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Heavenly Halong

 

Hello Everyone, hope you are all well. This is just a mini (and already late) blog to keep you all updated and also it neatly ties up Vietnam so that the blogs don't get too hard to follow! I expect most of you will end up reading this at the same time as the previous blog as they are so close together so shouldn't be too much bother! 

And yes before you ask they ARE shocking sandal tan lines on my feet in the panoramic picture above (I hope your enjoying the new panoramas on the blogs, makes it look almost professional!) Sara's feet manage to look slightly more normal as she has some crock sandals too. I've been wearing the same pair of smelly (very smelly from sar) Merrells everyday since new years day! Rock on! 

Well yes it has been less than a week or so since the last blog, but we've been out to the world renowned Halong Bay and as such deserves its own blog. 

Sar has been unwell since Sapa having a horrible viral infestion and a chesty cough thing that hasn't wanted to go away. This combined with the fact that Halong is not an easy place to visit independantly led us to decide on shock horror a two day package tour! We are not normally one for organised stuff as you can get stuck with a load of people you don't like and invariably do not get what you pay for. But it made sense this time round and I was amused at stepping back to my days at First Choice! "Everyone back on the bus please..." etc etc :) 

We spent our last day in Hanoi visiting all our favourite eateries including the Whole Earth restaurant on the main drag. It is great with loads of veggie and non veggie meals and you struggle to find anything on the menu above a pound! And the food is delicious to boot. The other reason we went there was the hilarious waiter! He was total spy material, he always served us with a dead pan face and never once was friendly or unfriendly. MI6 need him! We also ate way way too many Lychees while in Hanoi. They are in season at the moment and they are way bigger and sweeter than the ones at home and also cost about 70p a kilo! That is before you get to the dragon fruits and the mangoes and... 

So the tour company picked us up at 8am from the hotel (despite being promised 8.30!) and after a few other rushed pickups we set off for Halong bay in a comfortable tourist mini coach thing with our Vietnamese guide cracking a few jokes amongst pointing out the outer city sights. He also begged us not to tell people back home about the traffic here in case they didn't visit. Thankfully you guys get unbiased reporting. The traffic is indeed bad, and on occasions, horrendous! Still having no luggage (left at the hotel) and pretty good air con the journey of about 3 hours went relatively quickly. 

When we arrived at the boat docks at the Halong Bay harbour there was again some serious groans and forehead slapping. Somehow, almost unbelievably we had left the passports in Hanoi AGAIN! I know it defies belief and we normally guard them like some kind of un-trusting bodyguards yet for the second time in a week we had left them at a guesthouse! Thankfully the tour guide said he didn't need to see them, thank god! 
Halong Bay - You are not alone!

After separating the group into the people who had paid 40 dollars for the standard package and 60 dollars for the 'deluxe' package (that included us, its a tough life!) we headed for our respective ships. With all of the nightmare stories we've heard and read about the bargain basement ones we decided to opt for the more expensive package to ensure we had the best time possible, and we weren't to be dissappointed. 

Our ship had about 10 smart air conditioned cabins with en-suites on the first level. Above this on the second tier was a smart restaurant bar affair and finally above this on the top deck was a nice sun lounging/patio garden affair. The boat was generally well kitted out and as soon as we boarded we headed a mile or so offshore and then lunch was served. The food was spectacular with almost too many dishes to fit on the table. We had rice, stir fry vegetables, crispy chicken, huge prawns, calamari/squid with vegetables and a myriad of other side orders, including chips amusingly! The drinks (not included) were predictably overpriced but still OKish by western standards. At this point we met an incredibly friendly Malaysian couple. The second Malaysian couple we had met that week after the other couple on the sleeper to Sapa. It was great fun chatting to them (we fly to Malaysian Borneo next for two weeks and two weeks after that we have a month in mainland Malaysia) so we have got a pretty good idea of whats hot and whats not over there now! We chatted for ages and they have invited us to stay in their luxury apartment in Kuala Lumpur when we arrive as it's empty due to them now having a new house elsewhere! Awesome! 

After lunch we headed out to one of the major cave complexes discovered by some local guys about 10 years ago (apologies for not having the name to hand). Not expecting much we were amazed by the massive caves which were all superbly lit in various colours and had proper concrete walkways throughout so Sar was happy! No slippery rocks here! At this point it would be worth mentioning that Halong Bay is BUSY at this time of year. Its peak time for domestic tourism in the summer and while we were at the caves it was pretty packed. 


To be honest though inside the caves the crowds just gave an eerie hub-bub to the as a thousand voices echoed around. There was a second huge cave mouth but somehow I have deleted the picture of it, so you'll all have to go yourselves! 

After the caves we headed back down to the jetty to find our boat (amidst the 30 or 40 others!) and hilariously bumped into Aled and Lia the couple we met on a Mekong Island in Laos! They had been to China and back with visa problems and the chances of seeing them were extremly slim in amongst the hordes. We hastily arranged a meet (drink!) up for our last night when they got back off their longer package. Next up was a spot of sea kayaking. The whole affair was genuinely hilarious to me as an ex-instructor. In the UK/Europe you would have a safety brief etc etc for ages and then would all be under supervision. Here this fish farmer had some kayaks at his floating house and we were simply given a tandem kayak and told to go an explore the caves on our own! Great for us being experienced but un-nerving for some of the others onboard. We paddled around the caves and karsts for about and hour and the surroundings were simply breath taking. Huge 500ft high cliffs with 10ft caves at the bottom we passed through to enter into hidden lagoons and other caves. Definitely a highlight, even if our kayak did smell of prawns and urine! 

