The anticipated day finally arrived, as we waited eagerly for our morning transfer from our hotel to the luxury van that would take us on the 4 hr journey from Hanoi City to Halong Bay. I heard stories from travellers who have been there on how rough & bumpy the ride was but we were fortunate enough to sink into comfortable reclining seats & to top it off… free wifi which helped in entertaining us as we watched music videos endlessly. There was a brief stopover midway at a souvenir place where we grabbed coffee & snacks & for the road trip.
We arrived at Hon Gai Port around mid-day & the skies were a little over-cast & though we got there earlier than some other groups, we were strangely the last of the lot to board our vessel. Tinier bum-boats took us out to where the Huong Hai Sealife was anchored off the pier for the start of our 2 Days & 1 night tour of Halong Bay.
As we sailed away from the pier, I was pleasantly surprised to see this giant ferris wheel at the top of the hill which was not visible from the winding road down to Hon Gai Port & also the clear blue sky behind us.
My room on the 3rd floor has a tiny balcony & a large window that offers spectacular views of the surrounding rock & island formations plus the beautiful expanse of blue sky.
Climbing to the top is the sun deck which is a great spot for sunbathing, chilling & imbibing a long drink whilst watching the setting sun. If you are an early bird & would fancy some exercise you can join the organised Tai Chi sessions for passengers at 6am in the morning. The 360° view up here is simply marvellous & you really have to see it to believe it!
Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site & it is a popular tourist destination in Quảng Ninh Province in Vietnam. It is sits in the middle of 2 other zones, namely the Bái Tử Long Bay to the Northeast & Càt Bà Island to the Southwest all of which share the same geological, geographical, climatic & cultural characteristics.
Halong Bay covers an extensive area of 1,553km² that includes nearly 2000 islets but the core of the bay with denser saturation of around 775 islets stretches about 334km².
After landing on Hon Co Island or Grass Island, we climbed some 60-80 steps up to the entrance of Co Cave also known as Thien Canh Son Cave, where this delightful vista welcomed us.
Thien Canh Son Cave is situated in the protected area of Cong Do which is part of the Bái Tử Long Bay area. This cave is not very large compared to some others I have been to but it is still interesting & unspoiled. Allow your imagination to run wild a little & you would perhaps see semblances of animals or beings amongst the stalactites & stalagmites.
I love this particular shot as it feels so much like something taken from an Indian Jones set. Escaping from danger, running towards the light… into safety & freedom! Exiting Thien Canh Son Cave the same way we entered.
Hon Co Island stands out because it has thick vegetation & grasses growing, compared to most other barer karst formations & it is also lesser known & visited. This is the perfect place to escape crowds & enjoy the lovely, white sandy beaches & crystal clear waters where you can swim, sunbathe or kayak.
Calm waters, stillness & tranquillity – my soul feels rested & refreshed as I blend in with nature.
Geologists tell us that this amazing landscape evolved over 500 millions years ago & the limestone in this bay had undergone the impact of tropical wet climate resulting in these fantastic karst formations.
This is the second kayak adventure of my life. I was both nervous & gung-ho at the same time but in the end my thirst for thrills triumphed over whatever reservations I had. It is completely safe & great fun if you fasten your life vest properly, can swim & do not try to stand up whilst kayaking midways. It is a little tricky getting in & out of the kayak though & you must literally not ‘rock the boat’ too much or it would keel over & capsize easily.
We took the kayak around an islet not realising that it would take much longer to transverse & even hit a section where the currents were strong & we had to paddle hard. Thankfully we spotted our boat, the Huong Hai Sealife after turning the 4th corner. Dusk was approaching & we were the last kayak to return to the vessel.
The Bay turned pitch dark soon after & all we could see outside were the lights of other boats that were moored close by. We enjoyed a scrumptious 4 course dinner whilst being entertained in song & dance by our versatile boat crew who played multiple roles during the entire trip from porters, waiters, concierge, chef to guide. It was great fun learning how to make, wrap & finally taste the yummiest freshly fried Vietnamese rice rolls.
I woke up to this awesome view on the 2nd day morning, exclaiming “WOW”!!! As the ship sailed quietly in the bay, the scenery from my bedside window was just like a picturesque, moving gallery. These karst formations range anywhere from 50m to over 100m in height.
As we approached Vung Vieng Village I spotted this boat that was decked out neatly with provisions on sale. This is the first time I see a floating provision shop as I am more accustomed to seeing those ‘hole in the wall’ ones run by Indians in Singapore. They never fail to amaze me as they seem to have what you want stashed away somewhere in that super tiny space along the five footways of old buildings.
We were cutting through emerald-green waters on a special rowboat that has a flat, tarred woven bamboo bottom & carefully manoeuvred around these gray limestone monoliths.
This is the defunct floating school that the children in Vung Vieng Fishing Village used to attend. We were told that they moved the school to mainland as the teachers found it arduous to travel 24km back & forth daily & it was safer during the Monsoon season.
Vung Vieng Fishing Village is located in the heart of Bái Tử Long Bay & is an idyllic village that thrives on fishing as a way of life.
Passing the colourful fishermen’s houses & fishing boats where their casting nets & other implements are seen. These simple wooden houses of Vung Vieng are built on floating structures such as these buoyed by huge fibreglass drums. Being situated in an area surrounded by karst formations they are sheltered during storms & bad weather.
This peaceful location has a charming landscape & it is a great place to discover the culture & life of the fishermen & gather insight from the community that has settled here for several generations.
This is the area where they implant & cultivate Halong pearls.
We rowed towards this natural bridge which seem to delineate the village from the open sea.
Our boatman took us under Circle Cave (Hang Vòng) to have a closer look at the limestone formation before continuing our journey back to the Tourist Point of Departure platform.
It is such a lovely morning & a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of the limestone formations & the vegetation that tenaciously spring to life from the crevices.
We are back at the Tourist Point of Departure after an interesting visit to Vung Vieng Fishing Village before a smaller vessel from Huong Hai Sealife ferried us back to the main ship.
Halong Bay is a ‘must do’ on your checklist if you have come this far to Hanoi, Vietnam. This UNESCO site not only has rich geo-diversity which includes a tropical evergreen bio-system, oceanic & seashore bio-system, it is also home to 14 endemic floral & 60 endemic faunal species.
Whats more, it has a stunning landscape made more memorable by cruising & a host of exciting activities to be experienced first hand. Cave exploration, island-hopping, kayaking, swimming, sunbathing, fishing, floating village visits, cooking lessons or just plain lepaking; there is something for everyone young & old to enjoy!