All Aboard the S.S. Halong Karaoke Cruiser

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Asia » Vietnam » Northeast » Quang Ninh » Halong Bay
August 16th 2007
Published: February 10th 2008
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Fighting or Kissing Rocks?Fighting or Kissing Rocks?Fighting or Kissing Rocks?

I'm a love not a fighter: Kissing Rocks in Halong Bay
Halong Bay is majestic and a definite must-see when coming to northern Vietnam. While cruising through the bay you are surrounded by nearly 2,000 limestone islands rising out of the sea. I was told it is one of only three locations where this phenomenon takes place (the others Phang Nga Bay in Thailand, and somewhere in China), but Halong Bay is the gem of the three, boasting the most impressive views.

The pictures of this natural phenomenon are always the first ones you notice when you skim through travel books on Vietnam. You know, the ones with the beautiful wooden Chinese junks with a backdrop of limestone outcrops protruding out of the China Sea. Then you read where it’s taken and it’s the first section of the book you read. Believe it or not, I was living in that photo. I was especially excited about this destination because I would get to live on a boat. I LOVE boats and anytime I can be on one or take pictures of them I am overwhelmed with joy. I had never been on a Chinese Junk before and here was my chance! My three-day adventure on Halong Bay was better than I
All Aboard!All Aboard!All Aboard!

Our main cabin of the ship. I was definitely splurging!
had expected. Again, Vietnam proved to be an astounding and fascinating country.

Day 1
I woke early and boarded the bus bound for Halong City where we would board our very own Chinese junk. I was with Sara and a van-load of others, hoping that they would be a fun crew. The journey to get there was so beautiful. Once out of the confines of chaotic Hanoi, a lush green countryside awaited us. Cultivated rice fields lined the one road leading out to the bay. Locals were seen in the fields tending to their precious crop. I wanted the bus driver to pull over so I could just take photos and spend a day wandering around. Moments like this you wish you had your own transport- a motorbike being my choice in ‘Nam.

At the Halong City harbor we were one group amongst many. The secret was out about Halong, everyone was here to see all its beauty. I was warned prior to coming to northern Vietnam to be particular about which company I chose to use to get me to Halong Bay. I could have attempted to go solo and make a true adventure out of it,
Living the Good LifeLiving the Good LifeLiving the Good Life

Backpacker mode on hold
but it its so easy and cheap to take a tour so I chose that. Tours range from $30 up to $400, and can anything from cattle-calls on boats to luxurious cruisers. I chose to go with the tour offered by Hanoi Backpackers because a) it was easy, b) the price was medium-range, c) I got to spend a night on a boat in Halong Bay (so cool!) e) and if my fellow Halongers were all from Hanoi Backpackers, I assumed I would be around some pretty cool people.

Our very attractive yet over confident guide Nick (many Vietnamese adopt foreigner names to make it easier for their clients to address them, I find it a bit culturally degrading) navigated us to our own private Chinese Junk that did indeed look like the rest of the hundreds of boats in the harbor. I was VERY impressed with the quality of the ship and it was much nicer than I expected. In fact, compared to my normal standards whilst traveling, this was really high class for me! I was technically splurging! I even had air conditioning in my room. It was a 3-story wooden boat with a rooftop balcony, the
Which one is Mine?Which one is Mine?Which one is Mine?

Plenty of Chines Junks to go around
finishing touch being a Vietnamese flag flying off the back. Upon boarding we were given fresh juice and cold towels to freshen up. Once our boat set sail we were served lunch, much tastier than I expected. Then in the distant haze, Halong bay appeared! Absolutely stupendous! I squealed with excitement. Nick pointed out all the famous rock formations. The “fighting rocks” are the most photographed rocks in Halong Bay. Sara and I put on our swimsuits and claimed lounge chairs on the deck. Life couldn’t have been better. The sun was shining and I was surrounded by 2000 huge limestone islands. Since Halong Bay is so big, you didn’t realize how many other tourists were out there as well. In fact, I thought that seeing all the other Chinese Junks added to the charm of the Bay.

That afternoon we stopped at “Surprise Cave” and oohed and awed at the stalactites and stalagmites with the other tourists. Then we were allowed to kayak around the bay. This was so amazing, yet more tiring than I expected. Hiking in Malaysia kept my legs strong but did nothing for my arm muscles. We paddled into a secluded lagoon. It was

Every Boat had a flag too. I loved 'em
tempting to go swimming at this time, but from my camp counselor days I knew how hard it is to get in and out of a kayak, so instead we got into water fights with the other kayakers. Back on our junk we were allowed to jump off the boat into the water. I was swimming in Halong Bay! This was one of those surreal moments in life that I always dreamed about doing, and here I was in the midst of it all. (For the count, this is the third time I had felt this way on my trip so far). When swimming in unknown water I always fear that something is going to eat me. Here the only thing that was ever going to get me was a plastic bag. As pretty as Halong Bay was, unfortunately it wasn’t the cleanest place in the world.

