Published: March 18th 2012January 31st 2012
So here we are, Halong Bay ... after years of reading about it and admiring photos we are finally here. Even thinking about it gave us goosebumps – we were that excited;-) Of course we knew, we did not come at the right time of year so there was no expectation of amazing turquoise water etc. but never the less we were confident that it would look stunning. When you embark on such a long trip as ours, you cannot expect to always have fantastic weather, we just had to get over it. Tomek was a little bit disappointed with visibility and light for his photos but what else could we do.
We got to Cat Ba town by bus-bus-boat-bus combo from Hanoi (see previous blog for details) and Lorraine and myself walked around to find some nice accommodation while boys were...hmmm. well.. drinking beer at the restaurant. I don't remember when we signed up for this 'girls do the searching and boys do the resting' trip ;-) We managed to find quite a nice hotel, LP recommended, for just 6$ a night so we were happy. Later on we had to change our rooms cause electrics were
down in Kevin and Lorrain's room and boiler was down in ours but the owner was very attentive so we have to give them credit for it. It is pretty much dead season in January so prices were quite low. The first few days it was really misty and we decided to get scooters and drive around the island. It was actually great idea just to do something different and see the rest of the places. Roads are quite terrible on the island and some of them are being rebuilt but you can enjoy stunning scenery around. We read so many negative opinions about Cat Ba that our expectations were small to none. For some reason people don't find this place attractive.
At this point we had Alain - Canadian guy - joining us so it was a fun group to drive around and do some trekking. Owner of our hotel showed us where to enter the Cat Ba National Park to avoid paying entrance fee and which path to take to avoid being stuck in a jungle for the night. The whole day was just fabulous. Rock formations around the island are sensational, they reminded us
of Yangshuo in China but they were a little bit more 'Jurassic Park' like. The island seems so wild and uninhabited with its lush green picks and valleys. Trek was quite good as well, took us around 4h to make half of it as there was a lot of climbs up and down. When you walk around the jungle you kind of realise how American soldiers felt during the war when being dropped in one of those forests. All of the wild plants and trees are huge and prehistoric like, even grass was taller than me in some places. Add local enemy running around their well known territory and it seems like a very scary place to be.
We also drove to Lan Ha Bay known locally as Blue Swimmer and all three of Cat Ba's beaches. Even with clouds and mist the water was still turquoise – astonishing;-) We found a fisherman in Lan Ha Bay port who offered us 2h cruise around the bay for 300,000 VND/15$ per boat. We did not expect the weather to improve next day so we also did not see a point in paying 20$ per person for a day
cruise around Halong Bay. When we woke up we were surprised that our predictions were wrong. It was not sunny (not that lucky) but the clarity of air was perfect. We had a quick breakfast and walk to the Blue Swimmer (15 min walk) to find the fishermen. He was not there but we were able to find another one who took us on a 3h ride for 20$ (4$ each). We absolutely loved it. The boat was small, it felt like a very unique experience and we were also taken to see his fishing village and fish farm. He introduced his son to us, who jumped on the boat and acted as a guide for us. We could walk alongside the floating farm and watch exotic fish they farm there for export. Some of them were huge and very aggressive, we had to make sure we kept our balance right at all times so we didn't fall into the water.
The views were breathtaking and it kind of makes it clear why this place had its place on the '7 Natural Wonders of the World
' list. I am not sure if we can add anything different
to all the comments that have ever been written about the place. Just truly beautiful. We loved the boat experience and we felt like our money went straight to the local community not to tourist agencies. The guy was over the moon with his 20$ and we were glad we could help as well;-) I am not sure if this kind of practise is legal for them to do as he could not drop us in Cat Ba port saying that the police would fine him. Maybe they need licence to do this and in high season waters are patrolled more frequently.
If we had had sunny and warm weather we would have stayed longer in Cat Ba for sure. There are nice things to do, some caves to visit, few trekking possibilities and nice beaches. We quite enjoyed our stay but we had to move on to yet another stunning places – Ninh Binh and Phong Nha National Park.
There are more photos below