A collection of 1,600 islands and islets filled with mythical stories, Halong Bay is Vietnam’s number one tourist spot. This could easily put people off, for fear of spending time in crowds of cruise boats bow to bow. However it’s still possible to enjoy this natural landscape while feeling like one of just a small handful of people. This is exactly the experience our Aaron Dodkin enjoyed whilst exploring Halong Bay.
Setting sail for adventure
Armed with the knowledge of its UNESCO Site status and having seen countless Instagrams, I had high expectations of Halong Bay. However, no amount of research could have prepared me for the majestic scene that was waiting.
As we approached Halong on the drive from Hanoi, anticipation was running high. On arrival to the cruise port, we enjoyed a drink whilst our guide checked us in for the cruise. The Bhaya Classic cruiser moored at the dock was going to be our home for the next day and a half. As we boarded the boat from the rear we were welcomed by staff in traditional Vietnamese dress, waving and welcoming us onboard.
Following check in to our beautiful staterooms, all with balconies, we cast off and set sail towards the archipelago. After half an hour of sailing we were in a maze of limestone cliffs towering above the calm emerald waters. All signs of civilisation were left far behind us. What better time to make our way up to the sundeck for some of the best sightseeing and photo opportunities Vietnam has to offer?
Exploring the emerald waters
Our first stop was to explore the limestone caves of Halong Bay on traditional wooden boats. This proved to be an extremely relaxing way to see some of the more remote areas. We also had the opportunity to take a kayak out by ourselves. Next was a visit to the Titov lookout which offered unbelievable views over Halong Bay. It was here we realised the true scale of this magical place.
After all this excitement, we had worked up an appetite and were eager to try our hand at Vietnamese cooking. A demonstration on how to prepare Vietnamese fried rice paper rolls had been set up by staff on the sundeck. Cocktails in hand, we watched the boat’s chef intently. We had been informed at the beginning there would be a competition between guests to determine which one of us could replicate the chef’s creation the closest. All guests partook in the activity with varying levels of competitiveness.
After dinner in the dining room we made our way to the fully stocked bar for a nightcap. We retired for the evening at a reasonable hour as one of the activities offered on board is early morning Tai Chi.
Morning Tai Chi
I left the curtains and shutters open in my room in the hope the sunrise would wake me up. I’m glad I did. It was one of the most magnificent sunrises, making its way over the cliffs. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in all my travels and will stay with me for years to come.
Back up on the sundeck our exercise class took place, the first Tai Chi experience for many of the group. I was surprised at not only the turnout of people but how much I enjoyed the activity. It was the perfect start to our second day in Halong Bay. After the class, I enjoyed my coffee alfresco when another one of Halong Bay’s charming features appeared just metres away. A lady on her wooden boat loaded with goods to sell was waiting with a cheerful “good morning” and smile.
I’ll be honest – all I wanted was a conical Vietnamese hat. However the only one she had was hers and I didn’t want to deprive this lovely lady of her source of shade. She moved on to the next guest, who was very happy with their purchase of shells and cans of Pringles.
While we enjoyed breakfast the boat made its way to the hidden grotto, an enormous cave system within the limestone cliffs. The cave begins with two chambers which open into one enormous cave, large enough to fit a Boeing 747 with room to spare. Because of our early Tai Chi class, we were the first people to arrive and for most of the visit. We had the cave to ourselves which was incredible.
The walk from the wharf to the cave involves a short climb up a series of steps and some spectacular views over the inlet. While we were out, the captain hoisted the traditional sails for us to view out boat in all its glory. This made for some fantastic photos. It also ensured the whole group had fabulous lasting memories on board the Bhaya Classic. As well as some reluctance to return to dry land.
Having now travelled the length of Vietnam, I can say with confidence that no trip to this beautiful country is complete without a visit to Halong Bay. The archipelago is truly Vietnam’s piece de resistance.