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Vietnam - Hanoi & Halong Bay

VIETNAM | Saturday, 4 October 2014 | Views [176]

On Tuesday, we got off our train at 5:30am, after a 12 hour journey, and were BOMBARDED by taxi drivers. We had this problem both in Vietnam, and also in Cambodia. You haven't even got your bags yet, and there are guys grabbing you and shoving leaflets in your face. We ran away to a quieter area, and gathered ourselves, found the address of our hotel, drank some water, caught our breath, and then hailed a cab. We  checked into our backpackers hostel, which was the worst accomoadation we had had so far, and had a nap. We decided to head out into town to see a few sights, but when we got to the lobby, we were bombarded by the hostel staff trying to sell us trips. We had always planned on going to Halong Bay, but when someone is shoving pamphlets in your face it gets annoying. We wanted to just get a bus to Halong bay, and make our own way from there, but everyone assured us this was impossible, and it can only be done through a tour (The one that gives them commission). Most places offer the exact same thing, with the exact same pictures, for about $90-100 a person, for three days. 

We headed out, wondering if we would be able to afford to go to Halong Bay, on our budget, and walked around town. Being in Hanoi was strange. I think because we had done so much sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh. We walked around to all of the museums, Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, and the royal palace. We looked from the outside, but when we got to the ticket counter, we decided not to waste our time or money. 

We walked back along the lake-front, and saw a road of travel agents. We went into a few, until we found one who sold us a 3 day trip for 65 a person. Honestly, I think she made a mistake and charged us for 2 days, but hey, I'm not complaining. The package deal included all meals, a cooking class, kayaking through caves, 1 night sleeping on the boat, 1 night on Cat Ba Island, with a hike in the national reserve.


The next day we got picked up at 8am and headed out. When we got to the port at about 12:30, it was clear that the tour was the WORST organised thing in the world. Everyone had booked totally different things, for totally different amounts of money! There were 2 couples doing a one day trip, 1 doing a 2 day trip, 1 doing just the bus (SO IT WAS POSSIBLE GRRRRRR), and 2 girls and us doing the 3 day. Thing is though, the girls booked a "castaway cruise" on a party boat. They paid $140 each, for included drinks, etc. 

We sailed out among all the rocks that Halong Bay is famous for. It was really pretty. They served lunch, and told the party boat girls they could each have ONE free beer! I would have flipped my lid! We dropped off the one day people at a fishing village, where they were going kayaking through caverns. We headed off to a pretty cool cave. They lit the walls up with different coloured lights and it was really pretty! We then went to a lake-like area and were told it was where we would kayak. No caves or caverns for us. We just floated around. It was ridiculous, but we thought that before the trip ended, we would do what was promised. The boat then moved about 100m and moored. This was where we would be sleeping. Our guide came up onto the deck and brought some chopped veg, and rice paper. He told us we should try rolling spring rolls. Everyone had a go, then he said "Yeah, but they're not finished yet because they have to get fried" and he left. Turns out, THAT was our cooking class! 

We spent the night on the top deck, having drinks and talking rubbish with all the other passengers. It was fun. The crew of the boat were really moody, and went to sleep at about 8pm, and moaned everytime we woke them up for beer. But hey, we were paying their extortionate prices, so we didn't feel bad at all! Finally we crawled into bed.

At 5:30am, we woke up to watch the sunrise. We headed up to the top deck, groggy and half asleep. We sat and watched it getting brighter and brighter, but it was so foggy that there wasn't really a sunrise per se. We gave up at about 6, and went to get a couple more hours of sleep before breakfast. Then came the revenge of the crew. Obviously they didn't enjoy being woken up for beers, so they started hammering on god knows what, at 6am. Finally, at 7:30 we went up for breakfast. As soon as we were all up and about, they stopped hammering and sat and watched TV. Revenge!

After breakfast, we were taken to Cat Ba Island. From the dock, we took a 20 minute bus ride to the other side of the island, and were dropped off at our hotel on the island for the night. We were really excited to do all of the things we had read in the brochure; beaching, hiking the nature reserve, and water sports, until we realised that it was a 20 minute drive to each place, and that they were not included in our price. Since we kinda blew our budget on the Halong Bay trip, we decided against all the extra costs, and hung around in town instead. It was relaxing, but not as relaxing as a beach would have been. You win some, you lose some :p

The next morning we got a bus back to the dock, and headed back to Halong Bay, before getting the bus to Hanoi. The trip was really good, but we are both really happy we only paid 65 dollars each. I think we would have been really peeved if we had paid more, because the trip was definitely not as advertised. I would definitely advise someone else to do it, but would recommend going for the cheapest option possible, because no matter what you book, you will all be put on the exact same boat!


Back in Hanoi, we found a new guesthouse, and wandered around. We were pushed slightly over budget by the boat trip, so we spent our remaining days walking around and getting cheap street food. It was lovely. On Sunday we headed to the airport and got our plane for Cambodia. Farewell Vietnam, it was AMAZING!!

Tags: cruise, halong bay, hanoi


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