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 I was 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 went on in Australia. Instead, I had my own en-suite, wood panelled room, complete with air-conditioning and a double bed. I felt like I came out on top here.
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 at surrounded by the stunning scenery. Afterwards, 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, the seafood here 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’- I think you can probably imagine what it resembled), before heading back to the boat, going past the Floating Village on the way. When we next jumped off our boats, it was into the water, where we could seek relief from the heat.
We watched the sun set over the rocks, as the sky turned 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 for a cocktail) as I was on a boat, meaning that rum was in order. I sat and watched as one person (and one person only) took part in the karaoke on offer before going outside to look at the blanket of stars from the deck. Sadly – and surprisingly – 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 typically) it was too cloudy to see anything. 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 then 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 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 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 really didn’t feel great after I ate them but that is how I like my noodles so it was worth the hit in my opinion. The cocktails were also pretty good.
After dinner, I wandered to the local night market which turned out to be more of a local market than a touristy one. I therefore didn’t get my souvenirs but I did get a scooter-wheel to the back of the leg instead. Thankfully, the biker was only moving slowly.