so we got back to hanoi earlier today from a tour of halong bay. i had a really great time. we booked the tour with Handspan adventure travel. it was a little pricy, but worth it in my opinion.
we booked the tour on friday night, and sat morning we hopped on a bus at 8am heading to halong city. we had a very talkative tourgide named Phu who told us all sorts of interesting random fact on the drive to keep us entertained. we also spent some time getting to know the other people on the trip with us. (we had a group of 12 people, including Phu).
on the way out there (and on the way back) our bus stopped at a "happy place." Phu described it as such, saying that people were usually tired of the bus when the got off and happier when they got on. as far as i can tell it is basically a required tourist shop. there are signs up saying that all the trinkets were made by "disadvanteged" youths, blah, blah. we had hopped that by going for a more expensive tour we would have been able to avoid these types of stops, but ronda mentioned that in china such stops are actually required by the govt, so that may be the case here as well.
we arrived in halong city and went strait for the boat docs where we climbed over a couple boats, all piled up against each other, to get to ours. once there we immediatly started drinking beer and waiting to leave. once our boat left the bay, the scenery became really impressive. ronda had seen scenery like this before in guilan, china, but for me this was all new. we had lunch on the boat and just sat around taking pictures, talking, and watching a fraction of the 1500+ islands go by.
we eventually stopped at one of the islands, which had some huge caves, and we spent some time walking through them. (along with a bunch of other tourists.) aside from being pretty impressive inside, it was about 15 degrees F cooler in the caves than outside, which was a welcome relief for me.
back on the boat, we sailed away from the cave island a bit and dropped anchor. from that point on the afternoon and evening were spent eating, drinking, chatting, and swimming. the sunset was also pretty stunning. (we were lucky in the weather since it didn't rain.) i passed out really early that night since i was still tired from hanoi and not fully recovered from jet lag.
the next morning our boat took off early and after breakfast we met up with another taxi boat. the taxi boat took us to a small island with a few huts on it. there we dropped our stuff and jumped into two person ocean kayaks. we paddled around for a while before going to another beach to swim some and then another boat for lunch. by this time i had a huge headache (probably from too much sun) and took a short nap. after lunch we were taxied a ways to a floating villiage in the bay. lots of people have houses with dogs on the bay and they raise fish in nets. we jumped back into our kayaks and paddled around the village for a while, paddled past Cat Ba island and saw the town there, and then paddled a little out to sea and back to the island we were staying at. while paddling back it started to rain.
we spent the evening on the island relaxing, drinking beer, eating, and chatting. finally we retired to our bungalos, where earlier ronda had practically jumped through the roof when a large centepiede (millipede?) crawled out from under some clothes on her bed.
the next morning we had an early breakfast and made our way back to halong city. i mostly just read and napped on the way back. we had lunch in halong city and then took a bus back to hanoi.
on the road from hanoi to halong city you see tons of signs of development and signs about all the new places being built. it doesn't seem like it's going to be long at all before all land alongside the road on the way out there will be totally developed.
all in all, i really liked the tour. it was really nice to have everything taken care of and planned for a few days. the food wasn't great, but it wasn't really bad either. and i fufilled my goal to kayak on halong bay and sleep on one of the islands. we also met a few really cool people that we hung out with later back in hanoi.