Nice early start to get a coach to Halong City. Stopped off along way at a place selling souvenirs (one of the disadvantages of the organized trips) and got there shortly before lunch. After lunch boarded the boat for the cruise to Cat Ba Island. Initially the islands are some distance from the boat but eventually we entered Halong Bay proper and it was one of the most beautiful places that I visited on my trip.
Views of Halong Bay
We visited a collection of caves which have recently been restored
View from the cave
The boat tour continued through these many small islands until we reached Cat Ba Island. We stopped in one bay to allow everyone to have a swim - the water was lovely and warm, On the boat I met a number of people who I would be travelling with for the next few weeks. Most travellers in Vietnam follow similar itineraries (either north to south or south to north) and therefore it isn't really very surprising to keep seeing the same people. The accommodation provided on these trips is on a twin share basis and I was assigned Benni young chap from Israel who I would share a room with for most of the next 3 weeks. The hotel and food were adequate without being exciting. Along the waterfront there are a lot places to sit and drink which made for a pleasant evening until the vendor decide that we hadn't paid for the beer (we had) and tried to get us to pay again (we didn't)
The middle day of the 3 day trip is spent on Cat Ba Island. The tours offer two options, a long trek of about 12km through Cat Ba National Pak and then a boat back to Cat Ba town or a short trek of about 4km and then a bus back to Cat Ba and an afternoon on the beach. On our trip a number people had paid for the longer option but the guide insisted that we hadn't and was very unhelpful in trying to sort the situation out. In the end we just did the shorter trek. Although Queen Café were very apologetic when we got back to Hanoi customer service is something that still needs a little bit more work. On the way to the trek we visited an underground hospital used during the Vietnam War. It might equally well have been an ammunition store and was probably both. The trek was up a hill near the visitor centre for a view of the park and then back again.
In the afternoon a group of 10 of us fell for the sales pitch of the kids who hang around the seafront asking if you want to rent a boat. So for 200000 dong the rented us a boat to take us to a nice beach on an island with no one else there. Unfortunately I'm not sure that the boatman had any clue as to where this was because kept going in circles. The area we were travelling through was pretty so this didn't matter too much. Eventually we reached an island with a beach, whether it was the one that we were supposed to go to is anyone's guess.
The boat which took us there
Me on a rock
While exploring the beach we even saw a bomb presumably left over from the war
We stayed on the island almost until the sunset
and then headed back to Cat Ba Town. We had another meal which was very similar to all the other ones that we had previously, went out to decide not to go the Karoke bars but did stop for some Beer Hoi (very cheap draft beer)
Got the boat back to Halong City via a different but similar route to the one that we took to get to the island. Had another chance to swim in the bay. Lunch was served back in Halong City (the same as on the way out) then we got the coach back to Hanoi with the obligatory stop at the souvenir centre. The next trip was to Sapa
If you are in Northern Vietnam, Halong Bay is a must see area and the organized tours are the easiest and cheapest way to see. The cafes also offer 1 day and 2 day tours. Obviously it would be better if you don't get into an argument with your guide who then sulks for the rest of the tour
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