Worldwide Travel Blog
Worldwide Travel Blog Worldwide Travel Blog Worldwide Travel Blog Worldwide Travel Blog Worldwide Travel Blog Worldwide Travel Blog

 DAY 14, 15 & 16 - Halong Bay, Vietnam

Previous Blogs: Day 1 Tokyo | Day 2 Tokyo | Day 3 & 4 Singapore | Day 5 Singapore | Day 6 Ho Chi Minh City | Day 7 Ho Chi Minh City & Tunnels

Day 8 Can Tho | Day 9 Floating Market | Day 10 Flower Market | Day 11 Hoi An | Day 12 My Son Temple | Day 13 Hanoi | Day 14-16 Halong Bay

Day 17 Luang Prabang | Day 18 Temples-Waterfalls | Day 19 Mekong River | Day 20-21 Bagan | Day 22 Bagan | Day 23 Inle | Day24-25 Inle

Day 26-27 Finale

Click photos for a larger image...

We were picked up at our hotel for a 3 1/2 hour bus ride to Halong Bay which is in Northern Vietnam.

Driving in Vietnam is always interesting. These drivers make decisions and do things I WOULD NEVER DO, but somehow always get away with it.

That means that they are either very skilled drivers, or they are terrible drivers that happen to be extraordinary lucky!

I just haven't decided which yet!

Halong Bay is Vietnam's premier tourist destination and is jam packed with tourists. Damn these guys have only been in the tourism business for 20 years, but boy, do they have it down. We were out of the bus and checked into our cabins and moving within 20 minutes!

The dining room, both lunch and dinner were 10 courses!


This is the bar. Look down the hallway and you can see the first cabin door, THAT IS OUR CABIN! 5 paces from the bar, they knew we were coming!

Our cabin, small but with a balcony

The top sun deck, only no sun!

<<<<< This turned out to be our favorite spot on the boat - you can probably tell why! It was a cloudy, foggy day, unfortunately, but nevertheless extremely beautiful scenery.

Then the fuel barge arrived to gas us up - these cruise boats don't gas up in the port, they are not there long enough as they get turned around in less than an hour. So instead they gas them up while the tourists are off the boat on an excursion.

This is the tender we towed behind us so people can go ashore to do various activities (we just stayed on board - more on this later). Also note the vendor in the little boat selling her wares - "Buy from me, I much cheaper."  Um...not really!  Her rates were triple that of the boat!!

The ship is not exactly that expensive to start with, beers are the outrageous price of $2 each. Beat THAT carnival Cruise Lines!

Our boat looks something like this.  The rock formation vaguely reminds me of something???!!!

That is a VERY BIG anchor line!

There are a LOT of these ships out there! My goodness, way more than I was expecting. It is a unique system, the boats have about 12 cabins. There are only 20 guests on our cruise, every cabin is occupied. Some boats are a little bigger like the ones pictured above, but still pretty small by cruise boat standards. Even the river boats in Egypt took 65 people.

Here is one of the "Day Boats"

So the system they work on is interesting. You can have a 2 day cruise or a 3 day cruise. I thought this would be on 2 different boats, 2 days on one and then another boat does the 3 day people. Logical, right? Nope!

Both cruises are on the same boat! How?

The boat leaves port at 1pm, goes to the islands where it anchors for the night and then returns back to port at 12.30pm the next day. That's the 2 day (or two half days to be exact). Then the next people climb on board and the boats leaves again at 1pm and repeats the same process. People have to check out of their rooms by 9.30 so they can be cleaned for the next passengers.

If you are on a 3 day like us, it gets complicated. Here's the way THEY wanted it to work. At the island they have a "day" boat. It's got chairs and tables, they sell drinks and snacks. They have kayaks in tow and stay at the beach all day (a manmade beach at that). 3 day people get off the big boat (at 8am) and spend the day on the day boat at the island and then rejoin the big boat when it returns at 4 or 5 pm, joining with the next set of 2 day people, returning with them to port the next day.

We did not want to spend an entire day on the beach. We live on a beach. We did not want to go kayaking, we own a kayak rental company. So we elected to stay on the big boat instead. They were horrified!! Firstly they couldn't understand WHY we would not want to sit on a beach the whole day and miss out on all the "fun" activities.

They did not understand that we have been traveling 17 days non-stop without a break and this cruise was supposed to be downtime for us to relax in a beautiful environment, after the craziness of travelling 3 countries, 8 cities and moving hotels every 2 days. Also, I think they are not used to people bucking the carefully planned out system they have, probably a legacy from the Communist days!

