We made it from Phong Nha to Ha Long Bay on the back of the Honda Win with only a few little hiccups along the way. Hiccups such as a puncture, then a ripped tyre. Running out of petrol (yes that did happen again.) The bike keeling over off its stand and damaging an indicator and the headlamp (but if they’d have broken it wouldn’t have mattered because nobody uses those here anyway.) A whole Vietnamese family on one bike, with no helmets on driving full speed the wrong way down a dual carriageway (but why wouldn’t you do that?) Oh and the man who was so fascinated by the foreigners that he drove his motorbike splat into the back of a parked car. We’ve also met numerous travellers who’ve been trying to sell bikes for their friends who are now in hospital because of collisions. So I’m very grateful that Chris is such a good motorbike driver and has gotten us to all our destinations safely despite a few challenges along the way. Bravo Chris!
To break up the journey between Phong Nha and Ha Long we had an overnight stop in a town called Ninh Binh. We did plan to explore a little but on arrival the receptionist at the guesthouse invited us to eat tea with her and her family that night. An offer we couldn’t refuse! The way they do meals here is brilliant, they make six or seven different dishes and put them in the middle of the table for everybody to help themselves. As soon as one dish gets low they just fill it straight back up again! As the guests whenever our bowls or glasses got empty someone on the table would make sure they were filled up pronto. Also the food in Vietnam is probably the best we’ve had so far! Apart from the strange Tet rice/egg/meat cake thing we were made to try, I was dished up a monster sized piece and it did not taste good but of course I was obliged to eat it all. It was refreshing to be around such welcoming people after all the bad experiences we’ve had with the Vietnamese so far.
We arrived into Ha Long City fairly early and instantly regretted picking it as our base in Ha Long. If we were to do it again I think staying out in the bay on Cat Ba Island would have made our experience here a much better one. As would better weather because it was so foggy out at sea there was little to be seen from the shore. Ha Long city itself was a bit of a ghost town, there wasn’t anything open because the locals must have all been at home for their Tet celebrations still. There was also a lot of construction being done by the shore which blocked any view we would have had of the misty bay. We managed to find one cafe that was open and spent much of our afternoon there drinking more hot chocolate whilst I made a poster to sell our bike (unfortunately we are unable to take it into Laos with us) and Chris did a lot of reading. That evening we had a drive about on the bike as there was little else going on and came across the most colourful bridge. There were lights projected onto it which lit up the sky. Very impressive!
The next day we decided to get a boat out to the bay as that’s the only real way to see it. It was still a very misty and muggy day but we were sure that when we got out at sea the bay would appear a lot more impressive. Which it did. Out at sea you look around and it becomes apparent just how huge the bay is, the chalky looking silhouettes of the islands sticking out from the water are all around for as far as you can see. It was very quiet and it felt a bit eerie.
Our first stop was an island to look at a cave which had been disappointingly overdeveloped. Also we couldn’t help but compare to the jaw-dropping caves we’d just left in Phong Nha. Nonetheless it was still a cool cave. Back on the boat we got driven around the bay whilst making friends with a nice man from Widnes and his lovely Vietnamese wife. Next stop of the day was a little jetty where boats and kayaks could be hired from. We chose a two-man kayak and set off paddling round the hidden little coves that aren’t accessible by tourist boat. This was the best part of day. The coves we saw were beautiful and it was so much better to see them up close rather than from a distance on the boat. Also kayaking was fun, even if Chris did complain about my paddling abilities for the whole half an hour! We got back on the boat with wet trousers where we were taken back to the shore.
Unfortunately we were left a little disappointed with Ha Long bay, maybe because the weather wasn’t very good so visibility was poor and the fact that there was no life in the city at all at the time that we visited. I am in no doubt that if we’d have been there at a different time of year and would have stayed somewhere else then our experience would have been much different. Ha Long was definitely one of my most anticipated destinations in Vietnam and it let me down a little. So much so that we decided to cut our stay here short and leave after just two days to head to the capital for our last long journey on the Honda!
More photos here: