The legend of Halong Bay is a fine one. In the time of Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to Vietnam’s coast in order to protect its people. The dragons spat jewels and jade into the water, forming beautiful islands which densely filled the Gulf of Tonkin, forming a barrier against invaders. Today, the only foreigners occupying Halong Bay are curious travellers from around the world, who come in peaceful hordes to see Vietnam’s finest natural wonder.
Spanning 1500 square kilometres, the “Bay of the Descending Dragon” lies east of Hanoi and attracts tourists of all forms. Visitors can choose from a simple daytrip boat tour, a 5-day blitz of island exploration, or something in between. If you have time, we strongly encourage a 2 or 3 day tour of the bay to best witness its beauty. While the sky’s the limit in terms of cruise luxuries (and costs), this traveller took a comfortable all-inclusive (minus alcohol, naturally) 2-day trip for 30$USD.
Because tour options are varied, travellers should have no trouble choosing a package to suit their tastes. Couples can soak up the romance of a smaller cruise; nature-lovers can opt for expensive cave tours, and sporty travellers can hike, bike, kayak and swim, all in one trip. When booking a tour, we recommend that you ask the agent to write out everything included in the package; sights to be toured, kayaking and biking options, et cetera. Some tourists are stuck with boat crews cutting back on activities to save travel time.
Once off the mainland and upon a tourboat, options are plentiful. Between big, delicious meals prepared by the boat crew, tourists can relax on the sundeck, swim, kayak, and snap pictures aplenty of the scenic islands. The boats make stops for guided tours of Ha Long’s famous caves, full of stalactites and stalagmites and steeped in local folklore, explained by friendly guides. At night, tired tourists can put their feet up, taste some of Hanoi’s local wine or beer, and looc up at the stars while chatting with other passengers. Your boat crew may speak of a a post-dinner karaoke affair, though be warned that the music is mostly tinny Vietnamese pop. Feel free to decline a turn on the mic, or else dive in and chalk it up to a cultural experience.
After a peaceful sleep in your ship’s cabin, don’t be alarmed if you wake up to the chipper “good mornings” of vendors rowing up to your boat on rafts laden with cigarettes, Coke, biscuits and other western staples. Despite its idyllic appearance, Halong Bay remains an iconic point on the tourist trail, and local people from nearby towns and floating villages know the value of this economy.
The next morning, those on 2-day tours can enjoy more swimming and scenery before the journey home. Travellers on longer trips disembark on popular Cat Bat island for hiking and cycling through its jungle terrain. Depending on the tour, they might also take a kayaking tour through Ha Long’s caves. Whatever the itinerary, and whatever your tourist tastes may be, Halong Bay is a stunning, relaxing, must-see excursion for any traveller.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.