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Halong Bay Junk Boat cruise: Day 1

Hooray! Halong Bay! I was sooo excited to finally get to see what this place is gonna be like. A lot of travel resources recommend doing the mid-range tour as its a better value. I booked the 3 day cruise through my budget hotel. They booked me for the next day with a ship called Dugong Sail. It looks great from the pics. I'm all set. Sweet! Halong Bay is a national park of Vietnam located a few hours from Hanoi. There's hundreds of beautiful karst mountain islands littered all around the seascape. Its a Unesco world heritage site for a reason. Its amazingly beautiful!

Highlights: I love the boat cruise. The water is as smooth as a pond because of all the beautiful mountains breaking the current. The scenery is fantastic!
Cast of Characters: There were people from all over the world in my tour group. There was a South African couple Dallas & Nadja who I was with on the bus ride just the night before! I swear the backpacking group is a small circle. You run into the same folks over & over (like that creepy violin wielding French dude in Vietnam). Anyway, I got to chat with some of the folks on our boat. They were all just gonna do the 2 day tour.
Logistics/ Links: here's a link to a site with the boat info. All hotels can book your trip for you. You can book it as late as the night before it seems. There's a travel agent office at every corner in Hanoi's Old Quarters. Here's the link to the second & third day of the cruise.
When: I went early March, 2012. Bah! It was 'undercoat season'. As you can see from my pics, its pretty foggy. It gets pretty cold too. I can't recommend going in March. All the boats are painted white for refinishing, getting them all ready for the peak tourist season. The mist creates this mysterious ambiance (reminds me of the last King Kong movie) to the place. It's still beautiful as long as there's some decent visibility. It was also drizzling a bit.
*update: I just read an article that the boats are all painted the ugly white for 'modernizing' the look of Halong Bay. Ugh
Location: Halong Bay, Vietnam is at the northern part of the country. Maybe 2-3 hrs away from Hanoi.
Cost: I paid $100 for the 3 day/2 night trip. This includes everything except for drinks & tips. My hotel was initially selling it for $135!!! Good thing I spoke to somebody earlier who told me they paid $100 for the same trip. You can prolly get it for a few dollars less, but I think that's about the average.
Trip Report: The tour van picked me up at about 8 or 9. Halong Bay is about 3 hrs or so from Hanoi. Needless to say, if you're doing a 1 day tour- you're gonna be spending most of the day on the van, not the boat. Our tour had 1 guide taking care of us. We arrived at the dock, there was a short wait for our park entrance tickets. The place is filled with tourists, its crazy. We hopped onto a small boat that took us to the actual junk ship. We settled in, had a fabulous lunch on the boat just sailed around the bay for a while.

A mini boat arrived to take us to a cave. It was pretty cool. Very easy to explore the cave. I was just thinking of the caves up at Sagada (northern Philippines) & how those were definitely not for everybody. The attractions in Halong Bay are for yound & old alike. After the cave, we went to do maybe 45 mins of kayaking around the bay. I thought the area was a little bit too busy for kayaking, but if you're only doing the 1 day tour I suppose its better than nothing. We proceeded back to the junk boat & just relaxed the rest of the afternoon. We had some more fabulous dinner, chatted with fellow travelers for a while before retreating to our rooms. Some folks decided to do a bit of karaoke. Glad they called it a night quickly.

By the way, the rooms look just like they do in the brochure pics. Very nice. Excellent view of the seascape from our window. The junk boats kind of just gather around a certain area of Halong Bay for the night. I slept like a baby. The water is very calm. No worries of motion sickness. The boat was pretty comfortable too. I just wish it wasn't white paint undercoat season. Oh well.

This was overall a very relaxing trip. It would be a sin to just do a 1 day tour around the place.

I love our guide! She's always smiling, upbeat & appropriately snarky. We were in the cave & there was a turtle rock formation. She asked the group if they knew whether the turtle is a male or a female. One of the older male tourists replied- 'A female!' Our guide asks why. He replies 'Because it likes money' (the turtle was supposed to have some kind of religious significance so people made small cash offerings). Our guide replies 'Oh yeah! If only females like money, then give me all the money in your wallet right now....everybody likes money.' HA! Silent applause to our guide. I hate sexist jokes, I hear it all the time in US. In Vietnam, another guide was telling us of the importance of having a male child. Especially in their past, a Vietnamese man's life is pretty much incomplete until they have a son.

Dock for the cave access

There's some villages that live in Halong Bays waters on these little boats. They sell overpriced goods to tourists.

Nice cave. Forgot what its called.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Me kayaking at Halong Bay. Yeey!

Post apocalyptic looking boat at Halong Bay.

Vietnam is one of those countries that have their flag freakin' everywhere! Who else..hmm...US, Thailand too I think.

Fellow kayakers circling the area

Our room for the night

This picture does not do justice. The meals served were great.

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