Left Hanoi for the 3 hour car ride to halong city where we would get on the boat and head out into halong bay.
There are many different cruise operators and the price for an overnight journey ranges from $99 up over $200. After checking comments on trip advisor and recommendation of the hotel I chose Bhaya cruises which is $185 The drive to halong bay included many interesting sites; oxen on the side of the road, endless rice paddies, lots of traffic and horns blowing. The roads remind me of the roads in the maritimes in the early sixties (narrow, poor quality and full of potholes). Some of the house along the way are very beautiful and well kept and then others are shacks with a Lexus sitting outside so it is hard to figure out the economic situation. There are lots of Vietnam flags flying in this area (red flag with star) , also a number of red flags with the russian hammer and sickle insignia.
Along with hundreds of other tourists we arrived at the dock for everyone to embark their appropriate vessel. I was delighted to see the bhaya as it was a beautiful boat and when we boarded we were GIVEN a drink (unlike north American cruise ships where you have to pay). We were then taken to the dining area and treated to a delicious buffet lunch and I was seated on the outside deck as we sailed through the bay.
Halong bay is a designated world heritage site and its name means 'descending dragon bay'. The bay consists of thousands of limestone karsts and isles of various shapes and sizes.
After lunch we were loaded on to smaller boats that locals row and taken to the nearby floating water village where 60 families live. The view is just breath taking At the floating water village there is a school which was refurbished in 2011 by the Killara high school of Sydney Australia. There are a number of floating water villages in the bay but this one is apparently the largest and we even got to observe the children in school.
One can see some debri in the water but the people rowing the boats scoop it up with nets, the water is actually quite clean We were then taken to an area where the pearl farms are located - apparently most are owned by the Japanese. We boarded another floating boat and watched a girl insert a grain into the oyster - these are called cultured pearls and normally cost far less but they are more plentiful than the natural pearls.
On the row boat I met two young couples; one from washington DC on their honeymoon and the other couple she was from Tennessee and he from Texas. However they both knew of the Loveless Cafe I visited with Marianne and Brian last May and he had actually visited the cafe.
Back to the boat to go to happy hour before dinner (drinks are two for one so the only cost about $4 each). I met up with the honeymoon couple in the bar and we started talking to another young couple who are living in Taiwan it turns out he was born and grew up in Vancouver and went to UBC
When we were all seated for dinner the young honeymoon couple asked me to join them and we had a lovely dinner and evening together. Especially when the chef surprised the couple with a special wedding cake and a special dance - I was busy taking pictures and was wondering if others on the boat may be thinking they have brought their mother on their honeymoon. After dinner the two couples and I met on the upper deck of the boat as it was a lovely calm evening to enjoy the scenery.
My room on the boat was very comfortable and I had a good night sleep. The next morning we were put into small boats and taken to the limestone caves. I felt like I was in an Indiana jones movie. These caves are huge and spectacular as you can see from the pictures We were then taken back to the main boat, served a lovely brunch as headed for the dock and back to Hanoi. This time the two couples and I were all put in the same van so we again shared a few laughs exchanged emails and hopefully meet up again in the future. The three young couples I met really made this experience special and I thank you.