Monday, April 30, 2007

Vietnam Trip Day 3: Halong Bay

0625 Hrs:

Set my alarm clock to go off at 0700 Hrs but I was rudely woken up by the continuous calling of the neighbour's chicken below. It started around 0600 Hrs and just would not quieten down.

Struggles to pull myself out of bed. Went to the balcony and looked at the morning view of Halong.

Morning view. A pity the lens on my A95 was not wide enough.

Quiet. Cooling. Cloudy. Refreshing air.

Carried all by stuff and travelled the whole day yesterday. Now, my body is feeling a bit of an ache. Getting old ...

The plan for today would be to visit Halong Bay. The elder son Minh Tuan would send me to the jetty with his bike.

I slowly took my time to go and bath and got ready for the day.

0745 Hrs:

Mr Luong, the owner of the guesthouse walked down with me to a small restaurant down the slope for breakfast. We had agreed that they would provide breakfast during my stay here.

The restaurant. Its just down the slope from the guesthouse.

The owner of the guesthouse, Mr Luong. In the background, Minh Tuan was riding down from the guesthouse on this bike.

We had banh cuon again. It seems to be a very popular food.

After breakfast, Minh Tuan sent me to the jetty to take the ferry to tour Halong Bay. It was not very far away. We just followed the road down around 2 - 3 km and we reached.

To get to tour Halong Bay, you need to buy the entrance ticket which costs you 30,000 VND. However, you would still need to pay for the boat which is another 100,000 VND.

At the ticket counter, as I was about to buy the ticket, an old woman came forward and paid for both the tickets for me. She told me that I would board her ship to visit Halong Bay and I can repay her on board. She spoke in Vietnamese language but Minh Tuan was there to translate for me. She said that I would only need to pay 130,000 VND in all.

Minh Tuan also manged to arranged a local guide for me. She works at the tourism management office at the ferry and is able to speak Chinese. That's great.

I boarded the boat together with the local guide. She would act as the tour guide and introduce the place to me and most importantly, she would be my translator. Hahaha ...

0845 Hrs:

Boat left the jetty.

My boat.

***** Situation *****

A while later after the ship left the jetty, a guy from the ship came to collect the money from us.

When he came over to me, he wanted to collect 160,000 VND from me! WTF!

I tried to explain to him that I was told by the old lady that I only need to pay 130,000 VND. Yet, he claimed that his boss told him to collect 160,000 VND from me. I tried to argue with him, with the help of the local guide, that I will pay only 130,000 VND but he kept insisting that his instruction was to collect 160,000 VND from me.

In the end, I did some calculation and I told him I will give him USD$ 10. Either he take it or he leave it.

Of course he took it lah.

Then I started to realised that the old lady just now was one of the touts at the jetty. She (or they) would help to pay for you at the ticket counter, claiming that you can board their boat and repay her for the tickets on board. After you board the boat and it leaves, they would jack up the price as they know that you would have no where else to run.


Halong Bay. An archipelago consisting of 1969 islands, of which only 980 have been named. The place had been compared to Guilin of China or Krabi of Thailand. In fact, it was designated World Heritage Site in 1994 and 2000 by United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Numerous caves can be found in the islands. There are several different routes available for touring Halong Bay. The trip I took lasts around 3-4 hours.

On a side note, Halong Bay (下龙湾) mean the place where the dragon descends into the sea. Hence the name Halong (下龙). On the contrary, Hanoi has another name of Thang Long (上龙). Try guessing what it means.

As for my local guide, her name is Hoang Thi Huong Qiang (黄氏香江). From what I understand from her, her name was actually Hoang Huong Qiang (黄香江). For ladies, they would normally add a Thi (氏) after the family name. Her Chinese was ok so communication was not much of a problem. However, she would still had some problem phrasing some sentences and therefore I tried to help her whenever I could.

0900 Hrs:

We reached the jetty at one of the islands.

All the boats lined up at the jetty. Most passengers would choose to sit at the top deck to admire the scenery.

We had to climb up several flights of stairs to get to the cave. Halfway through, there was a small platform for us to take photos.

