Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thoughts: Halong Bay, a Reality Check

Blogger's note: Thoughts blogpost will bare my personal reflection on the place. It is my own opinion and not in anyway providing a fact or generalization of the subject matter.

I can distinctly remember a photograph of a small wooden fishing boat being rowed by a man in a conical straw hat floating in emerald green water flanked by huge limestone karsts.You may call it as love at first sight but that photo instilled something in me that one day I will visit that almost magical place of emerald green water dotted with giant limestone karsts.That is the day I fell in love with Halong Bay.

It took sometime before I was able to realize the dream when everything fell into its place. I was able to find some travel buddies who also have this UNESCO heritage site in their bucket list and the time, finances and good airline fare to push through with the trip. I found the perfect birthday gift for myself.

We scoured, organized, compared and emailed cruise tour operators to be able to land a "good deal". With much perseverance and poring over excel files - we found 'IT' (meaning nice boat but within our budget, backed by positive reviews from trip advisor). It is just a matter of processing the 50% deposit via Paypal and we got the slots for the cruise 2 weeks prior to our arrival in Hanoi

The night before the Halong bay cruise, I do remember the feeling of giddiness much like the little girl on Christmas eve waiting for morning to unwrap her Christmas present. Tomorrow, I shall unwrap my birthday gift and I will make sure that I will savor every bit of it.

The excitement of experiencing the highlight of this trip became palpable as we got nearer to the port, the outlines of the numerous and towering limestones karsts are now visible. A few more minutes and I will have that 'National Geographic' feeling as we cruise along this natural masterpiece of stones and water. 

When the engines of the junk boat started, I rushed out into the deck to immerse myself into the moment where the boat glides through the still waters of the bay as the limestone karsts looms in both side like giants looking down at us. I felt that small flutter in my heart of having the privilege to witness in person this natural wonder created over a span of billion years. It was like admiring the handiwork of God. Well it lasted for about 30 minutes, until people started to loiter around the deck snapping photos for 'profile pics'. And then I noticed that there are now several junk boats in the area that I can't even take a picture of the horizon without any boat in it. In 30 minutes, I had my fill of the green still waters and limestone karsts. It's like going into the buffet and after 1 plateful - I had enough. 

It wasn't like that when I stepped into one of El Nido's well kept secret - Nacpan & Calitang beach that I struggled if I will share it to others, when I explored Siquijor on my own and felt the exhilaration and liberty of travelling on my own, when I successfully completed the spelunking in Sagada that until now I felt that it was one of the bravest thing I ever did in my life, when I saw just the tip of the Chrysler building and trying not to pinch myself afraid that I will wake up from the dream of setting foot in New York and that 'WOW'  feeling when I first laid my eyes on the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.

This can't be happening - I had it all planned out in my mind, I imagined that I will spend hours on the sun deck trying to capture the beauty right before eyes and failing everytime I click on the shutter. I thought that I will meet other travelers whom I can swap back stories with. I picture cruising along the bay just surrounded by the emerald waters and limestone karsts without any other soul in sight except for our junk boat. I was excited to be blown away by the sunrise and sunset as our boat anchors in the spot where we can view the sunrise and sunset in its glory.

Earth to (outonvacation)...let's have a reality check here. 
After the initial cruise into the bay and I stand in awe of the natural beauty of the deep emerald waters and the numerous karsts that dotted the bay, it kinda wore off after sometime. You get tired of staring into green water and stones and green water and stones and green.....
We huddled with our own set of friend/travel mates while the other travelers as well created their own small groups (German student and 2 Vietanamese girls, 2 German guys and 2 German gals, A family with 2 American gals and the group of Pinoy retirees [this is not our group]). With a handful of guest on board it was like 17 people to 1 guide that we didn't even had the time to get to know our guide well except for those rehearsed tour spiels and some obligatory comments.
We got herded into the activities for the day like the visit to the cave and swimming at Ti Top Island which were kinda blah except for the great photographic vantage point at the top of the cave.
We missed out on the sunset since we have to wait for the second group to arrive that when we reached the boat the sun is already gone.
We were anchored in a spot that totally blocked out the rising sun.
In the morning, we are able to kayak and there was a  cooking class where the mere extent of our participation is to roll the fillings of the spring roll into the rice paper. How it came to be called a cooking class? I don't have the merest idea.

It was like the little girl on Christmas morning, opening her gift of a Barbie doll. After playing with pretty Barbie for a while she got up, went out and played in the streets with her friends.

Maybe, I have changed that I value the experience more than having the perfect backdrop of my next Facebook profile picture.
Maybe, I have set my standards quite high that the experience did not quite live up to what I had in mind. 
Maybe, I lacked some 'friendliness' that is why I find it hard to connect with people I meet in my travels.

It might be me or the magic just didn't last perhaps it is a case of "It's not you Halong Bay, It's me".


  1. it's so exciting that spending our vacation on Halong bay cruise

  2. this is a downer. lol
    from where did you get your ha long bay tour? and how much?

  3. Hello there pinoydaysleeper..Oppss, I did not meant for this entry to be a downer it is just my personal thoughts and reflection on what I experienced. It is still a UNESCO heritage site so it is worth a visit and you might have a different turn of events from mine and will absolutely love it.
    We got the package from Phoenix Cruises via www.cruiseshalongbay.com.Price is $107 for a double room inclusive of transport from hotel to Halong bay and vice versa and full board meals during the cruise (excl. drinks)