The sole reason why we decided to have a 3-day Hanoi trip instead of making it a Saturday-Sunday affair was because of Ha Long Bay. The name has been entrenched so strongly in many a travelers’ minds that it’s become one of the must-visit places in Southeast Asia. With a name that literally means “Descending Dragon’s Bay,” how could one possibly pass this up?
While limestone karst formations are not peculiar in the region (Guilin in China; Krabi in Thailand and Coron in the Philippines all come to mind), what separates Ha Long Bay from the rest are the sheer number of these rising up from the sea – there’s over 3,000 of them! It makes for a very fine view, especially during sunset where the scenery can appear like a painting baked by the golden colors complementing the limestone silhouettes.
the area where we went for kayaking
Its is very easy to book for a tour to Ha Long Bay, and this is one of the few places where booking for a group tour does make sense. Many options abound, from the questionable scrimped version to luxury cruises that include opulent suites and fine dining. In terms of duration, the cruises can be done as quickly as you can say daytrip or as long as a few days which involve sleeping on the ship, complete with waiters at your beck and call. For this trip, we took the daytrip option which is a more middle-of-the-road option and which suits people like myself who have a short attention span.
We set off from Hanoi early in the morning for that nearly 4-hour roadtrip down the bumpy highways of Vietnam toward Bai Chay wharf, where boats heading to Ha Long Bay can be found. Our van was like a mini-UN, with people from Colombia, Japan, Australia, France and Malaysia making the most of the limited space in the 12-seater. It was a mostly dull affair, the there wasn’t really anything interesting to see in the surrounding countryside. All I could hear was the mixture of French and Japanese chatter as I drifted off to dreamland.
At about noon, I woke up with our guide announcing that we had arrived. Finally. It was very sunny, which was a surprise since it was gloomy and raining in Hanoi. There was a boat waiting by the pier just for the 12 of us – and there was more than enough room to lounge around. The weather was initially not ideal but eventually cleared up while we were having the seafood lunch which was included in our tour. Afterwards, we were off for kayaking! Doing this out in the open sea, I had no idea what I was in for but I was glad I took up this option. Kayaking allows one to go inside the small openings between the rocks, into smaller areas isolated from the rest which big boats would otherwise not have been able to enter. It was just a shame I did not bring my camera along, for fear of getting wet. But it was from this point on that I started appreciating what Ha Long Bay has to offer.
After about 40 minutes of kayaking, we returned to our main ship and explored more of the bay. Since ours was a day trip, we only covered a small part. There are some tours which stop at Cat Ba Island, provide swimming time at one of the beaches and offer atmospheric meals by the beach or inside a cave. Save for kayaking – which is enough to satisfy me for the day – we did not get to do any other activities. However, there was ample time in our schedule to visit a cave so we went to Thien Cung Cave which is located in one of the islands. The inside has been “remodeled” especially for tourists – it was all lighted up and they even added a sprinkler in one of the pools! As with many other places we visited, this too was crowded with tourists who were brought there by their guides.
from the mouth of thien cung cave
After the cave we proceeded to head back. Our ship was heading back to the wharf and we intended to depart at around 4:30PM. I was already beginning to dread having to take that bumpy car journey once more for four hours. But it was worth it. Individually, it’s not impressive but collectively, the huge expanse of the limestone islands are worth checking out and I believe the 3,000+ islands in this part of Vietnam deserve the UNESCO designation.
great weather makes for a great view
inside the cave