At the platform. The horizon was slanted so I asked the local guide to help me take a second photo.

Sigh ... Its still slanted. Anyway, you could see all the boats in the background. The jetty is just down under.

These were the boats that we took. Mine was a smaller version.

Further up, we reached Hang Tien Cung (天宫洞). Celestial Palace Cave if I translated correctly. It was discovered in 1993 by a fisherman. There are four openings inside that allows light to enter which looks like light pouring in from the heaven, giving people the feeling that they are in heaven. Hence the name of the cave.

This rock structure resembles a dragon head. You can see the eyes of the dragon.

A typical "I-was-there-before" tourist shot.

One of the four openings of inside the cave.

Yet another tourist shot.

A short movie clip of the interior of the cave would be better than plain shots.

A limestone cave with stalactites and stalagmites naturally formed by the underwater flow millions of years ago, each place was illuminated by lights of different colours. From the entrance to the exit, the whole cave consists of three chambers. Seeing the cave reminds me of 瑶琳仙境, one of the places which I visited during my China trip with my parents after my graduation in 2005.

Today was 30th April. Vietnam's Independence Day. It was so crowded that as I looked up while walking up the stairs towards of the cave, it was like the whole path was packed with people from my location all the way back.

Well, happy Independence Day.

We were supposed to go visit another cave beside us called Hang Dau Go (木头洞) but due to time constraint, we had to give it a miss and head back for the boat. We only had around 45 mins to 1 hour to visit the places but as there was too much people in the cave we were stuck inside for quite long.

Now, we would be taking the boat to tour Halong Bay and we would also stop by one of the fisherman's home on the waters.

The local guide, Miss Hoang Thi Huong Qiang.

Soon after, our boat passed through a fisherman's "village" on the waters.

The fishing village.

You can see how small their houses are on top of each floating platform.

We stopped by at one of the houses.

The fisherman's house. The small boat at the side is one of the many locals trying to sell fruits to the tourists to make a living.

The fishes and other items reared by the owner.

Not sure what animal is this.

I peeped into the house. I was more interested in their living condition. This is the living room. They have a TV, DVD recorder and a big speaker. Wow ...

This is the outside of the house. I reckon this is where they have their meals.


They have to squeeze everything into this small floating space that they have. Having a TV, DVD recorder seems like a big luxury.

Another house which was beside us.

We boarded the boat again and continued our tour. The two of us chatted throughout the journey and of course I took some photos. When she knew that I had came to Vietnam along to backpack, she said that I was very bold. Ha ....

She told me she was a native of Halong and lives in Hon Gai, the other section of Halong across the Bai Chay Bridge. She even offered to take me around Hon Gai for a tour after she knocks off at 1630 Hrs as she said she could bring me over on her bike. Thinking that it would be already night time when we finish touring Hon Gai and I would still need to get back to Bai Chay (which I totally have no idea how to), I had to turn her offer down. I must say that she was very friendly to offer to bring me around.

1235 Hrs:

We returned to the jetty at mainland.

The front of the ticket office.

The back of the ticket office.

The gantry which we must pass through to go board the boats.

The tourism office. They have a money changer here.

Inside the tourism office they have this gigantic map of Halong Bay.

The main entrance of the jetty.

Outside the jetty.

There were several old women peddling bicycles selling french loaf and ice creams outside the jetty. Heard they french loaf in Vietnam is tasty therefore wanted to taste one.

One of the old women quoted me 5,000 VND for 1 loaf. I told her no as I felt it was too expensive. So she told me 5,000 VND for 2 loaves. Thinking the price is ok so I bought from her.

Walked over to a small shelter next to the jetty and sat down there to eat the bread. Very tasty indeed. Very fresh. The crust is thin and crispy while the inside is soft. Definitely better than those at Delifrance back at home. Now, if only there is curry, it would be even better. Hahaha .....

Ate until my whole bag and the floor is full of crisps.

The view at the place was very peaceful, except for the honing of the traffic at the road.

1330 Hrs:

I slowly took a walk back to the beach area near the hotel.

