Monday, March 15, 2010

Ha Long Bay Tour

After eschewing group tours for the first six months of our trip (except for one snorkeling trip in Malaysia) we've now been on two tours in a week in Vietnam. This isn't because our preference for tours has increased - it's because Vietnam is a much more difficult country to navigate on your own. Or at least that's how our stay here has been so far. Even getting information about prices can be difficult. Yesterday, for example we went to the train station to book our train trip south out of Hanoi, and we had to talk to the ticket lady at least four times because every time we asked about a particular train and class of service, it was either full, or not available to "foreigners" or only one seat available, etc. But more on that in a sec.

We spent the last two days on a tour of Ha Long Bay, a huge bay of 1,969 islands (you can remember that number because, as our guide told us, that is the year Ho Chi Minh died). Many of the islands jut up sharply out of the water and combined with the fog, it gave the area a very other-worldly feel; at one point we motored through a swarm of dragon flies and I wondered if this place was inspiration for the movie Avatar (that is, if Avatar took place on water).
Despite the huge number of tour boats, it was an amazingly peaceful tour. All the boats are essentially the same design with very quiet engines that allowed us to move slowly around the bay. We went on the two-day one night tour, as opposed to the two-night, three day options. We also chose the "Good Tour" instead of the "Cheap Tour" and it turned out to be very nice. There were only nine of us on the boat and every room had its own bathroom (including cockroaches!). Our other travelers were three young kids from Sweden, a young British couple and two men from Australia. We also got to go kayaking for a bit, renting kayaks (well, our tour company rented them) from this fishing village that lives out in the bay:
Ha Long Bay is quite the contrast to the hustle and bustle and motorcycles that are everywhere else in Vietnam. Just not having to hear constant horns honking was worth the trip (and possibly a reason to book the longer tour if one is staying in Vietnam longer).

We got back to Hanoi last night and walked over to the train station to see about booking a train south of here. Eventually we booked a ticket to the city of Qui Nhon in South Central Vietnam. It's a 21 hour train ride, which might sound horrific, but the idea of getting on another "sleeper bus" had me itching phantom bug bites just thinking about it. Here's to hoping the train is nicer. We chose that town because one of the Australians recommended it as a relaxing, quiet place.

Take a look at all our pictures from Ha Long Bay. They're mostly gray because that's what the weather was doing the whole time we were there, but we found the area to be very beautiful and well worth the effort of booking the tour.

1 comment:

  1. Cass and I Ha Long Bay, it was our favorite place in Vietnam. It helps that the govt seems to directly control tourism there, because otherwise the place would be overwhelmed pretty quickly. When we visited Hanoi in 2004 we felt like we needed to be there back in the 90s when it was just bicycles, no annoying scooters. Carry on! Chris Jarvis


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