On my second day in Vietnam, I head to Halong Bay which is a UNESCO world heritage site. About 3000 islands rise from the emerald waters off the Gulf of Tonkin, so Halong Bay is simply gorgeous.
It is about a 4 hr bus ride from Hanoi and there is major construction underway to expand the road to accommodate the many visitors that come to visit. Drivers in Vietnam use their horns liberally and there are about 4 million motorcycles in Hanoi so the ride is bumpy, jolting and loud.
We pass many rice fields and vegetable farms along the way. Vendors selling kumquat trees and branches of cherry blossom dot the roads as the Vietnamese prepare for Tet or the Vietnamese New Year.
It was drizzly and cloudy when we started our journey but the sun came out when we got to the bay and it was glorious. I was in a small group tour and there were only 6 of us on a single boat which served us lunch as we motored around the islands.
There was an upper-deck to lounge with breathtaking views. The sun’s rays sparkled and gleamed on the top of the water as we pass floating fishing villages, waving fishermen on boats and the gigantic islands. Life has certainly been very good on this trip.
The food is cooked fresh on board and lunch is a simple affair. We are served standard Vietnamese fare which means it is still pretty darn good. We started with a cucumber salad in a sweet rice vinegar dressing. Then spring rolls, hot and crispy before moving onto deep fried pork topped with sesame seeds.
Mixed Vegetable with calamari next. The waiter then prepared and served steamed fish with scallions and ginger. Sautéed mixed vegetables next and we end our meal with fresh bananas.
Along the way, we also visited the Dao Go cave which can be accessed by 120 steps. It has amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations lit with different colored lights which truthfully made it rather cheesy.
Nevertheless, it was still pretty interesting and magnificent. Some of the limestone structures are gigantic and did you know that the calcium deposits only grow about 3 cm a year?
It was such a lovely outing and if you do go, I recommend that you book early and go with a small group tour. I went on a day tour with Intrepid Travel but there are also tours where you can stay overnight on a boat docked at Halong Bay.
At the end of our 3 hour tour but unlike Gilligan(!), we come onshore and headed back to Hanoi.
Vietnam has been such an unexpected surprise. Hanoi is crowded with 8 million inhabitants all functioning and living in controlled chaos but it works here and people seem happy, friendly and excited at what the future holds for them with their growing economy. Au revoir or tam biet Vietnam and thank you for being so welcoming, warm and wonderful. I can’t wait to come back and explore more.