After a couple of days in the pandemonium of Hanoi, we headed to Halong Bay. We had booked one of the numerous 3 day/2 night tours on offer; ours was with Fantasea Cruises, booked through our hostel Hanoi Brother Inn for $125pp (Oct, 2016).
We were picked up first thing Saturday morning by our friendly tour guide Toan. There was a torrential downpour as we left the hostel, but luckily the rain subsided during the 4 hour bumpy bus ride to the coast. The bus ride itself was something else... It seems overtaking lorries take priority, whilst everyone else is left jumping into the gutter. I wasn't too worried however, I slept the whole way.
We arrived at Halong port around lunch time and were quickly whisked onto our Junk boat. From the outside the name made sense, luckily inside it was three star luxury.
We set sail into a maze of dramatic limestone islets. It was stunning.
Sung Sot Cave
The first beauty spot on the itinerary was Sung Sot (surprise) cave. As we queued up the mountain path to reach the cave, we were both surprised by the number of tourists at this place; overcrowded is an understatement! However, Toan soon distracted us with tales about the stalactite and stalagmite formations, each taking on the shape of a creature or being. You had to have a pretty vivid imagination to appreciate them, apart from the one that included a phallus.
After the cave, we jumped into a kayak and headed out for a paddle around some of the quieter coves. It was pitch black by the time we made it back to our boat; it was quite the adventure!
Ti Top Island
The next day we got up early and headed to Ti Top island. The view from the top was fantastic, but the armada of junk boats in the bay down below signaled only one thing, the tourist hoard was on its way. After a quick dip in the refreshing water, we left Ti Top for Cat Ba island, the largest island in Halong Bay.
Cat Ba Island
When we got to Cat Ba we hopped on a bus and headed straight into the national park. We hiked up a mini-mountain in 33 degree heat and 99% humidity, before heading to our hotel and an afternoon on the beach. In the evening we filled our boots with 90p rounds of Tiger Beer.
On the third and final day Toan taught us how to make spring rolls. Here's my attempt:
All in all, we both enjoyed the trip, although at times it was a bit too busy for our liking, which did taint the beauty of the place. We went for one of the budget options. With some 2000 islets on offer in Halong Bay, perhaps some of the more expensive trips manage to escape the crowds.
A special shout out to our tour guide Toan, an absolute legend who kept us laughing throughout.