This is one of the most picturesque places I’ve seen and been to. Every picture you see of Halong Bay on internet is poster and wallpaper worthy. Halong Bay is a natural wonder and this Vietnamese treasure is unlike any other place in the world. This place is a must for everyone visiting Vietnam. The unique landscape is a pleasant escapade from the busy streets of the major cities in Vietnam. I decided to go on an overnight cruise because spending a night on a junk sounds really exciting. There are over 500 boats/junks to choose from because Halong Bay has been so commercialised over the past years. Choosing the perfect junk wasn’t easy because I had to watch out for my budget but having said that, I didn’t want to risk my life over saving a couple of bucks. So this trip was my biggest splurge. I saved up mostly on lodging, where I stayed at cheaper places in HCMC, Hanoi and Da Nang.
I sailed with Paragon Cruise for USD90 (all inclusive – return transfer from Old Quarters in Hanoi, on-board meals, cave tour, Monkey Island tour and kayaking) except for drinks which you have to pay for yourself (beer is priced at USD3, coke for USD2 and other alcohol beverages priced around USD5).
I was picked up from my hotel in Hanoi at 8.30am and began the 3 and a half hour journey to the bay with a shuttle bus. Throughout the journey, we were introduced to people who we’d be sailing with and was given brief history about Halong Bay. We also stopped for half an hour at this souvenir place where they sell sculptures, jades and other crafty items which you can have them shipped back to your hometown. We finally arrived at the edge of Halong Bay and boarded a small boat that took us to our junk which was anchored further away from the bay.
Weather was fantastic, the sky was bright and the sun was out playing. We started sailing at 12.30pm, we were given keys to our room and 10 mins to freshen up. Prior to this trip, I couldn’t make my full payment through online and had to resolve this problem with the customer service for days (but they were very attentive and helpful), due to this complication, I was given a free upgrade to their luxury suite. Sweet!
Halong Bay looked exotic and surreal. Surrounded by lush green, limestone peaks and sights of beautiful junks covering the sea. We were briefed on our 2D1N itinerary and served with lunch right after. We were seated on the same dining table, shared with 10 other people. It was a little bit awkward at first but after a few minutes of an ice breaker session, it wasn’t that bad after all.
We were served plate by plate ranging from seafood (shrimps, fish and cuttlefish), meat (chicken and beef) fried vegetables and cut fruits. The food was delicious and tasted really fresh. After lunch, I took the liberty to explore the entire junk and exude in the spread of natural beauty found in Halong Bay.
Our first stop was to the “Amazing Cave”, a few minutes by the small boat, passing through floating market. You need to hike a few minutes on steep stairs before reaching the mouth of the cave.
What you’d be able to see from there is beyond spectacular and simply breathtaking. You can see parts of the Halong Bay, green mountains and boats nicely parked around the mountain. I’m out of adjectives to describe the beauty of the sight I got to witness from where I stood.
You can see the limestone karst rock structures in various shapes and sizes and clear blue & greenish waters. Legend has it that centuries ago when Vietnam was under siege, the heaven sent down a mystical dragon which lay out a whole bunch of pearls that turned into these rocks, resulted all the invaders boats to be crushed into pieces. This dragon is also what Ha (Descending) long (dragon) Bay is named after and the legend claimed that the dragon never left because it liked the place too much.
Oddly enough, having the bay filled with more than 40 boats, the place is still surprisingly quiet and serene. No disruption from the sound at all, which is weird but amazing. Inside the cave is another wonder, although packed with tourists, we were glad that it was the low season so we didn’t have to wait so long to get into the cave. I’ve been to many caves in my life, this one was quite impressive. Not much hiking needed once you get inside. The cave housed many stones and rock full of mistiness and stories behind them; of weird shapes and sizes. My tour guide was so entertaining and informative when telling us all of the stories. This cave is also known as “Surprising Cave”, name given by the French because perhaps they were surprised when they discovered it? 😉
After the cave visit we headed back to our small boat and they took us to Monkey Island for a little swim! I was so happy that the weather was fantastic (because it rained all the time in HCMC and Hanoi). Monkey Island is obviously inhabited by monkeys, plenty of them. We were warned to be careful with our belongings because these monkeys can be sneaky; snooping around people’s stuffs and stealing them.
Too much amazements to take in a day. We headed back to our junk because it was almost sunset. We had so much fun and a day well-spent.
Witnessing the sunset from the boat is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. The light from the sun was reflected from the limestones and the hue of the sky turned warmer and warmer by the minute.
The environment in Halong Bay during the night was very calm and quiet. It was so relaxing and it felt so good to be away from the concrete jungle. Especially taking a break from the crazy chaotic traffic in Hanoi and HCMC where you’d be hearing constant honking from cars and motorbikes. Most junks provide fun activities to do at night (since there’s nothing much to do while the boat is in a motionless-state); they have karaoke, drinking game, puzzles etc.
We woke up early and had breakfast at 7am before we sailed to another place for kayaking. I was excited beyond words. Taking a cruise around Halong Bay is a priceless experience but getting near all the limestones made the whole experience felt more surreal.
You can kayak freely around Halong Bay. You will be passing by moving boats and junks, you can also kayak through the floating market and see how the business is done. The surrounding is so serene, an experience not to be missed!
We checked out at 10am and had our last lunch together. This trip was such a great experience to me, from day one everything was so breathtakingly mesmerising. The cruise was great, food was fantastic and the crews were so friendly and welcoming. Halong Bay is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Vietnam and all in all I think this was the highlight of my trip to this amazing country. My advise, spend at least a night on the cruise. Taking a day tour is fine but it’s a little bit stressful as it requires you around 3 hours to travel from Hanoi, and the same amount to travel back. You won’t get to spend the trip at ease and you will be tired by the time the whole tour ends. At least when spending a night, you can experience more and be fully recharged the next day for your next adventure! I really hope the authorities will maintain Halong Bay and preserve it as one of the wonders of the world.