After the frantic traffic and the deafening noise of Hanoi, Ha Long Bay was a breath of fresh air. We are not usually ones for luxury cruises or group tours but this was the only viable option to take in Vietnam’s number one attraction, so we bit the bullet and took the plunge.
The package deals include transfers to and from Hanoi in a vehicle and the first views of the bay from Ha Long City did make us wonder if this was a terrible mistake. I have never seen quite so many boats crowed together in such a small stretch of water and so many people doing the bus to boat or boat to bus swap. A dozen passengers literally jumped into our seats on the bus and drove off before we had even made it inside the terminal building. But that was the only fleeting moment of regret I felt.
Within a few minutes our contingent of 8 new arrivals had been whisked through the portside chaos and onto a smaller boat to transfer us to our chosen vessel. Once on board the boat we were allocated cabins and served lunch as the captain steered us out into the bay and the number of other cruises boats visible immediately decreased. By evening we were anchored in some secluded bay with only a single other vessel in sight.
There was a range of activities organized to amuse and entertain but the lure was the bay itself and that was entertainment enough. The breathtaking limestone karst formations looming out of the mist and fog were captivating. The overcast conditions added a layer of mystery and a magical quality to the whole scene and over the next 2 days we never lost interest in simply enjoying the views. I was particularly enthralled by the faint outline of ever more "islands" disappearing into the horizon like some scene from a fantasy. The rain and storms we feared were going to spoil the whole experience gradually dissipated and it actually got warm enough to enjoy swimming in the tepid waters while not being too hot or sunny to paddle lazily about in a kayak without getting burnt, feeling that we had the entire environment to ourselves.
Our only complaint would be the over pampering and over feeding! We now need to find some more rigorous exercise to compensate.