A Travellerspoint blog

Ha Long Bay

One of Vietnam's must see natural wonders

sunny 24 °C

Ha Long Bay
Today we leave for Ha Long Bay after not even being in Hanoi for 24 hours. We are really anticipating this day as it is one of the most iconic and must experience spots in the country. Ha Long was first designated as a UNESCO site in 1994 and considered one of the worlds natural wonders in 2007. Ha Long is a group of over 1600 limestone islands in the Gulf of Tonkin. Most of the islands are uninhabitated or affected by human presence and many appear like a jungle covered pillars.
We were picked up from our hotel Hanoi Graceful at 7:45am after the complimentary hotel breakfast and leaving our two travel backpacks checked in as we would be returning back here the following day. Our comfortable shuttle bus took 165 kilometres / 3 1/2 hours to arrive in Ha Long city where our tour group Bhaya cruise lines took us like a well oiled machine to their fleet of boats. We were greated by our tour guide Bee and we're giving the list of our activities that we were going to do in our 2 day 1 night float through the limestone islands.
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There are literally dozens of tour companies to choose from and another dozen more options per tour. We chose the classic premium balcony cabin mainly beacause it was small with max 14 and only 6 rooms and it offered a private balcony off each room.
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The room was really elegant, with modern bathroom, robes, AC (which we did not need at all) and an extremely comfortable bed.
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It included 2 lunches, breakfast and dinner and all the food was plentiful and delicious all served in a spacious dinning / bar area.
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We shared the boat with an older couple and two other family's with 3 and 2 children all from Australia. The children all seemed to gravitate to us as we are the fun uncle and aunt and they brought a flare of fun by entertaining us with their stand up performances and gymnastics routines in the top deck.
We actually lucked out on the weather also, it had been very rainy recently and the clouds were gone the entire time for us and we had brilliant sunshine and mid 20's warmth. However, the evening became quite cool and forced us to retire sooner then expected but we didn't care as we are still only catchimg up from arriving in Vietnam yesterday morning.
The float was beautiful as we skimmed past the giant towers and slowly dispersed away from what seemed like hundreds of other ECA26A4C-F..5755332C5F3.jpg
After lunch we had some relaxing time in the sun on the lounger chairs on the top until we arrived to our farthest destination. We all jumped into a smaller boat that was tied to the side of our cruise ship and had the option of a bamboo boat rowed by a local or to paddle ourselves in a kayak to the 'dark' and 'light' caves. Surprising with no instructions we paddled ourselves in a quiet bay and through a couple of caves that didn't appear were passable at high tide.
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We also saw some monkeys from a distance and without our good camera were unable to capture any pictures. We later learned they are a unique monkey only found in this protected area and there are only 60 of them in existence. Upon further research I found this to be the best article on these endangered gibbons. After our paddle we had an opportunity to swim and because I always like this challenge I decided to go in even though it has cooled off considerably at this time. Once in 3 of the kids decided to brave the waters also even if they think I tricked them into thinking it was warmer then it was (Which I did of course).
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Returning to the junkboat was happy hour and we all took advantage of the 2 for1 drinks as we watched the sun set behind the islands.
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Then it was time for our Hands on Spring Roll demonstration which was supringly easy and something I look forward to doing back home.
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Dinner soon followed with the spring rolls we made starting off the 7 course meal. After dinner our boat dropped anchor in a picturesque inlet where a handful of other Bhaya boats parked around us and we set up to do some squid fishing. Basically they shine a spot light into the dark water and you jig a small squid lure with a long bamboo poll. At this time the wind had picked up and the temperature had dropped down to single digits and even "us Canadians" could barely handle the cold and Amanda and I soon found ourselves to be the only ones awake and still at the front of the boat fishing. Other then some tiny blue fish there were unfortunately no squid to be seen so we happily called it a night around 9pm.
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We left our curtains open all night and the boat swung around the anchor line as we watched the silhouette of the islands, it gave the illusion we were moving all night but the water was calm and soothing. We woke up early as we had Tai-chi at 630 to great the spectacular sunrise and proved to be a beautiful way to wake up.
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After breakfast and coffee we again got onto our litttle side boat to head to the Suprise Cave. This did turn out to be a suprise as hundreds of tourists clamoured up a few hundred steps as slow as hearding cattle into a well maintained lit up grotto that was only discovered in 1901 but not made open to the public until 2010. It consisted of 3 chambers; the first 2 to be interesting but the last chamber was massive and impressive.
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Returning to the boat we were told to pack up and come back to the dining area for lunch. With the remaining time we all soake up the sunshine as we headed back to the marina say our goodbyes and jump onto another mini bus that returned us to Hanoi and our family smiling faces at the Graceful Hotel.
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After the quick tour I can not recommend enough the importance of seeing the beauty of Ha Long Bay...a part of me wishes we did 2 nights so it wouldn't have been so rushed or to maybe experience the nearby island of Cat Ba but maybe the next time.

