Vietnam – Halong Bay: we only see the bottom side of the arcipelago, but it’s enough to appreciate the beauty of one of the world seven natural wonders

World tour: 17th stop – Halong Bay

Diving from the boat, kayaking, chilling on the beach… we truly live The Life during our last days in Vietnam.

Vietnam: Le nostre tappe ad Halong Bay

Vietnam: our stops in Halong Bay

The night train takes us from Sapa to Hanoi, where we “bribe” the hotel stuart to leave us a room where to take a one hour long nap. At 8.30am we take a bus that, in 4 hours, will take us to the Halong Bay harbor. Boat tours are very popular here nowadays, so you can see many small cruise ferries all over the pier.

The places to visit are numerous and the tour operators have no qualms in moving tourists around from one boat to the other to optimize the tours. In the 3 days long excursion we did, it happened many time that we had to stop in the middle of the sea only for a boat to accost ours to allow people to move from one boat to another. It almost looks like, even though there are hundreds of agencies in the city, everything is managed by the same huge one.

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam: Halong Bay

We board the ferry and we slowly arrive at one of the 7 Natural Wonders: Ha Long Bay consists of circa 2000 sea stacks, covered in vegetation, that emerge from the sea creating a stunning landscape. Fauna and flora make an ecosystem unique in the world. I don’t think any of us had ever seen anything like it.

At lunch time we sit with a strange guy, original from Canada. He doesn’t look very sociable, but we exchange a few of words anyway. We give him the surname “the photographer”, since he holds a few thousands euros worth of camera equipment. Some times, during the tour, he doesn’t even get off the boat, too busy playing with his Canon. He kinda fits into the perfect serial killer profile. Creepy.

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam: Halong Bay

The first stop is to visit the “Sung Sot Cave”. The sea stacks never stop amazing you and we find ourselves in a huge cave, impossible to see from the outside. We could have never imagined that inside a simple sea stack we could have found an opening this big, even if the stack itself was quite big.

After the tour of the cave we move a few hundred meters to a place that rents kayaks. Claudio goes with Mattia, Cecco with Ilaria and I go with a girl from Wales, Alexia. We first head towards the open sea to watch the sunset on the sea. Then we catch up with the others, who are heading under a natural bridge. It doesn’t even need to be said that there was a “stop” sign not to let the tourists through. But we keep going nonetheless and we even see some monkeys climbing on the rocks. We then head back to the ferry where we get offered a glass of wine for a toast in the honor of the sea. It’s not a fancy Italian wine, but was surely better than the white wine previously ordered by Ilaria!

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam: Halong Bay

We go to our cabins for a quick shower and then we would like to go upstairs to see the stars, but it’s a little bit misty and there are a few clouds  so we end up playing cards instead. After another peek at the sky we go back downstairs and I decide to socialise with a group of British guys, we play a game called “Trump” and I even manage to win. But I think it will be a one time thing so I chicken out, say my farewell and go to sleep.

We try to get up at dawn, but we arrive too late… but probably it was because we looked up on the internet for the supposed sunrise time and we found 3 different ones, and we picked the later one. Once out on the deck we only find the “Photographer” looking at the sky. The sun is already up and partially hidden behind some sea stacks. It’s 6.30am already and breakfast is at 7.00, so we go to get ready for the second day.

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam: Halong Bay

We dock the boat at an artificial island, if you can call it that, with some floating houses connected among them. Here a factory of pearls is located. We thought you could find them in nature, but we find out that the round and shiny pearls that we see on jewels are the result of human manipulation. Men put a foreing body inside the oyster that, to protect itself, creates a thin layer over it to isolate it. The process requires about 3 years, afterwards the oysters are opened to extract the pearl.

Usual tour in the souvenir shop and then we go to an inlet where we have time to take a few dives from the boat and swim for a while. A few pictures on the beach later and then Mattia decides to try and swim towards a cliff, that it turns out to be “unclimbable” so he has to swim back while we head back to  the boat.

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Quick lunch and then we arrive at the next stop, Monkey Island! Same name of the videogame and hundreds of monkeys that arrive at the beach to play with tourists and get some food from them. The beach is white and the sea sparkling clean, but we have taken a swim already so we decide to take a walk instead. Claudio and I hike up to a panoramic place and admire the horizon. The line where the sky meets the sea is interrupted only by the sea stacks shooting up towards the sky. Breathtaking.

Then we head to Cat Ba Island. It is the biggest island and it is one of the few populated ones. During the navigation we pass next to many fisherman villages and many boats speed next to ours looking for the best spot for fishing. In some areas the floating houses are so numerous that you can barely see the sea underneath.

