Vietnam – Hanoi to Halong Bay, and back to Hanoi

Written by Michelle/Photos by Michelle & David

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So after flying back to Hanoi I made my way back into the city to visit the water puppet theatre. I would recommend it as something to see once. The whole show is performed on water by puppeteers who are knee need deep in water behind the curtain, it’s actually quite clever how they do it. Most of the show is in Vietnamese, however this does not detract from the show as there is a lot of traditional music played on some amazing instruments that help convey the storylines. Water puppetry apparently started with farmers who wanted to pass on the stories during the time when the rice fields were flooded. Tourists are the main people of go to the show but I would recommend to see it at least once.

The following day I was up nice and early to go to Halong Bay. I booked with Halongsapa Tours, they are a kind of middle man tour operator, who were quite good even if it was left until the last minute to confirm my tour. This seems to be how they roll in Vietnam, although I am making a very big generalisation based on my only two experiences of booking tours in Vietnam. I also think they don’t cope very well with solo travellers as prices are always quoted for two people, they don’t know what to do with you if you are travelling by yourself and single supplements are charged a lot of the time. The actual boat company was called Indochina Sails and I cannot recommend them enough. Admittedly I ended up taking the 5 star option due to problems with the original tour I booked. The cabin on the boat was the size of a hotel room and the service and food were outstanding.

I had to meet at Halongsapa Tours office in Hanoi to be picked up and taken to Halong Bay which is about 3 hours away. While waiting for the bus I had the pleasure of watching an exercise class for older people performed to songs like Barbie Girl. It was so popular that the class spilled over into the street. It was cute to watch.

Halong Bay is a huge collection of small limestone mountainous islands. It was quite spectacular toDSC_2336 spend 24 hours sailing amongst them. Unfortunately the weather was rainy and overcast the whole time which produced some foggy pictures. However, despite the less than desirable weather I still appreciated the beauty of it all  and the waters still had the emerald hue Halong Bay is known for. On the first afternoon I chose the option to kayak around some of the area that contains floating fishing villages (this was at an extra cost). It was worth the 10USD to get a different perspective from water level.

Before a magnificent dinner I chose to have a massage. Now if you have been following this trip you will know that I do like a massage and have had various success with massages in Vietnam ;). Well, I have to say this was a very average massage. It was really fast and rough as in I was moving around a lot, not relaxing at all. This was the only thing that I was disappointed with in terms of  this boat trip.

In the morning there was an option to do Tai Chi so I thought when in Rome, why not. I had to stop myself from giggling because the boat deck was wet and every time we moved all of our shoes squeaked, kind of took away from the serenity of it :). Add to that, a bunch of uncoordinated westerners trying to copy a very graceful Vietnamese Tai chi expert and it created quite a comical scene.

DSC_2298Now that we were all zen the boat sailed to Dao Titop (Titop Island). I can highly recommend walking the 240+ stairs to the summit for beautiful views of Halong Bay despite the weather.Even though you saw the multitude of tourists boats in the area from the top, while sailing I didn’t really feel like it was amongst a tourist hotspot. There is a small beach at the bottom of the mountain where you can swim. After putting my swimmers on that morning and then looking out the window at the drizzle and taking them off, I opted for a paddle in the water instead. It wasn’t freezing but wasn’t warm either. I’m sure it would be lovely on a bright sunny day.

The remainder of the morning was spent gorging myself on the fabulous buffet breakfast and taking in the views as the boat made its way back to port. You really are only on the boat for 24 hours. If I had more time I would have done a 2 night tour that included visiting at least one of the caves in Halong Bay. Once back at port it was then another bus trip back to Hanoi. For me this return transfer was included in the price but it is not always included in tour prices so be aware. We had the obligatory half-way stop (we stopped at the same place on the way there) at a monstrous souvenir shop selling everything from giant marble buddha statues to chopsticks. Unless you are really strapped for time I would leave your souvenir shopping to the markets in the cities where it is much cheaper and you can bargain harder.

Once back in Hanoi I took my friend Kate out to dinner to a well known restaurant, Highway 4. The food was great, too much as always seems to be the case in Vietnam but delicious. I have to admit I was not adventurous at all and did not order the ant eggs or the bull’s penis or crickets or any of the other local delicacies that are on the menu.


Click here for more pictures of my vietnamese adventure
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