Stay tuned for the next post...last 24 hours in Hanoi

Posted by Evanda 15:08 Archived in Vietnam Tagged vietnam unesco halong_bay Comments (6)

Hanoi

The first 12 hours

semi-overcast 21 °C

So after 30 hours of travel time on 3 flights we have made it to our destination - Vietnam. Stepping off the plane and into the airport I immediately start skipping and waving my arms in the air chanting "Vietnam, Vietnam". Finally, after 6 months of planning, anticipation and research I just can't contain my joy and excitement (words of advice, never contain your excitement, life is too short to hold happiness in).
Every first time arrival into an airport gives me a slight anxiety; long lines at customs, did our bags arrive? domwe have the correct visa permits? Or will I be able to find transportation into the city without getting scammed just to mention a few. But Hanoi could not have been more free from issue then I ever expected. Directions were clear and simple those without visas to the left side all others to the right, we immediately got into line for immigration ( I would suggest to go as far left as possible where only 2 lanes are open for 'foreigners' ) and witnessed a handful of people get turned away and we know they are experiencing isssues with their Visa (this will be a blog post in time). There is a small camera crew filming custom officials right beside the 'no photography at anytime' to which we could only gather was for a recruitment and of course I get called to the officer that is getting filmed and I'm certain I'll be in some instruction video somewhere again. All of our paper work is in good order and we pass through immigration in under 5 minutes! 10 minutes later we are elated to see that both our bags also survived all three flights as they pop out on the convier belt. We can feel the muggy air and decide to remove the warm layers we've been wearing since the winter day in Calgary, off with the big footwear, socks change from hoodie to tshirt and I zip off my pant legs (go ahead insert old man jokes now but I will forever defend these multi-purpose pants/shorts for travel). We walked through customs almost as though we were invisible and I believe if nobody says anything don't go looking to find out why. We then find an ATM and on our second try we withdraw 5 million Dong (around $350 CAD) walk to the taxi section and boom were off in under 40 minutes total airport time 😎.
After only a few minutes it starts to sink in that our adventure has officially begun! From the road Hanoi comes across as clean and modern, then infrastructure is in surprisingly good condition and although the horns are continually heard it's almost mute in comparison to that of India.
After around 25minutes our metered taxi wonders into the heart of the 'Old Quarter' where the roads immediately shrink in width and the bustle of two wheel mopeds and motor cycles out numbers cars a 100 to 1. People, push carts, tourists and locals are all seen weaving in and out of each other on the narow roads as any form of sidewalk is taken over by parked mopeds, street food, vendors cars or just a pile of dirt. We arrive at our hotel - Hanoi Graceful Hotel and before I can gather the 350000 Dong to pay our driver a bell man has opened my door and greats us with big smiles and fruit juice. The staff at the front desk are incredibly pleasant and helpful and without hesitation our bags are wisked away. We immediately book sleeper bus tickets for the 29th and arrange for our bags to be stored with them while we do an over night jaunt to Ha Long Bay. They escort us to our room, 505, which boasts a King size bed, fridge, complimentary water n coffee and a large patio overlooking the busy street below. About 2 minutes goes by as we do the normal room inspection and we notice a lot of smoke outside where we see a building only a couple streets across is burning!!! I'm sure it must have caused some damage but it appears to get contained long before a fire truck arrives a half hour later.
After Amanda showered off the 2 days of travelling we change clothes and decide to dive right in and tackle Hanoi. We are now part of the crowd weaving in and out of the congestion and I fall right into travel mode like I never left...crossing these streets is an art of confidence and coordination with everyone that is a part of it. Eye contact is imperative and never step backwards because something or someone will have already filled that space with themselves or a vehicle. The Old Quarter Hanoi reminds me of the streets of Thamal area in Kathmandu only less cows, goats and burning garbage and 10 times more motorcycles. Within minutes located at the NW corner of Hoan Kiem Lake we find a phone provider, Viettel, and purchase SIM cards for both of our unlocked phones that we brought with us ( I brought my old HTC m8 and Amanda her iPhone ). It only cost us $25 to get 1.5Mb of data and capability of 200 text message for both. Even though they asked others around us for their passport info we didn't provided them with any Credit card info or identification of any sort?!?
Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart and soul of the Old Quarter and yet is peaceful and quiet. The Lake surrounds Ngoc Son Temple, a small pagoda on an island only accessible by a iconic red bridge for 30,000 Dong. We walked around the entire Lake and took in old colonial charm of the surrounding architecture and Amanda stated it was time for us to hit a roof top patio to have our inaugural holiday beer! We after 6 flights of stairs we found ourselves at the Avalon restaurant with a perfect vantage point of the with swarming activity and the Lake below.
After our beer we wandered back to our hotel (yes I got lost with my paper map) however with our phones having data we quickly realized I was well off target and found ourselves at home base. Now was my turn to shower off and have a quick 10 minute lay down to refuel (exhaustion almost kept us here) but we had to hurry off the Chu Dong Xuan Market where we met with Lucky our tour leader for our night time street Food Tour. The tour from Urban Adventures was the fastest introduction to local street food that we may otherwise find too worried to try or miss out cause we don't understand what it is they are selling, we were introduced to the local sadwhich Banh My
banh my

banh my

,
Pho & a fruity dessert with coconut milk,
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Banh Cuon,
banh cuon

banh cuon


BBQ,
bbq

bbq


egg coffee,
egg coffee

egg coffee


all while getting a city tour with historical info. Always a must do activity for us at least once per trip.