A signboard indicating Halong Bay as a World Heritage Site.

Over at the beach, I stopped at one of the stalls selling coconuts. They have many seats and tables set up under beach umbrellas along the whole beach.

I ordered a coconut. 20,000 VND for one.

As it was the holiday seasons, there were many families over at the beach. Right next to my seat, there was this small kid playing with sand. He was trying to pile up the sand. He would then ran towards the sand and attempt to jump over it.

Slowly building his sand "hill".

Kicks some sand into place.

Sigh ... Jumped too early.


Taking off.

Here I come!

I was just sitting down there watching him enjoying himself. There were some times when people walking by would step over his sand "hill". He would just quickly ran to it and start to build it up again. Hahaha ..... Really admire kids as they can be so carefree.

Right next to us was the court set up for the international beach volleyball competition. In fact, a match was ongoing at the moment. It was so crowded therefore I did not managed to go in to have a look. At the side, the team from Malaysia was practising among themselves. Halfway through, another 2 locals joined in to play with the 2 girls. Others just sit at the side to watch.

I continued my way along the beach. At one point, there was a group of people gathered at a floating platform. Walking closer, they were playing this floating sphere thingy. It seems to attract a lot of small kids.

The kids would go into the spheres and the people would pump in air into the spheres.

The spheres would then be rolled into the water.

The kids enjoying themselves.

The long queue behind. Expect to get your feet wet though.

1540 Hrs:

I slowly walked away from the beach. I wanted to visit the fair where I had my dinner yesterday but it was still not opened. There was still time to pass away. Thus, I slowly walked back the way where I came. Back to the jetty.

1635 Hrs:

Reached the jetty again. Went to the ticket office to check the price for the trip to Cat Ba Island tomorrow. I did not want the same thing of boarding a tout's boat to happen again for the Cat Ba trip. I checked the board and asked the lady at the counter. The entrance fee is 30,000 VND while the boat ride was 100,000 VND.

The counter to buy the boat ticket from. The prices for all kinds of trips they offer are listed in the large board on the wall.

Just next door is the counters to buy the entrance tickets. At this time there is no more tourists around, which is a far cry from the crowd I saw this morning.

1655 Hrs:

I turned around and walked back again. Towards the beach. I hoped that the fair would be open now.

1720 Hrs:

I reached the fair. Its opened. There were a lot of motorbikes parked on the outside. One thing that caught my eye was the motobikes were all marked on the seats.

Note the numbers marked on the seats.

They were written by the "parking attendants" manning the motorbikes using chalk. A motorist arriving would pay the attendants and the attendants would take down the time it arrived and scribble on the motorbikes seat.

I went to walk around the fair for a look. Bought a hotdog as a snack. It cost 6,000 VND. I wanted to break my VND notes into smaller notes. It tasted very good. I bought a second one. Hahaha ...

The fair was held at this Royal Amusement Park. It was like a tourism fair for Halong.

Royal Amusement Park.

Water Puppet Theatre.

2 showgirls for a phone company at the fair.

Think its time to go back for dinner. The family had prepared dinner for me too.

1815 Hrs:

I arrived back at the guesthouse. Quickly went to my room to wash up. Had been running around the whole day.

1845 Hrs:

Went down to the kitchen to have dinner with the family.

What a spread! Home cooked food is alwasy tasty.

During the dinner, the younger son, Anh Vinh, told me his father said next time I should bring my family there too. Hahaha ...

After dinner, sat down at the living room with them. Picked up some simple Vietnamese words to learn from Anh Vinh. The pronunciations seem difficult.

The words which I remembered the fastest were

Hello: xinchao

Goodbye: tam biet

thank you: cam on

Note that the spelling for the Vietnamese words are not totally correct as there are some symbols (strokes and dots) to be added onto some of the alphabets. Vietnamese language cannot be simply written in the English alphabets like malay.

Today I walked a lot throughout the whole day and I felt very exhausted. I excused myself and returned to my room. Badly need time to rest.

Tomorrow will be another fun day. I am going to Cat Ba Island!

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