After our wonderful visit to Siem Reap, we boarded a 90 minute flight and landed in Hanoi for the second country of our vacation. We spent the night in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, then met our van the next morning for the three hour drive to Halong Bay.
Most foreign visitors to Hanoi take some kind of Halong Bay cruise. The short, one-day cruises stick to the closest, most crowded areas, so several months ago I researched longer tours that offered more time to see less-visited areas. I ended up using Vega Travel, recommended by the Lonely Planet Vietnam guidebook. (And obviously so did everyone else on our boat, because every single traveling group pulled out the Lonely Planet guide at some point, and I joked about labeling our copy so it didn’t get mixed up. But I digress.)
We got underway and immediately enjoying breathtaking views. The first day’s activities included kayaking and visiting a cave.We spent the night on the boat at anchor, then got underway in the morning and headed for Ti Top Island. When we landed at the dock I immediately noticed the giant statue–and that he didn’t look Vietnamese at all. The statue depicted Ghermann Titov, a former WWII Soviet Union hero and cosmonaut who visited the island during the height of the Vietnam-American War. We started climbing the surprisingly steep stairs and enjoyed the stunning panoramas from the top.After Titop Island we headed to Cat Ba Island, where we rode rickety rental bikes to the Viet Hai commune. We enjoyed a lovely hike through the forest, then pedaled back to the boat. Our second evening took us to Hung Long Harbor, where we spent the night in a hotel that is most accurately described as a communist’s idea of a resort hotel, down to the fluorescent lighting in the rooms.The final day we sailed back to Halong Harbor and drove back to Hanoi, where we started exploring the street scene in the Old Quarter.
Coming up: our visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, and the infamous Hỏa Lò Prison, more commonly known as the Hanoi Hilton that held American POWs during the Vietnam-American War.