Up early our transport soon arrived and we picked up a few more tourists around the city before entering the suburbs. The countryside followed, full of rice paddies containing ducks, goats,and water buffalo. Traffic was no no different out here than in the city with buses and trucks vying for pole position at the expense of on coming traffic.
The transfer to Ha Long Bay was included in the price and halfway through the three and a half hour bus journey we stopped for a break in a building clearly designed for tourists to spend their Dong.
After waiting for Kenny our bus guide we continued our journey into Ha Long and past an abandoned tourist attraction full of Disney characters.
Upon arriving me met Lei, which he quickly let us know meant ‘legend’ in Vietnamese. His enthusiasm was contagious and we were excited to get on the boat. We had gone for a mid range cruise called glory and once aboard with our welcome drink we were assigned cabins and given a (very quick) safety talk.
The rooms were amazing and we ended up having the best showers since Sivatel in Bangkok.
We arrived at 12:30, the boat began it’s journey and lunch was served at 1:15. What a lunch it was too, pumpkin and coconut soup to start, followed by Vietnamese spring rolls wrapped in rice paper. Huge fresh prawns were next up with fish and vegetables in a soy sauce type concoction. Thinking this was all the food we lapped it up before being brought chicken and potatoes in a coconut sauce, rice with octopus and greens! It was more than the three of us could eat but we gave it a good go. We even managed to finish off the dragonfruit dessert.
After stuffing ourselves on the best meal we’d had so far we had a couple of hours on the boat, topping up tans, relaxing and enjoying the spectacular views.
Legend has it that dragons defending the Vietnamese realm spewed out jade and emeralds causing the huge limestone karsts in the sea. Whatever the reason it’s extremely peaceful even with 30 other boats within viewing distance.
There were even huge sea eagles soaring above us and out over the warm waters.
At 4pm we set off on a smaller boat to visit a traditional fishing village, on the way we found out that most of the villagers have left due to typhoon threats and the environment. The government now pay some of the fishermen to row tourists round the village so we got in the boat, said a big sin jow to the rower and headed round.
It’s incredible that up until year ago people were living on this floating village and it reminded me of waterworld. It was serene in the small bay like area and very peaceful. The views were still out of this world as the sun began to work it’s way down.
After this we headed back to the boat for some swimming. It was so much fun and I had googled ahead to confirm no sharks. The only worry was the currents that quickly dragged you away from the boat, but we had a lot of fun jumping in. Apart from Liam who clung onto the boat worried about being swept away.
The water was still really warm as the sun went down and an Icelandic family kayaked around the boat. After swimming for 45 minutes or so we got out to get ready for the evening meal.
We tried our best to look fancy despite our travellers mentality and sat on the top deck enjoying a beer and the night time views of boats lit up all around the bay like fireflies.
Then it was time to learn how to make Vietnamese spring rolls. We watched as the head chef and Lei mixed the ingredients together including some dodgy jokes about orange onion (carrot) and bat skin (mushroom). It was then our turn to roll and create. The men went first and our first go was brutally put down. All fails! Second time around I got a pass and so was dismissed with Liam taking my place, and he got it first time! Leia was up next and apparently hers were too long!
They fried our attempts up and handed them round to everyone on the boat. None made the grade but they tasted great. Shortly after it was tea time!
This involved a fish soup which was lovely, prawn salad type thing. More spring rolls served on toothpicks stuck in a glowing pineapple. Possibly a nod to Halloween, followed by oysters, prawn and squid skewers all served on a plate with a cucumber boat!
The main was fish with potatoes and veg which was also very tasty. It was a real treat and we even got banana sponge for pud. All in all the food was fantastic and so fresh. It made the day feel really special and worth the money. We booked through http://www.booking.com which was so easy compared to other sites.
With that it was over and the choices for the evening were squid fishing, a French love story on film or join the Brits and get pissed.
We opted for squid fishing even though we were told we wouldn’t catch anything and it wasn’t squid season by the Brits who were on the boat for 2 nights. The Icelandic family joined us along with a polish couple from Krakow. It was a really pleasant way to spend the evening, chatting away about our respective travels and the upcoming Euro championship.
This was my first time fishing and the Vietnamese crew told us it was all about patience as I slowly lifted and lowered the specialist squid hook. Even though the chances of catching a squid were slim we managed to see a variety of different fish who all came to see what the bright light was and even a crab! Some of the fish put on a show and jumped out of the water for us.
The Icelandic family were fishing pros but with two tired kids went to bed and Leia went off too. Myself, Liam and the polish couple were left chatting on the side of the boat when I spotted some dark shadows in the water around the hook.
We all craned our necks to see and were convinced the squid had arrived, almost an hour and a half into fishing. One squid went for the hook but didn’t get purchase before they disappeared again. Thinking all was lost my mind wandered to bed and sleeping but mid chat I felt a firm tug on the rod and next thing I know I’m lifting a squid up onto the boat! Beginner’s luck and I had caught a squid for the first time. The polish and Liam quickly took pictures of our catch before pangs of guilt took hold of me as we realised the squid had died.
I do feel it was a little needless for it to die but after the thrill of catching it we took it to show the staff who were amazed we had managed to catch something. One guy quickly took it off me to cook as I showed the passengers up top who were rude to staff about the fishing and how it was a waste of time.
The squid arrived back prepared and cooked, it was a little chewy but probably the freshest thing I have ever eaten and there was a good chilli sauce with it.
After giving the rest to the remaining people sat up just to rub my victory in it was bedtime. Ready for a 6:15 start to learn tai chi as the sun rose.