I didn’t look too much into Vietnam and Cambodia before travelling there. Only basic stats and facts like currencies, languages, history, modern-day culture, weather, maps. No blogs or vlogs or any other kind of travel advice type material. Similarly, before watching a new movie I only look at the figures, producers, and cast. Not the trailers or any reviews. Why? Because when was the last time you saw a trailer that accurately represented the film? Never. A critic’s review is biased on personal preferences and/or professional pressures and will still affect your expectations. Don’t know about you but I especially hate hype and getting high expectations, only to be let down (hype just makes me wary, I’m jaded like that lol).
Travelling and experiencing things with fresh eyes is the way to go for me. I want to know the facts about it/there, but no sensory experience of any kind – that way everything is new, everything is interesting and untainted.. But I’ll share my experience for those that are interested in going or just want to live it vicariously hehe. Even just knowing that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the “8th Wonder of the World” sold me.
The overnight cruise was again booked by the awesome brothers at Hanoi Brother Inn, and it cost $99 for almost all inclusions (no drinks provided on the boat). I remember because it was the cheapest deal they had and I stupidly spent my last $100 American bill instead of saving it for Cambodia (will explain in future Cambodian blog posts). What I didn’t know was that it was a ONE STAR JUNK BOAT (until the end of the trip lolol) more on this later.
Roughly 6 hours later and a crazy, fated reunion at the tourist/travel stop with the lovely Vietnamese woman who was sitting on the plane next to me from Sydney (small world.. and such a happy predestined meet-up) later, we arrived to the pier milling with docked boats and people. Even in the off-peak season there’s no end to tourists here it seems. There was a delay with our pick-up boat, but who cares when you’re excitedly anticipating the trip with your two new friends and Instagramming with the free wifi.
From the pier you get on a small boat which brings you to the actual junk boat (boat type, not like “trash” boat lol) that sails into the bay. Okay so this boat – I would NOT have gone on if I knew it was one star, I mean is that thing even sea-worthy?! But it was FINE lol. I would go so far as to say it’s NICE. It’s clearly old wood but it’s got character, the rooms are cosy and super importantly have an aircon/heater and clean bathrooms with hot water! IT WAS FREEZING! We all completely underestimated how cold the bay was, and our teeth were chattering as we chatted on the deck. I didn’t bring socks as I wore thongs so my feet were frosty for 2 days lol. We kept the heater pumping all day and night. Meals were plentiful and well-cooked, only complaint is that no drinks were provided with meals as mentioned.
But it was so worth it. It was ethereal. As we sailed further out with many other boats slowly past various limestone islets shaped like a rhino, a shark’s fin, lightbulbs, towering cliffs with flora growing haphazardly from its stark face, it felt like some strange ritualistic migration. It was quiet except for water, wind, boat engine. I sank into in gratefully and the raucousness of Hanoi and even the pier was long gone from memory. The water transitioned from steely blue-grey to a warmer blue-green as we sailed along, and there was heavy cloud cover with poor visibility towards the horizon, adding to the mysterious and dreamy atmosphere.
I realised that I was in Ha Long Bay. That I was in Vietnam and travelling! That I really did quit my job and the world was now my oyster. Moments of delayed enlightenment lol. As much as I love mountains and hiking like in Sa Pa, water is truly my element. I was so zen-ned out and it would’ve been blissful had it not been so shockingly cold!
I took hundreds and hundreds of photos and videos.. A painful process of culling later, I’ve divided my visual travel diary into 3 parts. You ain’t seen nothing yet! 😉
HA LONG BAY footage at 1:00 – 1:59
Information from the Official Vietnamese Tourism Administration: