Cruising Halong Bay On A Junk Boat

Earlier this week I blogged about Halong Bay In Photos, today I bring you a run down of our time on a junk boat in this beautiful bay.

Our junk cruise boatWhen I dreamt of Halong Bay, I imagined the brown boats with beautiful sails instead the bay was full of white boats which have restrictions on when they can put up their sails. This is all due to Quang Ninh Department of Transport bringing out new rules for this popular tourist destination. I read several reasons for this from a boat sinking in the night and because it was brown it wasn’t so visible to creating a new image to the newly international recognised tourist destination. Whatever the reason it wasn’t popular with the locals or the people visiting – this happened back in May 2012 yet people on our trip (over a year laster) were complaining that the boats were white not brown. 

Booking The Trip

When we arrived in Hanoi we had nothing booked for Halong Bay and my organised self was freaking out! We checked in to our hotel the Bluebell and after sorting ourselves out they told us all about the trips they can book for us. Having read a lot of horror stories on the internet about people getting scammed with booking this trip I was very sceptical. I sat in a café researching and debating and getting stressed – in the end I was no closer to an answer. Eventually we decided to book one of the trips purely because we didn’t want to spend the rest of the day wandering around Hanoi trying to find somewhere to book a trip that wasn’t going to scam us.

 Off To Halong Bay

The next morning we woke early to get breakfast and check out of the hotel before being picked up by our tour. The hotel stored our big rucksacks so it was one less thing to carry around or worry about. We jumped on the bus to be greeted by some unhappy people – the bus was ‘Asian sized’ and lacked any kind of leg space for any one taller than me and I’m not very tall.

The bus ride to the harbour was long and bumpy but by this point I had gotten very good a sleeping on any kind of bus to avoid feeling too sick from the driving. We were led by our guide to the tender boat and as I walked along I could help but notice we were heading for one of the smaller, older looking boats. We were all bundled on to this tiny boat with everyone’s luggage around us. We all popped on our lifejackets and headed out to our big boat. I have to say from here it was all up hill.

Surprising CavesSurprising Caves and Kayaking

We had a welcome drink and chat before being shown to our rooms – there was a little confusion when we were shown to a twin room despite booking a double but they quickly changed the bed for us. The room was beautiful, a huge window and lovely bathroom. The rest of the day was spent eating gorgeous food, staring out the window, chilling on the deck when the sun came out and getting to know our fellow travellers. We had two activities for the afternoon: a visit to the surprising caves and a chance to go kayaking. The surprising caves involved a lot of talking which I found hard to listen too, my lack of concentration and our guides broken English were a bad mix for me! I was much more interested in taking pretty photos. The kayaking was so much fun – we were warned about fines if we broke or lost anything – other than that it was relaxing to just paddle around at our own pace and explore a little on our own. I did notice that the water was full of litter around the floating village where we had gotten the kayak from. The litter became a running theme around these villages – it was like they didn’t care about the place they live in.

Our room on the Halong Bay Junk CruiseWe then went back to our big boat and sailed to our spot for the night, we had a ‘sunset party’ on the top deck but unfortunately the sky was full of cloud. Still we had a glass of wine and some fruit. The dinner was extremely delicious and then the night was started with karaoke – that never stopped. We escaped to the top deck along with many others to avoid being dragged up for some singing.

Off To Cat Ba

The next day, after breakfast we were transferred to another boat because we were doing a two night trip – our second night would be spent in bungalows on a little island.  We sailed through more and more casts as we made our way to our home for the second night. I was so glad we had opted for two nights as we saw so much more of Halong Bay on the second day. Again the food we had was brilliant and we had several choices for the afternoon. We chose to go cycling on Cat Ba, the biggest island in the whole of Halong Bay – the sun came out and we had a lovely bike ride to the Viet Hai village and back. The trip also meant we got to see even more of Halong Bay instead of staying on the tiny island with very little to do for the whole day.

Kayaking in Halong bayTo add to our jam packed day we jumped in some kayaks the minute we got back and paddled off to try and catch the sun which was quickly setting on the breath-taking landscape. The Bungalow we stayed in that night was basic but lovely, with the sea lapping just outside and amazing views of the stars it seemed a perfect place to be.

Bungalow on Nam Cat IslandThe Final Day

The following morning when we woke I felt very sad it was our final day in Halong Bay. We were treated to yet another lovely meal before being picked up for the ride back to our big boat. The weather was awful today and I felt so lucky to have had a sunny day yesterday. We visited during rainy season so the weather was unpredictable and wet throughout most of our time in Hanoi but thankfully the coast didn’t suffer as bad. Still the views were clouded and visibility much lower as we made our way back to the harbour. We spent the time – once back on the main boat – having a cooking lesson on spring rolls and enjoying the company of our new found friends.

Leaving Halong Bay was certainly the low point of the trip and I wondered why on earth I had stressed and panicked so much the day before! Our trip was truly amazing and the only thing I would have changed would be to have spent longer; to have had a night on Cat Ba Island too would have been ideal.

 window view halong bayHalong Bay was one of my highlights of 2013 and if you haven’t managed to get to this amazing destination yet then I urge you to head there and the whole of Vietnam on your next trip – it really is an amazing country and a real wonder of the world. signature

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