Ha Long Bay is one of THEE must DO’S in ALL of Vietnam, soooo we did it! It’s a huge bay in Northern Vietnam that you could navigate for weeks and still not see it all. Being on a time crunch, we did it in a day! Most people do a 2 or 3 night boat cruise, but we wanted to spend more time in other places so we just jammed it right on in the itinerary. There are a TON of tour companies and the best advice we got for choosing the right one was, pay a bit more if you don’t want rats scurrying about and a reliable staff. So we ended up picking Alova Cruises for 50 bux each, incredibly large and fresh seafood lunch included.
It was quite an efficient day. It was so efficient, that, it made me want to do another season for Trek America as a trip leader to see if I could pull off the efficiency this guy did.
We got picked up at our hotel in Hanoi sharply at 8AM. Took a mini coach bus 3.5 hours to the bay with one annoyingly-pushy-touristy rest stop in the middle. Every time I touched a snack to see what in the world it was a staff member would walk over, stare over my shoulder, and say “hello lady.” EVERY TIME. Eventually I learned not to touch anything and just simply stand over it maneuvering my awkward body trying to read the labels because I didn’t want someone to hover me anymore, but it didn’t matter, they seemingly raise from the depths of the touristy rest stop hells without a sound JUST to make you feel weird. They win, they always do. Did I just write a paragraph on the touristy rest stop?
After handing out tickets, unloading the bus with it still in motion, and paying a lady a dollar to use the bathroom, we boarded the boat. We sat down with a couple other people, a really cool Canadian named Hannah and an undercover Ukrainian who “didn’t speak very good English”…oh really Andre? And why again are you able to receive phone calls in the middle of the sea? What provider are YOU using? HMM? anyways, they were really cool and we shared a great fishy and vegetably lunch with them. I was too busy drooling to take any photos.
Hung out up top until our first stop for kayaking. Most people (the older folk) chose to hop in a bamboo rowboat that looked really cool, but undoubtably a huge bore. Halez and I hopped in a kayak after not receiving any instruction, filling out any waivers, or being able to buckle OR zipper our life jackets (little broken). Very different than any tour operator in America who now a days make you watch a 20 minute instructional video on proper protective equipment and the dangers that lie ahead. Nope, In Vietnam you just go with it, which makes for more action and less waiting around. We went through some caves where we bottomed out a few times, quiteeeee shallow in those things. The best was watching our Canadian friend and undercover agent navigate the waters together, if we got stuck 3 times they must have gotten stuck 23 times.
We board the boat and next stop is the Caves. The French founded this huge cave and the Vietnamese must be responsible for all the rave lights they installed in there. It was a disco underneath, a beautiful and geologically mind numbing disco. I loved it. Okay back to the boat to ride home, but first everyone sit down to your fresh watermelon we’ve cut up for you!
Ha Long Bay was extremely gorgeous. It was filled with limestone rock structures (not a geology major here people) and had a certain peace about it. Out in the middle of it all were floating villages that were really cool to see and ponder about…where did they poop? Did they like all these cruise boats invading their space? Can I move in? What would my duties be? Could I be kicked off my floating boat home? Anyways, we got lucky with the weather because it’s usually rainy and foggy this time of year in the bay and we got a clear and sunny day. The temperature was a bit cold and a slight fog covered the area, but for this time of year the weather nailed it.
Overall we spent 4 hours on the actual boat, then got back on the bus where I resumed my throne at my single window seat above the back tire. My knees may have exceeded the height of my face, but I dug it. 3.5 hours back to Hanoi. We get back to our hotel at 8:15pm. Halez and I clean up for a few then race the streets to find dinner. We had a 15 hour train to catch at 10! And we need snacks!
We get to the train station and a guy offers to grab our bags and lead us to our track and room, he does this rather abruptly, he puts our bags under our seats and we thank him. He sticks out his hand and yells “TIP”…I immediately am like “NO WE DIDNT EVEN NEED YOUR HELP” but I kept quiet and Haley tipped him hah! The sneakiness and hustle drives me nuts, it’s fine when they are nice about it but most of the time they are in your face doing anything for you to buy their service or product. I’ve kept calm by telling myself it’s a cultural thing and I need to adapt and accept, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s a humanity thing, and I hate being treated like an ATM, and treated rudely at that. Oh well, I’ll deal.
On a cleanliness scale, this train is the pits. I don’t expect much, but my word is this one beat up. I can’t complain though because we got a 6 person sleeper ‘room’ and we had the whole thing to ourselves! We each took bottom bunk and the 2 shelves above us were sooooo unoccupied. We got on the train at 945 and for those 15 minutes before departure we froze everytime we heard a footstep, then said a powerful little prayer, and released a sigh of deep relief. Extra lucky because this train didn’t have any bunk curtains, zero privacy. We read, we journaled, we slept, I played solitaire until I eventually won, and we got to our destination on the Central Vietnam coast at exactly 1PM. Overall not a bad ride, and always good to travel overnight because it takes care of accommodation and is very efficient for the timely traveler. Onto the beaches!