Vietnam: Halong Bay e Monkey Island

Vietnam: Halong Bay and Monkey Island

We disembark at Cat Ba in the midafternoon, drop our luggages at the hotel and then rent some bikes to reach the beach quicker. We chill for a hour and then we decide to look for a panoramic spot where to enjoy the sunset. The island is quite big and whitin it is located a natural park, we are sure there must be at least one good place for sunset watching. But after walking for a few kilometers we decide to head toward the sea. The trail we are following is located in a valley, but it doesn’t look like there are any trails to take to hike the hills around it.

We turn and we finally arrive at the seaside. The view is not spectacular, so we try to go back to the centre of Cat Ba, always keeping in check the distance between the sun and the horizon. The trail we are following would be ideal for a rally: it’s unpaved and covered in holes. Since we can’t pick up our pace we decide to stop and wait for the sun to set.

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam: sunset in Cat Ba Island

When we finally get back in the city it is already pitch black. Cecco has misteriously lost the bike keys, with the bike still turned on, and “Where is the key?” becomes the night leit motiv, the renter keeps repeating it. Poor guy.

Dinner at 7.00pm (where Cecco and Ilaria only manage to get some white rice) and then we take a stroll along the sea. Some pub is more populated than others, but we simply drink a last Vietnamese beer all 5 of us together before going back to the boat and taking the bus on the next day.

Vietnam: Tramonto a Cat Ba

Vietnam: sunset in Cat Ba

The moment to say goodbye seemed so far off in time, but it comes quickly. Soon we found each others saying our farewells and doing a “live from Facebook”. As soon as Claudio, Ilaria and Mattia get on their taxi we feel lonely already. We never had any problems when travelling only the 2 of us, but aside from Beijing and Shanghai, where we had friends, these have been the 2 funniest weeks of our tour of the world.

Often the beauty of the trip is mainly given by the people you share it with, than by the places you are visiting. The opportunity to share your feelings with others gives your trip an additional value that is uncomparable.

For us it will be our last night in Hanoi and on the next day we will take a night bus to move to the next place and country: Luang Prabang – Laos.

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam: Halong Bay

We gladly share Ilaria’s thoughts at the end of the vacation, she is much more funnier and emotional than I am!

“It all started as a joke, with the craving to escape the usual life for a bit and give myself a few days of relax in your company. 
The destination wasn’t really important, because to me discovering a new place, wherever it is, is wonderful as it is.
Some researches, suggestions, debates (and obtaining your consent, of course!) later and the decision is taken on a whim: I have booked my ticket to Vietnam!
An unforeseen trip decided without asking myself too many questions. New companions and, in one case, never met before. Wanting to leave with the only aim to live everything thoroughly and be part of your adventure. And it is exaclty what I tried to do and today, after adding up in my mind everything that has happened in these past 2 weeks I can only say that it has been Amazing.
A travel that I will always cherish in my heart, along with many beautiful memories.
The deafening noise and the horns in Ho chi Minh, lunches and dinners in places that literally made us shiver, totally (un)safe tours by bike (brakes, rear-view mirrors, helmets and some times even keys were an optional), rice at every hour of the day (evena for breakfast), pagodes that, from what I’m told, will never be as beautiful as the ones in China or Japan, “romantic” walks in the night surrounded by rats on every side, fear of being ran over every single time we were about to cross the road, the breathtaking view from the Sky Bars, tours by bicycle on the Mekong banks, a thousand shops visited looking for a painting I have never found (thank you guys for your patience, though), stunning landscapes in Sapa, the magic of the lanterns in Hoi An, (a little less magic how drenched we were after deciding to eat in the fantastic starred reastaurant suggested by the Lonely … #ahNo… thanks Matti), the experience in the comfy and spacious night train, Cla singing in the shower, the bags under my eyes getting bigger day by day…
And so much more…
But the strongest memory will be the laughs shared together, the secrets whispered in the city centre or in the hotel rooms, making our friendship even stronger, bonding with new people right away but especially thank you for having tolerated me in these wonderful 12 days.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart guys!!!
’til the next adventure!

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Vietnam: December 2016

Previous stop: SaPa

Next stop: Night train to Laos

Page about Vietnam: Click here

Out itinerary summed up:

World Tour day
Date Activity Mark Accommodation
65 09/12/16 Sapa => Hanoi (night train, departure 10.00pm, arrival 5.35am) Boat in Halong Bay
Hanoi => Halong Bay (tour bus, departure 8.30am, arrival 12.00)
Travel by boat to Sung Sot Cave 7,5
Evening and night on the boat
66 10/12/16 Visit at the Pearl Farm 5 Cat Ba with tour
Monkey Island 7,5
Cat Ba 8
67 11/12/16 Heading back by boat from Cat Ba to Halong Port
Halong Port => Hanoi (tour bus, departure 1.00pm, arrival 4.30pm)

Complete photo gallery:

Author: Ste

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