We went to the docks on the day we arrived, and booked a tour for the following day. We stayed in a random hotel in Ha Long City that night. (We actually spent the evening out on the beach with some beers, which was kind of nice. The enormous rats in the drains nearby were less nice...) The following day, we were brought to our "private" boat, only to find the tour operator had booked two other tourists on it with us, and they'd paid about a third what we paid. Lunch was also not included, we had to go and buy bread and Oreos and Coke before we left.
The trip itself was not too bad - we followed all the other tour boats out to the islands, and we got to sit on the roof of the boat. We went to see the Cave of Wonders, and then another island where we climbed to the lookout at the top. When we got back to land, we went to dinner, and the owner of the restaurant asked us what we had been doing. We showed him the boat tour operator's card, and he took one look and told us it was 'mafia'. Now, he may have been referring to the whole "private boat that actually had other tourists on it" rip-off, but... Well, we decided it was good enough that we got out in one piece.
|Not actually our boat - this is a fancier version.|
So, we showed up at the Cafe at about 7am, ready for a bus to take us to the tour boat at Ha Long Bay. We had four other tourists with us, all British - a couple, and a pair of young guys. They were all travelling through Asia, and, as happens so often with randoms you meet, especially when you're sharing meals, it was pretty easy for us all to get along. We also had a tour guide, who was very nice but told some kind of appalling jokes.
On the first day, I think we were supposed to tour a few of the islands. Due to the delay, we only made it to the Cave of Wonders. We got there just in time, right before it close, which actually meant that all the other tourists were gone and we had the place to ourselves. It was exactly the same combination of amazing rock formations and hilarious Vegas lighting that I remembered from the trip with my sister.
|Pretty nice digs...nice view...|
So, we spent the evening on the boat, mostly on the roof, looking at the sky and what we could see of the islands around us. There were several other tour boats moored in the bay with us, including one or two that seemed to be having dance parties or karaoke or something. Snatches of music kept floating across the water when the wind was blowing the right way.
|The karaoke coming from the boat on the left|
was kind of terrifying.
In the morning, we went for a swim before breakfast. The water was the same salt as you get in any ocean, and the diving competitions we had off the first and second levels of the boat kind of negated any ideas of reverence or mysticism, but something about swimming in a world heritage site still seemed a bit strange and special to me. It was cool.
After breakfast, we got the bad news; Cat Ba Island was flooded from the rain, so we wouldn't be able to stay for the second night of our tour. The boat did dock there to pick something up - we could see how the water level had risen above the jetty - and then we headed back to Ha Long City. The tour guide took us to a restaurant for lunch (I swear I ate more on this tour than we had been eating for our whole trip) but then we got back on the bus to Hanoi. Kangaroo Cafe was kind enough to offer a partial refund, as well, and they were apologetic considering flooding wasn't exactly something they could control.
So, we got rained out of Ha Long Bay. At least we got to see some of it, and I don't know about B, but I had a great time on the boat. We had an extra day in Hanoi, as well, and our hotel didn't care that we were back a day earlier than we said we would be. Another trip to the Bay with mixed results, but hey, there was no mafia this time...
|Ha Long Bay - one of the must-see places in Vietnam.|