On my recent trip to Vietnam I had a free day and so decided to take a short 1 day tour to Halong Bay.
Here are the details and some photos.
The whole tour costs 22USD and includes lunch and a short visit to one of the caves. No swimming, no kayaking. I got picked up at the hotel at 7.15am and returned nearly exactly 12 hours later.
Wouldn't do a day trip again, and not in January either.
I was there in 2005 for a 3 day/ 2 nights tour, that was much more satisfying. I spent both nights on Cat Ba Island and rented a small motorbike to explore the island. Not much to see but interesting enough.
Wow! Not much to see? I will have to go and look back many times,there is SO much to see!!! I somehow don't associate those huge boulders,for lack of a better name,with that area of the world. I need a map by the computer here on the wall...what are they called? Stunning views HW! In the fresh seafood shots,what are the critters in the first shot,I see clams on the far left,are those ones in the middle some kind of crab? Thanks HW,another reason to visit your fine country. (I have more questions but will reserve for now....)
We have definitely walked in each other's footsteps, HW. The problem with Halong Bay is that it is like Hong Kong and all of the surrounding coastal areas -- completely clear days are few and far between. And yet it is so obvious that on a perfect day, one would be paralyzed by the beauty of it all.
Oh, HW! I didn't have time to really look at this in the morning, as I was skating out the door.
It's so interesting and beautiful. When you say never in January again, does that mean it was too cool and damp? Regardless, those pictures of the water with the big outcroppings are ethereal, evocative, magical ....... what can I say, I'm blown away! I kind of do associate that scenery with that part of the world and ancient scroll paintings. You really captured that feel with your photos.
Those were colored lights being played on the cave walls? How did you get that shot of the ant-like people far below?
You need to air-freight that table of food to me NOW.
I am most interested to see your pictures of Halong Bay, especially as I planned to go there last year. I see that the day was overcast and grey. Is this weather typical for January/February? What do you think would be the best time of the year to visit? I love the rock formations in the sea. What is the story of those caves? Were they used during the Vietnam war?
Yumm, that food looks delicious. Was that amount for 2 people?
Oh, I'd forgotten about your thread, Jack. Looks like the same kind of weather.
I actually had good weather on my first visit there. Stayed on Cat Ba and rented a moped to ride out to the beaches and the small national park. Sunshine throughout the stay and I especially liked the swimming stops.
Cas, those are limestone outcroppings. You get them all over the place in Eastern/Southeastern Asia. From China (Yangshuo, google it, incredible) to Halong- Laos- Thailand (Krabi, 'James Bond Island'). The seafood shots show groupers (the fish looking up) and in the next pic top row, clams (shellfish anyway), starfish and 'aliens' (no idea what they're called in English, anybody know?). Lower row has crabs, crabs and crabs.
Bixa, it actually looks quite interesting in an 'atmospheric' kind of way. I quite enjoyed it. I wouldn't go again in January because the water is too cool to swim. Otherwise the weather didn't faze me one bit, in fact I enjoyed the coolness. As I wrote in response to Cas' question this scenery is typical all over that part of Asia. The Chinese extol its beauty in many old drawing scrolls, especially with clouds and swirling mists added for drama. All the five famous mountains in China are in these landscapes. The coloured lights in the cave were installed, in reality they do look a bit cliché but Asians love it. The ant sized people were still far below our group, we'd been there 10 minutes earlier.
Spindrift, not sure when Jack was there, my pic are from last week. The first time I was there it was in August and we had perfect sunny weather. This could have been fluke however as August is the rainy season and it does drizzle quite a bit in the north. I would still risk it though. AFAIK the caves were used for shelter during the VN war. The food was actually quite good on this trip. Though they did bullshit us with the fish. We thought we'd get the grouper swimming in those tanks but instead we got tilapia. Which is excellent but grouper is just that much better
Here some pics from the train ride from Saigon to Nha Trang.
I like taking trains, you get the opportunity to sleep or read a book or even get some exercise, much more space than in a bus.
VN being a 'classless' society, different standards of comfort do not have numbers like in the imperialist West but descriptions.
1st class= soft sleeper or soft seat, depending on time of day 2nd class= hard sleeper 3rd class= hard seat
On this particular ride I chose soft seat because it was a day train, leaving Saigon at 12:20 and arriving in Nha Trang at 19:30. Seats were upholstered, the waggon was air conditioned and there were TV screens with comedy and music shows.
The attached restaurant car had an adequate assortment of cooked meals, beer and was 'smoking'... at least about half way through the trip.
Train stewardesses were requestered to make spring rolls...
Two hours later they were being sold on the cart that passed through every hour with little snacks, left side of cart, middle, yes, those are fried spring rolls, not sausages.
It was dark by the time we arrived, the whole station, Ga Nha Trang, smelled of fish products, for which NT is famous.
