The Dragon at Ha Long Bay

The Dragon at Ha Long Bay

I’ve been eying Ha Long Bay for some time now. In fact, I was supposed to go here on my first visit to Vietnam but ended up in the central area instead. But that place didn’t disappoint as well since it has 3 World Heritage sites that each yielded a unique experience: from the elaborate citadels and tomb raiding at Hue, warping back in time at the French Colonial streets of Hoi An and exploring the Ancient Kingdom of the Champas at My Son. But the natural wonder of a karst-filled bay has quite an appeal that I went fidgety with delight when my buddy Oggie informed me he was going to northern Vietnam. After much convincing and being accompanied by a clown good friend, I just couldn’t pass this up and joined the trip.

Special Pho Ga Noodle

Special Pho Ga Noodle for breakfast. First meal in Hanoi

Having introduced a direct flight to key cities in Vietnam was a smart move from a popular local airline. Before, I had to jump from Singapore to Vietnam which is way more expensive and tiring. The catch with these low cost flights to Hanoi means you have to fly around midnight to these cities since it has lower operating cost at these times. So after at least a couple of hours in flight we arrived at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi around 1am. There’s a one hour less time difference in Vietnam from our country.

Handspan Office

Our would be junk mates at Handspan office

Yearning for some sleep and a place to rest for the meantime, we took a taxi from the airport to the city and looked for a temporary lodging we could rest for a while. As expected with a some language barrier, it became a somewhat comical search for a place to stay in the middle of the night. In between consulting through maps and shorts stops along the highway, I could feel the frustration of our taxi driver along with his jovial laughter while he exclaimed “I could not understand”.

Comfy bus to Ha Long Bay

Comfy bus service to and fro Ha Long Bay

Passing through somewhat familiar roads like ours, we did eventually found Hanoi Backpacker’s Hostel where we stayed a few hours to snatch some sleep until the morning. We stayed at a dorm where a few Caucasians were already in bed, abruptly disturbed when the hotel staff turned on the lights. This is the 2nd time I stayed in a backpacker’s dorm. It’s quite strange sleeping in a room with people you don’t really know. Trying to move like a cockroach in the corner, making as little sound as possible not to disturb anyone. As soon as I was drifting off to sleep, a familiar smell of hash was lingering in the air.

Passing Rice Field view

Passing Rice Fields view

We checked out the Hostel a couple of hours before our call time with Handspan Adventure Travel agency at the nearby Ma May street at the Old Quarters. First we passed by this coffee shop near the rotonda north of Hoan Kiem lake to have breakfast. Ordered their specialty Pho Ga (chicken) noodle along with a choco croissant and mint tea on the side. Very good first meal in Hanoi. After which, we navigated a few streets to find Handspan.

Bai Tho 04 Junk

Bai Tho 04. Our Aloha Junk ID

We booked ahead with Handspan agency before we went here. It is recommended to take packaged or guided tours if you are going to visit Ha Long Bay. Doing it on your own would be more costly and you would run a risk of encountering some frauds. There were several reputable Travel Agencies in Vietnam we were looking into but chose Handspan for it’s good reputation and better deal. And I’m saying this in advance that they did not disappoint and I would not hesitate to recommend them or contact them again in the future.

Cozy Junk Room

Cozy beds at our Junk room

We got there right on time to confirm our booking and also asked them to book for us in advance our train tickets to Lao Cai when we get back the next day. Everything seems to be in order. By 8am we rolled of to Ha Long Bay from our service bus. I was actually worried at first about the mini bus we’re using. I saw some pictures on the net of a very cramped bus but fortunately in ours, it was really comfortable and it wasn’t even filled.

Sun deck view of Ha Long Bay

Sun deck view of Ha Long Bay

Travel time took about 3 hours. With rain pouring heavily on our way to Ha Long Bay we were a bit worried we might not be allowed to sail. Our young guide Phu, led us to our Junk when we arrived at the port. Junks are sturdy old Chinese vessels used for travel. But these junks are modified ones used for on-board accommodations. Like a mini cruise ship. We got our room assignments and found them to be really nice complete with toilet and hot shower. By lunch we got to meet our fellow junkees at the boat. It was actually great since the junk wasn’t full and we have a multi-national passengers aboard the ship. Lunch was sumptuous along with some witty conversations. Before we knew it, the ship was already moving towards the karst-filled bay and thank the heavens for clearing up the rain so we could see Ha Long Bay in good light.

