Halong Bay is a must see for anyone visiting Vietnam and there are so many companies to choose from,when trying to decide it becomes mind-boggling! After hours of searching, emailing and being utterly confused we decided on Aurora Cruises for our long-awaited trip to Halong Bay. We had decided we wanted to spend 2 nights on the boat so booked ourselves in for the 2 night, 3 day trip and crossed our fingers and toes.
We waited in anticipation outside our guesthouse in Hanoi where we were told we would be collected for our trip to Halong Bay. On the bus and heading for what would turn out to be an amazing birthday celebration for Kim with great people in a picture perfect location.
The drive to the pier took longer than we anticipated however we passed the time chatting to the others and listening to our iPods which have become possibly our most treasured backpacking posession. Upon arriving at the pier we saw hundreds of boats and many fellow westerners. It was then as we exited the bus that our tour leader raised a flag …. yep, a damn flag so we wouldn’t lose her. We both looked at each other and burst into hysterical laughter as we had always sworn to each other we would never be a part of a ‘flag tour’ – yet here we were and unable to control our laughter.
We were taken by a tender boat to our large boat that would be our home for the following 3 days. As we caught our first glimpse of the ‘Aurora’ we all were a little disappointed to see that out of all the boats in the area ours was the only one without sails. We must admit that the sails on the other boats are for ‘display only’ and are never actually used however it does add a great element to the photos having a boat with sails. We decided to let this minor detail slide and boarded the boat. Upon arrival we were told to take a seat as lunch was being served. What followed was an 8 course feast of deliciousness – and every meal following was the same!
After lunch we were issued with our room key and given time to settle in. As we walked into our room we were pleasantly surprised by the large comfortable bed, clean and roomy bathroom and beautiful water view.
We unpacked and headed straight up to the top deck for photos of the stunning scenery (yes it truly is absolutely amazing), relaxing and a few jumps from the ‘top deck’ which was an exhilarating experience to say the least! We then eagerly awaited the commencement of the ‘captains party’.
As the evening progressed we got to know our fellow passengers and we met say we could not have chosen a better group ourselves. We had a fantastic balance of people, all down-to-earth and all up for a laugh. The following day was to be Kim’s 26th birthday so it was decided that celebrations would be held on this first night as everyone had gotten to know each other so well and a couple of people were only staying one night on the boat and new people would then arrive the next day.
Dinner of course was delicious – particularly the pumpkin and garlic dish they served … mmmMMMmm - will try to re-create that one when we get home thats for sure! After dinner the lights dimmed and out came a surprise birthday cake complete with candles and all to celebrate Kim’s 26th Birthday.
Everyone sung happy birthday and Kim blew out the candles and made a wish. Thinking that was the end of things … next out came a vase of flowers … all carved from vegetables! It was absolutely amazing and we all just couldn’t believe our eyes.
After many laughs the final surprise was revealed with a plate with other carved vegetables was carried out by Duane – a heart made from cucumber an roses made from carved tomatoes. It really was such a fantastic birthday surprise! The evening continued with badly sung karaoke, many drinks and a little dancing.
The following morning after many birthday wishes for Kim it was up early for departure on our day excursion of Kayaking. We said farewell to those who were leaving and boarded our smaller but beautiful wooden boat that would be taking us around the bay for the day. The kayaking was fantastic as we paddled our way through caves and into picturesque bays.
One of the bays was filled with hundreds of jelly-fish. It was known to be jelly-fish season however even our guide could not believe his eyes at how many were in this bay. Back on our day boat we enjoyed another delicious lunch before being taken to a pearl farm where we couldn’t afford to buy anything and then to a man-made beach where the water was filled with jelly-fish, meaning we were staying on land. We walked up to a terrible excuse for a look-out and then waited for our small boat to return. All we wanted was to be taken back to our main boat to relax as it had been a long day.
Arriving back at the main boat we were greeted by 8 new faces … many not smiling. We only had one thing in mind ‘Birthday Jumps’. Straight into our swimmers and to the top deck Kim completed her ‘birthday Jump’ which we managed to capture on camera followed by many other jumps in celebration.
After the birthday jumps we enjoyed watching the sun set whilst flying a kite. Our guide showed us how it was done although we just couldn’t get the hang of it! Watching him fly the kite with the amazing backdrop of Halong Bay was amazing.
At dinner we could definitely feel a change in the mood due to the new blood on the boat. There wasn’t too much joking around or laughing happening – except from our table of course. After dinner we decided to ignore the mood of the others and give some karaoke a whirl … lets just say it went down like a ton of bricks and after a few foul looks, a complaint to the staff (although the safe politely said it was not because of us however i’m 90% sure it was!) and us just not feeling it we decided to give up on our singing careers and settle for quiet chats together instead. It turned out to be a rather quiet second night and there was nothing else to do but head to bed.
Our final morning we were taken on another kayaking trip which was frustrating more than anything due to our kayak not wanting to go straight! Our fellow friendly passengers Pat & Gemma had the same problem so at least we were the only ones in a dodgy boat! After the kayak it was full steam ahead back to the pier.
Upon arriving at the anchor point where we would be transferred onto a smaller boat to take us back to the mainland we all felt a little sad. In just 2 nights we had made amazing friends, experienced the spectacular Halong Bay, jumped from the top of the boat, eaten some amazing meals together and overall had the most amazing 3 days we could have dreamed of. We ate a final lunch and before we knew it we were back at the pier, in a mini-van and back in Hanoi!
We were booked on a night train to cross into China and were devastated we could not spend more time with the 3 amazing people we had gotten to know so it was decided a final group dinner was in order and to top it off we invited one of the guys from the boat to join us. We ended up at a fantastic restaurant eating once again delicious food and drinking copious amounts of beer. Running slightly late due to the distraction of friends, food and beer we were in a taxi setting off for the train station headed for China. At this stage we were sad to be leaving and very anxious about what China would bring. At the station we were pleased to arrive in time and took a seat in the waiting room. No-one spoke english so we sat and waited, hoping the next stop would be as memorable as the last.
Halong Bay – your amazing and we will be sure to visit again one day!
Note: We have not mentioned too much about the beauty of Halong Bay in this post as we believe the photo’s speak for themselves – this is a MUST VISIT in Vietnam! It is absolutely breath-taking.