While attempting to write this post about our cruise in Halong Bay I have struggled somewhat, as the writer in me wants to be able to express the beauty of this strange and ethereal landscape in words. However, to truly understand how gorgeous this place is you have to see it, so I hope that the photos that we took convey the beautiful and mysterious atmosphere.
The name Ha Long Bay means “Descending Dragon” and the legend is that the gods sent down a family of dragons to protect Vietnam from invaders. The dragons began to spit out jade and pearls, which fell into the sea and turned into the hundreds of rounded islands of Halong Bay. The rocks appeared so suddenly in the sea that the invaders ships slammed into them and sunk.
When we visited Halong Bay on an overnight cruise, it was overcast and foggy and as our boat drifted through the water the rock formations appeared one by one suddenly out of the mist as we approached them. I could say that it felt a little like floating in an ancient watercolour landscape painted on fading rice paper, but that makes me sound like a pretentious West Coast art school dork so I will just say that it was ridiculously gorgeous.
The great news for budget travelers is that you can enjoy an all inclusive overnight cruise through Vietnam’s Halong Bay for only around $60 per person. However, don’t be fooled by the luxurious photos on the cruise website – they might have been photos of the boat when it was new 30 years ago but these days it is a little rough around the edges. However, our room was still pretty comfy and we felt like we were getting good value for our money as a little bit of a treat after a very busy month.
You can find cruises around the bay for cheaper, but you will get what you pay for. You can also find more luxurious cruises, but we found that this was our happy medium.
The cruise began by slowly taking us further away from the shore and into the midst of the hundreds of rock formations in the bay. Our tour guide spent some time showing us the different famous rock formations in the bay, including this one which is featured on the Vietnamese 200,000 Dong Note.
Our first stop was the fishing village, a community of people who live completely on the water. There are approximately 1,600 people living in Ha Long Bay in four different fishing villages. They reside in floating homes and they make their living through fishing in the shallow and abundant waters. The children learn from their parents how to weave nets and catch fish at a very early age. There is a very small school building within the village and they are currently looking for someone to fill the position of English teacher – there is no pay but you can enjoy all the free fish you can eat!
Remember that rock that the tour guide was pointing out from the 200,000 Dong note? There is actually a very small opening underneath it, so with the kayak hire included in the cruise we decided to see if we could fit underneath it. We had to watch our head at parts, but we made it!
Life on the boat was pretty fun too. It had a lounging area on the top where we could sit back and relax and watch the scenery go by.
Later in the evening we were educated in the fine art of handmade spring rolls. You might think that they look simple, but it is important to get the right amount of filling and then to roll the very thin and sticky rice paper tightly enough so that it will hold together. Mine were quite awkwardly shaped and wouldn’t have passed in a Vietnamese restaurant, but when they were cooked and served to us with dinner they were still pretty tasty.
After dinner started to wind down, we learned very quickly that there were two distinct demographics of passengers on the boat with a wide gap between them – the 20 somethings that wanted to stay up and socialize and the older crowd who were tucked unto bed at 8:30pm. You can guess which group we belonged to.
Even though the 7am breakfast knock on the door came far too early for us, we don’t regret staying up late to socialize during the cruise. Getting to know the other outgoing and friendly travelers on board was one of the best parts of the experience.
The next morning, the cruise took us to the Surprising Cave as a final attraction before heading back to Hanoi. The name of the cave suits it, because the entrance looks small on the outside but when you walk inside you are blown away by the vast expanse of the cavern within.
After exploring the cave, we headed back through the foggy rock formations toward land. We were very pleased with our overnight cruise trip through Halong Bay. Even though the weather wasn’t perfect, it didn’t take away from the beauty of the landscape and the fun we had with the people we met.
Are you planning to visit Halong Bay? Ask us your questions in the comments and we will try to answer them as best we can. If you have been to Halong Bay, we’d love to hear about your experiences.