A boat trip to Ha Long Bay

A trip to Vietnam could never be called complete without visiting the amazing location that is Ha Long Bay! ‘Halong’ translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’, with local legend stating that the landscape was created when a mountain dragon raced towards the coast, its tail gouging out the landscape as it moved. When the dragon dived into the sea the whole area was filled with water, producing the amazing scenery seen today. As a great lover of magical creation myths, I happen to prefer this story much more to the scientific explanation of erosion! 

Just over 100 miles from Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is a great place to visit for a couple of days, although a day trip is also possible. Personally I wouldn’t advise it as I think a day trip doesn’t give you enough time to truly see the area, and plus, you’d miss the sunset and sunrise! The area was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994 and after seeing it, it’s not difficult to understand why! 

IMG_1385Having been to Ha Long Bay before, I knew that one day there wasn’t really enough time to see this site. There are a huge number of boat trips which pick you up in Hanoi and then allow you to spend one or two nights in the bay on the boat itself. I did a load of research looking at reviews and other travel blogs, and eventually came across ‘Lily’s travel Agency’ which I would absolutely recommend to anybody who wants a reasonable price for this trip. The company offers a small variety of boats for different costs, depending on the size of the boat and the activities included. As a group travelling on a student budget, this was by far the best option we came across. 

We chose the boat that cost £65 ($85) and I think this was one of the best decisions of the entire trip! Part of the package included being transported to and front Ha Long Bay, which is quite a relief as it’s a reasonable distance to travel on public transport. The boat we sailed on wasn’t massive, which I personally preferred since a bigger boat simply means more people! Meals were included in the price of the trip, as was a free bottle of water. The only additional cost was for any drinks you had, but obviously these were pretty cheap.

IMG_1376And so our adventure began! e sailed out into the Bay, and you begin to realise just how many other ships are there as well! I couldn’t help but worry that maybe there would be too many and our experience would somehow be ruined by crowds etc. But in reality, Ha Long Bay is such a large place that you don’t really notice other people in the slightest! Our first activity of  the trip was climbing to the top of one of the tallest mountains in the area. This was a totally optional activity and wasn’t that tall in reality since it was only a few hundred steps. I will admit however, that it’s a lot of stairs to deal with in the heat and the humidity! But in my personal opinion, completely worth the sweat. If that’s not something that you want to do, there was a gorgeous little beach at the bottom of the path and the water was incredible – especially after all that exercise! 

IMG_1480We were then taken to see a cave complex. The boat provided a tour guide who took us around the caves, explaining what each of the rock formations was called and what it was supposed to look like. It’s amazing to me how many animal shapes can apparently be spotted within one cave! The whole system was lit up with crazy lighting which made it feel as though we were walking through a live action version of ET or some strange alien planet. 

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In the early evening we also had the option to kayak around the Bay. There was a guide showing us a rough route (which was probably a good thing since most of the rock formations looked pretty similar to me!) although we could of course just go off on our own. It was a really relaxing way to explore part of the Bay, and it also gave us a different perspective than of the boat! I did take my g0-pro with me but sadly I am, as of now, unable to upload the photos onto anything. But hopefully I can change that soon!

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What we thought was brilliant about this tour was that everything I have mentioned was included in the price of the trip. It’s always a bit of a worry that there might be some hidden costs whilst on the trip, but we were happy to learn that for once this wasn’t the case!

One of the questions i’ve been asked when telling people about this trip is what was my favourite part? And for once, that’s an easy question to answer! Watching the sunset, and getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise (which people find quite surprising considering that i’m not really a morning person). You hear people describing something as ‘magical’, but in this case it truly was. The kind of awe inspiring, goose bump raising experience I personally think every traveller is after.

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On our second (and final) day of the trip we were taken to see a floating pearl farm. Our guide took us around the complex and explained each step of the process of how the farmers grow the pearls. It was actually surprisingly interesting! We were even given access to the room where the workers place an artificial piece of ‘sand’ into the oyster to attempt to stimulate the growth of a pearl. Admittedly the smell in the room wasn’t particularly pleasant but it was amazing to watch how delicate a process it is! We also had time to have a look around their shop, although sadly I decided that since I’m on quite a tight budget this summer buying pearl jewellery probably wasn’t the best decision I could be making! 

