A 4 hour drive east of Hanoi leads you to the bay where you can board a junk boat for a scenic overnight cruise through Halong Bay.
The cruise is the best way to experience the 2000 islands of limestone kirsts which form this unique bay. Finding a cruise is easy since all the companies offer the same deal – food is all inclusive, with a karaoke party at night and a free foot massage (although after 5 mins the masseuse who was also just a man who was working on the boat, was no where to be found). We were given a cabin with our own bathroom and it was surprisingly not too shabby.
our junk boat
Our cruise was made up of mostly backpackers so life on the boat was enjoyable, despite the cloudy skies and chilly evening breeze. The boat also has a rooftop deck and you can also go swimming once the boat stops for the night, but December is also winter in Northern Vietnam so the weather wasn’t very appealing to be outdoors.
The bay is filled with hundreds of junk boats, which means you are never alone and the scenery is a bit spoiled. There are also a few activities the cruise offered. First stop was the Surprise Cave, a gigantic cave located on one of the islands. Next we were able to go kayaking. They give you a kayak and you just go. There are no lessons or instructions. You just have to figure it out and hope you can make it back in 20 minutes.
After a night on the boat we got dropped off at Cat Ba island, the biggest island in Halong Bay. We were given the option of trekking or biking, I opted for the latter. We biked for 5 kms to reach Hospital cave which was used during the war. Inside the cave there are numerous rooms that were used to treat injured soldiers. It even featured an open theatre which could accommodate 300 people, a swimming
pool, and a ping pong room.
Finally we got dropped off at the pier to take another boat to our next destination – Monkey Island. This island had one resort on a private beach, with bungalows and huts. Unfortunately it was windy and cold so we other than meal times, most of us tried to stay warm in our bungalows.
The island is also home to numerous long tail macaques, hence its name, which can be seen all over the island.
Our journey back to Hanoi felt like the longest of life – we had to take a boat back to Cat Ba island, followed by a bus to the main pier, another boat back to the main pier on the mainland, and a 4 hour drive back to Hanoi.
It was a relaxing 2 days where meals were served and plans were made for us. Kristine and I also met loads of other backpackers who we had a great time getting to know. Almost everyone does the same route (north to south, or south to north) so it’s wonderful to hear travelling stories and get first hand information on the places we are going to.
P.S.. Hanoi is apparently very dangerous especially night due to bag snatchers on scooters. We were completely unaware of this and it really caught us by surprise to meet someone who had been a victim of it. Bag snatchers either cut a hole in your bag or cut it right off your shoulders. It made me be cautious and aware, along with a dash of paranoia.