“This wonder is ground raising up into the middle of the high sky”.Nguyễn Trãi, Viatnamese Confucian Scholar, 500 years ago, about Halong Bay
The trip to Halong Bay and the cruise on its stunning waters, turn out to be the highlight of our trip to Vietnam.
|Halong Bay (or HA LONG as it also known as), the most popular destination visited by millions of visitors every year has been on our bucket list since ages. Those pictures of beautiful emerald green islands and green waters have captivated us since long.|
Legend has it that once upon a time, the Vietnamese had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North by sea. The Gods called the mighty dragon Mother and her children to help the Vietnamese people. The dragons came down on Earth, spat out emerald jewels from their mouth which formed the islands of the bay which turned into invincible and protective walls, driving the enemy away. It is said that it is these dragons which form the stunning mountainous landscape of the Halong Bay.
A four hour drive from Hanoi, Halong Bay in the North-East part of Vietnam, seems like another world. Emerald green waters and surreal views all around, the Hạlong Bay has an area of around 1,553 km2 (600 sq mi), and is dotted with around 2000 islets, most of which are made of limestone.
Halong Bay was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, twice, once for its its outstanding, universal aesthetic value in 1994 and then for its outstanding geological and geomorphological value.
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Getting to Halong Bay
Roughly, Halong Bay, is located around 150 Kms. from Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.
For us, we take a shuttle van organised by our tour operator Signature Cruise. It takes us around 3.5 hours to reach with bathroom breaks in between. It is a long but fun trip and we make friends with people from other nationalities, many of whom we get to spend time with on the cruise.
Most boats and cruises depart from Halong Bay cruise port, also known as Tuan Chau Gateway. It is located on the island of Tuần Châu, 13km or a 20-minute drive from Halong City via land bridge.
Halong Bay Cruise experience
|There are multiple options of experiencing Halong Bay. You can do it as a day tour, a 2 day one night cruise or a 3 days 2 night cruise. There are various companies offering different experiences and while the views remain the same for everyone, the cruise experience varies from premium to passable. Some of the top cruises are:|
–Bhaya Halong Bay Cruise
–Signature Royal Halong Bay Cruise
–Royal Palace Halong Bay Cruise
–Halong Silversea Cruise
–Alisa Halong Bay Cruise
–Paradise Luxury Halong Bay Cruise
–Indochina Junk Halong Bay Cruise
–Rosa Boutique Cruise
Most of the tour operators offer pick up and drop facilities from Hanoi.
If you’re hard pressed for time, take a day cruise from Tuan Chau Marina in Halong City to Halong Bay. Do check the inclusions like lunch etc. when you book a day trip. However, I would not recommend a day trip from Hanoi, given that half the day would go in travel and it would turn out to be a rushed tour.
A 2 days 1 night itinerary is a perfect one to explore Ha Long Bay. If you are interested to explore the remote areas of the bay, then it makes sense to opt for a 3 days 2 nights itinerary.
We used the services of Signature Royal Halong Bay Cruise. The service was exceptional and we had a very pleasant experience
You can use getyourguide to book your cruise. Try to do a bit of research especially with regard to the inclusions, itinerary and the safety procedure. Also, it is advisable to book through an agency or online, rather than through your hotel, since that you will get better deals with first hand view of the inclusions.
Experiencing the cruise
The staff welcomes us warmly with a complimentary drink. After the usual safety precautions, we go to our cabin to freshen up. I love the deck and the views of the stunning landscape.
For the majority of the time spent on the vessel, this remains my favourite spot.
The lunch served is colourful and fresh, mostly comprising of seafood and some appetisers. The drinks are refreshing.
The vessel cruises on the emerald waters to take us to Bai Tu Long Bay. We pass the towns of Hon Gai and Cam Pha, and are mesmerised by the limestone karsts which seem like they are arising out of the water, trying to touch the sky.
Once we reach the fishing village of Vung Vient, we explore the village in local rowing boats and it is an interesting experience to see how the locals go about their lives.
The cruise offers an hour of kayaking. While I do not wish to kayak, my better half and son jump at the opportunity. They go kayaking. It turns out to be a delightful experience for them, paddling around the gigantic limestone formations with the magnificence of nature in full view.
Many cruise companies offer kayaking as part of the package you book with them, and sometimes they charge an additional fee. Be mindful of the safety precautions, especially if you are a first time kayaker. Sometimes water currents are really high and it may be difficult to control the kayak.
Overnight on the cruise
The boat drops anchor. Somehow, the night amidst the waters has taken a magical quality. The sky is clear and there is a gentle breeze caressing my face as I lay on the deck chair. I just don’t feel like leaving the going for the Vietnamese Cooking class. Very reluctantly, I go but surprisingly enjoy the experience of making spring rolls with glass noodles.
Dinner is a special affair with an assortment of sea food and other appetisers. A glass of drink to relax with and we are done for the day.
It is a unique experience, being under the wide expanse of sky and in the middle of the water. It seems as if time has stood still.
Morning at the Bay
I get up early in the morning to experience the quietness before the touristy things take over. The sun rises and the day starts officially. After having a light breakfast, we visit the a very popular and unique cave, the Sung Sot Cave (or the Surprise cave)! There is a wooden pier leading to the cave and a fair bit of climbing stairs involved.
The climb is not suitable for people with walking difficulties. Inside is old formation of stalactites and stalagmites. Some of the formations will remind you of different shapes. The uniqueness of the cave lies in the fact that there is a huge chamber inside. The lightning inside though a bit cheesy, added to the mystique of the caves.
There is a small beach and we spend some time there taking in the views and soaking in the sun.
The trip comes to an end. After saying goodbye to the staff, we board the ferry and return to the wharf.
One off the bucket list.
| Best time to visit Halong Bay|
|Peak Season to visit Halong is from October to December. The weather is pleasant with less chances of rainfall. Expect increased prices and more crowds.|
January to February is a good time to visit but prices are quite high during this time. Also, sometimes the days turn cloudy resulting in hazy views of the bay.
March to May is slightly off season, with the weather not being too hot and less crowds. However, expect some rain during this time.
June to September is the time when the crowds are less, and you will get good deals on hotels and activities. However, please remember that this is also the time when the weather is very hot and humid and there are chances of storm.
Do your bit for sustainable tourism!
With increase in popularity, the threats to the ecological balance of the Halong Bay are also increasing. In our trip, amidst the surreal surroundings, we also saw heaps of rubbish, plastic bottles and dead fish. Many times during the cruise, the stench of the water was almost unbearable.
Many of the tour operators are only bothered about profits and do not care about preserving the environment at Halong.
The Government is doing its bit to promote sustainable tourism by having appropriate regulations in place. Also community based sustainable tourism is being promoted where the locals earn money by selling their products and services to the tourists visiting their villages.
While you can understand more about the culture and the local environment of the people this way, the locals get economic benefits so as to make a good living.
Further, you can do your bit by booking your tour with an operator with a sustainable tourism policy, being mindful of your surroundings and basically being a tourist with a conscience.
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