So, another early (ish) start today (it's amazing how easy early starts have been whilst we've been away- that's what happens when you are having an early start for an adventure and not work!!!) up and ready for the much anticipated trip to Halong Bay. We awoke to find that the heavens had opened over night and it was pouring with rain…. Whilst standing on the front steps of the hostel contemplating if we could be bothered to head out into the rain to find somewhere for breakfast before the bus picked us up, our friendly hostel owner Mike asked us if we had had breakfast yet, we said no, we were just debating what to do and he looked at us quizzically and said "did you not no there's free breakfast on the roof"!!! We didn't need telling twice, we climbed (the very steep!) stairs to the roof and devoured breakfast in record time!
The bus picked us up but when we got on, we saw there was only 1 seat left- until someone folded down a flimsy seat next to it… not the most comfortable of seats it has to be said so we swapped half way through the 3 hour journey. We had a great guide called Thu who told us lots of information about Hanoi on our way out of the city as we passed landmarks.
We arrived at the Tourist Port in Halong Bay and the 20 or so of us on our bus hopped onto a small motorboat which was to take us out to our home for the next few days. Thankfully, the rain that we had left in Hanoi hadn't followed us to Halong Bay and although it was quite hazy across the water, it seemed to be shaping up to be a fairly good day. Arriving at the boat, we were ushered into the dining room and after having a quick look around the boat, we were served a very impressive sea food BBQ lunch. Everytime we thought we'd finished eating, another dish would arrive for the table! All the while we were eating; we were cruising through the beautiful Halong Bay, looking at floating villages in the middle of the water and even a floating school. People really do live their whole lives out there! After lunch we checked into our cabins and then we made our way onto the sundeck to take in our surroundings while we cruised to our first stop - "Sung Sot Cave" or "Cave of Surprises". Whilst we were waiting for the boat to drop anchor in the harbour, some small boats suddenly appeared next to us- ladies selling snacks/ beer/ cigarettes from boats in the middle of Halong Bay. These enterprising Vietnamese don't miss a trick, even in the middle of the sea on a boat you aren't spared "You buy something lady" haha. We then made our way into the cave, up 11 5 steps, but the view both inside and out was well worth the climb. The rock formations inside the cave are absolutely stunning with a whole host of different rock types, surfaces and shapes that have been created by erosion over the years. The cave seemed to go on and on and on and we couldn't get over the sheer size and beauty of it. After clambering up and down some more steps, we were back to our smaller boat to be taken to a pontoon to do some kayaking. We put our life jackets on, picked up a paddle and jumped into the kayak. This is where it became evident that our kayaking skills weren't the greatest, we couldn't even figure out how to move away from the pontoon! After much hilarity and a lot of going round in circles we finally managed to move away from the pontoon and we decided to head towards a cave to have a look. A bit more of going in circles, or the wrong way, followed until we made it to the cave with a bang, a literal bang as we crashed into the rocks. After much giggling and trying to turn around, we continued our kayaking journey around one of the massive rock formations before heading back to the pontoon and our waiting boat.
Back on board our big boat, we showered and changed and headed out onto the deck to take in the evening with a beer in hand (beer that we had brought with us on the advice of our hostel as it was pricey on board the boat, we felt like drug smugglers haha). Whilst getting ready in our room, we had the blind open and I suddenly turned around to see a woman at our window trying to sell us some snacks!!! After yet another huge and sumptuous dinner aboard the boat, we tried our hands at a spot of squid fishing off the back of the boat. Noone managed to catch anything, despite our best efforts!
The next morning, we had set our alarm for 5.45am to see the sunrise in Halong Bay. We opened the blind to find torrential rain, clouds and no such thing as a sunrise so back to sleep it was for us! After breakfast, we disembarked the main boat and got onto a smaller boat which took us on a journey to Cat Ba Island. On the way, we continued to be mesmerized by the beautiful scenery and the peacefulness of being on the water and away from the city. Little fishing posts were dotted along the way, each with a hut where the fishermen (and their dogs) sleep. We witnessed a few dogs swimming from post to post! We got off the boat at part of the National Park on Cat Ba Island and hopped onto bikes for a cycle ride to a small village. The cycle ride was somewhat amusing on bikes with no gears and no brakes…. Lots of uphill struggle and then downhill squealing as we picked up speed with no way of stopping at the bottom and looming cliff edges coming into view!!! A thoroughly enjoyable morning though and perfect way to build up an appetite for another massive meal at lunchtime.
Back onto the boat and we headed to our home for the night, a tiny beach on Cat Ba Island with some lovely little bungalows on stilts over the water. Lunch was indeed yet another feast, again devoured in record time, and after this, we had time to do a little bit of exploring. We paddled out into the water, it was low tide at this point so you could walk for ages into the distance, Lou walked over to another deserted beach and I was busy checking out all of the creatures in the water. We were amazed to see a starfish and then when we looked carefully, we could see they were literally everywhere in the sand around us. We then decided to take out one of the kayaks that were available for us to use and see if we could improve on our kayaking skills from the previous day… I don't think we'll ever be champion kayakers but we did manage to make it over to another beach and around a few rocks safely and (mostly) managed to paddle in a straight line which was a big improvement from the previous day. We paddled until our arms hurt and decided to head back to the pontoon… well we got in the general direction ok but by this point, the tide was turning and we kind of got dragged towards the beach with the tide and couldn't figure out how to get back to the pontoon…. With the help of an English couple (thank goodness they were on the pontoon!!!) we finally made it back onto dry land!
We spent the early part of the evening sitting outside our bungalows and chatting with some new friends, Ricky and Mickey (yes, they are their actual names, we thought they were having us on at first) from Darlington and Woodsy, an Aussie from the Whitsunday's. Ricky and Mickey were hysterical and we literally could've listened to their tales all evening, how they are a) still alive b) still friends and c) can remember all that has happened to them we will never know but they kept us entertained for the evening. Woodsy was also really interesting and we've got his contact details for when we get to Aus. After a lovely evening eating more food (becoming a recurring theme of this trip!) and drinking beer (bought by Woodsy as he felt sorry for us on our backpackers budget and to whom we are very grateful!) we headed to bed in our beautiful little bungalows.
On waking in the morning, it sounded as if we were actually in the sea… it was in fact just because the tide had turned and the water was crashing around on the rocks beneath the bungalow. After breakfast, we were back onto the boat for the cruise back through Halong Bay and then the onward journey to Hanoi. Once we got off the boat at Halong Bay, I was quite determined that we weren't going to suffer the same fate as the previous journey and ensured that we had "good seats" - although in the end I don't think there were good seats on this bus, we spent the journey home bouncing up and down along Vietnam's roads and having a good giggle at the same time. We arrived back in Hanoi, a little whip lashed perhaps, but feeling refreshed and with some amazing memories of beautiful scenery, fab people met and a great time had. I would definitely recommend the trip to everyone and just can't explain in the blog the beauty. Plenty of photos were taken so hopefully soon we'll be able to show you all!