A trip to Vietnam could never be called complete without visiting the amazing location that is Ha Long Bay! ‘Halong’ translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’, with local legend stating that the landscape was created when a mountain dragon raced towards the coast, its tail gouging out the landscape as it moved. When the dragon dived into the sea the whole area was filled with water, producing the amazing scenery seen today. As a great lover of magical creation myths, I happen to prefer this story much more to the scientific explanation of erosion!
Just over 100 miles from Hanoi, Ha Long Bay is a great place to visit for a couple of days, although a day trip is also possible. Personally I wouldn’t advise it as I think a day trip doesn’t give you enough time to truly see the area, and plus, you’d miss the sunset and sunrise! The area was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994 and after seeing it, it’s not difficult to understand why!
Having been to Ha Long Bay before, I knew that one day there wasn’t really enough time to see this site. There are a huge number of boat trips which pick you up in Hanoi and then allow you to spend one or two nights in the bay on the boat itself. I did a load of research looking at reviews and other travel blogs, and eventually came across ‘Lily’s travel Agency’ which I would absolutely recommend to anybody who wants a reasonable price for this trip. The company offers a small variety of boats for different costs, depending on the size of the boat and the activities included. As a group travelling on a student budget, this was by far the best option we came across.
We chose the boat that cost £65 ($85) and I think this was one of the best decisions of the entire trip! Part of the package included being transported to and front Ha Long Bay, which is quite a relief as it’s a reasonable distance to travel on public transport. The boat we sailed on wasn’t massive, which I personally preferred since a bigger boat simply means more people! Meals were included in the price of the trip, as was a free bottle of water. The only additional cost was for any drinks you had, but obviously these were pretty cheap.
And so our adventure began! e sailed out into the Bay, and you begin to realise just how many other ships are there as well! I couldn’t help but worry that maybe there would be too many and our experience would somehow be ruined by crowds etc. But in reality, Ha Long Bay is such a large place that you don’t really notice other people in the slightest! Our first activity of the trip was climbing to the top of one of the tallest mountains in the area. This was a totally optional activity and wasn’t that tall in reality since it was only a few hundred steps. I will admit however, that it’s a lot of stairs to deal with in the heat and the humidity! But in my personal opinion, completely worth the sweat. If that’s not something that you want to do, there was a gorgeous little beach at the bottom of the path and the water was incredible – especially after all that exercise!
We were then taken to see a cave complex. The boat provided a tour guide who took us around the caves, explaining what each of the rock formations was called and what it was supposed to look like. It’s amazing to me how many animal shapes can apparently be spotted within one cave! The whole system was lit up with crazy lighting which made it feel as though we were walking through a live action version of ET or some strange alien planet.
In the early evening we also had the option to kayak around the Bay. There was a guide showing us a rough route (which was probably a good thing since most of the rock formations looked pretty similar to me!) although we could of course just go off on our own. It was a really relaxing way to explore part of the Bay, and it also gave us a different perspective than of the boat! I did take my g0-pro with me but sadly I am, as of now, unable to upload the photos onto anything. But hopefully I can change that soon!
What we thought was brilliant about this tour was that everything I have mentioned was included in the price of the trip. It’s always a bit of a worry that there might be some hidden costs whilst on the trip, but we were happy to learn that for once this wasn’t the case!
One of the questions i’ve been asked when telling people about this trip is what was my favourite part? And for once, that’s an easy question to answer! Watching the sunset, and getting up at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise (which people find quite surprising considering that i’m not really a morning person). You hear people describing something as ‘magical’, but in this case it truly was. The kind of awe inspiring, goose bump raising experience I personally think every traveller is after.
On our second (and final) day of the trip we were taken to see a floating pearl farm. Our guide took us around the complex and explained each step of the process of how the farmers grow the pearls. It was actually surprisingly interesting! We were even given access to the room where the workers place an artificial piece of ‘sand’ into the oyster to attempt to stimulate the growth of a pearl. Admittedly the smell in the room wasn’t particularly pleasant but it was amazing to watch how delicate a process it is! We also had time to have a look around their shop, although sadly I decided that since I’m on quite a tight budget this summer buying pearl jewellery probably wasn’t the best decision I could be making!
So there you have it, our trip to Ha Long Bay! It was one of our most expensive day trips, but it is something that I would 100% recommend to anyone travelling to the country (in case you hadn’t already guessed). It is unlike anything I have seen anywhere in Vietnam, or the rest of the world. Even if you’re not particularly interested in geography, or swimming, or any of the activities i’ve mentioned in this post you should still go. It is quite simply, stunning. Sitting on one of the deck chairs, listening to my music and watching the scenery sail by, was one of the most peaceful and beautiful things I have ever done.
“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Mary Ritter Beard