We spent our first day in Halong Bay. It was about 4 hours bus ride from Hanoi. It was quite a long ride probably because I am not used to 60-80km/h speed limit. Though I am not sure if the bus was really running on that speed but it sure felt like it. In the Philippines, buses can run up to more than 100 km/h - yep, that is how reckless our drivers here are. Nevertheless, the long bus ride was pretty exciting. Most of the sights are very similar to the Philippines - rice paddies, lots of electrical wires, stores in the town proper - but there were religious establishments along the way and other icons unique to Vietnam. My friends and I would often compare Manila to Hanoi as both places share a lot of similarities but there are also so many noticeable differences.Here are the places we went to:
- Fishing Village - this is a very interesting place, I think for non-Asians, as houses are built on floating foundations. Not sure what the foundation is made of but it allows the houses and other establishments like the school of the village to float. There were several houses we saw when we went there but it wasn't as populated as I expected it to be. When I see Halong Bay in TV features I always thought of the fishing village as a high density floating village. But contrary to what I had in mind, there weren't too many floating houses. The livelihood of the villagers are fishing and of course, the boat rides for the tourists. There was even one kid who I believe is just about 7 or 8 years old maneuvering the boat to earn money. I mean, is that even legal in Vietnam? In Manila that is against the child labor code (but of course, we are very poor in policy implementation). The boat ride costs 250,000 Dong which lasts about 20-30 minutes. It will take you to different places that the ferry won't be able to reach because of narrow routes and the caves. It was a very interesting and relaxing boat ride I highly recommend.
- Thien Cung Cave - this is also part of the day tour we availed. I am not very fond of caves. I am not extremely claustrophobic - just a bit, perhaps - which is why I don't really like going to caves. It gives me an eerie and suffocating feeling. But this one is quite interesting (and besides, I am with friends so I really don't have anything to worry about, right?) The LED lights made the cave more interesting. The way the stalactites reflected the lights was very impressive. The stalactite formations are also unique. Some looked like a cluster of jellyfish and others looked like the craters of the moon. There were also some we saw shaped in seashells. It was like heaven met the ocean and different structures and creatures cohabiting. It was a tiring hike up the opening of the cave but it was definitely worth it.
- Emily's Coffee - this is a coffee shop near our hotel that we enjoyed. There are a tonne of coffee shops you will come across with in Vietnam all offering various ambiance and theme. Not the most fantastic milkshake but good enough to relax at the end of a tiring day.
We only availed of the day tour which is why we were only able to visit two places. They highly recommend the overnight tour of Halong Bay so you can really explore the villages. But due to work commitments and time constraints, we were happy enough with the day tour. Maybe when we come back here someday, we will avail of the overnight tour (and I can't wait for that day to happen!).
Here is a timetable of the tour in case some of you are interested in taking the day tour as well:
Here is a cost/budget estimate for the tour:
(exchange rate at time of travel is $1US = 21,000 Dong)
Pictures were taken by yours truly and my friends Karen and Anna.