Halong Bay

How to get a Visa for Your Vietnam Trip

To be fair, Vietnam is rather cheap, and I was surprised to see the number of rather lovely places which offered great discounts on several portals. However, the first thing I look for when visiting anywhere outside my own country is the VISA status. The good news is: Vietnam has a rather simple VISA scene which can be easily accessed online. It was posted to me there that we should ideally be carrying a VISA acceptance letter, and so, I looked online, and I found several portals where you can generate an acceptance letter for anywhere between $4 – $20. I have a full list of the places where my friends and others have gotten their VISA acceptance letter without any hassle, and it works for them. However, as I had booked a cruise online, I got one automatically with it, for free.

VSpirit Cruises

VSpirit Cruises

When looking at Vietnam, you would see several options which you can take. I chose the ones which were most popular with tourists, because I was travelling for the first time, and I have to admit, I intend to travel to Vietnam again and again, because the vibe is wonderful. So, looking at Vietnam, there are several places you can go. Now this depends on what you want.

things to see in Vietnam

things to see in Vietnam

What to See in Vietnam

For old-school charm, ideally visit Hanoi. From there, you can go to Halong Bay towards the East, or to Sapa, in the North. Halong Bay is beautiful, but Sapa is gorgeous as well, from the photos I saw thanks to my fellow passengers.

From Hanoi, if you want to travel, I suggest you travel via the coastline, and look for places like Da Nang, which is a fantastic beach region.

vietnam cruise

vietnam cruise

If you love beaches, you should ideally start from Ho Chi Minh City, for a more chilled out experience and a relaxed crowd in general. From Ho Chi Minh, take a day tour to the Mekong Delta, or visit Hoi An and Mui Ne via bus or car or train. I would suggest not missing out a good beach like Mui Ne in Vietnam if you are in Ho Chi Minh.

Halong Bay Cruise Food

Halong Bay Cruise Food

As I was travelling for the first time, and was interested in visiting a few places which I’d read about in history books, I stuck to a simple plan of visiting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. From Hanoi, I wanted to go to Halong Bay, and from Ho Chi Minh City, I had plans to visit Mui Ne. Sad part about Mui Ne is that I don’t have any photos, since I left my phone at the hotel and forgot to charge my camera, but I have to admit it is a wonderful place to be.

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Anyway, I am going to write about it in the next few blog posts, but the first stop would be Halong Bay. Technically, it should also contain Hanoi, but I do not want to bring the two together, simply because

  1. I will write about Hanoi in a different post
  2. I don’t think it’s a good thing to club Halong Bay with other parts, because this is going to be a long post.
VSPIRIT CRUISE SHIP

VSPIRIT CRUISE SHIP

How I Booked My Halong Bay Cruise

Now, before I begin, let me tell you, I booked my tour through VSpirit Cruises, which is a great budget cruise with a number of plans for you. Ideally, I would suggest you not take the day-trip, because it takes roughly 4 hours to reach Halong Bay from Hanoi, and it is a good idea to book at least a 1-day or, even better, a 2-days’ cruise. Now, I checked, and if you book your cruise via local tour operators, you can get the 1-day cruise at a much cheaper price, around $70-$100, depending on your budget as well as the availability. During off-season, the prices are pretty cheap. However, if you book online, you can get a cruise for as low as $100-150, but read the fine lines carefully, because you might be charged extra for the ride to and from Halong Bay. I picked VSpirit, because they offered me a really decent plan, with about $250 for two people, all inclusive. When D decided to not come for the trip, I asked them for a refund and they gave me a partial refund (around 50% of her total trip value), which was quite nice because it was really last minute. Once you let the people know where you are staying, they would call the hotel and pick you up from there on time.

VSPIRIT CRUISE

VSPIRIT CRUISE

Book VSpirit Halong Bay Cruise

If you want to book a tour, simply go toVSpirit Cruises Website. While booking, if you write down that you are booking through me by writing this: “We are booking the tour after reading the VSpirit Cruise post by Blogger Poorna Banerjee” when responding to their email after the initial inquiry, then you will get a discount on their current price. Alternately, you can mail Rose at this email address and write “We are booking the tour after reading the VSpirit Cruise post by Blogger Poorna Banerjee”, and you would be getting a discount on the asking price as well.

VSPIRIT CRUISE TOUR BUS

VSPIRIT CRUISE TOUR BUS

My Experience with VSpirit Halong Bay Cruise

I got picked up from my hotel at precisely 7.15 a.m., as they had told me the night before. I had the option to leave my luggage at the hotel, but since I only had a backpack, I was not going to leave it behind. I wasn’t doing too great – I had slept off virtually the moment I had reached my hotel after a long walk around Hanoi’s lanes, and the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off. Groggy and tired, I scrambled around for my clothes, quickly finished my morning ablutions, packed my bags and went downstairs to the breakfast bar.

Vietnamese Pho

Vietnamese Pho

The breakfast bar, to my surprise, was packed with people, eating all kinds of food, and a fellow traveler explained to me the beauty of mixing hot coffee with condensed milk, which I realized I could get used to. I tore into a baguette, asked for a bowl of pho, and piled my plate with a mass of sausages, bacon, stir-fried noodles, and a package of sweet milk, which was ridiculously refreshing.

