One of Vietnam's must see natural wonders
28.12.2016 - 29.12.2016 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.
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.
The room was really elegant, with modern bathroom, robes, AC (which we did not need at all) and an extremely comfortable bed.
It included 2 lunches, breakfast and dinner and all the food was plentiful and delicious all served in a spacious dinning / bar area.
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
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.
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).
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.
Then it was time for our Hands on Spring Roll demonstration which was supringly easy and something I look forward to doing back home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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