But they finally let us, so we slept in (BARELY!!!  More on this below), skipped all of the on board and off board activities and trips (and there were many). Just relaxed, drank beer and watched the islands go by. Perfect!

Our chef steaming shrimp on a hot rock for dinner which was another 10 course meal!

At night the bay is a sea of lights from all the boats anchored.


<<<< This was our menu for lunch, just to give you an idea.

So... even though we specified that we were sleeping in, NOT doing Tai Chi at 6:00 not doing meditation at 6:30am, we WILL NOT be at breakfast at 7am, and we are NOT going Kayaking at 8.00am - - our tour guide Huang, knocked on our door at 6.00 and again at 6.30am. Wendy was seriously pissed off!!!  So she made this sign and hung it outside our door. Not only did he get the message but it gave all the other passengers a good laugh as everyone has to walk past our room to get to breakfast!  He apologized, Wendy put on her "happy face" and accepted his apology.  She's still bitching that he woke us up on our only day to sleep in. 

Once we got up, the others were back from kayaking and it was time to drop them off at the port, so a nice ride in back to the port and we had the boat to ourselves for an hour while we waited on the next load of tourists.

In the port

Here they are re-provisioning the boat.

The chef checking his order..

Heave ho! Load that food aboard!

And so we leave again, with a new bunch of friends on board to redo the exact same thing, even with the exact same menus!

The last trip there were 4 other Americans on board (all men in their 50's - 60's, traveling alone), this time there are none.  Our table mates are 2 Asian Australians (originally for Korea, a mom and daughter) and a young Dutch couple in the early 30s.  Lovely group of people and we laughed and laughed throughout lunch. 

The other Americans also admitted that their entire trip they saw very few Americans, mostly Brits, Aussies, Europeans and Asian tourists from Japan, Malaysia. Korea and China.  BTW - Americans are the only ones in the world that differentiates North & South Korea.  When someone from  Korea is asked where thy are from, it is simply "Korea".  Cuz we all know that crazy nut job in North Korea won't let his people out anyway.

We had dinner with a lovely family from Mumbai, India with lots to talk about as we have been to their country and they have been to America several times. Both the father and the daughter went to college in Michigan. 

Internet was only available when boat was anchored and very poor, more down than up - but having said that, we were surprised there was Wifi at all on a small boat this size!  Window still as a desk.

Here's one of the several side tours we didn't do - 500 people going up and down 500 steps in single file to see a cave. Nope, we got caves at home in north Florida.  In fact, it's FREE with our State Parks pass!!

The next morning didn't bring any respite from the cold, foggy weather - 3 days in a row in the lower 60s - a far cry from the 93F we were seeing the start of the trip.  Laos, generally very pleasant and warm will be experiencing a severe cold snap just as we arrive.  It will be 85F upon arrival dropping down to 49F for the next few days we're there.  Karma has not been in our favor with weather this trip.  :(

Old school fishermen bringing in the morning's catch.


On the way back in the Chef demonstrated how to cut pretty shapes in fruits. And here's Wendy learning how to make spring rolls >>>>

First thought this meant no jet skis, but once closer I see a picture of a boat. If no boats are allowed here, then why is our ship here?

We returned to the harbor at noon, ready for our 4 hour bus ride back to Hanoi which is our last night in Vietnam.  We leave for Laos tomorrow morning.

Vietnam surprised us, it was very different to what we were expecting in both good and bad ways. We thought it would be similar to Cambodia right next door which we loved. But it's not.

Vietnam is very Westernized, too much so. We didn't get to see a unique culture and how the people live. They live pretty much like Westerners.

Cities are spotlessly clean, toilets NEVER lacked paper and were plentiful and clean. People were polite, but not overly friendly like Cambodia, just professional and nice.

Halong Bay, like so many other Vietnam attractions, was a production line engineered specifically for mass tourists. Designed for volume with maximum efficiency.

So while we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Vietnam, there was no WOW factor like China, Thailand and Cambodia. The Government has even relocated the local fishing villages away from the water to make room for tourists.

Which is sad as some of our BEST experiences were visiting local fishing villages in Cambodia and China. We didn't visit any inland villages either, or were we taken to rice paddy plantations (which we loved in Thailand). It's like they want to make your tourist experience as Western as possible.

Now, there are many tourists that LIKE that aspect, it makes them feel good remaining in their comfort zone. But that's not us. We want to KNOW that we are not in Kansas anymore. So while we appreciated the comfortable hotels and free Wifi everywhere and nice restaurants and cheap prices, we are nevertheless leaving feeling just a little cheated and surprised that Vietnam is so different to it's direct neighbors.

Having said that, Loas and Myanmar could also be completely different, so watch this space!

Below is a short video taken in Halong Bay.