Halong Bay

The lady from the tour shooed me into the luxury bus, and there I was introduced to many people. I saw T the moment I got in – she had the most amazing set of freckles all over her skin – a dusting of brown sugar on light caramel skin – and had a thousand-watt smile that sort of reassured my faith in mankind – I don’t know exactly how I would describe this – but it was the moment where I felt my tiredness and exhaustion suddenly disappear, and I quickly found a window seat, plugged in my Mp3 player, and relaxed as we meandered through the narrow lanes of Old Quarters, picking people up here and there. My tour operator, Rose, introduced herself. I was amazed to know she was only 22! She came from a province around Hanoi and was very friendly and helpful.

Vietnamese Local Drinks

Vietnamese Local Drinks

On our way, we stopped at a factory where they had an assortment of handicrafts, clothes, food, etc. To be fair, I found the place to be quite expensive – I had just come from visiting the night market of Hanoi, and it was far cheaper (more about the Night Market in my Hanoi post), and so, the only thing I bought was a bottle of the local rice wine, which I saw was quite cheap (around 50000 VND), and wisely avoided the snake-scorpion infused liquor which was supposed to put hair on your chest (and it was rather bleh, said a friend who tried it). It took us four hours to reach Halong Bay, and the weather was gloomy, so the bay was pretty foggy, and we were initially disappointed because we thought we wouldn’t be able to see much.

Halong Bay Pier

Halong Bay Pier

After the initial meeting at the restaurant of the boat, we were assigned our rooms. I got room 202, which was cozy and perfect for a single person. It was fitted with a simple bathroom with a hot shower, a set of basic toiletries (soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, shower cap, cotton buds, shampoo, shower gel), and my room had two bottles of water. The windows beside my bed opened to the bay, and I could see boats drift by as we started moving away from the pier. We were to quickly change and move back to eat lunch, before we made our way to the caves, so I donned a simple, flowing dress, and marched back up.

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Strangely enough, the weather wasn’t warm, but quite pleasantly chilly, around 15-18 degrees. I was glad I had brought a thick stole with me, which remained my partner throughout my trip, and I’ve discussed why in my Hanoi post.

Here, I would like to say that it is a god idea to carry a jacket or a windcheater to your trip here, especially if you are coming between September and March. I was glad about the stole I had – a gift from S awhile back, and used it to cover my neck and shoulders.

Vietnamese Cooking Class

Vietnamese Cooking Class

Our tour consisted of visiting the caves (Sung Sot Caves), going to Ti Top Island, participating in a cooking class (we made spring rolls and ate them all!), fishing, Kayaking, and Visiting the Ba Hang Fishing Village among other things.

The next part of this post is something I wrote while returning from the trip, sitting in the bus.

Halong Bay

Halong Bay Sights

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.
Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.
The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

T. S. Eliot, Marina

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It was a strange afternoon. I was staring at the mast, the wind was up. Around me, the bay was silent, eerily so. I heard faint laughter downstairs – the Australians were at it again. I ruefully smiled and looked ahead – the wheel gently turning under the nimble fingers of the Portuguese girl, who had shared with me stories about her country and trying to fit into England, where she worked. She had tiny fingers but the lines on her palm were dark – determined, she walked ahead of her friends, her hair swirling, pin-straight curtain of brown silk. This morning, she had Kayaked away to glory, while her other friend languished, laughing off the offer to swim. “Too cold”, she had said.

 

 

Fruits as Evening Snacks

Andre, my Italian Kayaking partner, had been quite panicked, and perhaps, slightly upset by my ineptness. I helped him nearly collide with a trawler. Andre, who reminded me of a well-groomed swan, had suddenly squawked, his paddle all askew, “My friend, my friend!” I had pushed my paddle down deeper in the water at the last moment, the Kayak swerving sharply, threatening to tilt and spill us into the cold water. Although it displayed to be about 15 degrees, but wind chill was a bitch, and as soon as we returned, Andre scrambled out of his seat and walked briskly around, trying not to concentrate too much on his wet shorts.

 

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Ti Top Island

I was shivering slightly in my jeans too – the Kayak had some water on the seat, and it had seeped in by now. The Portuguese girl was laughing merrily at our hasty rush for land.

Rose, my guide, had nodded her bespectacled head sagely at our antics. “You push the paddle in deeper,” but it was cold, and my fingers were feeling numb.

Oh dear lord, did I sound like I was complaining? But I was.

 

Halong Bay Sights

Halong Bay Sights

Here, the mists threaten to swallow up the bay at times. The sky was dark last night – I got just a glimpse of the moon, and then it was all dark. We had attempted to catch a few squids, but as luck would have it, apart from Rose, who had caught a sea-spider, we were all left bereft, and after I saw the spider, I wisely scuttled off to the dining room, and played Uno with an Australian couple.

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The Caves

The caves were strange – they were filled with people – but somehow, still managed to maintain the enormity. I had to walk up a couple of hundred steps to see them, and inside, I was staring at the stalactite-stalagmite formations which left me wondering about my own inane self.

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The misty mountains made me mourn my short stay here – I would like to return – the bay is strangely addictive – it has got a stillness about it which is almost poetic – but, at the same time, as evening falls, and the silence becomes prominent, you tend to get comfortable in it, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

Floating Sellers at Halong Bay

Floating Sellers at Halong Bay

Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee independently paid for her cruise trip, and she is not, in any way, commercially benefiting by recommending VSpirit Cruise. The details provided here is to benefit the readers of this post in making a sensible choice when picking Halong Bay Cruise from Hanoi. 

Written by Poorna Banerjee

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