Hanoi to Halong Bay
Halong bay is 4 hours away from Hanoi. The bay has hundreds of small islands or hillocks made of limestone rock over centuries of erosion by the sea water. Its beauty makes it one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Before commencing my trip, I had booked a 2 day 1 night cruise in Halong Bay. While there are many luxury cruises that operate in the bay, I had opted for a ‘party cruise’ run by Castaway tours which markets itself as a boat for young people who want to party Ibiza style and generally get wasted. (I was sold on “Ibiza”!)
Hence, when I boarded my bus, I was kind of expecting a hippie crowd, but I was a bit surprised to see some elderly people on the bus as well. While at first it seemed like a scam, I later made peace with the fact that I was not going to be on a party cruise. This was because I met some lovely people on the bus and then on the cruise, and the two days went by quickly in some really interesting conversations in the midst of the magical sights of the Halong Bay. Its beauty is out of this world and difficult to describe in words. Check out the pictures in the link to see for yourself. I couldn’t stop clicking, but the smartphone camera pictures really don’t do justice to its beauty. It could easily be imagined as a location from the Game of Thrones – incidentally the local legend has it that the Halong Bay islands were created by dragons themselves – or a location in Middle Earth (Lord of the Ring).
I bonded well with Martin and Kate, a senior couple from Czech Republic, who were spending few weeks traveling across Vietnam. Both of them are partners and run an architectural firm in Blansko in Czech. Considering how Prague features in the favorite city list for Kanna and me, we spoke at length about the life in Czech Republic, politics, architecture, etc. Since Martin had a keen interest in India, we spoke about India’s history, the partition, Bollywood and shared travel stories.
I also came across a 64 year old granny from England who was volunteering for 3 months in Vietnam to teach English. Vietnamese are keen to learn English and a lot of foreigners, who fall in love with this place, stay back to teach.
There were a large group of French youngsters on my cruise. They were travelling together and knew each other from their days in engineering college. I had a long chat with Mehdi, a French national of Algerian descent when our cruise had parked in the bay under the starry night sky. We spoke about politics in France, in Algeria, religion, democracy etc. The French guys were quick to dispel the notion that they had the best work hours in the world and that it was illegal for them to work post 6pm in the evening – a rumour that has made the French an object of global envy!
I was surprised how many foreigners were curious to know more about India, about its ancient caste system and the Indian society in general. This trip was enriching in so many ways mostly owing to my interaction with people from all corners of the world.
At the end of the day I was glad this cruise was not an “Ibiza” style party!
1. Friendship with foreigners (irrespective of their ages!)
2. Kayaking on Halong Bay
3. Cruise experience
Pork kebabs, chicken, shrimps, rice and noodles for dinner at the boat.
Nature trumps all man-made destinations.
Next up: Halong Bay – Day 2