Halong Bay, it really is as good as we had heard. After booking up a two night trip on a junk boat through our hostel (which, it must be said, had the most incredibly comfy dorm beds in the world) in Hanoi, we were whisked off from our hostel and on the road to the coast. There were a few options when it came to choosing our junk; cheap and cheerful with a minor risk of sinking into the big deep, middle range with a slightly better chance at staying afloat, or a top-notch, never-gonna-sink type affair. We opted for middle range. Despite living on an island and frequenting the open sea (albeit the Solent where land is always insight) many, many times, I’m still not particularly keen on boats, or deep ocean, so went for what was sold to us as a slightly safer option.
And boy oh boy, what a decision! Whatever decisions you make while travelling, you will always wind up meeting people from all walks of life. On this boat, we just so happened to meet a couple of late-middle-aged (is that an appropriate term without saying ‘older’?!) ladies from England. Whilst we didn’t go away with the hope of meeting too many of us rowdy, drunken brits, these ladies were magic. They provided us with one of the best nights in Asia, with a bit of cocktail-fuelled karaoke session that scared all other holiday makers back to their rooms, minus a cool couple from Australia and New Zealand who were all for it. My personal highlight had to be the raunchy rendition of YMCA swiftly followed by Lady in Red from Ed. When I thought that this can’t get better, Rot our guide, starting cracking out song after song, in the most serious manor you can imagine. All seriousness, however, was removed (in our eyes) due to the amazing pronunciation of the words. After a few Vietnamese numbers that proved very popular with the crew, it was time for Let It Be. Speaking words of swissdom, let it be.
This aside, and back to the main point of the post, Halong Bay was truly a magnificent place. I will recommend it to anyone heading to Vietnam. Staying on a traditional junk boat was just one part of the fun. Waking up and looking out to the sea and beautiful limestone karsts against a backdrop of an impossibly beautiful sunrise was something quite special. To follow this with the best pineapple I have ever tasted in my 22 years on this earth was even more spectacular. Add into the mix a spot of kayaking through caves and bays where it felt like you were the only people on the earth in that spot, plus learning about the stilted fishing villages, freshly cooked food and, of course, a spot of roof-top sunbathing (and let’s not forget the unbeatable evening entertainment); you are in for a ruddy good time.
My advice: If you want to remain friends with the Spanish counterparts on board, do not sing like a suffering animal and then cackle (very loudly) at all fellow karaoke-ers as they then take their turn on centre stage. Other than this, get yourself to Halong Bay!