Brrrr! Stepping off the plane in t-shirt and shorts was a shock to the system when we arrived in the thick of Hanoi’s winter. I wasn’t anticipating it, that’s for sure! It felt like I’d landed back in the UK after a lovely sun-soaked holiday … luckily we weren’t being thrown back into reality just yet, and we had the delights of Halong Bay to look forward to.
After a much-needed decent night’s sleep, my first mission of the day was to buy a wooly jumper and another pair of trousers. The late arrival of my new and not-so-large rucksack the night before we left home put me into ‘packing panic’ mode, and I’d left myself rather unprepared for those days when the sun doesn’t shine.
We did our research and booked onto one of the best boat tours of Halong Bay; one night sleeping on the vessel, the second in a bungalow in the middle of the Cat Ba national park. Some might say that we were headed to Halong at the wrong time of the year – but I think we went at the best time, because we escaped the hordes of tourists and saw a completely different perspective of the bay than we would during northern Vietnam’s summer months.
We sailed across Halong for a few hours. Words can’t do justice to just how stunning the mountain-like rocks, submerged in the bay’s calm blue waters, looked among the hazy, wintry landscape. On our first day we climbed to the peak of Ti-Top island and visited Amazing Caves – and they really were amazing! A shame, once again, that my camera is no good at taking shots in the dark. Like our past treks, we were travelling with a real mixed bunch of people from all over the globe. Unfortunately, Paul was coming down with the flu and that evening decided to catch an early night. I got hooked in conversation with a guy from Guatemala and we spent hours chatting about the ways of the world and our perspectives on life. The beers were flowing, of course.
Needless to say I woke with a fuzzy head the following morning. We ate breakfast, which soon cured my hangover, and we sailed towards our first stop: an oyster farm. We learnt how they’re bred and the process in which they make pearl. Then we were led to the pearl shop where we discovered how ridiculously expensive they are!
The funniest part of the day was visiting Monkey Island — the cheekiest monkeys I’ve yet to meet. We climbed a challenging rocky hill so we could take some decent snaps from the top, and rewarded ourselves with a cold can of coke each once we’d reached the bottom. Paul didn’t even get as far as opening his; a monkey swiped it before his eyes, and there’s no reasoning with those little guys once they’ve grabbed what they had their eye on. I think he was just grateful that they didn’t swipe his cigarettes too!
Our final stop of the day was the Cat Ba island national park, where we cycled beside the bay and took a stop to trek through some of its dense, untouched woodland. It was so peaceful, and the bungalows we were booked into for the night were just as serene. I love falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle.
Our final day was spent sailing back to the shore, and then travelling back to Hanoi. I’d recommend Halong Bay to anyone who’s planning on visiting Vietnam. It was a total retreat and I finished the three-day trip feeling refreshed and ready for the next adventure.