|We decided to pay a little more for our trip to Halong Bay and make sure we got a nice boat as we had heard so many nightmare stories of poor quality boats etc. We went with a company called 'Handspan' which conveniently for us were located right across the road from our hotel.
We met our group early on St. Stephens Day and were relived to find a lovely collection of similar minded travelers. We had a family from NZ, a couple from US, an Argentine, a Canadian couple and a couple of honeymooners from Belgium. As we have said many times before, a good group makes a tour and this certainly was the case here. Over the couple of days we had great company and the friends we met on the boat kept popping up again over the coming week.
Halong Bay is dotted with thousands of Karst rock formations which create a maze of islands. We boarded a Junk Boat about three hours from Hanoi which sailed us through the bay. During the trip we saw many of the floating villages that have formed in the sheltered waters. The people are mostly fishermen but selling goods to tourists is a thriving business also. Transport between these floating villages and the mainland is done in small basket boats. We visited the 'amazing caves' which is a huge cavernous collection of caves deep in the centre of one of the Karst islands. There are countless numbers of these caves throughout the bay. Many of these were used during various wars to hide out and store weapons etc. There was also the odd pirate who frequented these waters.
On the evening of day one we stayed on board and were thankful that the seas were so calm. Early the next morning we transferred boats and began the Kayaking section of our trip.
Although neither of us were all that excited about the Kayaking it turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the trip. We spent most of the day in two person boats slowly kayaking our way around the islands, stopping to admire the views and look for monkeys in the trees. We never succeeded in this quest but we did find a cave that we decided to explore. After going in so far that we couldn't see in front or behind us, we decided the open air was the better place for us.
The night of the second evening we were put up in a lovely 4 star hotel on Catba Island, the largest of the islands. We had a nice evening, having a couple of drinks in the otherwise empty hotel restaurant before hitting the sack early.
The next day we returned to the junk boat and took our bus back to Hanoi. The weather was much better on the way back, the blue skies gave us clearer views of the islands and were much more conducive to taking photographs. It was a great tour and we'd highly recommend handspan to anyone considering a tour in Halong Bay.