Hue and Halong Bay

8 03 2010

Last time I left you, we were on our way to Hue to see the Emperors Palace and the Purple Forbidden City.  In short, we only stayed in Hue one day and the palace and surroundings were a big disappointment.  I had read that during the Communist era most old ruins had been left to rot or at least not restored nor properly maintained.  The goal of the communist revolution is/was to build a new, better society that is not hampered by the burdens of the past.  The citadel was also heavily bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam was and maybe the Vietnam government wanted to keep the place in a bad shape as a monument of the destruction by American bombs?  At least the whole citadel was a bid depressive but at least we could see that now they have stared on a big restoration project so hopefully the site will be back to full glory in a few years time.

We took the fourteen hour sleeper bus up to Hanoi that arrived just before seven in the morning.  We moved quickly and booked a three day, two night trip to Halong Bay, departing at eight o’clock that same morning. 

Halong Bay is about 170 km. from Hanoi.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a beautiful bay with just under 2,000 majestic limestone-cliff islands scattered around the bay.  We took the bus to Halong City (with a stop in a souvenir store of course) and there we boarded a nice three star Chinese junk with eleven other passengers and a crew of six.


At first it felt like stepping into a ski-lift, going out on that boat.  At any one time there are about 300 similar passenger boats sailing around Halong Bay and they all have similar schedules so we could always see a few boats behind us and a few ahead of us, all heading in the same direction. 

But we were quick to shake of the ski-lift feeling.  Sailing around the bay in those old looking boats is soooo relaxing and nice.  The bay is very quiet and the scenery is so astonishing that you get the feeling of moving around in slow motion.

We visited a big cave on one of the islands, went kayaking and visited a floating village where the people live in houses build on rafts and underneath they have enclosures filled with fish, squid and lobsters that they feed until they are big enough to eat.

The first night we slept on the boat but on the second day we went to Cat Ba Island and stayed in a nice new hotel in Cat Ba town.  In hindsight we should have stayed two nights on the boat though.  The hotel in compared to how nice it was on the boat.

We were picked up the next morning and sailed quietly back to Halong City where we took the bus back to Hanoi (with a stop in a souvenir store of course).

All in all the tour was great, the scenery was fantastic, the food was good and the accommodation cozy and nice.  Our only complaint was our tour guide.  I’m not really sure that he knew that he was our tour guide, he acted more as a cowboy herding us, the money cows, from place to place.  He never told us anything interesting, never informed us of the schedule until the last minute and was just plain rude at times.  But he wasn’t enough to ruin a great trip though.  For people considering to take a similar trip I would recommend taking the two day one night on the boat option on a three star boat or even three days two nights on the boat option.



11 responses

15 04 2010

What boat/cruise were you on?

16 04 2010

Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the travel company nor the boat. Actually we were on three different boats during our cruise – one that we slept in, one that we used around Cat Ba Island and that we cruised on on the last day. I’m told that even if you book with the same company you never know what boat you will get but it was a three star boat and well worth the upgrade from two stars.

16 04 2010

Oh well. I suspected that boats get switched around a lot, since there are so many agents and (apparently) so few actual companies operating the boats. That does not make it easy for someone like me, who insists on reading everything, understanding all the differences, advantages, price changes, etc.

Hope the rest of your trip goes well. I was in China in 2004, including your next destination, Shanghai. Since you seem to be doing well at finding locals to help you eat, make sure they take you for xiao long bao, the pride of Shanghai. My mouth is watering at the thought of it, even at 10am here in Houston (where dumplings are not breakfast food).

17 04 2010

Thank you very much for the tip, we’ll make sure to check that place out.

23 04 2010
Top five… in South-East Asia « Orn's Travel Blog

[…] Halong Bay (Vietnam) with its 2,000 limestone islands and relaxing cruises […]

15 10 2012

We are dying to go to Halong Bay, Amazing! This is the photo of it that is in our dreams: Would you say the cruise is child friendly? Were there any kids on yours?

15 10 2012

I don’t remember seeing any kids on Halong Bay – not on my boat or any other. However, I didn’t see any reason for the cruise not to be child friendly. The atmosphere on the boat was relaxed and the schedule wasn’t hectic.

30 09 2013
halong bay cruise

Halong bay is good place travel!Thanks for sharing this news. Hopefully waiting for some positive changes due to this new initiative.

22 12 2013
Gray Line Vietnam

I think you had an enjoyable trip to Vietnam.There is also a lot of things that you can explore.Hope to see you again one day in Vietnam.

17 08 2016
Kate Oliver

I’d recommend not bothering with Halong bay but going straight to Cat Ba island, booking a kayaking day trip with Asia Outdoors for 990,000 VD for two and seeing the much quieter, almost deserted scenery of Lan Ha bay. You paddle past floating villages, swim in empty hidden lagoons and have a fabulous lunch. Not a tourist boat in sight. They also do overnight stays in the bay. More rustic but less touristy and no hassle. The guides are fabulous.

9 10 2016
Tonkin Travel Vietnam

Fantastic blog guys, really helpful, this trip sounds simply stunning

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