The next morning we were greeted by this glorious weather:
It was a 1st class couchette for 4 people, but the other two people had invited two additional guests (small bribe to conductor) and of course we 2 foreigners had no say in the matter. Also, you could barely see through the windows as they had big bars across them as trains in Asia often do. Meanwhile, the train station in Saigon for trains to Nha Trang was in a pretty crummy area, too. No complaints about the station in Nha Trang, which was quite convenient for walking into the center of town, but the night train arrived at something like 5:30 am, which was not exactly convenient, even though it is always pleasant to watch a town in Southeast Asia wake up.
I hope that none of my information is valid anymore, because they were supposed to significantly upgrade the trains in recent years...
Yeah -- they were krinkle-kuts, Lola. Don't worry, though. While they were still nice and hot I put them in a zip-lock bag and stuck 'em in the fridge so you can have some later.
Love the train pictures, HW! That dining car is kinda battered, isn't it? Any idea of the age of the train? I particularly like the absolute disregard of safety, with all the unsecured stuff piled up in a moving vehicle -- feels very familiar.
The arrival at night photo is great, not only as a good photograph, but it catches that mixed feeling of relief at arrival and "okay, now what?" of traveling.
Wowee on the glorious weather and view in the last picture!
I've just fiddled around a bit with my last pics and now you should all see the soft seat car. I suspect you might have been confusing it with the restaurant car.
Trains have improved/changed a bit.
The bars have disappeared from the windows, soft sleeper is still four beds to a cabin but I've been lucky with those. Once there were exactly four of us traveling so we had the whole cabin to ourselves and once, Jan 2090 actually, I shared with a young Vietnamese family that left me in peace.
Nowadays there are private companies that have their own cars which they are allowed to hook to the government trains, there are 3 or 4 providers, e.g. Livitrans or Victoria. The price is about double the price of a berth in a soft sleeper but I think it's worth the experience.
Best resource for trains anywhere you can find them is www.seat61.com. They might even have pics of the private cars.
Lola, yes, those are Vietnamese French fries, typical Northvietnamese food... The table was set for 4, clockwise starting at the top, fried spring rolls, steamed prawns, K2's favourite, French fries, shells (anybody know what kind?), fried tilapia, stir fried chicken with onions and cukes in the middle.
Spindrift, I'd maybe just ride an interesting section of the whole 're- unification express' line. For example from Nha Trang to Hanoi. You pass through the Marble Mountains and cross Ocean Cloud Pass during daylight a couple of hours after starting the trip. Then it's a comfortable sleeper ride ending around 7 or 8am in Hanoi. Try and book the lower berth, if there are two or three of you you might even book the whole cabin. If you start in Saigon and run the whole line up to Saigon you'll regret it I think, it's 36 hours or something like that...
Now back to the Nha Trang beachfront:
View south from the room balcony
Across Nha Trang Bay towards Vinpearl Island, a private resort and fun fair
Another view across the bay, in a northerly direction
Those Cham towers look much better preserved than most of the ones that I have seen in Vietnam. Usually when I am taken to see Cham towers somewhere, my first thought upon seeing them is "I want to go to Angkor!"
Nha Trang is definitely becoming more and more the beach resort that it always wanted to be, I see. I know that it is a major honeymoon destination of the Vietnamese, along with Da Lat.
I saw two lone towers from the train about 2 hours before reaching Nha Trang. They were in the middle of nowhere without any proper access road even. They passed too fast for me to get the camera ready, I was quite surprised.
BTW, those girls sitting in the shade were Cham girls. Very charming but pure tourist attractions. The Vietnamese destroyed what was left of Cham culture in Vietnam, there are many more in Cambodia now in spite of Pol Pot!
These girls are strangely enough outfitted with hill tribe dresses and they do some kind of pop dance instead of the graceful traditional dances that are similar to Khmer and Javanese classical dance.
Now that is amazing! That big swoop of a buttress over the door and butting into the body of the temple just knocks me out. The open-puzzle effect of the roof is like nothing I've ever seen, and the whole building seems to anticipate several different kinds of architecture in far-flung parts of the world. I love the rather homely touch of the potted plants placed next to the structure, and bemoan the thoughtlessness of the people who left their shoes where others could trip over them on the way out. Tsk, tsk.
What's the story on the young women all dressed alike?
Meant to comment on the last two pictures in Reply#21 -- you can really feel the wind in them!
Great pictures of the temples, I love the colour of the stone and the way the Buddhas have been garlanded.
Thanks for the Seat61.com link. I'll find that useful in the future.
And seeing those young women in tribal dress reminded me that I have one such dress upstairs in my cupboard. I bought it whilst I was trekking in the forests of Laos from a beautiful young woman who had just finished making a second dress for herself. I feel guilty that I gave her the first money she'd ever seen (US$20) and she said she'd put it aside for her baby's future. I know I was so bad to suggest that I would buy it. Now I must have started a trend however there are rarely tourists in that area. Oh dear....