An archipelago of about 2000 islands, almost uninhabited, in lagoon seawater, still and silent. The vegetation is a very strong presence all over.
Halong Bay is UNESCO world heritage and we’re not surprised, the landscape is breathtaking.
Our trip to Halong Bay starts at 7.30 when the driver comes to pick us up at our hotel in Hanoi (we wrote about our experience in the capital of Vietnam in a previous post here)
The journey is about four and a half hours including a stop in a touristic area where the only decent thing is coffee.
The trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay is our proper first contact with the Vietnamese countryside, super green rice fields, streets full of stores and stalls, colonial houses, graveyards and tombstones weirdly arranged without an apparent real reason and great mountains for background.
Feeling the jet leg and tired from the long journey, finally we start seeing the Halong Bay islands (well, Fabio was asleep…why am I speaking in plural??) crossing a bridge we arrive on Tuan Chan island (the island is a big building site, in a few years it will be packed with resorts and tourists, we’re very happy to be there before all of that). All the boats to Halong Bay depart from the pier here.
Finally, we board and we depart.
We choose Pelican Cruise for our 2 days and 1-night cruise (in reality is 24 hours), we’ve been offered a welcome drink and after 15 minutes the buffet lunch. For all meals (except breakfast) drinks are not included in the price (not even water, crazy!!). In a couple of hours, we reach Ti Top island.
Unfortunately, the island is crowded, the beach that supposed to be beautiful is full of people. The only possible activity is to climb up to the mountain top to check the landscape, and again the climb is a long queue. We manage to reach the top and the view is awesome, although what was supposed to be a quiet and relaxing paradise is a noisy and very touristic spot.
Back on the boat, we decide that our next excursion will be the pearl farm, we can go kayaking pretty much everywhere else.
The pearl farm is interesting, but we think that the stop is long enough to carry on both activities and this looks like another touristic shop.
Back on the boat, happy hour and spring rolls class, in this case, a recipe typical of the north of Vietnam (we’ve learned that there are several types of spring rolls).
After dinner, a shower and very tired we go to bed.
We’ve wakened up in the middle of the night by a storm, a bit concerned (we are in the middle of the ocean) I open the curtain and we see a proper thunderstorm, but the sea is completely flat, just strong currents, although is full of rubbish.
We went back to bed deciding to jump the tai chi lesson at sunrise, after breakfast, we went to visit the Sung Sot Cave, less touristic than the island visited the day before, but the guide is not fantastic. The most interesting information regarding how the cave has been created is not his main goal, he’s only indicating weird rocks shaped like a loving couple, a rooster, a dragon, but even with a lot of creativity is not very easy to “see” those…a bit boring to be honest.
Check out from the cabin, brunch while cruising back to the main pier.
Our minibus arrives at 11.50 at the pier and we reach Hanoi after the usual 4 hours driving and the stop at the usual touristic spot.
Advice n.1: when you’re booking the Halong Bay Cruise, because is a must-do, as the place is stunning, try to select the cruise company that will bring you to the less touristic areas, north or south. This has been our itinerary.
Advice n.2: after our experience we’d amend our itinerary and from Halong Bay we suggest to go straight to Nin Bin (our next stop), the journey is slightly longer, but you can save a (maybe waisted) day in Hanoi, we spent that day trying different craft beers (the full post on Hanoi craft beers here).