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A load of old junk in Halong Bay

posted May 16, 2014, 12:56 AM by Long Quoc Tran   [ updated Dec 8, 2014, 6:38 PM by Tran Quoc Long ]
Halong bay - one of the big hitters for any Vietnam travel itinerary but could it really live up to the hype? Or would the thousands and thousands of tourists have taken their toll on the magical bay? We had heard the good, the bad and the downright ugly – from a majestic paradise to a litter-ridden congested highway for worn out karaoke boats filled to the brim with screaming tourists!

 Would Halong Bay live up to our expectations?

John and I definitely wanted to check it out for ourselves but we wanted to make sure that our experience didn’t involve bad karaoke – just to be clear though, we love karaoke but there is a time and a place. We wanted to find a company that had a different route to most and would therefore let us explore the gorgeous karsts and caves without too many others. After some research online we decided – 3 days 2 nights on the Dragon’s Pearl, a gorgeous old Chinese junk boat, which promised to deliver a ‘road less travelled’ route. A little out of our backpacking budget but this was our last splurge in SE Asia and we reckon you get what you pay for…or we hoped so anyway!

To avoid any confusion our boat wasn’t a piece of junk – it’s just the old name for the traditional boat from this area. But when you see some of the wrecks sailing around Halong Bay it can definitely be used both ways!

Dragon's Pearl

After a 4 hour journey from Hanoi we arrived at the jetty to be ferried out to our junk – we were instantly disappointed to see most of the boats anchored in the bay had been painted white. We were expecting a mysterious and ancient pirate ship not a plastic fantastic wannabe eyesore! Okay that is probably a tad harsh but you get the point - we don’t like the white paint! We later learnt this was a decision taken by the Halong Bay tourism department. Who thinks the Director of Tourism probably has shares in a paint factory??? We do!

Stressful at sea

Once on board our junk was amazing, gorgeous interiors, relaxing sundecks and the cabins were perfect. It definitely exceeded our expectations and we couldn’t wait to get underway. We set off whilst munching on our first of many lovely meals and as our lovely tour guide Ha explained the activities over the next few days – lots of kayaking, relaxing and swimming.

The first few hours were spectacular, the scenery really is breathtaking and the mist made it even more magical and mysterious. We anchored up in a gorgeous quiet spot as Ha told us to get ready for kayaking, it was pretty cold so after getting on our coats we jumped in to our two man kayak and set off to explore some of the caves and fishing villages. It was great fun and there was a brilliant bunch of people – a hilarious Iranian/ American couple and a Kiwi couple – and amazingly we still hadn’t seen another boat. Who said Halong Bay was congested?!

Guess who did most of the paddling?

After around 2 hours kayaking it was back to the boat to chill out before dinner. Dinner was another spectacular feast of seafood, some of which we have no idea what it was but it tasted good! All washed down with yummy wine – happy days!

Next on the cards was squid fishing…bamboo stick, a length of string and a light bulb is all you need! Inevitably this turned out to be a battle between nations – the Kiwi’s vs the Scots vs the Yanks. Things got pretty intense and after a hard fought battle it was

Yanks - 2 (Also known as Indian squid whisperers)
Scots - 1 (It was a giant squid though – we tried to argue victory)
Kiwis - 0 (no pity, they have rugby!)

It was a great end to a perfect day.

Day two was an early start with breakfast at 8:30am, a feast of Pho Ga, eggs and toast whilst we cruised to visit one of the few permanent floating fishing villages in Halong Bay. Once we arrived we were greeted by lots of lovely ladies in rowing boats waiting to take us on a tour of the village. These places are incredible – a group of around 20 houses all floating on pontoons where generation after generation of families live for their entire lives raising children, going to school and making a living from the sea without setting a foot on dry land except to get supplies of water, vegetables and clothing. We were welcomed so warmly by the village elder who served us green tea as he explained to us what life was like here and their efforts to keep Halong Bay clean in their very own water world. The little children were adorable too and it was a privilege to visit such an amazing place.

One of the amazing floating houses

They put our rowing to shame!

After lunch it was kayaking time again – this time it was to one of the gorgeous beaches where the junk would come to meet us. This was also where we would have our evening meal…it a candlelit cave! After around 1 hour kayaking we got to the beach as the sun was beginning to set – a gorgeous little patch of white sand. After chilling for a short time we decided we would brave the cold water and swim back to the boat around 30m out. Jesus it was cold – we had to run straight in before we chickened out but we quickly got used to it. It was then a race to the hot shower, but not before jumping in from the top of the boat!

Sunset on our final kayak

At around 7pm in the pitch black we all jumped in the little tender boat for our cave dinner. John and I were excited but weren’t expecting much, just a BBQ in a cave with a few candles. We were wrong, it was magical. As we squeezed through the tight entrance we were greeted with a walk way of tea light candles all the way in to the cave which opened up in to a gorgeous space of golden stalactites covered in candles and was quite possibly one of the most stunning settings for dinner I had ever seen! The evening was brilliant - good food, music and chat in such a romantic setting!

Our last day had arrived we were served a delicious breakfast once again as we cruised back through the stunning scenery. We packed up and relaxed on deck taking the last photos of gorgeous Halong Bay.

We would definitely recommend anyone heading to Vietnam to check out Halong Bay, but choose your boat and itinerary wisely. Research online, read reviews and make sure the company is reliable. There is a cruise for everyone, if you want a relaxed few days then book the Dragon’s Pearl or if you want more of a party boat then head to the Hanoi Backpackers on Ma May Street to book.

We found the articles at Travelfish really useful during our.

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   Our romantic cave dinner