Vietnam was a great and unique experience for me, Hanoi Old Quarter is undoubtedly a vibrant zone with a lot going on! lots of people, I mean hundreds of people! It becomes sometimes a bit overwhelming. I truly enjoyed my time there despite the extremely high temperature.
It was in Hanoi, where for the second time in my life, I stayed in a hostel, (the first one was 14 years ago) goodbye hotels! and welcome to the “go with the flow” spirit. I took the advice from my friend Melissa and booked a hostel using the hostel-world app, which turned out to be very helpful with the information and very easy to manage.
The Old Quarter View Hostel, It is located just a few steps from several bars, restaurants and pubs, right in the heart of the Old Quarter. I must say I had a delightful time here.
Firstly, because I met the lovely and fascinating new friend, Cheryl, from Singapore here at this hostel. But also, because the service was outstanding, and the staff so welcoming. The location was superb and facilities were comfortable and clean, it even included amenities and breakfast. The WiFi connectivity was also very good,
The hostel has a tour desk, which is served at all times. The lady in charged assisted me to book the activities in Vietnam, which included a visit to the well-known UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994: Halong Bay, a paradise located in the Gulf of Tonkin. Absolutely everyone has told me is a must visit in Vietnam, and they were all right!
Bai Tu Long Bay is part of the famous Halong Bay. It is located northeast of Vietnam, at 165 km from the capital Hanoi. The bay comprises approximately 1,600 islands and islets, which forms a remarkable panorama of limestone pillars.
Most of the islands are uninhabited. The site’s outstanding scenic beauty, the area is rich with geological magnificence.
Bai Tu Long Bay Swan Cruise – 2 Days / 1 Night:
This tour was one of the most beautiful seascapes I have witnessed in my life. The hospitality service was also great, the food was delicious and plenty! and the activities and attention of Kien, our tour guide were second to none. The cost USD165.
I suggest everyone not to let local travel agents confuse you about Halong Bay vs Bai Tu Long Bay. They are both part of Bai Tu Long National Park and both part of the pristine Heritage, both bays stand right next to each other and they shared outstanding beauty. Bai Tu Long Bay occupies ¾ of Ha Long Bay.
The area of Bai Tu is less crowdy which is the area where the cruise I booked would be cruising around as follows:
DAY ONE: BAI TU LONG BAY – CONG DO
The first day I was picked up at 08:15 am. I was still having my breakfast but they patiently for me. The transport was in a minibus which was airconditioned and comfortable for the journey ahead.
After collecting everyone else, and around 8:40 am we left towards to the northeast to Hon Gai Harbor. After one hour drive, we had a 30 minutes stop-break to “stretch our legs”. Though, this stop was mainly to make us wander around a souvenir-arts shop with extremely expensive prices. We were not allowed to stay on the bus either. This was the only thing that I did not like about this tour.
At around 12:30 pm we arrived the Swan Cruise office harbour, where we were offered a drink and shortly after transferred by small boat to our lovely traditional vessel.
This vessel was built in 2015, following a Vietnamese and traditional wooden style, it has eight cabins with a capacity of 17 passengers. It comprises three decks with guest cabins, kitchen, bar, restaurant and sundeck. All the cabins include air-conditioning, shower, bottled water, slippers, toiletries and life jackets.
Upon arrival, we were allocated our cabin, I stayed in a very comfortable single cabin. We were also offered an enjoyable welcome drink, while we were given a brief about the vessel and the activities included.
After that, we enjoyed a delicious Vietnamese lunch onboard, which included several delicious dishes, while enjoying the lovely views of Bai Tu Long Bay.
The service onboard was great, not only by Kien, our tour guide, but also the staff onboard. We had to pay for the drinks separately but all the rest was included.
I had the pleasure to meet and interact with other guests, which included people from New Zealand, Vietnam, France, Mexico (picture below) and Canada.
Few hours after cruising the Bai Tu Long Bau, we arrived in Cap La Island. One thing that was very sad to see is that littering seems to be a problem in the area. Our guide Kien told me the government is trying to tackle and manage it, this included the “Ha Long Bay to 2020”, a master plan for conservation. It is a real shame that the area seems to be perhaps over-developed and sadly visited by irresponsible littering tourists (and locals too I heard). I managed to collect few bottles during my kayaking experience, some say “every little helps”.
Did I say Kayaking? yes, Kayaks again! But I did not fell on the water this time since this Kayak was much more stable than the one I had experienced the week before in Laos.
The natural views were magnificent, I loved every minute of it, going from island to island, and enjoying nature! Loved it; we were even allowed to go ashore for a little while to enjoy swimming and relaxing in a small but beautiful beach.
After a couple of hours enjoying the afternoon at sea and went back to the cruise.
In the evening, the staff prepared for us what they called a “sunset party”, which included various snacks and drinks. I enjoyed also the music but most of all the stunning sunset.
No photograph could ever show the beauty of this orange beautiful sky. During this dramatic, stunning setting and was also lucky to share some travel experiences with Betzabe and her husband, both from Mexico, Latin power!😊
In the evening again, we had an amazingly plentiful and delicious dinner on board. The night followed by some nice games, followed by squid fishing.
DAY 2: Highlight: THIEN CANH CAVE
The activities included a Tai Chi lesson, which was taught by Kien, this guide was really multitasking, knowledgeable and very good fun. I did not attend since it was too early for me, but I was informed by fellow travellers that it was excellent.
We then had a tasty breakfast with a mix western-Vietnamese flavour, before heading to explore the Thien Canh Son Cave.
Thien Canh Cave is located in Cong Do Island in Bai Tu Long Bay, (called Dong Co by locals). It is accessible by man-made stone stairs like, and you sort of feel climbing towards paradise.
Once inside I found almost an unreal land of stones, in some many different odd shapes and sizes. Anyone even shorted-of-imagination can certainly visualise various flowers and animals like formations.
The cave has sparkly dropping like stones, called stalactites which make wonderful views.
Our guide Kien gave us a little bit of a talk about the history of Ha Long Bay area. Halong Bay has been a significant area of the history of Vietnam and known also as “Vinh Ha Long”, which means “Bay of the Descending Dragon”. The recurring regression of the sea on the limestone over the time has shaped this seascape of pointed peaks and secluded tower islets.
I also had time to hear a nearby talk about the urban legend of Halong Bay vs Bai Tu Long Bay: The legend says that the gods sent dragons to protect the Vietnamese against the enemies. After a heated victory, the mother dragon chose to settle down in Halong Bay while her children stayed at Bai Tu Long Bay.
After this visit, we went back to the cruise, and we were given time to pack our baggage.
The rest of the morning we had a Vietnamese cooking demonstration, a cooking lesson, where I managed to make a couple of lovely rolls, see the picture, though slightly different shape that they ones taught in the lesson!:/.
We then enjoyed our last meal onboard, another delicious Vietnamese lunch, before disembarking at midday in Hon Gai pier. We were then transferred back to the mini-bus for our journey back to Hanoi
Our guide Kien is truly a remarkable professional guide. His English is excellent (which is rare in South East Asia) and he was very friendly and helpful at all times. He is a multi-skilled tour guide, and even taught the Tai Chi lesson, helped the cruise staff even sometimes serving dishes, and even took pictures of us during the kayaking only to share it with us afterwards, I loved it! especially because as a solo traveller I always struggle with my pictures.
A remarkable and unforgettable experience for me.
“the ocean is everything I want to be. beautiful mysterious wild and free”
Love from Jenny