Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Day 2,3,4 - Halong Bay - 3 day, 2 night Galaxy Cruise

Day 2 - Hanoi to Halong Bay - Wednesday, November 6

Before leaving Canada for our Vietnam adventure, we had decided that Halong Bay was on our bucket list of things-to-do.  We had read that it is super touristy and there are a million junkboats to choose from but we decided we would take the plunge, spend a bit of extra cash and make it happen.  It was fantastic.  A must do.  I figure, the 'touristy' places in the world are touristy for a good reason, there is normally something amazing to see and experience and therefore people go to see it.  The fact that there are loads of people doing the same thing, well, who cares.

Through our Hanoi Symphony Hotel booking I was able to secure dates for a 'Galaxy Premium' 3 day, 2 night tour of the Halong Bay area.  Our boat had 12 state rooms and we managed to secure one of the nicest rooms on the middle deck of the boat towards the back (Our bathroom was just above the 'G' in the picture above, and our room were the two windows to the left of that).

We were picked up from our hotel in Hanoi at 8am and we had a 4.5 hr bus ride into Halong City before taking a smaller tender to our boat.  We were welcomed on the boat in typical foreigner fashion with a Vietnamese 'welcome drink' which consisted of a fresh passionfruit juice.  We were then told to get settled on the boat before lunch.  We were given our state rooms and had a few minutes to check out the top deck of the boat before lunch was served.

Looking back at Vietnam's highest bridge just out of Halong City.

Looking at the edge of Halong City, the limestone karsts are visible immediately even before leaving the main harbour.

 Another junk boat loaded with tourists and heading to the main areas of Halong Bay

Our trusty captain.  He was steering with his feet, but when I asked him if I could take a photo, he didn't want me to capture his normal navigating position and switched to his hands - I was going for the picture with the feet.  

Right after our amazing first lunch on the boat, we were off on a smaller boat to tour Surprise Cave.  Our group consisted of 22 folks from around the globe, from Canada to France, Singapore to Germany, it was a great mix of both young and old.

Surprise Cave

It is difficult to show the vast size and scope of this cave system through pictures.  Some of the caverns were massive and the loop through this particular cave system was fine tuned for tour groups to enter and exit with time for our tour guides to explain different aspects of the cave system.  It was well set up for hordes of tourists with boardwalks to follow, stairs to enter and exit and loads of garbage cans to aid in keeping it tidy.

Our Galaxy Cruise tour-guide named Tan Nguyen - a vibrant and young Vietnamese man who had a great sense of humour and was excellent with everyone.  It was a pleasure to have him tour us around for 3 days.   

At the end of the cave tour, we were shipped off for some evening relaxing on a beautiful beach right at sunset.  Our guide Tan suggested that we could hike up a rough path to the 'top' of the island to get some photos of the area.  We headed up the first set of stairs you could see which was the access for the trail to the top, the views were amazing.

 We headed back to the beach for a sunset beer and then it was back to the boat for a huge dinner.

 Some squid fishing after dinner.

This woman was selling anything and everything from her little boat.  She would paddle around and hound all of the tourists on the junks to buy stuff from her.  (She had her daughter wrapped up sleeping behind her in this photo).  She would pass up a net, you would put your money in the net, and then she would pass up you your item of choice.  There were many women selling the same things out of the same boats.  All of our food was included in the price of the boat tour, but not any of our drinks.  The boats wanted you to buy drinks 'on the boat', but these local sellers were 'stirring the pot' by selling alcohol, beers and everything else at a reduced rate than you could find on the boat.  At times, the tour guides and ship hands were telling these women to take off.   Everyone tries to make a buck off the tourists.

Day 3 - Halong Bay - Thursday, November 7

 Another Galaxy Premium docked beside our boat.  I think they had a couple of these sized junks in their fleet.

When you choose to take a Halong Bay tour you are faced with the decision of taking a 1 night, 2 day cruise or a 2 night, 3 day cruise.  I would say most people who we chatted with were on a 1 night, 2 day.  We both found that having that extra day proved to be perfect for what we were looking for.  The second day was much more relaxed, we got on another boat in the morning and had a much smaller tour group.  We first headed to another cave with very few tourists - The Maze Cave.  I think this is the benefit of taking that extra night and extra day, you are able to experience a part of Halong Bay that fewer venture off to.  We really enjoyed the mix of people we met in addition to the activities we experienced on that second day (I definitely recommend the 2 night, 3 day cruise if you have the time). 

Check out Galaxy Cruise:



At the base of Maze Cave - Halong Bay.

Amanda was excited to see the sun come out, we were lucky to have an incredible day.  Thinking back, this was only a few days before the superstorm typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and then traveled onto Vietnam, we were very lucky to experience Halong Bay with this great weather.  

After Maze Cave on our second day, we ventured off to another set of islands where we had the opportunity to kayak around and spend some time on our beach of choice within this area.

In the afternoon of the second day, we cruised past this floating fishing village and then onto a Pearl Farm tour.  

Halong Bay - Pearl Farm - This was a cultured pearl farm where the pearls were essentially created by man.  Natural pearls are formed by nature or basically by chance, and the chance of a pearl forming in a mollusk or mussel is very rare... therefore most pearls are cultured.  In this case, man made pearls are formed by inserting a graft into a mollusk and then a pearl sac forms and an actual pearl has a good chance to form in this controlled environment.  They then cultivate, clean them up and sell them.  It was an interesting tour.  

The captain's helper, and a good one at that.  

At the end of our second day, we had a chance to head back to the same beach we were at the night before.  Instead, we opted to stay on the top deck of the boat, enjoy a Bia Ha Noi and relax before dinner.  Cheers!

Amanda pointing out the exact same boat we were on.  

The Galaxy Premium was a really great boat.  We were noticing all different types of junks throughout the 3 days in Halong Bay and they varied in size and condition.  The Galaxy Premium was on the smaller size of the overnighters.  

All of our meals were excellent and the displays were very well done.  For both lunch and dinner, they would serve us course after course after course, always too much food.  Here our tomato swan was guarding our fried squid.  

Day 4 - Halong Bay to Hanoi - Friday, November 8

Our last day on the boat consisted of another kayak tour of a local floating fishing village and then a tour of Bai Tu Long Bay on the way back to Halong City.  We were also offered to partake in a cooking class on the boat just before lunch.  We learned how to make the traditional Vietnamese spring roll which we also enjoyed for lunch.

Filling up the boat with diesel before the next group arrives.

After disembarking our boat on the 3rd day just after lunch, we got on a bus back to Hanoi, another 4.5hrs.  We were dropped at our hotel just in time for another great dinner at Bun Bo Nam Bo which we enjoyed so much on our first night there, we figured, why not go back for more?!

We were both nervous going to bed as the next day was the start of our actual motorbike adventure, each riding a moto for the first time in Vietnam, and having to exit the chaos of Hanoi and head north... all part of the adventure.  

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