Ha Long Bay – Where Ground Rises Sky High
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
“This wonder is ground rising up into the middle of the high sky”
We watched the majestic stone islands rising vertically from the calm sea. Straight rock faces ricing directly with lush green jungles pushing out where ever they could; such a bizarre sight and definitely one of the most popular sights in Vietnam.
You can’t but marvel at the islands
Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy when we went
But they are amazing
And here we finally were.
Our journey had taken us from Saigon to Ha Long Bay, sort of like that Top Gear episode about Vietnam, except we didn’t drive the whole route with scooters and we went to Cambodia and Laos along the way. But I am quite interested in driving thru Vietnam on a motorbike; if anybody has done it, let me know.
Anyway, we had gotten into a bus in the early hours of the day in Hanoi, which had brought us to Ha Long City, were we climbed into our junk (That’s a Chinese boat, not garbage). Alright, so maybe it isn’t quite a real junk but it was actually quite a nice boat; it looked like what was promised and it wasn’t overbooked, which we had heard could be a risk. There were 16 people for the 8 cabins in the boat. Perfect.
Our junk, it was quite nice
There are still locals living on rafts and barely ever setting their feet on dry land
We set off from the harbour and pretty quickly the lunch was served. The lunch turned out to be really good, with emphasis on fish and other sea creatures. After lunch we just enjoyed the view from the deck, as we passed through those island mountains.
We stopped finally in at Thien Cung grotto, where we got off the boat to check out the caves, which were pretty impressive and I promise I’ll post more photos of them later. After the caves we still had a bit of time so we got some kayaks from one of the floating houses and went kayaking, which allowed us to check the islands from up close.
There can be quite a lot of people in some places
But the views from high up are great
Sure it’s touristy, you have dozens and dozens of boats going around, especially around the Thieng Cung grotto, but once you then get away from there, there is plenty of space for everyone, and you won’t see many other boats if any.
But we returned the kayaks and boarded our junk again. And after an hour or so we stopped for a swim. And of course being on a boat at sea, the best way to go for a swim is to jump from the deck.
We set anchor for the night and had dinner. Again the cook didn’t disappoint. For starters we rolled our own spring rolls, a skill you will learn quickly if you spend any time in Vietnam; which was then followed by some fresh grilled fish.
Next day we set sail to Cat Ba Island, where we did a hike through the jungle to a lookout tower offering amazing views from high up.
Cat Ba Island
Mind you, I have seen look out towers in better condition. This was fully rusted and it didn’t look safe. But hey, it was still standing, so figured it’ll stand another day.
The tower was a bit rusty
I mean really rusty
It was only once we got down that we noticed the sign saying “max 6 people”, yeah we did have a few more up there…
After the hike we got on a smaller boat that took us to the Monkey Island (for there is always a monkey island, seriously, it is the most common name for an island I’ve come across).
Our beach at Monkey Island
So we had an evening to relax, swim in the sea, eat a sea food buffet and go kayaking in the sea again, which I think is the best way to see the islands and the sunset. Thou I do recommend being a bit careful if you go further out, as it’s quite easy to get lost; many of the islands look the same and it’s not like they provide you a map.
But kayaking is a great way of seeing the islands!
Some tips for Ha Long Bay cruises:
- Spend at least two nights
- Don’t take the cheapest cruise
- There is a lot of variance on the different cruise operators, so talk with people who have just taken cruises to find a good tour operator, or try doing some research online
- Drinks on the boats can be quite expensive, so maybe bring a bottle with you
- Bring swim gear
- Yes it’s touristy, but still worth it, but if you want to avoid the tourists and just see the rock formations, you can also go to Ninh Binh (more about that later)
Kayaking into the sunset at Ha Long Bay
Have you been to Ha Long Bay?