Tuesday 16 April 2013

Sail Away: Halong Bay, Vietnam

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I feel like I should have a lot to say about our trip to Halong Bay, but I just can't seem to put the words together. We went, the scenery was mind boggling, we slept on a boat, we climbed to the top of the highest cliff and we clambered around inside of a cave. There is no doubt in my mind that this was a real highlight to our time in Vietnam, but I just can't seem to string the sentences together to tell you that in words. While sailing through the thousands of karst lime stone cliffs that protrude from the water like the ridges of a dragons back, it's easy to be at a loss for words .... apparently that feeling lives on.

So for now, I'm going to let the photos do most of the talking for how cool Halong Bay is.

As far as basic facts of the trip go, you must visit Halong Bay by organised tour, one of which can be very easily organised in Hanoi a day or two before you leave.  We booked ours up the day before departure with a well known company known as Vega Tours. There are essentially three price options, and three trip options to meet your travel needs. There is budget, midrange, and luxury tour operators, all of which offer 1 day, 2 day or 3 day excursions on the bay.  We opted for the midrange 1 night/2 day option because there are plentiful horror stories for the budget options, and there doesn't seem to much disparity in terms of what you get between the midrange and luxury options, except perhaps a few hundred dollars out of your pocket.

When booking we were pretty mindful of exactly which tour operator we were using because as I've mentioned before, scams abound in this city. But, as with anything, just be ready with all the questions you want to ask (sleeping arrangements, toilet arrangements, crew arrangements, number of people per boat, meals, activities, etc.), they are very open with their answers, and know that you generally get what you pay for. After that it's just settling in and getting ready for the view of a life time.

I guess the one story I can't leave this post without telling is the evening activity on board. It was New Years day and the captain and crew had prepared a special party for us after dinner. At 8:00 we were told to gather around the lounging area. As we were waited, we were handed a shot of Vietnamese whisky and the captain said a few words about health and happiness in the year to come. Just as we thought we were about to be served up a slice of scrummy looking cake, the lights went out, the disco beats came on (along with the strobe and disco ball), and the captain, crew, and very confused passengers were getting down on the makeshift dance floor. While the whisky flowed fast and free, the crew demonstrated some (less than) traditional dance moves with us. To say that the Vietnamese dance with their hips is an understatement, these men could show Shakira a thing or two about the honesty of her hips.  Obviously some passengers were more reserved than others, but one good hearted fellow did manage to get himself wedged between the captain and bartender in what can only be called a swivel sandwich.

And just as quickly as the dance party began, it ended. The captain got back to his post, as did the entire crew. The lights were on and the music lowered to a dull roar, all after only 5 minutes of the most intense Vietnamese dance party I think I can ever dream to be a part of. I don't know about the other boats on the bay that night, but  I did look out at one point and noticed that there were no disco light shows happening anywhere else on the water, as far as I could see, which meant they clearly weren't having as much fun.

Until next time, keep having adventures!

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