I had to talk to the bus driver assistant to drop me at the highway intersection that leads to downtown Halong City. From there I took a motorbike for 100,000 dong to my hostel. It was already past 10:00 pm when I checked in. The road network to Quan Ninh Province is very good. We entered lots of expressways. The reason it took longer is because provincial buses usually don't follow a straight route as they enter many small towns and back to highways which makes the route quite complicated. Very different story on my way back though.
HALONG PARTY HOSTEL
Chợ Đền Hà Long, bay, Tỉnh lộ 7,
It was particularly gloomy that day as a bad weather depression was approaching but it didn't stop us from having fun. Good thing we were able to leave the port at around 10:00am because we learned that the authorities cancelled all afternoon and next day tours due to the unfavorable weather forecast.
Despite the chill, we were mostly out in the front section of the boat enjoying the view. I have always wanted to see Halong Bay ever since I've been to El Nido because the cliff islands in El Nido are the same tectonic rocks one can find in Halong. I find El Nido way more beautiful than Halong Bay thanks to the super clear water and amazing underwater experience but Halong Bay will blow you away in terms of its size and number of Islands.
Imagine the rocky island cliffs of El Nido a thoudand times more. It's just sad the sea in Halong is murky because the area is a busy shipping and logistics route. Still, you will still to admire the place and feel wow with the overlapping towering islands especially visible from the mainland when I was on my way back to Hanoi.
The biggest attraction are the boat tours. Big boats of varying sizes and prices depending on comfort. These boats dont only serve as transportation for sightseeing but as party venues especially on an overnight tour which I would love to try next time I come back.
The foggy/ gloomy weather was a boon in a way because of fewer tourists and shorter queues at stops. Our first stop was on a man-made dock near some islands where one can kayak around some of the islands. This is when you get up close with the rocks formations and admire them. Because of the proximity, it makes for a postcard perfect photo too.
I was happy enough to see and take photos of Duc going on a kayak with some of our seatmates at the tour, a group of young, well traveled Europeans. I was a bit apprehensive of getting on one as the water was really cold I couldn't imagine making a mistake and falling into the murky water. Excuses excuses. But as I said I was so ok at the wooden platform enjoying the view and the festive atmosphere.
Sung Sot Cave
Our next stop was Sung Sot Cave. Since this is a show cave, they cemented certain sections of it especially the floor to facilitate the flow of people. Expect concrete steps so no need to worry about soiled shoes. They also lighted it in technicolor to highlight the stalagmite and stalactite formations. It is so beautiful and the rock formations so intricate. The downside though is that they had to kill the cave just to freeze it as it is. I couldn't even see a drop of water inside except for the artificial fountain they put up inside to add a little drama. Sad. Still, a marvel to look at and indeed photogenic.
After this, we were off to the port. A pretty simple tour for $25. Actually, we noticed in the ticket that the tour only costs around $10. That means the rest goes to the shuttle company and hostel. So if you can figure out how to get yourself to the port and get your own ticked you can save a lot more. Although I reckon it will be close to the same amount if you are to hire a motorbike rider to take you there, wait for you for a few hours and take you back to your accommodation.
As I said, the port is so massive and complicated and people hardly speak English. Other than what I mentioned earlier, I would like to try another way next time. Many whites go to the largest island in Halong Bay -- Cat Ba -- stay overnight and take a tour from there. That would be nice too.
After the tour. Duc's mom called to ask if I want to spend dinner with them. Her sister who lives separate from the family was home for a visit so they prepared food. I found myself at the back ride of Duc's motorbike towards the other side of Halong City past the iconic bridge. I was warmly welcomed by his family -- mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and nephew -- and the simple dinner I expected was grand. They prepared potluck and bunch of other stuff. They were so cheerful as a family and very friendly to me......
In Duc's words, "sanayan lang yan". Well, I translated that in Filipino.
Oh, the plan to stay with Duc's family didn't happen. When we arrived at my hostel, Duc received a message from his classmates that they were to go to school early the next day to donate blood. I decided to just stay at the hostel instead and Duc went back the next morning after his school activity to take me to the bus station.
But before saying goodbye, I told Duc to drop by a Pho house for my last breakfast with him in Halong City. A heavenly bowl of Pho for a cold day.
My stay at Halong City was simple and the tour of Halong Bay was also simple but made extra special because of my friend Duc. Best of all, because I didn't just make a friend in Halong, I also made a new family! _________________________