I do love visiting a country for the first time, not knowing what to expect. It is a chance to see things with fresh eyes, taste new flavours, learn different cultures. It is the simple bliss of travelling.
Touching down in Vietnam’s Hanoi, I was full of such excitement. This fizzled fast at the airport after I made the mistake of using an agency to do my visa. Lesson learnt, do that stuff yourself (and not the day before arrival mind you).
Out of the airport it was a long, long, long drive to Halong Bay, but boy was it worth it. My first impressions of Halong Bay did not disappoint. I had seen images of the rocky islands jutting out of the waters of the bay. These just did not do the place justice.
Staying on the mainland meant I first had to peak at these from afar, however I was patient and the mainland was kind. There was so much to explore here first anyway.
Staying at the newly opened Wyndham Legend Halong which sits on the coastline of Bai Chay with stunning views of the World Heritage listed site Ha Long Bay and Bai Chay Bridge was the perfect base. It offered easy access to Ha Long downtown and surrounding attractions including the Quang Ninh Museum and Library, Halong Markets and Visit floating villages to name a few. Best of all is the view of the colourful cable car leading to the one of the highest sun wheels in the world, and the ever-changing colours of the Bai Chay Bridge.
Taking to the air for a scenic flight over the bay by seaplane was a great way to get orientated with the area. The first thing that struck me was the vast area of the bay, and just how many islands lay waiting to be explored here. There must be hundreds. The greens of the islands in contrast to the blues of the water was just stunning. It looked like a postcard.
Back on ground level, it was then time to explore by boat. Like a corny 80s boat cruise, complete with dance floor and band, the day cruise onboard Princess Cruise Halong Bay was quite the entertainment. While cruising around these now towering islands of rocky outcrops with revealing caves, the perspective was very different. They seem mostly inhabitable due to the sheer cliff faces that are surrounded by water. How do you possibly access these islands.
My question is soon answered as we come around the corner from one such soaring cliff face to find a hidden beach. It is here we are offloaded and head up an old jetty into what first appeared as a small dark cave. Named Ti Top Island, this island had a secret, as once you entered the cave it opened up to a cathedral deep in the centre of the island. I wished I was there alone, as the chattering of the other boat passengers was deafening in the space. Exiting the cave higher up the island and the views over the bay had changed again. I loved the delight of the changing view every corner I turned.
Needless to say the journey back on the cruise was filled with bad dancing, poor karaoke style music and a whole lot of laughs when trying to keep my dress down and Vietnamese hat on in the wind outside on the top deck.
And just when I thought Halong Bay had revealed all it’s wonders to me, a typhoon rolls in, with a warning closing the bay, bring all overnight cruise passengers on to the mainland. The hotels soon filled up and the bars and nightlife a buzz with the excitement of the pending storm. We perch are keen storm watching bums on a couple of seats at the local back packers bar. The bums on seats were soon replaced with feet standing on seats dancing the night away. Typhoon? There was no Typhoon here except the Aussies that swept into that backpackers bar and out with an over 2 million dong bar tab.