After arriving in Hanoi at 6am from the Sleeper bus we were already on our way to Ha Long bay on a very comfortable tour bus by 8:30am. Our tour to Ha Long bay was great fun, on the way we easily struck up conversations with every one on the Bus. Offering advice to an old Irish couple who had just arrived in Vietnam, and swapping travelling stories with an English girl we had seen the day before in Hue. There was a French couple a German couple, an Aussie couple from a country town in Gippsland (who study in Melbourne) and another Aussie girl and Kiwi girl who had some great stories.
By the time we arrived at the boat and sat down to eat a banquet on the boat everyone felt comfortable like sitting down for a family dinner. The boat was really luxurious with three decks, a bar and restaurant and cabins to sleep about 12 or so people, all decked out in ornate dark wood. As we had booked last minute there was no room for us to sleep on the boat, so we were spending two nights on the island. The island was a private island with a small bar and restaurant and about 12 bungalows set in between the cliffs and the beach, while it would have been nice to stay on the boat, we were pretty happy with the island.
For our lunch on the boat we were served a feast of Crabs, Prawns, Calamari, Fish and numerous other culinary delights. The old Irish couple had been told by their travel doctor not to eat Shellfish in Asia and as they were going to Australia after Vietnam they were more than happy to just eat beef and chicken. So we were more than happy to make sure the surplus Crabs and Prawns didn‘t go to waste. The only annoyance on the boat was the drink prices were a little high. But complaining that beer is expensive when it is still only $1.50 is a bit pointless.
On the way through Ha Long bay we were flanked on either side by the most amazing cliffs and islands jutting out of the sea. Our guide told us their was 1969 islands in Ha Long bay, but Ha Long bay is just one of three bays covered in thousands of islands and spectacular scenery. Unfortunately for us on our first day there was quite a heavy fog, or maybe sea mist or maybe it was pollution. Either way the entire horizon was shadowed with the hazy silhouettes of the islands. But by the time we were halfway through lunch we were surrounded by magnificent views and it was a dilemma whether to finish eating the amazing food or run outside and take photos from the top deck.
After lunch we stopped in an inlet surrounded by tall islands but protected from the sea. The water was a calm and beautiful crystal clear pale blue. We hopped into to Kayaks and paddled amongst the cliffs and through an open cave to hidden lagoon, spending most of the time just drifting along with our jaws open bewildered by the scenery. Our guide said that each year he only ever sees two or three monkeys. We were lucky enough to spot two monkeys playing in the tree-tops high above.
Around 5pm we had to say goodbye to the other people we had met as they were staying on the boat and we were transferred to the island. Our transfer was another large, beautifully carved wooden boat which we had all to our self, with only the captain and first mate aboard. Prue and I danced around on the top deck as we basically rotated around taking in the 360 degree views for the hour and a half trip to the island. We arrived at the island and found another group already there but the people travelling didn’t really seem as much fun as our group from the boat. So after eating a yummy BBQ and retiring to our cabin we weren’t too upset to wake up the next morning to find everyone had left, and we had the entire place to our self.
Our own private island was actually exactly as nice as it sounds. We spent the day just chilling out, Prue sat in her rocking chair on the balcony and read a book while soaking up the view. I went for a bit of a paddle in the sea kayak, then played a couple of locals at pool while sipping Black Russians. For lunch we got a sea taxi, which was no more than a wooden dingy with an engine and an tarp for a roof, to take us to Cat Ba island.
Then after returning to our private island we were greeted by our group from the boat the previous day. Needless to say we spent the night laughing and drinking and telling stories of our travels on our own private island paradise. Our last day was spent cruising back through the cliffs soaking up the sun on the top deck of the boat, while soaking up the amazing views. The sea mist pollution fog had cleared a lot more and the depth and the sheer size of the islands was incredible and surrounded us in every direction with a magical view.
We arrived back in Hanoi and said goodbye to the Irish couple who were rushed off in a taxi to catch a flight to Hoi An. We made use of the travellers lounge area at the tour office and chilled out on the cushions and Skype’d home, repacked our bags and freshened up. Then we joined the Aussie couple for a quick dinner before another goodbye as they caught the sleeper train south to Hue. Again we had no time to explore Hanoi as by 9pm we were settling into the firm bed of the sleeper train heading north to the mountain village of Sapa…