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Ferdz
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

15 Responses to “Transit: Longing for Ha Long Bay”

  1. lagal[og]

    clown pala ha?! hahaha pambihira! parang isa ka pang clown, hehehe.
    but ’twas nice traveling with you bro wulf!
    heto na ang pinakahihintay naming first installment of your vietnam chronicles.
    more, more, more!

  2. photocache

    I have Vietnamese adoptive in-laws. They have been encouraging me and my husband to visit their hometown. This is magnificent. Halong Bay is on top 5 of my destination wish list. The food is awesome I bet. Is it easier to communicate with the locals than in China?

  3. donG hO

    as always galing ng mga shots. favorite ko sa set na ito ang photos 1 and 8. ganda ng view deck. i can stay all day in the view deck looking at such wonderful rock islands.

    saya talaga maging backpacker. daming thrills tulad nung pagtulog nya sa dorm na bawal mag ingay.

  4. gusto ko din pumunta dito! hehe. ang ganda Ferdz. napaka-photogenic talaga ng Vietnam no? Isa ito sa mga paborito kong SE destinations. Ang daming pwedeng picturan tapos ang friendly pa ng mga tao. Gustong-gusto ko ang Pho Ga Noodles nila! Noong nasa HCMC ako, wala na kong pinangarap kundi ang kumain ng mainit na pho ga, haha. Tapos yung Pho24 nila, masarap yung noodles nila and it turns out na they have it at Rockwell also. Ang saya.

  5. Masarap yung Pho Ga noodles Den, yeah hopefully makapunta ka rin sa Halong.

    I like the room as well Kyels, it’s small and simple but really cool (when aircon is on) and cozy.

    Hehehe, I think clown is an understatement OgBear. Really enjoyed the trip as well.

    Wait till I feature the best restaurant we’ve eaten in Vietnam Photocache. It’s much easier to converse with the locals here than in China.

    Masrap nga sa view dec Dong, although medyo mainit lang but the surrounding view it offers is really nice.

    Hi Millie, at first naghahabol kami sa time but on the latter days we made sure medyo leisurely lang ang pace.

    Hi Mado, in these part medyo greenish ang tubig. Must be because of the rains I’m not sure. Pero definitely mas bluer ang crsytal clear pa rin ang tubig natin.

    Rayts,I haven’t tried the Pho noodles at Pho24 although we saw a branch there. Daming photo opportunity talaga sa vietnam. I agree people are friendly pero mas madaming man go-gyo dito. Mas lalo na sa taxi.

    Allan, I think it’s part of his clown costume. Since orange shows a bright, happy and sunny disposition. Hehe. Peace Brother Bear 😛

  6. lagal[og]

    hmmm, me unholy alliance ang bro wulf and bai allan, hmmm… if you think i’m a clown, naku si ferdz is a clown in wulf’s clothing :-))
    but never a dull moment pag me payaso kang kasama hehehe peace bro wulf! 😀

  7. Hmm, bakit kaya familiar ang amoy ng hash kay Ferdz? 😉 Heehee.

    I usually stay in 4-6 person dorms when I travel. The key is never to use crinkly plastic bags when people are still sleeping. So far, I’ve never had problems with my dorm mates.

    Oh! You’ve convinced me to go to Vietnam with this post. Definitely adding Halong Bay to my itinerary next year! (Btw, There’s another backpacking seminar at ROX on July 3rd. Though I hardly think you need it 😛 )

  8. Hmmm…maybe try including the costs of your trips in your posts. I think that would really be helpful to those who want to check out the places you’ve visited. Just a passing thought.

  9. Lagal[og], hehe. Serious ako 😛

    Ei Nina, hehehe medyo familiar sa akin kasi I’ve smelled it before. 😛

    I’m still not comfortable staying in a dorm for security reasons din. The first time I stayed in a dorm, I suddenly woke up because there’s this Caucasian woman smoking in the room.

    I might go to that event next week since I know some friends who are going. It’ll be interesting to hear what they have to say. baka me tips sila na di ko pa alam.

    Thanks for the reminder Ellen, I usually place the cost in the text of the writing, not really a run down list. I guess I forgot to put on this one.

  10. Vietnam | A Ha Long Bay Day Cruise - Ironwulf En Route - The Philippines Travel and Photography BlogIronwulf En Route – The Philippines Travel and Photography Blog

    […] is actually my second time in Ha Long Bay. While I would recommend an overnight cruise of Ha Long Bay to get the most of the experience of sleeping on a modern cruise ship and seeing the sunset in the […]

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