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Cruising around Ha Long Bay
One quick spin round Hanoi later and it’s off to Ha Long Bay with the other bunk-bed dwellers from the hostel. Ha Long is about a 3 hour drive from Hanoi and can be reached by public bus as well as with private tour buses- as it’s lunar new year right now and public transport is a no-go, we’re going with the easy option.
Hostels are generally ready and willing to help you book tours and excursions all over the place, so wherever you’re staying you should be able to sort a trip easily if you’re not confident negotiating buses or trains by yourself.
The view from our cabin
There are many hostels and guesthouses in Ha Long, and on Cat Ba island – a popular spot in the bay for relaxing and taking in the scenery- but it wouldn’t be right to visit without seeing the bay properly by splashing out and staying on a junk boat. Boat tours range from 1 to 3 nights long and come in varying levels of luxury depending on your budget!
There are a load of options starting at around $100 for a 2 day trip, which isn’t bad when you factor in all the food and activities that includes, as well as your cushy cabins. If you’re leaving your backpack elsewhere and travelling with just enough for the junk trip, take money for drinks which aren’t always included- and if you’re feeling ballsy, do what everyone on my boat did and buy your beers from the passing boat traders or from the stalls outside Sung Sot cave, as they’ll be cheaper than the ones onboard!
We spent our first day on the boat admiring the views, sunbathing and sinking Hanoi beers, and even had a crack at making our own spring rolls (all complete disasters). As with the hostel, the beds were firm but the showers were hot- and this time we had luxurious real duvets! Dreamy.
Sunrise at Ha Long Bay
A visit to Sung Sot Cave, one of Ha Long’s main attractions, showed that it has been irritatingly tourist-ified with funny coloured lighting, paved steps and bins throughout (we would have preferred head torches and scrambling, but I guess you can’t get as many tourists through it if you limit it to natural accessibility only). Most boat trips include the ticket for entry here, and you can see such brilliant rock formations as “obviously carved dragon head” and “hilariously lit cock-rock”
Apparently it’s a pointing finger. Sure.
As well as giggling our way around the cave, our little crew took the option of kayaking around parts of the bay- spotting an enourmous jellyfish and several very small sharks along the way. You can also see tiny man-made structures built into the rock in places-including what looked like a little house, four ornate graves in a makeshift cemetery and this teeny tiny temple.
The views are (obviously) beautiful and being able to explore by kayak was fantastic. Our quick visit has been short and sweet, as Mai Chau is calling, but I’d highly recommend coming here for a float around if you get the chance.