Often termed by the Vietnamese as the World’s Eighth wonder, Ha Long Bay is indeed a geological wonder. The USP of the Bay are the calm waters and hundreds of limestone islands dotting the sea. Some of these islands are inhabited and are huge in size, others although small in size make up by the pristine white sandy beaches.
“ The Vietnamese are proud of the mythology associated with the Ha Long Bay”
The Gods had descended in the form of dragons to fight against the enemies of the north.. So goes the story.
The First Impression
Ha Noi(meaning ascending dragon) serves at the base for most tourists who are keen on exploring Ha Long Bay. Once you are in Ha Noi, you could chose from the multiple packages offered by the omni- present travel operators to go on a cruise on the Bay. Or, you could chose to directly go to the Bay and look out for options. I would suggest booking through one of the operators as that reduces much of the unwanted hassle. The Junk boats which take you on a cruise depart only when they have an optimum number of people and coordinating that on your own can become a nightmare, especially when you don’t know the language. That said, that could be just the fun-factor that you are looking for !!
I booked a a 2 nights-3days cruise with one of the operators in the backpacker’s alley in Ha Noi. 65 USD. It offered me all of this: cruise on a junk boat, the meals, stay at one of the islands, hiking and kayaking. Next morning, a mini-bus came to pick us up at the Hostel I was put up. Since the network is very well established, the buses pick up tourists from different hostels and hotels, and I must say: they do a pretty good job! At least , in our case ! The drive from Ha Noi to Halong took close to 3 hours on what was pretty ordinary tarmac. At first impression, the Halong Bay looked to be a busy port !
The cruise started with the guide detailing the itinerary. With a German, Indonesian and a French family along with a couple of British girls on board, the mix was quite diverse. After a 3-course meal where I struggled to find anything vegetarian apart from the bland Tofus, we stopped at one of the islands in the bay to visit the limestone caves.
“ The caves were interestingly lit by artificial light ”
The guides have interesting fictional stories to tell around the shapes of the stalactites. Do listen to them! The afternoon was brilliant with the sun shining bright and a cold breeze blowing: perfect setting for just basking in the warmth of the Sun.
We spent the evening on the boat. Although there were other boats as well which were anchored for the night, each boat had sufficient private space. Being a Christmas Eve, the boats were elaborately lit up.
“The colourful reflections on the calm waters of the Bay resembled an Impressionist’s piece of work”
Karaoke and Vietnamese folks songs kept us entertained for a good part of the evening. The rooms on the boat were very comfortable, with attached washrooms and hot shower!
The next day we sailed off to the Cat Ba island. Spread over 30 sq. Kms. Cat Ba is an adventurer’s paradise. There are lot of interesting limestone walls to climb, beautiful islands to explore on your kayak, and forests for small hikes. We went for a small hike in the Cat Ba national park. Having hiked extensively in the breathtakingly beautiful Himalayan ranges, the hike didn’t particularly interest me, nor did the landscape en-route. However, the afternoon was well spent as we set out to explore the small islands on our sea-kayaks. The third day of the cruise was pretty laid back, as we returned back to Hanoi by the evening. A hot cup of coffee at a café tucked away in a quaint little street seemed like the perfect way to contemplate over the time at the Bay !