The night train from Lao Cai arrived into Hanoi at about 04:30am. We eventually found our driver and were dropped off at our previous hotel in the old quarter at about 05:00 to wait for the bus to Halong Bay. Unfortunately, they had no rooms available to get a shower in so we just had to sit and wait in the restaurant as there was just a wooden bench in reception! We were supposed to get picked up by bus from the hotel at 07:30 but they eventually sent a car to pick us up at about 09:00 after a couple of calls to our tour guide. We think the cruise company had the wrong hotel name to pick us up from but we made it to the boat just in time. The company was called Paradise Cruises and the Junk boat was really nice and much better than we were expecting. The boat was only about 2/3rds full with about 20 guests onboard. The food on the boat was amazing!
Halong Bay is a Unesco world heritage site and it's easy to see why. The scenery is spectacular and it feels like you could be on another planet as you sail through all the islands covered in mist. It's hard to describe what the place is like but it has a real prehistoric feel to it. There are apparently around 1900 of these limestone islands within the bay which are like giant rocks rising out of the sea. They had a pretty full itinerary of activities to keep us busy during the 3 days on the boat. Starting with Thai Chi classes at 06:30 before breakfast, boat trips to visit some of the caves and small bays and kayaking in the bay. We had a cooking demonstration on the boat to learn how to make Vietnamese spring rolls so I'll be giving them a go when we get home. For dinner in the evening everyone has to dress up in traditional Vietnamese outfits which was a good laugh! We did a bit of fishing off the back of the boat at night and managed to catch a couple of squid which was pretty cool. We visited one of the few remaining fishing villages in the bay which was pretty amazing to see. They basically live full time on the water with the occasional trip to the mainland to pick up supplies. The villagers also sail around the bay in small rowing boats selling supplies and souvenirs to all the cruise ships docked in the bay like mobile shops, which is pretty handy!
We returned to Hanoi by bus after arriving back into Tuan Chau Island. The bus to Hanoi took about 4 hours with a 1/2 hour stop on the way. We spent another night in Hanoi and then had a day of sightseeing visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where the former presidents body still rests (that was a bit weird!), and the Temple of Literature, which was the first university of Vietnam built in the 11th century. We had a bit of time to have a walk around the French Quarter and also managed to catch a performance of the famous Hanoi Water Puppet show which was good fun.
After a day of sightseeing we then had to get another overnight train South to Hue. This was our third overnight train in Vietnam in just over a week and was probably the worst yet. We were sharing with an English couple who now live in Australia who were really nice but the train was pretty grotty and noisy and the bunks were really uncomfortable. We arrived in Hue at about 09:00am feeling pretty tired after about 13 hours on the train and hardly any sleep. We have a couple of days sightseeing in Hue before heading further south to the coastal town of Hoi An for a few days which we are looking forward to.