Greetings from Hanoi, Vietnam! We arrived four days ago but we promptly left for Halong Bay the next day and have been without an Internet connection ever since. It was great to unplug for a couple of days. We couldn’t have had a lovelier setting than the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay. Halong Bay contains around 1900-2000 limestone karst islets. Formation of these began some 500 million years ago. It is currently home to several endemic flora and fauna species along with about 17000 people living on one populated island and several floating fishing villages.
This was the part of our Vietnam trip that had caused me the most anxiety due to the reports of tourist scams, underhanded tricks of cruise ship tour companies and the polluted environment of the bay. I’m happy to report that our experience was quite positive but I think it was simply luck of the draw and not as a result of my thorough research and planning.
Our cruise ship tour company picked us up from our hotel in a very nice air-conditioned bus. This was a relief as I had read reports of poor bus conditions. The bus was already quite full when we got on board but it still made a few more stops before heading at a crawl (due to the Hanoi traffic and mediocre road conditions) for our 3+hour ride to the Halong City Harbour. During the bus ride our amiable tour guide hinted that there was some good news and bad news that involved a change in the boat that we would be boarding. My anxiety instantly went up as I had read of tour companies switching boats on you or selling your tour to other cruise ship companies. My anxiety continued until we were on board and given a key to our room. It was lovely. It turns out that we were “upgraded” to the best and newest boat in the fleet owned by the tour company we had booked with. Completely luck of the draw. You think that our tour guide might have mentioned this to us when he first brought up the good news and bad news though. I think part of him was having some fun with the tourists.
As if providing us with a spectacular view wasn’t enough, there were delicious meals and several activities scheduled for our time on the boat. One of them was a visit to Surprising Cave. Many of the limestone karsts and islets contain caves and lakes.
It’s interesting that the bay is not only a tourist destination but it also serves to sustain the community in and around the bay. One of the activities was a visit to a pearl farm where they use three different types of oysters to produce three different kinds of pearls.
Along with the pearl farm, the bay sustains the livelihood of many fishermen and their families.
We had booked a two night package where we would spend one night on the boat and one night in a bungalow on a private island. I had read reviews about how rustic these bungalows were. No big deal. We are campers. Turns out we were camping like castaways.
It was an amazing memorable couple of days in Halong Bay. Another day in Hanoi and then off we go to the Northern mountainous region of Vietnam and the frontier town of Sapa.