We finally made it back to our hotel around 10pm completely exushted...finally our long travel day has hit us hard and we crash hard after we finish repacking our bags again.

Next stop Ha Long Bay!

Posted by Evanda 16:04 Archived in Vietnam Tagged hanoi hoan_kiem_lake urban_adventures hanoi_graceful_hotel old_quarter_hanoi Comments (5)

Departure day

all seasons in one day 16 °C

I have lost all sense of time already...
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We left our crisp - 15C, sunny and 20cm of fresh snow on Christmas day and from the New York Times I just grabbed boarding our flight to Hanoi, I read it's December 27th already. Wait what where did the time go? These long distance flights really mess with my system. At times it feels like only hours ago since we left Calgary and then with a wave of exhaustion I feel like it's been days. The first two flights from YYC to YVR as well as Vancouver to Taipei were delayed a total of 3 hours but it was insignificant because it just reduced our layover in Taipei to 5 hours. IMG_0892.jpg
The last leg to Hanoi was pleaseant and spacious compared to the previous 13.5 hr flight aboard the giant China Airlines 747 which was by far one of the more uncomfortable flights we've ever taken. The only positive of that flight was pre flight, when our seats were moved from both in the middle to an asiel and middle. The plane was dated, extremely tight, without ventilation and I do not know anyone aboard was able to use the plug (none of out adaptor plugs worked and no USB to be seen). This limited us to the 4" overcontrastd screen with, supplied, uncomfortable headphones that continuously cut in and out. The leg room was abysmal, in fact our knees were pressed against the chair back and it took most of the flight til we were able to 'force' our seats to recline. Both of us laughed about how our legs went numb trying to weave them under just to stretch them. Did I mention it was so hot that we both had our shoes and socks off...definitely a first for us as usually we are struggling to keep warm. Don't misunderstand me, this isn't a rant about China Airlines (ok maybe) it's mearly a reminder to myself to avoid them in the future.

When I booked these flights I did so with two main conditions. multi city; Landing in Hanoi, leaving Saigon and as inexpensive as possible. Our theory is save and sacrifice on the most expensive part of travel - flights, thus allowing us to not hold back during the actual trip itself. This time I booked with a new website and one I will definitely use again "GoogleFlights.ca" It was simple and made flexibility easy to navigate especially with my frugal ways. We did book the flights 6 months prior and I felt a great deal at $942 CAD per person.

The bottom line is you get what you pay for, we don't travel like first class cause it it only a tool to get us where the actually fun happens and regardless of how annoying or painful it will be worth it. So like this crappy post the real stories are coming, this is just a tool to get you there and hopefully I make it worth your time.
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So on a side note...since I started writing this George Micheal and the princess, Carrie Fisher, have both passed away 😢. Is 2016 over yet?
The blog stuff is a challenge...not overly for the writing but for the lack of time. So without proof reading I have to make this post. Stay tuned for the next one. Our first 12 hours is Hanoi.

Posted by Evanda 14:35 Archived in Vietnam Tagged travel flight taipei china_airlines Comments (4)

Were heading back to Asia...

snow -20 °C

Amanda and I are going on a trip again and we are heading back to S.E. Asia. this time its a quick trip of only 3 weeks from Dec 25th 2016 to Jan 15th 2017 and we would like you to follow along and enjoy our adventure again.

A large percentage of people have asked if we plan on doing another blog to share our experiences with friends and family so I thought id give it another go...being that last time we were gone for 4 months and I lost interest in doing the blog half way through and opted to enjoy travelling and relaxing I thought being that we are only going away for 3 weeks I should be able to keep my posts shorter and easier to manage. Also because of advancements in technology and im not actually typing everything out on a 3 inch apple itouch I plan to include many more pictures than words and include the addition of some short movies which helps everyone understand another dimension.

The purpose of this first post is to allow you the opportunity to subscribe to our blog (or not of course) if you would like to check out our previous posts you can do that by checking out Nepal and India here and to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos here.

As per usual I will probably post at least one more time prior to our departure on Christmas Day but if you would like to subscribe please click on the "SUBSCRIBE" tab on the right side of this page and add your name and email.

stay tuned and thanks for the interest.
A&E

Posted by Evanda 16:14 Archived in Canada Comments (9)

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