Our second to last stop was Halong Bay. Halong Bay is in the northeast part of Vietnam and is one of its most photographed locations. As the bus approached the harbor I immediately saw why. It’s majestic! The first thing I noticed was the water, which is a rich, emerald green. As your eyes travel up you see impressive limestone islands covered in jungle plant life which makes the deep green vegetation a stark contrast to the dark grey stone.
Our group was fortunate to have rented out an entire Chinese Junker boat to ourselves for the evening. Vietnam will always be a beautiful place, but if you are going to visit I’d suggest you go soon. As our different guides pointed out the country is just starting to get used to having tourists and is still navigating the waters of opening up their country to Westerners. There is still a lot of freedom for visitors and not many regulations on your travels. As time goes by, however, more attractions are being more tightly regulated. A perfect example is Halong Bay. Presently most tourists stay overnight on a boat as they cruise around the bay. In two years from now, however, you will no longer be able to stay overnight on a boat and will have to stay in a hotel in town. We heard several examples like this of upcoming proposed regulations on different areas we visited.
As we arrived in the bay we were greeted by a smaller speed boat that took us to our Chinese Junker boat. There wasn’t much wind so the sail never came out but it was still an impressive vessel.
Immediately upon arrival we were greeted with a fresh lunch filled with local seafood fare. We had fish, octopus, squid, clams, mussels and a variety of different steamed vegetables all with rice and noodles. The food on the boat was some of the best I had all trip!
Our boat had a large deck up top where we were able to sunbathe and enjoy the scenery as we were brought further into the bay.
We anchored about two hours in and were greeted with the opportunity to go kayaking. We kayaked through a cave and into a lagoon. This may sound cheesy but I felt like I was in a Jurassic Park scene! It was just our group in this lagoon making for amazing private exploration.
The water was warm and beautiful. The mountains were buzzing with insects and animals (there are monkeys on the islands!), and the jungle was so lush you couldn’t even tell what was behind its initial tree layer. At one point I laid back in my kayak and allowed myself to soak it all in. The experience felt out of this world!
After we all kayaked back we were off to another island in the bay, Dao Ti Top Island. There is an amazing look out point on this island that we were warned would be challenging to get to but worth it. Our tour guide was right! 474 steps later we were at the top. We were sweaty, out of breath and exhausted but what a stunning panoramic view in front of us.
After we got our fill of photos from the top we ventured back down the 474 stairs to the beach. This island had a great beach where we were able to enjoy a relaxing swim. Most of the islands don’t have beaches because the area was a mountain range before the water levels rose making the peaks islands. This beach according to our guide was actually man made. I enjoyed the cool down until little (harmless) fish started nibbling on the dead skin on my toes which freaked me out. They bit Justin’s scab off and startled several other people in our group too.
That night our guide organized a pirate party for the group and we all dressed up in our makeshift pirate costumes. The crew turned the dining room into a dance floor and everyone enjoyed themselves sharing their country’s favorite drinking games and party tricks.
The next morning we took off early towards one of the many caves located in Halong Bay. Again we climbed a few hundred stairs until we found ourselves in the mouth of the cave. It’s call the Surprise Cave because it’s actually a series of three caves that get bigger the further you go.
After we cleaned out our individual cabins on the junker boat we were off on the smaller boat back to the bus. Halong Bay was incredibly beautiful and other worldly. Have you been there? What did you think?