One of the must sees in Northern Vietnam is Ha Long Bay (translated as Bay of the Descending Dragon) which is a collection of around 2,000 limestone islands that seem to jut out of the water. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage listed and Ha Long Bay is both mystical and magnificent, an incredible feat of nature that both beautiful and never fails to impress.
We set off on from our now less favoured hotel in Hanoi and off to Ha Long Bay only a short 5 hour drive away with yet another bus
driver that seemed to be taking everyones lives on board with little aplomb. After another white knuckle arrival, we were kind of thinking we would miss the boat the way he was driving but we were dumped on the sidewalk outside the harbour and told to wait. And wait we did! Around 1 hour later a man approached asked for our passports and said he was going to get our tickets. When we asked him why he wanted our passports (as we were not ((hopefully)) leaving international waters) we were told that they kept our passports “in case we drowned”. We were hoping that this was another lost in translation moment!
It turned out to be ok and the boat we boarded seemed seaworthy enough. The only thing we didn`t check on was that it was a bank holiday in Vietnam at the time and we were shoehorned onto a boat along with 50 other people. The trip itself included 1 night on the boat and another night on Cat Ba on of the main islands in Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay is an experience and a destination stop to just marvel at the wonderful cliffs. Created over millions of years, tectonic forces slowly thrust the limestone above the water-line. During this process waves lapping against the stone carved out a number of vast, striking caverns, as well as other geologically interesting formations, such as tunnel caves and uniquely shaped massifs. Over the ages, Vietnamese fishermen with too much time on their hands began to see shapes in the stone massifs atop many of the islands, and named the islands accordingly — Turtle Island, Human Head Island, Chicken Island and so on.
We toured around the bay for a couple of hours had a look in one of the many caves and at sunset, set anchor in one of the many bays, had a good feed. The next day it was up early as we were allowed to Kayak for the about 40 mins, at 6.30am. We were then whisked away to Cat Ba to go trekking. When we arrived at the start of the trekking our tour guide couldn`t find our trekking leader so he thought it was best if we abondend this and took us straight to our hotel, no refund of course!! When we arrived at the hotel, this and everything else really started to fall into disarray. The hotel had been over booked (and this i mean by around 3 times overbooked) therefore we and 30 others were all camped out on the street with no where to go. Luckily we managed to sweet talk (and a few beer bribes) our tour guide and he kindly put 6 of us in one room with 3 beds! We had a cosy night, but luckily at least we had a room. We spoke to another group that had to sleep in on a boat and pay extra, again with no compensation.
Cat Ba itself has nothing to offer apart from a beach that the Vietnamese flock to and go swimming. most of which go swimming fully clothed!! After a trip down the beach and a bite to eat we went back tot he hotel to catch up on some sleep, albeit a little squashed! The next day we were told to be ready and waiting to get picked up at 8am. 10am rolled by and we finally boarded the bus to take us back to the boat and then back to the mainland. By 12 noon we were back on a hair raising speed trip back to Hanoi. To say we were a little disappointed with the trip was an understatement. When they say it was a 3 day trip where only 8 hours of it you spend cruising round the islands and another 16 hours of it were spent waiting for things was a joke. It was a public holiday and it was Vietnam and we only spent £25 on it! The islands themselves however were beautiful and breathtaking and a joy to behold.