Vietnam: Cruising around the karsts of Halong Bay

After finding a suitable travel agent in Hanoi (Adventure Indochina Travel – recommended) I booked on a one night trip to Halong Bay and the next day was picked up bright an early and taken the four hours by coach to Halong City.

Once there I boarded the boat which would be my home for the next 24 hours and was immediately served up a delicious and filling lunch; which comprised several courses of Asian delights.  I later found out that because I had booked so late they had double-booked my space and therefore had to upgrade me to a better cruise which explained the awesome grub!

Our cruise boat.  Affectionately called QN3348:

After lunch we set sail (metaphorically, there was no sail :)) heading for the towering limestone karsts out to sea.  I had timed it pretty well as the weather at Halong bay is notoriously hazy and misty (which can add to the mysteriousness of the place apparently) but today it was beautifully clear.

Our first stop was a cave that was pretty impressive.  They had lit up various parts of the cave with various colours, to make it look dramatic and whilst some might have thought it looked tacky and gaudy, I actually thought it looked great and brought out the features of the limestone structures way better.

As with most tours that I’ve been on with weird and wonderful stone formations, the guide was quick to point out various resemblances to elephants, humans, body parts etc….

Inside the cave:

Several elephants can be seen if you look closely:

A beautiful sun-beam enters the cave from above:

After returning to the boat we ventured further into the maze of limestone karsts where the taller and more impressive cliffs could be found.   After an hour or so we found ourselves at the floating village where we disembarked and had a quick kayak around, enabling us to get right up to the rock faces and into some cool caves.

Coming up to some of the more dramatic limestone karsts:

The sun deck on the boat:

Enjoying the cruise:

Approaching the floating village:

Amazingly there is a community of floating villagers about an hours boat ride from the main land.  I didn’t actually find out why they lived there but probably a combination of tourism and fishing.  If you enlarge the photo you should see a couple of dogs on the nearest floating house!

My kiwi room-mate and kayak buddy, Jonno coming out one of the sea caves:

When we returned to the jetty some entrepreneurial floating villagers had shown up with boats full of exotic fruits to flog to the tourists.  I tried some delicious small fruits which I never got the name of.  I noticed some Italian lads were getting through a fair few of the fruits and they were conversing with the ladies on the boats.  When I asked them how they knew Vietnamese, they said they were speaking Chinese, as they had lived there for three months.  Because we were so close to the border a lot of the locals were fluent in Vietnamese and Mandarin.

When the lads came to pay a very comical scene ensued, as they had accidentally given the fruit-sellers a 100,000 dong note instead of a 10,000; and after noticing their mistake they asked for their money back, at which point the ladies refused (only about £2.70 but a lot in those parts).  One of the Italian lads even boarded the boat to try to retrieve the dosh, but the lady that had taken the cash fled to a neighboring boat.  It was time to leave so the lads admitted defeat after mumbling what I expect were some pretty rude Chinese words at the ladies.

After all that excitement it was time to chill on the boat as we cruised to our overnight spot.  when we arrived we had a chance to jump off the top of the boat into the water before sitting down for another delicious meal and enjoying the sunset over the islands.

The evening was capped off with some onboard karaoke where I discovered a new track for my song portfolio: We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel.

Night falls over the cruise ships of Halong Bay:

The next day we had to check out at 8am at which point we had breakfast and started on the cruise back to port.  I took the time to research my next destination, Laos and when we returned it was time for lunch before getting on the bus back to Hanoi where I would be catching the night bus to the capital, Vientiane.

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