For dinner we were served crab! It was delicious! Dinner was the beginning of our crazy night. I was so fortunate to have such fun people on my boat. People definitely make the place. My shipmates consisted of British Sara who I met already, Aussie Andrea with the most contagious laugh, Irish
Boats!  Boats!  Boats!

I love them
Steve aka Robby Williams, American Dan who lives with Steve in Barcelona, Israeli Azi and Noa on their honeymoon, and a very nice French couple. You can be in the most beautiful place in the world and hate it the people around you suck. This was true especially with Halong tours because you were stuck on a boat with them. Lucky me, I couldn’t have asked for a more fun group. Since beer was expensive for Vietnamese standards, we chose not to drink, and Nick watched us like hawks so we couldn’t sneak it on the boat with us. Still, it was one of the craziest most fun times I have ever had singing Karaoke, even including my two years spent in the Karaoke Capital of the world. Steve belted out his amazing renditions of Angel by Robby Williams, the Vietnamese crew couldn’t get enough of singing and dancing to their favorite Vietnamese songs, and me, Sara and Andrea did very “interesting” versions of Madonna and Spice Girls. We could have charged other boats to come sing and play on ours. I guarantee that no one laughed as hard as we did that night throughout the area. Karaoke on the
Approaching Halong BayApproaching Halong BayApproaching Halong Bay

Again, another "I feel like I am in Disneyland" moment
boat was by far the most fun I had on the three day cruise. I went to bed with the lyrics of Madonna’s “Holiday” running through my head.

Day 2
We set sail for Cat Ba Island early in the morning. Teamed up with another tour group we took a bus to the interior of the island. There was a young Japanese couple and I capitalized on practicing my Japanese with them. I was so surprised by the beautiful rainforests all over the island. I didn’t know really what to expect, but definitely not that. There were limestone cliffs all over the island similar to the ones in Halong Bay. A boat took us to a cave and some mangroves. We failed to find a poisonous snake. I definitely was okay with that. For lunch we ate at a stilted bamboo hut. Some German kids in our group had the opportunity to go fishing in the pond. Steve tried his luck at the pond but showed he was no where near as good as a fisherman as the kids. None of them were big enough to eat so we threw them back.

After lunch we were taken to the coast of Cat Ba Island, one of the top Vietnamese tourist spots in the country. We took a boat to a private beach somewhere in the Bay. It was absolute paradise. Along the way we saw so many tiny local fishing boats that were pulling up restaurants’ nightly specials. Near Cat Ba island there was a floating fishing village. We navigated around numerous houseboats with huge nets in the water full of huge fish. Halong Bay Cruises are very touristy, but if you look closely you can forget that you are on a tour and realize that you are surrounded by everyday life and a culture so foreign to your own. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Back at the main beach Sara and I wandered the tourist shops and got some delicious ice cream. At dinner we toasted to the newlyweds, Azi and Noa. Noa LOVED my fan, so as a wedding present I got her a fan of her own. She was so surprised and happy with it, you would have thought I had given her a diamond. After a few games of Shithead ie the international card game, we headed to the street in search of another bar to make our watering hole for the night. Since it was a weekend Vietnamese had flocked to the island and were out enjoying the warm evening air and a late night ice cream cone. At the bar we had more Shithead games, and a very fun game of King’s Cup. Unfortunately everything in this tiny tourist town closed at 12, so we were did as the locals and turned in for an early night.

Day 3
We woke up to a storm on the island and it crossed my mind that we could be stuck on the island if the tropical storm continued to progress. I would have been okay with that. It turned out to be just a little one, and on our way back to Halong City it was dry and we were able to sit out and enjoy our last junk cruise through the incredible World Heritage Site. Back on main land we had our final lunch together. Dan got one more last dig at me, Steve told one more silly joke, Andrea laughed the entire time, and we all had a one last game of Shithead. I was getting sad to see these guys go.
Halong BayHalong BayHalong Bay

Look, I'm here! Woohoo!
Before we knew our buses were back in Hanoi and we were all set out for our next destination.

Back at Hanoi Backpackers the owner Max greeted us with free beers! Life was good! Sara and I gathered up our belongings and said farewell. I would have loved to have traveled with her longer, but unfortunately we were traveling in different directions. I took off on an overnight train to Sapa that night.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect experience in Halong Bay. I laughed the entire time because of all the fun I had with my shipmates, and smiled in awe at one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. So far everything I do on my trip is as amazing as the last destination. I am hoping that this momentum continues.

Additional photos below
Photos: 48, Displayed: 29


Honeymoon Sweet?Honeymoon Sweet?
Honeymoon Sweet?

Nah, they gave that one to Noa and Azi ;-)
Halong BayHalong Bay
Halong Bay

Word got out...we weren't the only ones here.
Guess what this is?Guess what this is?
Guess what this is?

Dirty dirty minds...

Andrea, me, and Sara
Halong Bay with BoatsHalong Bay with Boats
Halong Bay with Boats

if you know me, you know my obsession with boats

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