From Hanoi we booked a two day tour to Halong Bay, in the north of Vietnam, the closest to China I’ve ever been. Although it was quite grey, it was pretty impressive. The area has been named one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature’, with several thousand limestone mountainous islands protruding from the water. Our guide told us there were exactly 1,969 islands in the bay, which was also coincidentally the year that Ho Chi Minh died, so it was easy to remember! I’m not sure how accurate this is though, as there are several other reputable sources and guidebooks that say there are closer to 3,000 islands. There were hundreds of boats around, which did take away some of the magic of the place. At least the boats were fairly pretty; it’s not like a hundred coaches or cruise ships getting in the way of your view.
It was a fairly short tour, as some of the time was also taken up by driving to Halong Bay and back again. Although it was short, a lot was packed in. We stopped off at a large cave and climbed up one of the mounts to a viewpoint of a large part of the bay. That was pretty impressive, it was a chance to see the scale and sheer quantity of islands. We also swam at a little beach at the bottom of the mount, but as it was a popular spot for boats to stop, it was extremely busy.
Our tour was very well put together, we managed to fit loads in. As well as the cave, the mini-hike and the swimming, we also went canoeing for a few hours and our guide taught us how to fish for squid at night (although this was completely fruitless, so maybe he wasn’t the best teacher after all). I think it would be so much nicer if they restricted the number of boats allowed to go out each day, as it was quite crowded, but I suppose that would drive the price up and we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it anymore! I would definitely recommend a trip to Halong Bay, as it’s so easy to reach from Hanoi, but I would warn anyone to be prepared to enter a tourist trap, it’s not as isolated as the postcards imply!