Before proceeding, I would like to mention that all the pictures not just in this blog post, but every picture and video on this site unless mentioned is shot by myself and not a free stock image or video from google. I mentioned this because for many it's not obvious and i feel it should be noted and appreciated. Enough of ranting and back to why i came here...
First, let me start from picking location. Lot of people do not visit Halong Bay directly. They club Hanoi and Halong together. People stay in Hanoi and then take a day or night cruise to travel from Hanoi to Halong which takes you through the beautiful limestone islands, but if you are like me and can not spend more time on cruises (the cruise travel can be from anywhere between one to two days), then you can visit Halong directly. Also, since i was going to Hochiminh and since Hanoi and Hochiminh are both cities, i felt they both would give similar kind of experience and skipped Hanoi this time. I will definitely visit Hanoi some other time.
When going to Halong, book tickets directly to Halong from your original source. Do not make a mistake like us. We booked round trip from Hyderabad, India to Hochiminh assuming booking a flight from Hochiminh to Halong would be easy. But since our flight landed in early hours, we had to wait till morning in front of the domestic airport sipping Saigons and Tigers till early morning. Also, a tip here. Try booking tickets on 12go.asia this is the cheapest and most reliable travel site inside Asia. The site is user friendly and is similar to the flight booking sites everyone is familiar with, in their respective countries.
The next toughest challenge you would face inside Halong is language. If you are staying in a reputed five star hotel, you are partly saved. But if not, practice dumb charades to perfection before planning this trip. Okay, since tech has evolved so much, you don't have to do that. There is a small trick.Start using google translate. A bonus tip : when in vietnam, google 'dich' and you will land on the home page of google translate with from and to set up as english and vietnamese .This is how you will talk for the rest of your halong trip.. well, mostly. If you are lucky, you will find someone like tommy, our cruise ship guide( check the video ) once in a while. If you want to talk to cab drivers to take you to a not so popular location, then the joke is on you, You will waste so many dongs before realizing that it is best to rent a car if you want to explore the city on your own. I repent for not doing this on our first day of the trip. Rest of the days were sorted.
Also, it is cold here in december. Not your regular asian december cold, it is somewhat like Florida december cold. Throw a jacket in your luggage and thank me later. The night life has not evolved so much and it is mostly sober place. But it is going to become like Thailand soon. I can totally see it. Walking street here is a work in progress. But there are some good night clubs, You will find few if u can chat with locals who are mostly willing to help. You wont find any one being rude to you. The only problem is communication. If you get that right, you are in for some fun. We happened to find 'New Square Bar' from a local. We had a blast. We went were there every single night.
Now that we are talking about night life, the next weird thing you find here is peoples inhaling from balloons. First day i let it go, the next day i had to research. Then i found that they were not normal balloons, they are filled with nitrous oxide. wtf, a balloon filled with laughing gas for a buck ($) !!! Right now it is not regulated in Vietnam but in most of the countries this is illegal. Try them and forget them once you are out of Vietnam.
Now coming to nature, Halong Bay day tour is a must. You will be mesmerized by the beautiful lime islands and the emerald waters. You can go cycling, take a walk in cat ba national park. But my favourite is hiking bai tho mountain. It is like going on a treasure hunt. Research and try it for a small adventure.
That't it for now. In my next post, lets visit Hochiminh :) TaTa