Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halong Bay Day Trip

We booked our Halong Bay excursion through our hostel, Little Hanoi. They gave us the option between 'deluxe' or 'standard'. The main difference really was the space you get on the bus to the port. There is about a $12USD difference but if you are tall, or not the stereotypical Asian size, then I would suggest upgrading. The deluxe van we had was just enough leg space for me but unfortunately, for my two tall companions, it was not so comfortable.

The trip started at 9am, with a pick up from our accommodation, and we got back about 9pm. A full day away. Our guide was a young, local Vietnamese man. Very handsome, but as we ran into other tours we noticed that this was a trend among tour guides. We joked that maybe that's a requirement the tourism company had if you were to become a tour guide for this area.

Our guide spoke very good English, was very personable and very knowledgeable. Unfortunately, I can't really remember the exact time it took for us to drive from downtown Hanoi to the port, but I'm going to guess it may have taken a couple of hours. Our guide did give us some information as we did hit important parts of the city as we drove.

Once we got the port, we were told to stay in one spot while our guide sorted our tickets. The terminal looked relatively new and was surrounded by many old -style Junk Boats for the tourists to board. The wait here took only 20 to 30 minutes and then we were off. Unfortunately, we had a bit of a hazy day so the visibility wasn't as great as we had wanted it to be but the scenery was still beautiful.

The bottom area of the boat was the eating area and had about 8 to 10 cubicles that could sit 4 people comfortably - 6 to 8 people if you wanted to squish - and the top area was an open style where you could lay down and bathe in the sun, or just sit and enjoy the view. We were served lunch as part of the tour and it was delicious! There were an assortment of Vietnamese dishes put on the table and you just helped yourself, sharing with whoever you are seated with. Drinks were not included but they were very cheap (unless you wanted to get a bottle of wine, which we did. They don't serve glasses FYI, you need to purchase the whole bottle).

We got to see the typical tourist spots such as the floating village, which I though was pretty neat. It had a school, a restaurant and a medical centre. We were also told of what their tradition is if one of their village members passes away. Definitely ask your guide about that if you head there. Very interesting.

The boat docks for about an hour or and you can either relax there or on the little floating jetty. Or else, you can hired a kayak for an extra 20,000VND (only two person kayaks) and explore. There is supposedly an amazing cave you can kayak through (you pay an entrance fee of approximately $1USD) but as the water level was low we couldn't enter.

The last stop we made before heading back was the highlight of my trip - Sung Sot Cave (limestone cave). It's hard to describe the enormity of this cave, it's one of those places that you just have to see yourself. I've tried to attach photos of the inside but it really doesn't do it justice. Also, my camera wasn't a high quality one so I couldn't really capture the true essence of the place.

We had to take a train that night to Sapa, and were a bit limited with time. We told our guide of our situation and he ensured that we were one of the first ones dropped back to allow us to get to our next destination on time.

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