After getting up at 6:00, after about five hours sleep, we had the joy of a four hour car trip to Halong Bay where we were to board the Dragon Pearl III for a two day trip around Halong Bay. Unfortunately the weather was not amazing, so the limestone formations that make the bay famous were not at their most spectacular – bathed in a grey mist that did not really lift for the entire trip. Despite this, it was still an amazing sight and very majestic.
We had a lovely group of people on our tour from all over – France, Canada, England, and America, who made for a very fun trip. Day one included a trip to one of the islets (I suppose you can call it that) where we went into a cave and did some kayaking. The cave was amazing. Our guide liked to point out where the formations within it looked like various animals: a dragon, elephants, a buffalo etc. the kayaking was also fun and let you get up close to the different formations. They looked a lot less hazy from close up.
In the evening, we were treated to a fabulous meal, including some Mantis Prawns (they look a bit like a preying mantis). Tim and I were also surprised with a honeymoon cake by the crew, who sung us a happy honeymoon song – in other words, happy birthday replacing happy birthday with happy honeymoon. The cake looked quite hideous, but was actually a pretty tastey coconut flavoured sponge.
After dinner we were also treated to some dancing by some of the crew members. It was quite hilarious. They put on some crazy Vietnamese dance music a strobe light and pulled out their best rave moves and even a bit of break dancing. The whole tour group (young and not so young) had a bit of a dance as music pumped out across a relatively quiet part of Halong Bay. We were not in the party part of the bay and most of the other boats near us were with the same tour provider as us. No one would have expected the offensive music. I could almost feel their disapproving scowls from across the water. It was all over by about 9:00 though, so fairly tame in the end and an unexpected experience to remember.
Day two we were up at 6:30 to head to a local fishing and pearl farming village. Although this place had been turned into a tourist attraction, it was still a great experience and the guide explained how the tourism is actually helping improve the village people’s lives.
These people live on floating houses out in the middle of some of the formations. There are about 250 people in the village and they survive mainly off the income from fishing. The tour company has been working with them to improve their living conditions, along with organisations like Handspan. This has included building a primary school and bringing in teachers, helping pay for kids to go to high school in Halong City, brining in a midwife to help with births and educating the people on how better to look after the bay by doing things such as properly disposing of rubbish.
All in all, we really enjoyed the tour, but I think it was the people that really made it great. Just a pity we had to sit through another tedious drive back to Hanoi.