Any trip to Hanoi is not quite complete until one has done Halong Bay. Meandering around its limestone landscapes and clear tranquil waters are an assortment of boats of varying sizes encrusted with tourists. And for two days and one night, we were among the camera clicking hoards. We had opted for a premium option—a small brilliantly lacquered, nicely appointed wooden boat which we shared with only one other couple from London. In all, it was just five of us, with easily as many crew.
Instead of south to Halong Bay, our itinerary brought us to the smaller, less crowded Bai Tu Long Bay that extended eastwards.
We pasted ourselves on the deck under the boat’s orange sails, and watched the gorgeous limestone landscape slip by. In between, we looked at birds, waved at passing tourist boats and in between, read, sketched, or wrote a bit. For a while, they made us do some kayaking—not for the faint-hearted as the larger boats just barged across our paths—and walk round an island to visit a nice large cave.
Then thankfully, we were back on deck, and the warm afternoon eased along, lubricated with copious amounts of gin cocktails, daiquiris and margaritas.
In the evening, we arrived at a sheltered cluster of islands and dropped anchor. Out in the bay, the night was tranquil and languorous. Dinner was an amazing parade of piquant Thai dishes with statement garnishes that left us wondering how the cook managed it from his tiny galley kitchen at the back of the boat. With good company and good food, we lingered late.
The rooms on the boat were very comfy even if rather dated in décor. It was worth waking up early for the sunrise. We realised that other tourist boats had also dropped anchor nearby the night before. While we breakfasted on deck, our boat moved off, sailing past other fancier vessels, many with windows opening into their guest bathrooms. We nodded politely at the passengers within who were shaving, brushing their teeth and otherwise occupied with their morning ablutions. They must have missed the memo that the windows were two-ways, and all that were on display were well exhibited in the crisp morning air.
On the way back, we made a detour to a fishing village and had a bit of a joyride on their traditional fishing boats. Then back on our boat for lunch, as we made our way back to shore and the many-hour drive back to Hanoi.