The one place in Vietnam that stood out for us most was Halong Bay, situated in the North of the country, a few hours drive outside of Hanoi City. Prior to travelling to Vietnam we didn’t know much about the country, where’s good to visit etc, our usual travel style involves doing a little research online a few days before heading somewhere (pretty much winging it really), opposed to planning our route far ahead of time. There’s a lot more fluidity this way.
Before leaving home, the only place that really did catch our eye was Halong Bay, with its famous and seemingly endless limestone islands, incredibly scenic looking. We’d read that the type of cruise to view Halong Bay could vary greatly and there are boats to suite all budgets, we’d also heard that you get what you pay for, but booking through a travel agent in Vietnam could be hit or miss and we didn’t fancy sharing a bed with rats. We decided to splash out a little on the cruise and we are very bloody pleased we did! The Bay truly was beautiful; it looked somewhat like being on the coast of an avatar-like world.
The boat slowly drifts through calm waters whilst hundreds of tall limestone islands, covered in greenery and life, surround you in all directions. Throughout the trip we saw many huge birds of prey circling the skies overhead and hundreds of small, silver fish jumping clean out of the water alongside the boat. Contrasting against the many cities we’ve visited in the last few months, the beauty of nature was a very welcomed environment for us.
In the morning of our trip there’d been a mix up with our lift, we found ourselves crammed into a bus full of people heading to Halong Bay with a different cruise company, an hour and a half later than we should’ve been picked up. After 3 and a half hours of driving, the bus stopped and the driver jumped out, calling our names. We hopped off and he pointed to a car so we jumped in and were driven about 10 minutes down a long road where our cruise company café was.
As we arrived we suddenly noticed that everyone else was dressed quite smart and generally much older than us. Whilst everyone else had big suitcases, we had turned up in shabby, washed out clothes, with a little foldaway backpack slung over our shoulders, carrying everything we needed for the two days.
When everyone was aboard the boat, our names were called and we were given the key to our room. When we first walked it, it was a mixture of shock and excitement as the room was amazing and completely unexpected. We had a large double bed with sliding open windows at the bottom, our own private balcony at the front of the boat, en-suit with a bath and our own dressing gowns. We walked out to the restaurant area for lunch and thanked the manager for how lovely the room was and he said they had upgraded us to the best room on the boat (which must of been due to the mix up picking us up that morning).
Every time we walked into our room, we still couldn’t believe we were staying there, as it was so posh and luxurious (we definitely weren’t complaining though). It was so funny considering we were the youngest, poorest and most shabbily dressed guests on board, yet our room was almost double the size of everyone else’s.
The excursions on the boat were brilliant, we took part in all of them such as a trip to a beach, with a steep climb to the view point for panoramic views of the bay, kayaking which was a work out on the arms but worth it when we passed through a cave and out into a secluded area, where we’ve never heard silence like we did there. The limestone rocks create a barrier that shuts out most sound creating an eerie echo when you talk. We also visited a cave (surprise cave) that was very impressive due to its massive size inside.
The cruise itself was such a fun and enjoyable experience, we got to try lots of different Vietnamese food and the staff were so friendly and helpful with everything. Being veggies, we thought the food might be a problem but it was only for one night so we didn’t mind but they were more then accommodating. Every time there was a buffet style dinner, the staff would point out all the veggie dishes for us straight away and in the evening we were served a 7 course dinner which was lovely to try a selection of different things.
On the last day the manager was offering an hour Tai Chi class on the top deck at 6 in the morning. We thought we’d make the most of it and it turns out its a lot harder then it looks! We honestly didn’t expect the two days to turn out so good and the cruise ship aside, Halong Bay really is an incredible place and we’re grateful to have experienced it.
Check out the video of our time in Halong Bay (remember to click the cog and watch in 720 HD)