If I had to select the top 5 things to look forward to on this 8 month journey, it would be:
1. Staying in a Safari Lodge in South Africa
2. Cruising through Halong Bay in Vietnam
3. The Fjords in Norway
4. Sleeping in the desert in Wadi Rum, Jordan
5. Completing my goal of visiting 10 Olympic Stadiums including the original stadium in Athens, Greece
Halong Bay is considered the most beautiful bay in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also is one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature (Scott and I hope to visit 3 of the 7 this year).
Halong Bay literally means “descending dragon bay” because according to local legend, the Vietnamese people heard of invaders coming through the bay and prayed to the Gods to help them. The Gods sent down a family of dragons to the bay where the dragons spit out fire ahead of the invaders ships and the fire was transformed into the 1900+ limestone islands that make up Halong Bay.
Those islands prevented the invaders from coming through and still protect Vietnam to this day. For me, cruising through Halong Bay was something that we were not going to miss.
There are many 1-3 day tour options available ranging from prices of $18pp to $400pp (depending on the amount of days and tour operator). With our flashpacker $100/day budget, we couldn’t really afford a luxury cruise. But my brother and sister in law gave me some vacation fun money for my birthday and I tucked it away to use for this experience (Thanks Tanveer and June Makhani!)
We booked a 1 night, 2 day tour on an 8 room ship. The night before we left, I felt like a kid going to Disneyland for the first time. I couldn’t sleep!
This led to a foggy morning but a van was going to pick us up from our hotel in Hanoi drive about 3 hours out to the pier so I had plenty of time to wake up.
We set sail in the afternoon and the trip was magical. We had only been out on the water for a few minutes and before we knew it, we were already surrounded by beautiful islands. Fog is common in Halong Bay and that only adds to the experience. The scenery was ever changing:
Our first activity of the day was visiting the surprising cave. An interesting name that definitely fits. Our group got on a smaller boat that shuttled us over to one of the many small islands
After climbing a long set of stairs, we arrived at a small entrance that led to a set of larger than life caves. The pictures do not depict how amazing this cave really is:
Here is the view from the top of the cave:
We then were given free time to go kayaking and roam around an Island cluster near our boat. That was a lot of fun!
The evening was spent with our 20-something cabin mates fishing, karaoke and playing drinking games.
The next morning, I woke up to the sun hitting my face from the window. It was about 6am and I opened my eyes to this:
What a view!
We spent the following day roaming around the bay. For those of you who have visited Halong Bay before or have seen photos, you may have seen these traditional wooden junk ships with colorful sails. Unfortunately some Vietnamese dignitaries went to Monaco and saw all of the yachts out at sea. They returned to Vietnam and made a regulation requiring all boats to be painted white. All white. So those beautiful boats do not exist anymore and they look pretty dirty because white paint doesn’t last very long at sea.
On our way back to the port we gathered in the indoor common area to learn how to make spring rolls! Here is how the experience went:
Tour guide: okay everyone, I am going to teach you how to make pork spring rolls.
Guest shouting from outside deck: Um I think a ship is coming our way
Guide: First, you wet the rice paper with water
Guest: Yes, a boat is coming our way guys
Guide: Then you flatten the rice paper
Guest: guys… Guys the boat is coming!!!
(Horns sound from our boat)
Guide: Okay yes, everyone just hold onto a table please and brace yourselves
I at this point looked out the front window and sure enough there was a smaller boat coming our way. All the passengers from that boat were on the roof and were so confused with what was going on. I was not confused. I immediately ran to the back of the boat and held on to… Well, a table.
Our boats crashed. But the boat was still in tact and everyone was okay. Our captain yelled at the other captain and I asked our tour guide “How does that happen?”
Tour Guide: The other boat captain is new and he always does this to us. He is a bad boat captain. Well, maybe the passengers wanted to join our cooking class! So let’s resume!
And just like that, we forgot about the incident and resumed to making spring rolls.
We ate the fruits of our labor during lunch on the cruise back to the port. I never got to try my spring rolls because they were pork, but I had made my spring rolls twice as long as they should have been so I am pretty sure they were horrible.
Our trip to Halong Bay was magical and memorable. I do recommend the 2 night tour to those that have more time on a trip but either way I am just glad to have seen it at all. I have a friend that made it all the way out there and then didn’t even get to set sail due to dense fog.
After we returned home, Scott and I started researching the Philippines and we learned that the Palawan province possesses a bay that rivals Halong Bay. It is called Bacuit Bay and some say that it is even better than Halong Bay. So in a few weeks I will give you the full report on that experience! But Halong Bay lived up to my expectations and will be pretty hard to beat.