Halong in Hanoi?

I woke early to grey skies and with our bus still beyond the outskirts of Hanoi. By the time we’d reached the city proper, everyone was well and truly awake and trying to stretch a few kinks out of the body by what can only be described as a pretty rough sleep (my bus bed had a big hole of foam missing from its cushion).

Taking a bit of initiative, I thought I’d open the cargo hold of the bus and start retrieving our bags, but before I could even begin to search for our belongings, out fell a swarm of crabs! In true Vietnamese form,  somebody had brought a cargo of live crabs along for the ride and they’d gotten loose somewhere along the way.

Thankfully for us, they don’t appear to have made it to our bags, although the owner will have lost a few that got away when the hold was opened!

Fending off a few overzealous taxi drivers whilst we gathered our thoughts, we decided to share a cab into the old quarter with Meagan and Steve. The backpackers hub of Hanoi, we’d figured it would give us the best chance to try and book ourselves a trip to Halong Bay that very same day.

Another early riser in the Old Quarter

Another early riser in the Old Quarter

We said our goodbyes to Meagan and Steve and set ourselves the tasking of getting to Halong Bay that same day. It was to prove a difficult task. With the hour still so early, very little was open, and despite scouring several streets, the only place that was open and able to get us on our way was the Hanoi City Backpackers.

Despite us being elder statesman on this trip that was full of mainly young guys and girls, we thought we could suck it up. How bad could it be, really?

Yet another one of Vietnam’s many UNESCO world heritage sites, this beautiful bay surrounded by towering karst mountains and islets (around 2000 of them) is one of the countries biggest tourist drawcards.

Ours was an overnight trip which would be spent on the water. The day remained overcast, so we weren’t able to see it in sun-drenched glory, but it was nevertheless spectacular.

Cruising into the bay

Cruising into the bay

When we eventually dropped anchor, it was time for a swim where a few of the brave took leaps from the upper deck of the boat. I on the other hand, was more than content to jump in just above the waterline. Whilst it felt nice and refreshing, the water quality is very questionable as the amount of human and boat traffic certainly leave plenty of signs of their passage.

From there we hit the kayaks which wouldn’t come without some drama. With a couple of cold ones nursed between my legs for the possibly long paddle to come, we set off, our destination a natural cave on one of the islets, before finishing up at a floating fishing village.

A little freshening up in the bay

A little freshening up in the bay

A quick kayak count after we’d finished our exploration of the cave (by this time it was well into the evening and the sky was darkening) revealed that one was missing. Well to be precise, both the kayak and its occupants was missing.

What you’d think would be met with some serious concern, but for a token paddle around a recently passed corner of the bay, very little effort was placed on finding them. After a beer at the floating village, we were returned to our boat where fortunately the missing kayak was revealed, along with its occupants who had given up early in the paddle and returned to the mother vessel.

After what was a surprisingly tasty and voluminous meal, the backpacker side of the trip kicked in, and 2 groups were selected for round after round of drinking games.

Sarah quickly opted out, but I had a crack at keeping up with these young charges for a little (well, a lot) longer and the only conclusion that can be reached is that by the time I crawled in to bed, I was well and truly plastered!

Waking the next morning (well, the same morning) it was still overcast, but there was also a lot of mist which added a bit more a mystical feel to our surrounds. Not that I would really notice, the reality was, I was very likely still drunk. Joining Sarah on the top deck after I’d showered, I did however I’d assured her that I’d packed up all of our belongings from our room.

A misty morn...

A misty morn…

Sadly there is little else to tell of our visit to Halong Bay. The Hanoi Backpacker’s trip essentially neglects you if you’re not sticking around for a 2nd night, with nothing organised for those returning to Hanoi, but the bus.

We did get plenty of time to chat with a couple of Welsh guys on a travel odyssey of their own, Jason and Peter. If you ever get to Melbourne we said, feel free to look us up.

Back in Hanoi where we had a night before our train to Sapa the following evening we were getting ready for bed when Sarah asked “Where are the toothbrushes and toothpaste?”

It turns out I hadn’t packed everything back on the boat…

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