We checked out of our hotel in Hanoi and went by car to Halong Bay – around three and a half hours, through the rich farmlands of the Red River Delta. We were able to observe everyday life of Vietnamese villagers as they worked the rice fields, took pigs to market and ploughed the fields with their water buffaloes.
At around noon, we arrived at Bai Chay/Halong pier and were transferred to our cruise junk by tender. We were surprised at the size of the cabin, with its king size bed and large bathroom, plus balcony. We had lunch and started to talk to some of the other passengers. We admired the beautiful views of the Karst limestone mountains and the numerous high peaks. During the afternoon, we made two excursions from our boat. The first was to Titop Island, where we climbed the steps to the top of the mountain on the island and were rewarded with stunning views. About an hour later, we were transferred back to the boat and sailed for approximately 45 minutes to our second destination where we disembarked again and took the tender to visit the largest floating fishing village in Halong Bay, with its numerous houseboats or “ Junks” – with washing being hung out, dogs sleeping on deck and more washing being done. Then we walked around another village, looking at everyday life and observing the friendly people going about their business – once again there were wonderful photo opportunities. We returned to our boat about 5PM and soon watched the sunset over the sea.
After dinner, we sat on deck admiring Halong Bay at night, watching the junks that were anchored up for the night and admiring this very pretty sight. We were with a very lively party of Australians, and aided by some excellent Australian red wine set about swapping travel stories. Next morning, to our surprise, we were up early, back on deck and joined in the 7AM Tai Chi class – we were not sure that our balance was as good as it should have been, especially after an evening with our Aussie friends! At about 8AM, we were back on the tender again for a visit to the Surprise Cave. We walked up the hundred steps to the entrance of the cave and toured on foot for about three-quarters’ of an hour going up and down more steps and admiring the stalagmites and stalactites, the natural rock formations and solid rock pillars. Afterwards, the tender took as back to the junk, where we had a late morning brunch, before disembarking and returning by car to our hotel in Hanoi.
We arrived back at the hotel in Hanoi at 2.30PM and had the afternoon at leisure – we were getting a transfer to the railway station at 7.30PM for our overnight sleeper train to Sapa in the mountains, near the Chinese border.