Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week, I’ve been chatting to Anna, a travel blogger from England currently living, working and travelling in Queensland, Australia. Anna – who previously took part with an awesome Postcard From… Udaipur – is writer, traveller and dreamer with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and adventure. She says, “I decided not to let life pass me by staring out of the window of an office and day dreaming of adventure in tropical climates. So, after saving like mad for 18 months, I set out on a journey to find out more about myself, the world we live in and the people we share it with.” As well as Australia, Anna has travelled through India and South East Asia – and you can read all about her travels on her lovely blog, Global-Gallivanting.com.
Welcome back, Anna! Where have you been now?
I visited stunning Halong Bay, in the north of Vietnam just a few hours from the capital Hanoi. Halong means ‘descending dragon’ it is steeped in ancient Vietnamese legends and one of the world’s new 7 natural wonders and listed by UNESCO.
Ooh, sounds lovely! How was the weather?
I went in October and was lucky with sunny, warm and clear weather but just days later a cyclone came through bringing wind, rain and canceling boat trips. The weather in Northern Vietnam is different from the rest of SE Asia, it can get pretty cold and misty in December and January but the warmer months can be rainy and October and November can see cyclones.
Can you recommend a good place to stay?
Most people visit Halong Bay as part of an organised tour from Hanoi and there are many horror stories about dirty, dodgy overpriced boats, scams and poor service.
However, it really isn’t difficult to enjoy Halong Bay independently by staying on beautiful Cat Ba Island and there is plenty to do – explore by motorbike, trek through national park to viewpoints, explore old forts and caves, relax on the beach, go rock climbing and of course boat trips to Lan Ha Bay the less touristed part of Halong Bay.
We found a room on the harbour front of Cat Ba town on the 6th floor with a balcony and amazing views over the harbour and Halong Bay for only $6 a night. A day boat trip was $20 and motorbike hire was $5 a day.
Thanks for the tip! What did you get up to on your trip?
The highlight and best way to experience the mystical and magical landscape of Halong Bay is by boat, cruising through serene emerald waters as towering limestone karst peaks covered in green foliage rise up around on all sides becoming fainter in the distance before blending into the blue skies. 1600 people live in floating fishing villages in Halong Bay and I enjoyed seeing colourful little floating houses surrounded by nets of fish clustered around the rocks and seeing women in conical hats hauling fishing nets and going about their daily lives in canoes in the midst of this amazing landscape.
We also got a chance to jump off the top of the boat and swim in the water, see the stalactites in some watery caves and kayak into secluded lagoons between the karst islands before watching a gorgeous sunset over the water.
How was the food?
There are many local restaurants and street food stalls along Cat Ba Harbour and even some floating restaurants. I became obsessed with the delicious spring rolls in Vietnam and also ate a lot of noodle dishes and fresh seafood. The best meal by far was an amazing seafood BBQ buffet for $10 in a ship themed open air restaurant overlooking the water.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
Avoid the rushed, crowded tours from Hanoi and go independently to Cat Ba island. However, traveling from Halong City to Cat Ba can also be fraught with scams and hassle so the best way is to get a combined bus – boat – bus ticket from Hanoi’s Luong Yen bus station. Go to the Hoang Long ticket desk and they will get you to Cat Ba without the hassle. Also, try to limit how much luggage you take as space is at a premium on the boats and most budget hotels in Vietnam are tall and thin with no lift so be prepared for a steep climb.
And finally, what’s the most useful Vietnamese phrase you learnt?
A little Xin Chao (Hello) and Cam on (Thank you) can go a long way and raise some smiles with the locals but it was not difficult to get around as many Vietnamese who work in the tourist industry are learning English.
NB – all images are owned by Anna Phipps