In a hungover stupor we slept in too late to catch the last bus from Hanoi, meaning we had to get the train from there to Haiphong. The train cost only £2 each and had exceptional views of the countryside. Paddies followed by paddies followed by paddies. It was such a beautiful, unintended way of seeing so much more of Vietnam than we hoped to. When we arrived, we jumped in a taxi and spent an hour and a half driving to Ha Long Bay. By the time we arrived it was too dark to see the water or the vast rocks above it. Our hotel lay on the other side of the newly built suspension bridge; so it was a short taxi journey from a lot of the shops and restaurants and boats but we were happy to have some distance after the pandemonium that was Hanoi.
Our hotel, the Royal Hotel, exceeded any expectation we had beforehand. We woke up at 5am to see the sun rising from our balcony. The view from our hotel is otherworldly, with islands and islands stretching on for as far as you can see.
The most typical way to see Ha Long Bay is to visit it by boat. Usually, people take several day trips on the water, sleeping on their boat. Because we were cramming so many places into such a short space of time as well as our budget, we decided to spend only a couple of days on the coast of Vietnam.
We spent our one full day taking a small boat trip around the islands, which cost around £25 each for four hours. We, again, unintentionally avoided the party boats which ended up working greatly in our favour because there were no more than twenty people on our boat, which was the size of a small ferry.
When we finally left the harbour I was almost instantly reminded of our last week in Zhangjiajie. Coming out of the water as if from nowhere were vast, towering islands, some baring their limestone and others covered in green. Against the pure blue sky and sea they were rough, ragged and unmanicured. What struck me the further away from land was just how many of these islands there were. Our first stop was natural limestone caves, where we were able to disembark the boat and walk through one of these formations. From the blinding midday sun you were plunged into darkness and dampness. The natural ceiling stood what seemed miles away from us, and the complex natural path through the cave allowed us to see small pools, carvings and colours in the rock.
With some fresh coconut and lunch from the island we sailed for an hour or so through an endless They took us to a floating fishing village nestled within the islands where we disembarked our ‘big boat’ once again. We split into three smaller groups to ride in row boats, which cost a further 100,000 Dong (£3.30), to reach the places the ferry could not. Drifting away from the children swimming around their boat houses and fishermen, we were taken to small and large lagoons under arches in the rocks. Underneath several we seen writing, from both the past and present, which made me particularly curious about what Ha Long Bay’s significance in Vietnamese history really was.
Back on the ferry we had the upper deck to ourselves sunbathe and take it all in. It was such a peaceful and meditative excursion and made us all the more excited for the coastal locations we were to visit in the coming weeks.