Post updated on March 25th, 2016 at 11:49 am
Ha Long Bay is slowly starting to make its way on the tourist map, and for obvious reasons: it’s a UNESCO world heritage site, consisting of almost 2000 little islets and limestone rock formations in the midst of a huge bay of water! It’s absolutely stunning, and unlike anything else you’ve ever seen before. There are tons of cruises that operate in the bay, offering a range of price options, activities, length of stay, and accommodation. Choose one that works for you and head to Ha Long! Here’s a rundown of what my 2-day trip to Ha Long Bay looked like (with LOTS of pictures):
The easiest way to get to Ha Long Bay is by car from Hanoi – it’s a 3.5 hour drive. Most international flights land in two cities in Vietnam: Hanoi in the north, and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, so plan to land in Hanoi. We had booked a car and driver through a tour company, but it isn’t too hard to find one that will get you from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay.
At the Ha Long Bay docking point, there’s a TON of people – all ready to board their respective cruises (now, hold on, let me just clarify what I mean by a cruise before you start imagining those huge cruise liners. It’s more like a 10-room sailboat-cruise hybrid, BUT complete with multiple decks). Generally, a speed boat will take you from the docking point to your cruise!
Ours was called the Phoenix Luxury – I would highly recommend it! The staff was super nice and helpful, spoke perfect English, and was very accommodating of my vegetarian diet requests! They’d inform me what vegetarian dishes they were planning to make for the next meal several hours in advance, and check whether I was okay with it. It cost $180 for a double room for the 2-day, 1-night option that we had chosen (meals and activities included).
Once you board the cruise and settle in, just take some time on the deck to soak in the panoramic views of the Bay. Each island has a funny name, based on its specific shape and size, such as Fighting Cock (one of the most famous), Elephant, Incense Burner etc. In fact, the name “Ha Long” itself means “descending dragon”, a name that comes from an ancient myth. Honestly, I couldn’t really see or make sense of any of these shapes, but they’re fun names right? 🙂 So go up on the deck and enjoy the views!
A few hours post-lunch, the cruise docks in the middle of a beautiful area, Luom Bo, that boasts of colorful turquoise waters. It’s time to kayak for the next 45 minutes! I’ve kayaked in a lot of different settings, but none compare to this – I’d never kayaked in such open waters before. Just blue waters as far out as the eye can see, and fading silhouettes of islets and rock formations in the distance. We visited in January, so it was a bit chilly but SO worth it!
Close to the kayaking spot is Coconut Island, offering a great beach to relax and take in the sunset, enjoy a swim, or take a speedboat ride! The water was way too cold for a swim so we opted for a speedboat ride instead – DO IT! IT WAS AMAZING! We got back to the boat in time for dinner, and spent the rest of the night on the deck.
This morning we docked into one of the most famous caves of the bay – Sung Sot Cave. What a stunning cave!! Okay, I admit half the grandeur came from the lighting – but really, it was majestic. Look!
The cave was set on a mountain – and the sights we saw while climbing up were amazing! Don’t worry it’s not a strenuous hike at all! I wouldn’t even call it a hike at all, it’s more like climbing up a few steps 😉
When we got back to the cruise, a cooking lesson had been set up for us! The chef was going to teach us how to make Vietnamese rolls, and we were going to prepare our own lunch! Of course, there was a special veggie plate of ingredients for my family and I 🙂
Unfortunately, it was time to leave post-lunch. Trust me when I say this – Ha Long Bay is SO gorgeous you really should stay for longer. If you have the time, opt for the 3-day, 2-night cruise instead of the 2-day, 1 night option that I chose. You won’t regret it! You’ll wake up to views like this everyday: