Alarms on 3 devices helped the traveller awake from his slumber. A long day trip to Ha Long Bay awaits. The weather is dull, but spirits are bright.
Our tour guide picks us up at 7:45am from the hotel (prior to this, there was much mental deliberation whether passports are required to be taken or not…. Incidentally they were not needed but still taken along, unceremoniously wrapped in plastic covers, much to their chagrin…)
The pickup for all passengers takes about an hour. It is a diverse group of people from Colombia, China, The Philippines, Scotland, Canada and India. “Welcome to the United Nations”, our tour guide jokes.
We start our journey to the harbour from where we will embark on our Ha Long Bay cruise. The harbour is 150 km from Hanoi city and the journey takes about 3 to 4 hours due to a rather narrow highway with heavy motorcycle traffic.
The traveller listens keenly as our tour guide provides some interesting facts. “Ha Long” means “Descending Dragons”, believed by the local peoples to be protectors coming from the sky. The bay has 1,969 islands and was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1994.
After the war ended, Vietnam was a communist state closed off from the world, similar to North Korea today. In 1994, while still maintaining a communist form of government, the country opened itself to global trade and commerce (following the model of China). This brought economic growth and a boom in tourism.
Reaching the harbour around 1pm, we board the ferry to Ha Long Bay.
On board a delicious spread of local cuisine awaits the traveller. He tucks in, but not too much… Never know when the weather gets choppy.
Soon the numerous islands and rock formations that dot the bay are in view.
We hop off the ferry onto a floating market and catch a boat that will take us closer to the islands, through caves in the rock formations. For the adventurous, kayaks are also available.
After a half hour ride we board our ferry again. Next stop is Động Thiên Cung, limestone caves with interesting stalactite and stalagmite formations. The caves are at an elevation, accessible by stairs cut along the side of a rock formation. If one lets the imagination run wild, the limestone formations turn into elephants, turtles and alligators. The traveller sees Old Kings from Middle Earth and creatures from the Alien franchise.
It’s time to head back to the ferry to enjoy some tea and start our return journey to the mainland. It is nearly dark when we reach the harbour and hop onto the van that will take us back to our hotels. It is a three and a half journey back to Hanoi, with one rest stop.
The day ends at a restaurant close to the hotel where the traveller enjoys some Bo Luc Lac, or “shaking” beef, a popular Vietnamese dish, accompanied by a local beer. After a long 14 hour day, it’s time to say good night. But not before some dramatic moments where a certain travel companion, having downed a bit too much wine, locks up the hotel room safe and forgets the combination.
Pictures taken with my Apple iPhone SE