Hanoi is the perfect location to take all sorts of trips from. Additionally, the hotels are so affordable that you can keep them even if you aren’t going to spend the night and use them as a home base so that’s exactly what we did with our next several days. We booked a tour out to Halong Bay and they picked us up early in the morning along with several other people from the old quarter then we made the four-hour trek out to Halong Bay. Upon arrival they transferred us from the van to a tinder that ferried us to our Vietnamese Junk Boat, the Flamingo. A junk boat looks like a very tiny cruise ship but with two to three sails.
Once on board the served us a massive five-course lunch which the ship made it’s way from the port out into the bay. The views were absolutely stunning from the ship however the water was littered with trash, lots of other ships and tons of jellyfish!
Finally we made our way to a secluded section where we anchored and had the opportunity to go kayaking along the beautiful islands. Andrew and I found a cool cave that we went in and an old fishing boat. Apparently the rock that the islands are made out of is so hard/rough that almost all of the islands in Halong Bay have never had people on them.
After kayaking we made our way to another set of islands. Here we were actually able to get onto the island and hike about 450 steps up to the top where we got an awesome panoramic view of Halong Bay.
With the heat and humidity we felt incredibly disgusting after the hike so we took a dip in the water along with lots of other people. I am happy to report that unlike our fellow dippers we did not get bit by sea lice or stung by jellyfish!
We made it back to the boat just in time for some excellent sunset views, happy hour and a spring roll making class. Andrew became an expert spring roll maker so expect to enjoy some if you come visit us when we are home. Andrew also learned how to squid fish unfortunately his efforts were as successful as his lobster diving back home!
The next morning we got up early and headed to the Surprise cave. It’s name come from the fact that there are four chambers and each one is larger than the next. The caves have lots of cool rock formations and are lit up in different colors so that the caves glow.
Back on board the boat we packed up, had a four-course brunch, and got our last glimpse of Halong Bay while the boat made its way back to the harbor. Then we got on our bus and made the 4 hour trek back to Hanoi.
The next morning we left the hotel early and headed to Ninh Binh city, which used to be the capital of Vietnam before it was moved to Hanoi. Along the way we saw lots of farmers working out in the local rice fields. Our first stop was the Bai Dinh Pagoda, it is a very large pagoda and has 500 La Han statues each with a different position. Andrew started take pictures of each them and the realized how many there work and focused on a few of the more interesting ones.
The pagoda has a large bell tower in the middle that we were able to climb up and we got a great panoramic view of the entire pagoda complex. Afterward we made it to the building with the female Buddha and then the final building with the male Buddha statue, which is the largest bronze Buddha at 10 meters high and 100 tons.
After lunch we went to Trang An, which is another UNESCO World Heritage site and they call it ‘Halong Bay on land’ because the mountains are similarly carved. We got into a small paddle boat and explored this amazing area from the water. We even took the boat into the Sang Cave, Toi Cave, Ba Giot Cave and Nau Ruou Cave. Some were really long and had lights hanging from the ceilings and others were short with cool breezes. All of them revealed amazing sites as we came out of them.
When we came out of one cave we saw a pagoda standing in a large lake. When we came out of another we saw two wild pigs and another time we saw the island where part of the latest King Kong was filmed. The view was absolutely spectacular and a great way to wrap up our time in Vietnam.