Vietnam, Halong Bay
Since our time is limited we decided on an overnight cruise in Halong Bay to make the most of it ($375 for the family cabin, 2D/1N with Alova Tours booked via the hotel). Glad we did as the journey from Hanoi to Halong City is a butt busting 3.5 hour bus ride on a road that redefines disrepair. A pit stop half way at a typical tourist trap selling tacky souvenirs and overpriced artwork and crafts was little rest bite. Never again will I gripe about driving in Thailand – Vietnamese drivers are total utter lunatics that believe they can drive how they like with total disregard to all the others doing the same providing their hand is permanently on the horn.
As expected the pier was a fracas of tourists and vendors but what struck me the most was the sheer number of tour boats – at least 200 – moored up in the bay at Halong City. Safety is taken very seriously here and everything is highly regulated with all the boats painted white by government order, crisply uniformed ticket inspectors, enforced life jacket wearing, and passport presentation on embarkation.
Regs and roads aside it was time to get out onto the ocean and into the famed bay with its 1900+ islands and limestone karsts. The only disappointment for me was the lack of a blue sky as photos without one are just not the same, that said the scenery was out of this world and unlike any place I have ever seen, it has a kind of ephemeral timeless beauty. Sea eagles would soar above us as we cruised the islets and our vessel, speed also regulated, meandered its way around them in a kind of slow motion boat race with all the others that left the pier today.
The Halong Bay World Heritage Zone in the Gulf of Tonkin actually covers a huge area but to minimize the impact of tourism the government has restricted the places boats can go and moor up for the night and swimming was only allowed from one small beach … with about 300 other tourists. The downside to this is each place you visit is very crowded.
Kayaking, island trekking, fishing and caving was also included on the tour but my words won’t do it justice so I’ll let the pictures do the talking …