The first few days in Vietnam took our breaths away. After spending about five days in the country, it was finally time to visit a place that I had wanted to visit for quite some time, Ha Long Bay. After a short trip from Central Vietnam, we landed in Hanoi and got picked up by a private driver to take us to the loading dock for our Ha Long Bay adventure.
Ha Long Bay, about a four hour drive from Hanoi, is a Unesco World Heritage Site that features thousands of limestone karsts and isles scattered as far as the eye can see. When visiting this site, you have two main options, a day trip on a small junk boat or an overnight (some times multiple nights) trip. The benefit of taking an overnight trip is that after the long drive you have much more time to navigate throughout the isles and have time to swim or kayak. There are many different tour companies that offer multiple options. In looking at our different options, we chose to take a 2 day, 1 night trip with Flamingo Cruises, a highly rated company on Tripadvisor.
After arriving at the dock, we waited a bit before the arrival of the other 12 passengers or so. In the early afternoon, we were transferred by day boats to the junk boat where we were greeted by staff with welcome drinks. Before being checked in to our small room, we were given a delicious lunch. All meals and activities are included with the cost, excluding beverages, which is pretty standard with any sort of cruise. While eating lunch, we were given the overview of what our next 24 hours would consist of and we began to get our first glimpse of the wonderful scenery of Ha Long Bay. In addition to getting phenomenal views of Ha Long Bay, this trip allows you to meet many other travelers and share your trip stories. Most people traveling in SE Asia have itineraries of a minimum of 2 weeks so it is always great to get recommendations on different destinations.
Our particular trip had people from Australia, United States, England, and Switzerland. After meeting many of the fellow passengers, we were checked in to our room and got ready for our swimming and kayaking stop. After the junk boat was anchored, we hopped in to the day boat and headed to a nearby cove where we were transferred to a floating dock. We were given kayaks and pointed in the direction of some cool caves and other coves to explore. Within minutes we were off checking out the scenery. Meandering through the caves on the kayaks was quite funny as there were some people that were challenged at steering the kayaks. One of the highlights of the kayaking was seeing a few monkeys jumping around in the trees. After spending over an hour exploring with the kayaks, we went back to our day boat and were taken to another area of the cove to take a dip in the rather chilly water.
After returning to our junk boat, we were once again greeted with a welcome drink and escorted to the top of the boat for a sunset party. The quiet cove, dance music and Happy Hour beverages were a nice touch to bring in the evening. The chef on board then came up to teach everyone how to make fried spring rolls. Everyone was given a chance to create their own and then the crew fried them up. After tasting our self-created delicacies, it was time for dinner. One thing to note on these trips is that all the meals have set menus and have multiple courses. If you have dietary restrictions, make sure to make the staff aware when booking and upon boarding the ship. The food was always very hot and well prepared. The typical offerings were normally a soup, a fish, and some sort of noodle dish.
By the end of your trip in Vietnam, you will realize that much of the food in Vietnam is very similar and is actually somewhat bland. However, the pho that was served on our Flamingo Tour was the best pho we had while in Vietnam. Following dinner, we were able to get additional pictures, enjoy the breeze on the top deck and pick up conversations with many of our fellow passengers. It is important to note that throughout this whole time, our junk boat has been moving and the isles are still present in each and every direction. As it became dark, our boat pulled in to a cove to anchor for the evening. An additional perk of the overnight trip is the opportunity to try your hand at squid fishing. While our boat only caught one or two, it was a cool activity to try.
After a nice pleasant evening, it was time for bed. The cabins were pretty nice considering the fact that all of the junk boats are created from wood and seem to be a bit older. (Not sure what else you want to put in here abou them?) The next morning we rose early to experience the Tai Chai class at sunrise. It was a relaxing way to start the day and extremely pleasant with the wonderful scenery. After a quick breakfast, it was time to visit a rather exquisite cave complex, Surprise Cave. The cave starts out very narrow, but as you go deeper within, it becomes a very large and expansive cave with very interesting formations. The ceilings were decorated with stalactites and the many rock formations will let your imagination run wild as you see the formations begin to look like animals or mystical creatures. After spending about an hour exploring the cave and hearing about the formations, it was time to head back to the junk boat and make our way back to the pier. The journey back allowed for many more pictures and an enjoyable lunch. Upon arrival at the pier, the day boat took us to the bus. By early afternoon, we were off for the ride to the airport. The ride back to Hanoi allows you to see the scenery of rural Vietnam. Our time in Vietnam came to a close, but our SE Asia adventure was just beginning. Stay tuned for the next post featuring the Land of a Million Elephants, Laos.
Few Tips to Keep in Mind:
- Make sure to book your Ha Long Bay adventure ahead of arriving in Vietnam. While there are many companies, the companies that offer the best experiences book up fast. If you plan to spend some time in Hanoi, many of the companies will transfer you from your hotel to Ha Long Bay.
- I would recommend doing an overnight experience in Ha Long Bay to reduce the stress and allow you to soak in this Unesco World Heritage Site.
- Ha Long Bay can be a bit difficult to get to if you are on a tight schedule. We chose to skip seeing Hanoi and instead go directly to Ha Long Bay from the airport. If you are on a tight schedule, this would be a great option.
- Ha Long Bay will always be a great experience, but it is a place that can often have low visibility. Even from November to March, which is the best time to visit Vietnam, it can be the luck of a draw on how your weather is. We were lucky to have near perfect weather, but some of our friends just days before had a less picturesque experience.
To book your trip, visit http://www.flamingocruises.vn