The majority of people that travel through beautiful Vietnam will either start in Hanoi and travel South to Ho Chi Minh or just as we did, start South and travel North – Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi. Because of this you repeatedly bump into people you have met before and can quickly become good friends. This was definitely the case for us and we enjoyed repeatedly seeing friends along the way or teaming up and travelling the same route together – which has become a regular occurrence for Fran and I. Anyway the organised people that we are, we planned to meet up with a particular group of 5 people that we knew would make a trip to Halong Bay and unforgettable one! Success, and we met with Laura, Jeni, Cara, Ollie and Vince to spend the next week with one another in Hanoi and Halong Bay.
We researched a lot to find a good cruise company as I’ve heard too many stories of bad boats, bad food, rip off deals etc. There is a lot of waffle on the internet listing thousands of different options but we found not one helpful review or website on boat companies to use or to avoid. I can’t tell you which to avoid but I can tell you that if you want a lively atmosphere with just young people aboard and don’t want to party as hard as the Castaway cruise then choose the Party Boat cruise and book from Sinh Cafe right by Hanoi Backpackers Downtown.
Castaway Cruise is a hardcore drinking and partying session on a boat with constant drinking games and crazy nights. This didn’t appeal to me or Fran in the slightest – that’s not how I wanted to see Halong Bay.
The funny thing was we did end up partying on Halong Bay and I promise you that was totally not the plan! I wanted to take in the incredible scenery and not be hungover, grumpy or feel horrendous while floating through such a wonderful place. However the price was too good to refuse and we all convinced each other that it would be nothing like the Castaway cruise but we would make it our own and still have the best time possible.
I was slightly nervous about hating it, it being full of rowdy drunks and endless drinking games being played while we missed all of what was passing us by outside.
That thankfully is so far from what we all experienced on this trip. Yes we woke up with hangovers both days and played drinking games until the early hours of the morning but we did so much more and got to experience a lot of what Halong has to offer.
Halong bay is made up of 1,969 limestone islands and stretches on for miles and miles. It is such an incredible sight seeing these gigantic rocks of all shapes and sizes completely surrounding you as you sail between them.
Unfortunately though, and I really hate to say this but it’s not like what you see in all the pictures. It has it’s own climate, which is just plain haze, cloud and pretty darn cold. This made the visibility bad and my own pictures not as beautiful as I thought they were going to be. There are floating villages in between a lot of the islands that at first I thought were a pretty cool insight into how people live and work around this area, but, unfortunately the people that live on them have not been taught how to look after their environment so waste and rubbish is thrown into the water leaving the bay littered with rubbish.
I know I sound like a bit of an old women but it’s a really big problem and ruined the beauty of the place for me. Our tour guide told us that soon no one will be allowed to live in Halong Bay and a big clean up scheme will be put in place. Too right!
We were joined by two Kiwis making a grand total of 9 people on our boat, which was just perfect. We all got on soo well, wanted the same experience out of this trip and they fully understood our English banter – what more could we ask for!
We spent our first day cruising through Halong Bay, stopping to explore caves and canoe around the bay which was amazing. We spent the night docked in the middle of the water surrounded by beautiful Islands and gorged on a massive feast of fish, pork, chicken and rice!
It was then that we accidentally got our booze cruise on and completely drank them dry of beer, played drinking games all night and laughed until our stomachs hurt.
Waking up the next day with Halong Bay being the other side of my bedroom door took my breath away – even with 5 hours sleep! I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest girl alive to be able to wake up to that!
Our last full day was spent at a private beach nestled amongst the rocks where we lazed on the sand, read our books, swam in the sea and jumped off the jetty – what a perfect way to nurse a hangover 🙂
We spent the evening here in beach bungalows, of course the drinking games and rum came out and we sang songs until are throats were raw.. Who did we think we were, uni students again? Another incredibly amazing night spent in amazing company with jaw dropping scenery. I literally couldn’t ask for more!
Were now on the bus back to Hanoi after 3 days spent in Halong and I come away with mixed feelings!! I am gutted that there is no effort made to keep the place clean and if nothing does actually change it won’t be long until there will be no tourists visiting! But on the other hand the beauty, the company and the fun we had has more than made up for it! It was an experience we all will never be able to replicate and I will look back at the trip with nothing but happy memories!!