If you are visiting Hanoi, make sure you allocate at least ONE FULL DAY to explore beautiful Ha Long Bay. Some people may opt to take a cruise and stay overnight aboard the Ha Long Bay cruises, but if time does not permit, just book a one-day tour to Ha Long bay. I booked my Ha Long bay package via Hanoi Street Food Tours also, for about USD35.
The trip by bus from Hanoi early in the morning to Ha Long Bay jetty takes about 3.5 to 4 hours, so give or take about 3-4 hours on the boat to Ha Long Bay, you should just about reach Hanoi again around 8.30pm to 9pm that same day.
At around 8.30am on Day 2, the tour bus came along quite punctually and picked me up from the designated pick-up point. I was apparently the last passenger of the day inside the bus filled with tourists of all sorts of nationalities – Japanese, Australian, French, etc.
The bus ride wasn’t entirely comfortable. The seats felt cramped and cannot be reclined. Anyway, I guess these are just some small, little things to suffer in anticipation of experiencing Ha Long Bay soon!!
…and finally we arrive at the wharf…
…and I got my TICKET!!!
After locating our boat, lunch was served as the boat quietly left the pier. Lunch was not at all fantastic, which was quite OK since it was going to be a boat ride. Even the prawns looked rather raw…
Everything served for lunch was included in the package, except for drinks, so some crew did go around selling marked-up prices of bia hoi and other drinks. Tip: Do bring your own water when you travel to Ha Long Bay!
The immediate thing that struck me as the boat ventured further and further away from the pier was how QUIET it suddenly became. I mean, I must have been growing too accustomed to the blaring of horns in Hanoi that the quietness was such a welcome ‘sound’!
After lunch, everyone raced to the upper deck to get a better view of the sea and also to get fresh sea breeze brushing against our faces…:-D
After about what seemed like half an hour, we entered the bay and docked at Thien Cung Caves (Heavenly Palace Caves) where we explored and marveled at the natural limestone formations all around the cave ….
Just a warning that as soon as you enter these caves, be prepared to listen to incredible and imaginative stories and images of what you can SEE from these limestones from your tour guide! In some ways, it was great to listen to these narratives too because there is just so much you can see when it comes to rocks and stones, right? 😛
Outside the caves, you will get quite a good view of the bay itself….
We were soon on our way back to the wharf…
…but along the way, this was the time where we were all treated to some magnificent sights of rocks around the bay. Many of these rocks have been given names like chicken head or dog or whatever, but I shall just leave it to your own imagination. 😛
Hmmm…I kept asking myself that this particular rock looks awfully familiar….and many hours later, I saw it again…
Halfway back to shore, an announcement came that since we had a little more time that day, the boat will make a short detour to a nearby ‘floating village’ where we would get the chance to go kayaking or take a bamboo boat ride to explore other areas of the bay.
When we got there, we didn’t see any kayaks in service at all. So some of us decided to go for a ride in a bamboo boat. Price was VND130K per person, which was quite reasonable, I felt, considering the tough life these villagers are living.
One of the highlights of the bamboo boat ride was going under these ‘mini caves’ to another part of the bay, which was simply breathtaking…
After the brief detour, we got back onto our boat and headed back towards the shore. Along the way back, we were treated again to more majestic views of rock structures and everything else we can imagine them to be! :-p
On the way back to Hanoi, the bus will most definitely make a brief stop at some souvenier shop. Ours made a stop at this place simply called ABC. Seriously!
From the number of buses stopping there, I guess it could be the only, or if not one of the more popular halfway stops to Ha Long Bay. Anyway, if you do happen to stop here, remember to check out a small section in the souvenier shop where there are some locals working on silk paintings. So far, I haven’t seen any of such paintings in Hanoi itself, so I thought this was pretty cool. 😀
By the time I reached Hanoi, it was already late, and I felt a bad pain on my back sitting upright during the entire journey. But considering the beauty of Ha Long Bay that I just experienced? It was all worth it! 😀