At 8.45am the tour company for the trip and boat to Halong Bay picked us up. We were the first ones so got the best seats and then proceeded to pick up the rest of the people. The distance to Halong from Hanoi is only about 160km but it takes about 4 hours. This was slow as and seemed to be everyone complaint but I finally noticed on the return trip, a road sign which showed how fast cars, minivans, trucks and buses are aloud to go. It was 70k per hour for our van which explained the nanna driving.
When we arrived at the port we were wisked to a section of the carpark amongst hundreds of other tourists and our guide met us and took us to the transfer boat. His name was Thai and the kids took a liking to him because of his humour. He told us that our boat was a special boat and that only our family and another couple were the guests. Sweet!!!. We boarded the boat called Huong Hai, that would be or stay for the next 2 days and nights and were greeted with icy cool flannels and orange juice. The junk styled boat looked really cool and we certainly felt hoity toity. All Tane could talk about was jumping off the top level into the water….he was pumped for it and I have noticed on this holiday that he has a definite adrenaline rush thing going on. The couple arrived 5 minutes after us and we introduced ourselves. We would come to know Ricardo and Dora ,from Portugal, well over the next two days and have become friends whom we will keep in touch with.
Oops sorry but I forgot to mention the agenda. The first day or actually half day would involve a sumptous lunch and then sailing off to the location of these huge and amazing caves. Then we were to go around to a part of the bay where we would anchor for the remainder of the night and enjoy swimming, a beautiful dinner and rest. The next day would involve kayaking more swimming more food and more of the rest and relaxing as the day before. Don’t get us wrong we loved every bit of it and felt like rock stars but we probably only needed one day and night out on the boat. The reason we, and the couple felt this way ,we think , was because the fact that the boat was not full, the crew did what ever they could to conserve diesel or made excuses as to why we did not go as far away as we thought we would. I am not trying to be critical or anything here because at the end of the day we were at the famous Halong Bay where the scenery was spectacular and I really was enjoying every moment of it. As a good friend of Maureen’s once told her, life is not a dress rehersal. However in saying that the crew probably (definitely) did not provide as good a quality service, of which we paid for, as they could have.
Anyway enough ranting. The lunch as I mentioned was 8 courses!!! Then we really enjoyed the cave. It was on a massive scale and not what we were expecting at all. Very impressive. Then once we sailed further around to a secluded bay where most of the boats anchor, it was time for a much needed swim. As you probably have deduced, Vietnam is bloody hot at this time so we were all fanging for the swim.
We started off jumping from the first level which was refreshing. Tane was ready for the next level and the smile and look of excitement on his face makes a special ‘dad moment’. Ella was content to just jump off the bottom rung with her float vest and just keep close to mum in the water. Ricardo was the first to jump from the top level and for Tane and I, that was the queue to move on up. Tane asked me to go first and I gotta say, I was nervous but jumped anyway. YEE-FFIINN-HAA. It ‘rocked’!! I had butterfles in my stomach as I was falling, for what seemed an eternity, and then splash into the warm water at the top, cooler water a little further down and then warm water again on the surface. I looked up as Tane jumped and could see the joy in his face and then when he surfaced he laughed and loved it. Over the next two days we were to discover that Ella was getting confident at it as well and would eventually move from the ladder to the first level and then to the 2nd level which was great to see her having a ball as well. After swimming we prepared for dinner. The cabin was cosy but the crew were unaware of our instructions to the original tour operator that organised this way back in Nha Trang that we needed more than two single beds to sleep the four of us. In the end we ended up getting two cabins which was nice of them but was not exactly romantic because we had to have it set up as one parent and one child per room. Dinner was another huge feast of seafood and then after that we tried a bit of squid fishing off the front of the boat. Tane was the only successfull fisherman but I have to say that when he felt the line tug he pretty much threw it at me and ducked behind somewhere safe until I had it dangling in the air until the ink was gone. Then he came out chest thumping and boasting. A true fisherman. We then retired to our cabins for the night as we were pretty buggered by then.
The next day started off with breakfast and then kayaking to some ‘secluded’ cave and bays. This was struggle for us as the tidal current was coming in and Maureen and I were digging in (we had our own kayaks with each child in it) to get us to the hidden bay where the water was calmer. The island was calm and peaceful and as you say…”Hows the serenity aye!” We were pretty much knackered after that. Infact although the kids were not paddling, Ella was feeling for Mum and so she stated that she was tired and would close her eyes and rest while mum burst a foofoo valve trying to get to calmer waters with no current.
Next it was swimming and lunch and that was pretty much it for the remainder of the trip. Island hopping, eating, swimming and island hopping back and forth over the same locations which was our one complaint. We felt special and wanted to do something different from the other fifty junkets sailing and anchoring around the exact same locations as us. Now that would have been ‘special’.
The next and final morning was an early breakfast and a very very slow ride back to Halong city which was never more than a few kilometers away and always in our line if sight. Maureen called the return ride back a holding pattern just like a plane waiting to land in a busy airport. After our farewells to Ricardo and Dora ,whom funnily enough we kept running into on our drive back to Hanoi, we docked and waited for the van to arrive. The heat was incredible and the wait felt like ages and to top it off there was the slow drive back.
When we arrived into Hanoi we had about three to four hours up or sleeve before the overnight train to Sapa which meant no lodging to stay at for that period of time in stifling heat. This was taking its toll and we were all pretty cranky by then but we found a restaurant called Madame Hien to calm down , get a bite to eat and a bit of a rest before the wait at the train station. This retaurant is pretty flash by our standards and a family of four with back packs, singlets and thongs definitely looked out of place with the business crowd where deals are made but hey stuff em I say.
We then made our way to the train station and prepared for our final leg of Vietnam, the journey to Sapa. Halong Bay….. was scenic, beautiful and lots of fun and we still enjoyed every moment like I said and, as in life, you take the good with the bad and the bad at Halong was not that bad.