 

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So there you have it, our trip to Ha Long Bay! It was one of our most expensive day trips, but it is something that I would 100% recommend to anyone travelling to the country (in case you hadn’t already guessed). It is unlike anything I have seen anywhere in Vietnam, or the rest of the world. Even if you’re not particularly interested in geography, or swimming, or any of the activities i’ve mentioned in this post you should still go. It is quite simply, stunning. Sitting on one of the deck chairs, listening to my music and watching the scenery sail by, was one of the most peaceful and beautiful things I have ever done. 

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Mary Ritter Beard

Vietnamese Water Puppets!

Well anybody who visits Vietnam must see one thing in particular – the water puppet show! 

IMG_1347A little bit of history about the show. Water puppetry dates back to around the 11th century in Vietnam. It’s thought to have originated in Northern Vietnam in villages along the Red River Delta. The tradition started when rice paddy fields became flooded and villagers would produce their own entertainment.  The villagers would stand in waist-deep water with their puppets on long bamboo poles, performing shows to the rest of the village. Whilst puppetry may be a traditional art form in Asia, Vietnamese water puppetry is a unique version of it! 

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The show is, in my opinion, a definite must for all visitors to the country! Watching in English does have the downside of not understanding the musical lyrics, or the plot lines for the individual puppets, and going from the reaction of the local audience members, it seems that there are often jokes which you miss. But really, that doesn’t matter. Experience traditional Vietnamese music live is amazing and for the most part you can either guess what is going on in the show or it doesn’t really matter. You can simple sit back and enjoy a show totally unlike anything you have ever seen before! Even though this was my second time seeing the show I stilled loved every moment, and it’s definitely something that can appeal to all age groups. 
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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

And so the adventure began…

Once again I seem to have managed to get horrendously behind in my blog posts! And yet once again I have my excuses. Bad wifi connection in more hostels than I want to remember, a VPN that refused to work, TEFL paperwork to fill out, a dissertation to start reading for. But now that I have some additional free time and some of those excuses have been completed it’s time to start catching up! 

The adventure this year began in Hanoi, Vietnam! The journey over took around 24 hours and three flights, so by the end of it I was very glad to reach our first hotel. Once again I’ve gone through trusty Hostel World to find all my accommodation and once again things seem to have worked out pretty well. In Hanoi we stayed at ‘Hanoi Old Town Hotel’ which I would definitely recommend. Cheap, free breakfast, nice clean rooms, towels provided and really helpful staff, so overall a really good place to stay.

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Our first evening we simply went out for a quick meal and then all collapsed into bed – although with the six hour time difference from England we quickly found that sleep wasn’t as easy to get as we were hoping! 

 

 

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Our first full day in Hanoi began with a visit to see Hoan Kiem Lake, and the beautiful bridge there. We then walked around the lake up to Hoa Lo Prison. A tip for anyone visiting Hanoi, the tour books and websites all told us that the prison would be closed on a Monday. However, since Monday was our only day in Hanoi we decided to visit anyway to see if it was open by any chance – and it was! I can’t be sure that this means it’s always open on a Monday, but this does make me wary of information to do with opening times.

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Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton is one of those places where it’s incredibly interesting to see, and yet you feel as though you shouldn’t enjoy seeing it. A piece of history that shows the terrible way that the locals were treated by the French. There are signs there in English which is helpful for learning about the history, although of course these do present a very Vietnamese view of events and act as political propaganda. But it’s definitely a site I think everyone should see whilst in the city.

Our next stop of the day was to the Temple of Literature. This is a gorgeous Temple of Confucius built in 1070, and became Vietnam’s first national university. It’s a beautiful building to walk around and the history of the site is amazing to me.

IMG_1256I was last in Vietnam with my family when I was 17 years old. This temple is one of the things that I remember most clearly from my visit then and going back them reminded me exactly why that is. Maybe I simply like Temples, maybe there’s something about it being a Temple of Literature specifically that interests me. Whatever it is, I know that this is one of the first places I will always think of when I think about Vietnam! 

“Traveling isn’t something you’re good at. It’s something you do. Like breathing.” Gayle Foreman