t really see the stars. I’ll have a lot of time far away from city lights to see the stars later on in the trip. We headed back to Hanoi the following morning.