Halong bay is a UNESCO world heritage site for its natural beauty. The calm sea and about 2000 of the limestone islets form an ethereal experience. These 2000 islets are the reasons to like Halong Bay.
There are two ways of enjoying the beauty of Halong Bay: either you stay at the bay coast and take day trips to the islets or you stay on the junk cruise (boat cruise). We opted for the second option and thoroughly enjoyed it.
We took a 3 day/2 night cruise on traditional junk. There are many good cruise services and you can choose one depending on your budget. We had booked our trip beforehand and transfers from Ha Noi were included in the package. We were picked from our hotel in the morning and we reached Halong Bay jetty before noon. After the guide gathered all the passengers together, we were on the way to the cruise.
First impression on the cruise? Awesome! The wooden paneled interior of the boat was beautiful and the dining area was elegant. The boat also had a sun deck complete with deck chairs and loungers. You can just lay down and soak in the beauty around you.
We were greeted with a welcome drink and were then left to relax as the boat cruised through the bay. We got a good room on second level.
As the boat pulled out of the jetty and made its way through the bay, slowly the excitement built. We stood at the edge of the sun deck looking at the islets in the horizon. We sailed deeper into the bay and behold! We were looking at the amazing Halong Bay islets. So many small islets just rising out of the water. The greenery on the islets coupled with the rugged stony façade created a sight to feast on. We just stood there spellbound and absorbed the phenomenal beauty of the region.
By the time the cruise anchored in a shallow bay area, we were enchanted with the beauty of Halong Bay.
The Tour activities
The first trip was to Amazing caves. As the name suggests, Amazing cave is truly amazing. Full points to the authorities who have lit the caves in multicolor lights highlighting the best. We think the trip wouldn’t have been as interesting without our guide who had great anecdotes regarding the place and the structures; like the one about the cannon and the hole in the ceiling (which can be seen as male and female parts).
Next was the kayaking. The first timers like us had to overcome initial difficulty trying to get the kayak in the right direction to follow the guide. It is not so hard after you get a hang of it. But during first few minutes one of us always tried to row in the wrong direction. But the first time is always most memorable! We went through caves (yes! Caves in the water) to the lagoon. We spent time riding close to the islet and back. It was so much fun and so interesting getting up close with the nature.
Then we were left to our facilities to chill out. Before lunch we got in a brief cooking lesson and learnt to make Vietnamese spring rolls. We got the recipe for both fresh and fried rolls from the chef and got to try it ourselves. Before leaving Vietnam, we bought the essential ingredients back to India and loved making the rolls here as well.
We had fun chatting with co-passengers from a varied background and so many different cultures. The fishing sessions was disappointing as we didn’t catch anything.
The morning was welcomed with an energizing session of Tai-chi. And it was our guide-cum-chef-cum-instructor again. Slowly following his directions we let go of our morning stiffness. The slow movements and breathing was such a calming experience.
By the second day most of our earlier co-passengers had left (as they had 2 day package). So we and another couple started on the second day trip. It was like a private day trip then. We visited our first islet in the bay and sat on the beach instead of hiking up the top.
We rode further to a different bay and again got on kayaks. This time we kayaked through multiple caves. One of then was very tricky. We had to back up and after couple of attempts we were able to maneuver the kayak through. After this long ride we were left to explore the waters on our own. We relaxed on the deck and also had a brief swim in the bay water. This visit was the most fun for us.
On our way back, we visited a pearl farm where we got to see the lifecycle of cultured pearl from initial to final phase. And finally we passed through the fishing village. The whole village was on water all the houses and shops were also on boats. Lots of activities and as much fun. It was like best day EVER!
The last day was dedicated to a trip to the view point where we had to climb more than 300 steps to reach the top. But the panoramic view was simply worth the effort. We filled our eyes (and our camera) with the gorgeous sights as much as we could.
Food and service
Again we were impressed by the Vietnamese service. Superb! As we had informed them initially, the chef prepared special vegetarian only dishes for the vegetarian passengers. And even though they were out-numbered 2 to 28, the food quality was great.
The carnivores among us got fresh sea food. What else could one expect on a cruise? Perfect! What struck us most, was the unique presentation style for each dish. All dished of every meal were presented in a different and beautiful way.
Depending on your budget, you have several options for junk cruise. Ours was a midrange package @ $220 per person including transfers to/from Ha Noi. You can get more luxurious or budget option.
The journey to/from Ha Noi takes about 3-4 hrs.
Do you have a story to tell about your Halong Bay experience? Drop in a comment or send us a mail. We will definitely reply. All the interesting tales will be published in a special feature.