From the caves we headed over to Cat Ba island where we dropped off some of our passengers who opted to stay on the island rather than on board. About a kilometer from there our captain (who steered only with his feet!) dropped anchore in the bay for us to all have a swim. The water wasn't crystal clear to say the least but was too inviting to resist. We both jumped in off the boats back deck, the water was warm and after watching a few guys do some somersaults and jump off higher up the boat I ended up giving in to my pathetic male ego and jumped off the sundeck on the very top of the ship. Couldnt bring myself to do a swallow dive as it was pretty high, little did I know at the time that it was an EXTREMLEY wise decison. Great fun though! 

That night we sat up and had a few beers with a Danish couple under the stars. It was one of those really awesome travel moments with shooting stars and the mountainous horizon lit by the light poluution from the city. Unfortunately though there was a group of 5 aussie teenagers who were so loud and got even lounder when our boat was joined by another with a boat full of drunk irish guys. Needless to say when they started leaping off the ship at midnight naked we decided to turn in! 

We had bravely decided to get up for dawn at 5am. Although the sky was a bit cloudy and we were a little late for the actual sunrise it was incredibly beautiful and the clounds probably added to this (see picture). For a laugh we also went for a morning swim whereby we dived out of the cabin window. Sar jumped rather than dived and went straight to the mudd bottom. The water was only about 8 feet deep!! This wasn't really a problem but it did mean that before the tide went out the day before when I jumped off the top I must not have been far from the bottom. Weird for it to be so shallow so far out at sea! 

The second day was mostly spent cruising our way back to Halong. There was a bit of rain about but watching the scenery slowly chug by from the restaurant was lovely. We got back to Halong city about 11.30 and the tide was too low to moor at the harbour wall so they just stuck this thin wobbly plank between the boat and harbour and got us all to literally walk the plank! This was where the dis-organisation began! The bus wasn't there to meet us so after a long wait they bundled us into the crappy mini bus for the cheap tour and took us to this restaurant in town for lunch. The place was absolutely packed with drunk locals and we had one of the worst meals we have had in ages! Such a shame as it left a bitter taste in your mouth (literally) and the rest of the package had been so great. We got back into Hanoi about 5 and even got the same room back in our bargain hotel, it was like we had never left. Thankfully our passports were there waiting. Phew! 

The next day was our last proper day in Hanoi so we had some sorting out to do. We posted a few trinkets back (look out for our final parcel Sally) though they said it should get back around September so we will probably be back way before it! We also decided to go and see the water puppet show that Hanoi is famous for that night. Hilariously when we went to the ticket office to get the tickets the Malaysian couple from the boat where there. Small world! So we got tickets with them for the next showing. The show was great, it was admitadly incredibly busy and every seat in the house was a tourist but it still had a true vietnameese air, and the skills of the water puppeteers is incredible. 

Rather unwisely, considering we had to leave for the airport at 6am and Sar was still recovering, we went from the show to a coffee shop to meet Lia and Aled for a few. To cut an extremely long story short after having a beer in the street (incredibly 8p a pint!) we had way way too many cocktails (1 pound for huge long island ice tea!) at a lock in around the corner from our hotel. To our horror when we stumbled out the door we realised it was gone 4am! Not good. We hurriedy said out goodbyes and went to bed and managed to get a sorry 1 hour 37 minutes sleep. We woke up only slightly less drunk than when we went to bed. Needless to say the packing wasn't its best and when our Malaysian friends picked us up I was in a particularily bad way (Sar doesnt get hangovers anything like me!) I spent the taxi journey cradling my head, a bottle of water and a dry baguette! Needless to say they were quite amused. 

Having a hangover was such a terrible idea for so many reasons! We had two flights that day. First we flew to Kuala Lumpur in mainland Malaysia and then 5 hours later changed to another flight to Tawau in Malysian Borneo. On both flights our inflight meal (inc breakfast) was a super hot Malay fish curry with fried anchovies! Not exactly what you want when your green with a hangover, thanks for that Susan! 

Still we arrived safe and well in Tawau and its worth saying that AirAsia (their version of Ryan Air) is incredible value. If you thinking of flying anywhere around SE Asia it definately the way to go! 

So yes we are now in Borneo and it is a world apart from Vietnam, it literally feels as though we are on the other side of the world but we will save that for the next installment! 

Time is REALLY ticking now, it feels as though each day is really short as we try to shoe horn everything we want to do and everything still left to try (eating) before we come home! 

All our love, 

Dean and Sarah. x
 

Source: Travel Blogs

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Xin Chao Travel Halong Bay
We are happy to send you our impressions on our excellent trip to Halong Bay with your company. The organization and monitoring of our trip was impeccable, thanks to our friendly and excellent guide Minh not forgetting the super driver Dzung.

Mardy Scott (Australia)
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