Every time I travel to a new city, I always look into the possibility of having a day trip somewhere. With the whirlwind trips that I take, I’ve learned that having these day trips, especially the ones away from the city, are very important for my sanity: they give me the chance to be away from the crowd and to recuperate. Case in point – when we were in Kuala Lumpur, we visited Batu Caves; in Bangkok, we meandered into Ayutthaya; thus it was a no-brainer that we would go to the famous Ha Long Bay when we were in Hanoi.
Located in the province of Quang Ninh, Ha Long Bay is peppered with thousands of limestone formations jutting out from the waters below. This marvelous sight is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its beautiful and stunning panorama.
We looked into booking a tour online before we left Toronto, but eventually decided against it. We figured since this is a very popular excursion from Hanoi, there will probably be many travel companies offering the same tour itinerary and, as a result of the competition, prices will be much cheaper. It’s also good to assess the situation when you get into the city before you book the tour. In our case, we briefly contemplated the option of staying overnight on one of the boats, but we quickly diminish that thought as we realized we needed more time in Hanoi. Plus, it was wet and damp anyways, so chances are we won’t be doing any of the sun activities offered to guests staying overnight at the bay. Good call! We booked our tour through our hostel; it was highly recommended by the owner and she promised us a good time! The price? Merely 500,000 Dong (about $25), compared to $80 we saw online! Amazing! I love good deals!
We were told to be ready by 6:45AM, which meant that we would have to come down by 6:15 for breakfast, which, in turn, means the alarm is set at 5:15, with a 15 mins snooze incorporated. Needless to say, it was a difficult morning. I know, I think I’m going to pass out when I have to wake up at 2AM to make it to the top of Machu Picchu at sunrise. Whoever is coming with me to Peru, you’ve been warned!
We were picked up exactly at 7. The drive to Ha Long Bay is about 3.5 hours long, so I figured I could use it to catch up on sleep. But, no, no, clearly that wasn’t on the agenda. On our next stop, in came 2 girls from Australia, they sat down in the seats next to us, and we started chatting. For the ENTIRE ride. It was awesome! And I meant that in the most sincere way. Honestly, I didn’t know I could carry on a great conversation, with someone I barely knew, mind you, for 3 hours straight.
Our tour guide is Hinh, but he prefers to be called by his English name, Jack. He reminds me of my cousin, Kevin; tall and skinny with spiky hair. Not to mention the guy is humorous (and vulgar, to a certain extent – he pointed to a rock formation in the cave we visited and dubbed it ‘the one woman breast formation’). When we got to the pier, Jack led us to our boat and we were whisked away into the middle of the bay.
It was really cloudy and foggy when we were there resulting in poor visibility ahead. However, this makes everything that much more amazing because the stones would suddenly appear on the side of the boat, with all its glory and majesty. It felt like that scene in Avatar when Jake and his crew went through the Hallelujah Mountains.
We were taken to the middle of the bay where the residents live and were shown the mini floating market where we can buy cuttlefish, squid, or fish to be prepared for lunch (if you so wish).
By the way, lunch is included in the price we paid and it was delicious! This was one of the only two times we didn’t have noodle soup when we were in Hanoi.
After lunch, we were given the option of kayaking or hopping on one of the smaller boats to explore the smaller inlets of the bay.
To end the day, we went through a cave to see the many different rock formations (this was also where Jack famously said: “it’s the one-woman-breast formation, do you see it? *started to trace an outline*). Unfortunately, none of us captured that, so I can’t share it with you guys.
I can’t remember the drive back very much, mainly because I fell asleep as soon as we got back on the van and slept for a good 2/3 of the journey home. As exhausting as it was, it was more than enough to provide a much-needed escape from hectic Hanoi.