Halong Bay, Vietnam had been sitting on my bucket list for a while until I crossed it in March. The free-standing limestone pinnacles in emerald waters makes these seven wonders of the world magical, something i find so captivating.
Halong Bay is made up of thousands of scattered limestone islands covered with forests located in North East side of Vietnam. It was declared UNESCO world Heritage in 1994 and a new 7 wonder in 2011. Locals believe that Halong Bay, also known as descending dragons, God sent a family of dragons spitting out pearls and jades to help protect Vietnam against invaders in the 19th century. The pearls turned into islands and islets linking together to form a ‘wall’.
Halong Bay is located 167 kilometres East of Hanoi, about 4 hours by car. There are many boat companies to choose from and picking one can prove to be quite a task. Luckily, our hostel, Golden Times 3 travel desk had quite a few and they patiently explained the pros and cons of each boat company vis-a-vis the cost. They also arranged for transport to Halong Bay and back. We settled for Halong Party Cruise company.
Although the dull clouds made Halong bay look gloomy than I had seen on Instagram, it was still breathtaking.
We left Hanoi at 7 am by bus with a bunch of other travellers from different neighboring hostels. When we arrived at Halong Bay, we were transferred to a small boat then to the big junk boat. Safety levels were not one of the highest but we were all in life jackets.
In the junk boat, we were assigned different rooms where we would spend the night sharing with people from different countries. Our guide, Tung, made sure people from the same country, couples excepted did not share a room, which was great. I was given the lower decker room with a private bathroom sharing with a French lady which meant I’d spend the night closest to the water. Quite frightening at first but as always, I let the new experience surprise me.
Refreshments were served as we boated around the bay with our knowledgeable guide telling us the role of Halong Bay during the Vietnam war and the dragon stories.
Sung Sot Caves visit
Ha long Bay has several caves. Our tour group visited the Sung Sot cave which means an Amazing cave. Most of the limestone rocks in the cave have funny names given by locals based on how their shapes and appearances.
The cave is decorated with spotlights and brassy decorations making it stunning and at the same time unnatural. This tour is rather crowded and the entire guided walk through the cave takes around 1 hour to 1.30 minutes.
Hiking on Ti Top island, named after a Russian astronaut is one of the highlights of the trip to Ha Long Bay. The views of the entire bay and surrounding islands from the top were breathtaking and we were fortunate to watch the sunset from the top of Ha Long Bay.
The trek up is steep and harder than coming down with the entire trip taking around 30 minutes. Around the island is a small beach where you can jump in for a good swim.
Dinner was served at 7 pm with a complimentary soft drink. The boat had a bar where one could grab a beer, wine or specialty cocktails. Dinner was very detailed 3-course and tasty, all prepared fresh inside the junk boat kitchenette.
One of the girls from Argentina had mate, a traditional South American caffeine-rich drink in which we sipped one person at a time as we played a game of cards.
The second day was a busy one with many activities lined up for us. After a yummy breakfast, we did Kayaking, cooking and a few rounds in Halong Bay.
Kayaking in Halong Bay is one of the best ways to get close and appreciate the captivating beauty of this wonder. I was freaking afraid to go and was lucky to have one of our team members offering to kayak with me. We paddled around the islands to corners of the waters where boats can’t go. My first time kayaking was a great feeling.
*Unfortunately, just a week after I left Vietnam I read in the news that kayaking had been banned in Halong Bay by the Quang Ninh province administration. The ban that came into effect on April 1 was part of the province’s heritage conservation plans and tourist safety issues.
One thing I loved about Vietnam was the food. Regardless of not knowing what I was eating most of the times the food was generally tasty. Cooking lesson was my favourite part of the junk boat tour.
Our guide Tung taught us how to prepare Vietnamese chicken rice paper rolls. Everybody would eat what they prepared.
One more round boating in the Bay
At 11 AM it was time to make the final round along the bay waters. The sun was out so we could afford more clear photos. This was also a good time to bask on the top deck and enjoy the sun and the views, one last time.
Back to the shore
At 2 PM it was time to go back to Hanoi. We jumped into the small boat that took us to the shore to catch the bus.
This trip was a fulfilling two days of crossing my bucket list and meeting tons of new people, not forgetting it was my first time to spend a night floating in the sea/ocean.
Things to bring with to Halong Bay
- Hike friendly shoes. Walking shoes suffice
- Warm jacket for the evening
- Beach slippers
- Changing clothes
Note there is no Internet so you may not want to bring any gadgets with. You could pre-download movies though to watch offline.
As always, I love hearing your thoughts and experiences in the various destinations. Have you done this Ha Long Bay tour? Which boat tour did you take? What did you like most during your tour? The comments box below awaits.