In between our days in Hanoi, we took an overnight trip to Ha Long Bay. The tour consisted of a 3 hour bus ride to Ha Long city’s port then we got on the boat and after a short ride were in the middle of a natural wonder. Ha Long Bay is a grouping of over 3000 natural limestone islands (or islets), rising majestically from the waters of Gulf of Tonkin. This place is a huge tourist destination, and a Unesco World Heritage site. The limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments.
But despite swarms of tourists, the boat tours here are so calm and peaceful (for now). Our big wooden boat glided gently to the central “area” while we ate delicious lunch (fish, fish, and more fish, with yummy local wine) admired views, and then later docked to take a cave tour.
Here I am, sitting in the boat’s dining room, with Kurt’s friends, Andrew and Stephen. They’re the reason we went on this trip, months ago they sent us the email with an itinerary and we couldn’t resist!
And this is my cozy boat room. I didn’t know what to expect when we were told of sleeping on a boat (and part of me didn’t mind dozing off in a sleeping bag under the stars) – but this was a pleasant surprise!
And this is the boat’s upper deck, which seemed like the most relaxing place in the world.
The cave tour at first seemed moderately interesting. The first room of the cave was medium sized and… pretty. But then we walked into the 2nd room and were amazed by the sheer size of this underground wonder. This cave was the size of a football field. It was illuminated by colored electric lights, and even though we walked on a paved path (I prefer unpaved hiking!!), the underground views were enjoyed by all.
Outside of the cave, the “boat vendors” try to get your attention. These ladies must have super strong arms – their boats are not motorized and they spend their days chasing tourists on water!
After the cave, we were taken to a “water village” for my favorite part – kayaking!!!! The water village is a settlement of houses (and boats) right here in the middle of Ha Long Bay. Its residents make money by selling fish and providing service to tourists (primarily, kayak / canoe rentals, food supplies and, I guess banking). Our guide, Tong, told us that they hardly ever step on land. Generations after generations of these villagers have made their home on water.
Kayaking was beyond spectacular. My husband is not happy about this one as he is an avid kayaker, but due to work has missed this part of the trip. And of course, if didn’t help that later I would taunt him with Ha Long Bay photos. So, my kayaking partner was Andrew. We rode off into the pink sunset between the majestic limestone towers. I could spend days doing this.
And after kayaking, out guide announced that “we will now go swimming!” . So they departed the village and anchored the boat in a different area, apparently designated for swimming. The only problem is, by now it was a pitch-black night. At first we wall hesitated – after all, we could barely see the water and all of its possible Asian creatures. But one by one, we jumped in the dark sea. It was very salty and very refreshing. I do love night swimming.
After dinner, all hung out on the upper deck, drank beer, and I chatted away, looking at the starts, with tourists from Europe and New Zealand. Back in my Boat room, falling asleep was very easy, as we rocked gently on the calm waters of Ha Long Bay.
Waking up in this beauty was serene. Breakfast time was 7 am. This is why I LOVE jet lag. I can never, ever wake up at 6 on my own. But here in Vietnam it was a piece of cake. After breakfast, we went back to the “swimming area” for some daytime swimming.
This time, since I could actually see the water, I got more courageous and started jumping off various parts of the boat, climbing up and finding higher and higher points for “take off.” Neither our guide nor the boat crew stopped me (what liability? I love it). Later in the shower, I found an unexpected present. Turns out during one of my jumps on the way back up, I caught a small fish with my swimsuit pants. And I DID take it to the kitchen and asked them to cook it. For some reason my request was not granted… could it be the size?….
One of my travel mates, Lydia, and I, managed to talk our guide into allowing us to go kayaking again. Since the 2nd kayaking event was not included in our tour, we had to pay a rental charge… about $3. And we were granted this amazing experience again, making our way in the water between limestone… oh, the memories….
And thus our Ha Long Bay experience came to an end. The boat took an hour to make its way back to the port. Our guide, who spoke very good English, told us stories of life in Vietnam. We ate lunch in Ha Long city – which is so much calmer, by the way, than Hanoi. And what was served for lunch? More delicious fish, of course. You better be a seafood eater if you come to Ha Long Bay. And then we took the 3 hour trip through countryside back to Hanoi.
Just a note about this photo, below. This is the same exact location pictured in a photo here, that I randomly found on Google months ago, when looking for striking images of Vietnam. It is funny how distant and dreamy it seemed then. And before I knew it, Ha Long Bay became another familiar place on the globe.