After a few exciting nights in Hanoi we made the four-hour trip to Halong Bay, located in northeastern Vietnam. We decided to book a group tour during our stay because we wanted to see as much as possible while staying on a boat for a few nights and the easiest way to ensure that, is to book a group tour. So we chose a two night/ three-day option aboard the L’ Azalee through Buffalo Tours.
So on our fourth morning in Vietnam, Buffalo Tours picked us up from our hotel in Hanoi. The second the crowded van pulled up thirty minutes late, I was reminded why I hate group tours. We climbed into the van and introduced ourselves to the other couples and filed into the back of the van into the only seat available: a middle seat. It was a tight squeeze, making the four-hour trip seem rather long; especially with the loud and obnoxious woman sitting in front of me. Why did we decide to do a group tour again? When we finally arrived at our destination, I was exhausted and my legs were drenched in sweat from being pressed against the hot leather seats.
We all piled out of the car and into the crowded boat dock. It was packed with tourists. PACKED. Clearly, many other people got the memo that Halong Bay was a “must see” when in Vietnam. Not surprising considering it has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site, twice.
We were greeted by a handsome young Vietnamese man, who went by the name of James (clearly, not his real name), our guide for the trip. He explained that we would be boarding a small boat that would take us to the L’ Azalee. Minutes later we were strapped in orange life jackets and heading out of the dock.
My first impression of Halong Bay…beyond gorgeous but dear lord I hope there are fewer boats once we get out on the open water…because there were tour boats as far as the eye could see, making Halong Bay feel less magical than I had expected.
After a quick three-minute ride we were at our boat and all settling into our rooms. Our room was on the top floor and had huge windows that opened up onto the green waters. Now Halong Bay was starting to feel magical.
After putting our bags down we were invited to the dining cabin for lunch, which consisted of four courses of various fresh seafood (winning). As we ate, we listened to James give a welcome speech. As he went through the itinerary, I was immediately struck by one sentence…”On this one night / two-day trip you will see a lot of Halong Bay”. Shit, we’re on the wrong boat. We are supposed to be on the two night / three-day boat. Now what.
Brian and I nervously glanced at each other and just as I was about to stand up and say, “Thanks for the free seafood!” James informed us that we did indeed have a three-day tour, but the that the others had only booked one night and would be leaving tomorrow but more would be joining. PHEW, I thought, as I took another bite of shrimp.
On the itinerary after lunch..kayaking through the limestone islands. Despite not being a fan of kayaking (it all comes back to my fear of the ocean), I put a big smile on my face…because one, Brian had a huge one plastered on his and two, I wanted to get closer to those limestone islands and I knew that that beat up red kayak was my ticket.
Halong Bay literally translates to “dragon descending”, a name steeped in local legend. The story goes that a heavenly celestial dragon and her offspring were ordered by the Jade Emperor to halt an invasion from the sea. So to stop the invasion, the dragons spewed out bits of jade and jewels that turned into the islands that are there today.
So off we went in our red kayak and bright orange life jackets.
The limestone formations were like nothing I had ever seen before. They looked so majestic protruding from the clear water. It was so eerily quiet as we kayaked through that it felt like we were the only people on earth. Actually, I kept telling Brian that I was sure a huge dinosaur was about to appear on one of the islands…the scene was straight out of Jurassic Park.
The other thought that kept crossing my mind as we floated through the islands…what is there ever to be sad about when things like this exist in the world?
Once back on the boat we had a few hours to swim, nap or sun bathe before dinner. For Brian and I this consisted of having a cold Tiger beer on the upper deck while sitting in the fleeting sun.
At dinner that evening Brian and I were given our very own romantic table for two, while the others sat at a big table together. The perks of being on a honeymoon. The evening was rather mellow. We had big plans of going squid fishing at 10pm but instead were both asleep by 9pm….