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Ha Long Bay – Where Ground Rises Sky High

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

“This wonder is ground rising up into the middle of the high sky”

Nguyễn Trãi


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

You can’t but marvel at the islands

Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy when we went

Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy when we went

But they are amazing

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

Our junk, it was quite nice

There are still locals living on rafts and barely ever setting their feet on dry land

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

There can be quite a lot of people in some places

The view from high up is even better

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.

So refreshing.

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

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

The tower was a bit rusty


I mean really 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

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

Kayaking into the sunset at Ha Long Bay

Have you been to Ha Long Bay?


  1. It never would occurred to me to think of Vietnam as a destination for good kayaking. This looks amazing. Sometimes it’s worth braving touristy areas for an experience like this one!
    Marina recently posted..A (Lame) Day Trip To Sandwich, KentMy Profile

    • It’s a really nice way of checking out Ha Long Bay! And yes, some places are still worth visiting even if there are plenty of tourists

  2. I really want to visit Halong Bay. Especially after seeing that kayaking sunset shot! Beautiful!

    • Seeing the sunset from a kayak at Ha Long Bay was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen. So peaceful and beautiful!

  3. One thing I’ve noticed about pictures from Ha Long Bay is that they’re almost always cloudy. It looks like you actually got at least a couple of sunny pictures though.

    That tower is definitely going down one of these days–a few more groups of over-sized tourists should do it.
    Daniel McBane – Funny Travel Stories recently posted..Still in Tha Khaek – At Least the Mekong Was BeautifulMy Profile

    • Yes, you’re right, it does seem to be quite cloudy often in Ha Long Bay photos. Yeah, that tower is definitely past its prime!

  4. Great photos. Then again, it’s not difficult to take amazing photos in Ha Long Bay! It’s such a beautiful spot
    Simon recently posted..An unfashionable traveller in fashionable MilanMy Profile

    • Yep, it’s a gorgeous place, as long as you have a camera, you can take pretty nice shots! :)

  5. Haven’t been to Ha Long Bay, but I wanna go! Probably next year. I’ll take note of your advice about the cruises
    Micamyx|Senyorita recently posted..The Guimaras Island Comeback: Solo to Family TripMy Profile

    • Definitely worth the visit, but yes, it’s worth it to do bit of research with the cruise companies.

  6. What stunning surroundings!
    Andrea recently posted..Outdoors In Helsinki’s Parks and MarketsMy Profile

    • Yep, it is absolutely gorgeous

  7. Nice photos! I am so looking forward to exploring Ha Long Bay. I think it’s going to be one of the highlights of my trip – come shine or fog! 😀
    Audrey | That Backpacker recently posted..Locked Out Of My ApartmentMy Profile

    • Thanks! You’ll love it, it’s a beautiful place, even when it is foggy or cloudy 😉

  8. Kayaking in and around Ha Long Bay is the perfect place to do it! I recently went kayaking in Geirangerfjord and when I was doing it, my surroundings reminded me of Ha Long Bay – calm sea, tall jagged peaks covered in lush forests. But Ha Long Bay looks more unique I have to say.

    Ha, it’s true about the ‘Monkey Island’ observation…
    Shing @ The Culture Map recently posted..FLOATING IN THE DEAD SEAMy Profile

    • Ha Long Bay definitely is very unique, beautiful place for kayaking. I’ve not done kayaking in Norway yet, I think I might have to try it when I go there next time :)

  9. Nice report, though I really don’t fancy that tower much. Presumably the “max 6 people” refers to Vietnam-sized people, not overfed westerners
    Dave Collins recently posted..When do Flybe release their summer 2013 flights?My Profile

    • Yeah, the tower was a bit dodgy, but when you spent enough time in Asia you just get used to the different health and safety standards 😉

  10. The photos are amazing. Must be a lovely place to visit. Are you a professional photographer?

    • Thanks! Yes, Ha Long Bay is really beautiful place to visit, definitely recommend it! No, I wouldn’t call myself a professional photographer yet, as I don’t make my living out of it, but doing more and more of it :)

  11. Great post, amazing pictures!

    • Thanks :) it’s an amazing place

  12. Beautiful photos. I remember my last trip to Ha Long Bay in June this year. It was extremely difficult to go there on my own without booking a trip. I felt a bit disappointed being there as they tried to rip us off :-( but I guess it happens …
    Agness (@Agnesstramp) recently posted..Thailand: The Land of SmilesMy Profile

    • Yeah, we also thought about going there on our own first, but in the end it just seemed too much hassle. It is touristy and some of them do try to rip off tourists unfortunately.

  13. So what cruise operator do you use?
    Do you recommend it? I’d like to check it out. I am planning Vietnam adventure in November, 2015.
    Is Kayaking included in the cruise price and activities? From your report, it does not because you rented the kayak from a floating house or at Monkey island on your own.


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