Monday, March 26, 2012

hà nội to hạ long

Immediately after we returned to Hanoi from Sapa on the night train (around 5AM) An and I set off for Ha Long bay on a tourist bus (about 3 hours). Needless to say, it was a groggy and whirlwind ride.

Going to Ha Long Bay sounds like it will be a relaxing and tranquil trip in which you can just whisk away for quick weekend getaway. But like everything in Vietnam, it has evolved into the most complex, shady operations one could possibly make out of such a lovely location. You can't just GO to Ha Long Bay.   Located about 3 hours from Hanoi along the northern coast of Vietnam, it is THE tourist destination of the North. It has recently been named one of the Seven New Natural Wonders of the World. Since then, Ha Long Bay simply serves as a cash cow for some of the most conniving individuals in the world--Vietnamese tourist companies.

There are two ways to see Ha Long Bay--one is to book a tour with a company and have everything be included (rides to and fro Hanoi to Ha Long, the boat that will take you throughout the bay, food, lodging (on the boat or on the island in the bay), etc.) The plus side to this option is you literally are care free the entire trip and can just enjoy moving from one activity to the next without having to find a way to arrange each step along the way. The down side is you have to deal with booking a tour. However,
Your other option is to go by yourself without the help of a tour company. Although probably cheaper, instead of the headache revolving around booking the tour, the pain and suffering is with you every step of the way trying to get from point A to point B. We decided to go with the first option. So after countless hours on the phone in Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and one SIM card later, we booked our tour. We actually ended up cancelling and switching several more times. It never ends. 

All-in-all, I think we made the right decision. Having everything included for 2 nights and 3 days is the way to do it. We spend one night on the boat and one night on Cat Ba Island. I'll let the scenery speak for itself.

"Surprise Cave"

why it is called "Surprise Cave", as there is a giant rock shaped like a penis when you enter. i wish i was kidding.

our boat!

bike riding in Cat Ba

breathtaking Cat Ba

floating villages
living on water does not stop people from having pet dogs

cat ba town 
view from our hotel window!
In summary, if you ever plan to go to Ha Long Bay, it is doable, it is enjoyable, but you get out what you put into it, and you get what you pay for. If you take your time and plan carefully, it can be one of the coolest places in the whole world.