Date I was there: 6-7 September 2011
I was picked up at 8.30am from the Hanoi Style Hotel to begin my trip to Ha Long Bay– the UNESCO site where rocks loom out of the turquoise water. My travel agent had said that I may be on the trip alone but four hours later, along with the bus load of people we were on a rather bumpy and uncomfortable ride with, I was on a little boat heading to the Phoenix Cruiser which was to be my tour boat for the next couple of days.
It wasn’t quite what I was imagining. I pictured backpacker bunk-beds below deck, like the last boat tour I was on, back in Australia. Instead, I had my own en-suite, wood paneled room, complete with air-conditioning and a double bed.
The boat itself also had a dining room, a bar and a sundeck. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a delicious seafood lunch, which we all ate in among the stunning scenery. We all took to the deck and found that even in the middle of the bay, tourists can still be hassled. Here it was by locals who row out to the cruise boats, laden with snacks for tourists. As much as I love snacks, in this case the seafood was keeping me more than happy so I passed.
We weren’t to remain on the boat for the whole of our stay and we were soon off to see Sung Sot cave, where we wandered around and looked at all the stalagmites and stalactites (one of which was appropriately nicknamed ‘Morning Glory’- you get the picture), before heading back to the boat, going past the floating village on the way, where we quickly jumped back off, this time into the water below to seek relief from the heat.
We watched the sun set over the rocks, turning the sky into an array of colours, before settling down to dinner. During our second amazing seafood meal, I sat with some Americans and fellow Brits and we chatted for awhile after the dishes were cleared away. I took the opportunity to order a Daiquiri ($4- not bad), after all I was on a boat, rum was in order. I sat and watched as one person took part in the karaoke on offer before leaving to go and look at the blanket of stars from the deck. Sadly I could hardly see any so instead I went off to bed.
At 5.30am the next morning, I was awake to see the sunrise but unfortunately, and predictably, it was too cloudy. Sadly I couldn’t get back to sleep and at 6.30am the air-con turned off, so at 7am I went for breakfast.
It was time for another off-the-boat trip, this time to Ti Top Island. From here we could get amazing views of the bay, in return for hiking to the top of a really big hill. Sadly, the photo of me standing above the beautiful bay is slightly marred by my red, sweaty face. The views were well worth it but I was very happy to get back to ground-level and run straight to the beach and into the sea.
Back on the boat, we had a cooking class, teaching us how to make my spring-rolls. Mine weren’t quite right but completely edible so I mark that as progress. It was then time to check out of the rooms and settle up at the bar. Now that the tour was drawing to an end, the food took a downturn and lunch was quite disappointing.
We arrived back in the harbour of Ha Long Bay city and after four naps, a few naps and some water buffalo spotting, I was back in my hotel room in Hanoi and heading out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. It was busy and cheap and did some amazing fried rice noodles, which were so greasy I could practically see my reflection. I didn’t feel great after I ate them but that is how I like my noodles. The cocktails were also pretty good.
After I wandered to the night market which seem to mainly attract locals and didn’t really have the souvenirs I was looking for. I did however get a scooter-wheel to the back of the leg but thankfully they were only moving slowly.