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Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage and a Natural Wonder of the World – Ha Long Bay is without a doubt a great destination for excursion and natural discovery. It features over 2000 magnificent limestone karst rising from the emerald bay, rich biodiversity, historical caves, pear farm, floating fishing villages and towns that exist entirely on water. No wonder it has been a popular destination for travelers to Vietnam.
I didn’t want to miss it, either!
The running joke was, how long to Halong? Ha! Halong Bay? Well, it’s a bumpy four-hour drive from Hanoi to the harbor (sometimes longer depending on traffic), including a toilet break. Where? To the souvenir shop of course! They have almost anything you could imagine, from people painting, life-size marble sculpture, beautiful handmade needlepoint art, to statues, to intricate stone tables, to luxury and branded bags. Some of the stuff were pretty impressive but overpriced.
We waited around 30 minutes before we got back on the road again and, after just a little bit, had my first glimpse of some karst formations in the distance. After a bit longer, we went across a beautiful bridge to the main docking facility for all of the tourist boats. As soon as we arrived the tourist boat charter split everyone up into groups according to their boat, while I tried to find a bus going to Bai Chay port where Saigon Ha Long Hotel was located.
When I arrived at the hotel, I was given a welcome drink and chatted little with the staff before being shown to my room – there was a little confusion when I was shown to a villa suite located outside the hotel! The room was beautiful, but I needed to walk 100 meters to reach the main lobby of the hotel and go up to the 14th floor for breakfast! Definitely not a good idea, especially when it’s raining. So I immediately decided to transfer to a room “inside” the hotel – which was attended to after battling with a language barrier. Whew! The rest of the day was spent eating gorgeous food, staring out the window, and chilling on the roof deck with a good view of the bay.
From the hotel, it took me less than half an hour to reach the boat station. From the dock, the view of Ha Long Bay was already mesmerizing. Tall, gigantic limestone karsts emerge from the green waters.
After about 15 minutes of waiting, I was told to board the ship. I opted for a four-hour private cruise thinking that it’s a perfect way to soak up every second of the adventure while engaging in conversation with the locals, and fellow travelers. I was curious about where they’re from, where they’ve been, and where to next. But all these ideas vanished into thin air the moment I boarded the ship. There was only me on board and a crew of six. Pretty amazing isn’t it?. The whole boat for me! Yay! Now I understand why the tourism lady in Saigon hotel was a bit shocked when I told her that I will be cruising alone.
The boat wasn’t new or fancy like some of the other tourist boats you can spot out on Ha Long Bay, but it had character. It also was miles away from the party boats I had pictured, but it’s roomy and clean, not bad for a private tour.
The food was put on the table as soon as we set sail. I sat down to a lunch of beef and papaya salad, clams with lemongrass, mix vegetables, spring rolls, shrimps and other tasty items. While eating we cruised out into the bay. And the beautiful green water with giant limestone islands everywhere became an instant backdrop. The guide started talking about the island that we’re passing asking me to get up and look out the window and take pictures of this and that. I look out the window of the dining room on one side of the boat to see a specific limestone tower and take as many photos as I can.
It’s impossible for me to explain the vast bay in words, so I am going to let the photos do the talking. Needless to say, I was in awe of the piercing limestones karsts as they rose majestically out of the bay.
There wasn’t a whole lot to do on this type of cruise, but I did went on a couple of excursions. The first was a trip to a cave on one of the small island. Tourists were pouring out of the entrance to the cave-like lava out of a volcano. But once you got in the cave it wasn’t so bad. If Dau Go caves were not duly prepared for tourists, it would have been an eerie series of tunnels past uneven floor and ceiling bursting with stalactites, stalagmites, drapery pillars, among others. The cave was long and deep and without any man-made lighting, its shadows could only be broken by shafts of light from an occasional sunlight escaping from the ceiling.
The cave sloped upwards gradually, and steps were cut here and there to make the climb a simple one, much easier than the first flight of steps required to gain access to these caves.
After an hour, I went back on board, the ship took off and the island of Dau Go caves faded off into the distance. I marveled, nonstop and with no dilution, at the extraordinary beauty, I found myself in. It was so quiet, and I felt very lucky to be experiencing the bay as I imagined it.
By 4:30 we were back to shore, it was time for me to say so long to Ha Long!
All in all the tour was great, but next time if I come back I would like to spend a night at Cat Ba Island. Something I should’ve planned on doing ahead of time.
If you are considering to on a Ha Long Bay cruise I would recommend the two day one night on the boat option on a three-star boat or even three days two nights on the boat option.
Have you been to Halong Bay? What was your experience like? Do you think the experience is worth it? If you enjoyed this post, why not follow me on my Facebook or Instagram page, for more travel tips and inspiration.
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