Halong Bay, recognized as one of the new seven wonders of nature is listed under UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located at the Gulf of Tonkin, consisting of some 1600 islands and islets, forming a spectacular seascape limestone pillars.
Why is it called Halong Bay?
The reason for the name Halong Bay is Bay of “Descending Dragons”, it’s associated to a fairy tale of Viet people since thousand years ago that the God assigned Mother Dragon and her children descended to the Viet’s Land to save people avoid from invaders, that land is Halong bay of today
Finding the right cruise for Halong Bay was a challenge for us. It seems no matter what you do, you will be ripped off somehow. If you book your tours directly through your hotel it will save you a lot of time and hassle. We spent a whole day comparing different cruise deals at the travel agencies in Hanoi and We were still not convinced that what they were selling us a good deal. So we gave up and booked with our hotel.
The majority of travelers tend to take a tour package from Hanoi which includes transport and accommodation. Recommended 3 days 2 night tour which you will stay overnight on the cruise which harbors somewhere in the middle of the gulf surrounded by those magnificent islands and islets.
We had to be up at around 6.45am for breakfast and to check out our room, for our trip to Haylong Bay.
For Halong Bay we packed the night before and ensured all our electronic devices were charged. We booked Halong Bay with our hotel as it seemed the best deal. After our trip to Halong Bay we are allowed a hot shower and use their wifi and able to store luggage that we didn’t want to take with us to which was useful. If you intend on going to Halong Bay I would suggest packing a small bag to put clothes into to avoid having to take a large backpacker bag as its less to carry.
Coach journey to Halong Bay
We were told it would take 3 and 1/2 hours to get there by coach. It took much longer because the coach had to stop half way to fill up tank.
There was alot of waiting around but by 9am We were on coach. It took around 30 minutes to collect others from different hotels. We stopped at around 11ish for a quick break and aimed to be at halong bay by 12.30pm.
You pass village after village, rice fields after rice fields. In the middle of most rice fields are the family’s burial plots.
The coach is what it is, its a tad cramped but because it is still Vietnam’s winter it is a bareable heat. There is aircon, although quite weak – if it was a hot summers day it might have been unbareable.
We got off the bus at around 10.30 (half way point) to have a break.
The place was a huge tourist place, with all stuff you dont need or want to buy. There were kids there stitching and making handcrafted posters. Its just a place to stretch your legs and to use toilets etc.
Halong City is the main gateway to Halong Bay. From here you board one of the traditional Vietnamese junks to explore Halong Bay, which counts as the primary tourist attraction in the northeast of the country. We arrived on Halong City dock at around 12 oclock. and were issued tickets to board the mini boat that took us to the cruise.
Luxury Imperial Cruise
We chose to explore Halong Bay with Luxury Imperial Cruise Halong Bay, a traditional junk boat built of wood.It first launched in August 2010, and features12 cabins with ensuit. The cruise can accommodate up to 27 passengers.
We checked into the cabin. The boat was really nice and our ‘deluxe’ room with a balcony was very comfortable. The view was great to wake up to in the morning looking out at the giant slabs of limestone formations.
We got friendly with an Aussie couple from Queensland so it was useful to hear about the Goldcoast etc.
Lunch was served promptly at 1.00pm. We enjoyed lunch, although very basic, (Prawns with cucumber and sticky rice and Tofu)
The main food served on Luxury Imperial Cruise is Vietnam traditional dishes made of local seafood. Dinner is always of great standard.Other delicious dishes from beef, chicken with fresh herbs and spices.
Bring Snacks and a bottle of water with you
If you are thinking of coming here bring snack bars and your own bottle of water as you only get one complimentary bottle of water on the first day. The meals are very small except for dinner.
I avoided drinking water with ice in it as you don’t know where they have got the water from. It is not worth the risk getting ill here.
There is wifi on board (but very weak signal) I managed to receive one email whilst onboard.
The Han Sung Sot Cave (‘Surprise Cave’)
From the wharf, we had to climb 50 steps to the opening of the cave. The view on the way up was stunning.
The sheer size of the cave (it has three chambers) was very impressive added with the garish lighting and cemented walkways made it look more like theme park than a raw wonder of nature.
At around 16.30 we went kayaking with the majority of people on board the boat.
It was only for half an hour which wasn’t very long at all considering how long it took to get organised and get there. It was a nice day so it was worth it.
The showers in the room were cold or just boiling hot. Probably best not to wash your hair as it is difficult to dry it. I took dry shampoo with me.
At 18.30pm we had dinner and it was very filling. We had muscles, rice, diffrrent types of fish, squid, prawns.
We then listened to the staff singing karaoke. Alot of the singers attempted to sing english songs which was quite amusing to watch, such as Enrique Inglasius.
We met a lovely couple on the boat called Emily and Richard. Emily was from Singapore and Richard was from Indonesia.
Nam Cat Island
We went to bed early as had to get up at 7.30 for breakfast. It was not really worth getting up for it as it was only rice and egg. The showers are awful and generally freezing cold.
We left the boat at around 8.30am.
We got off the boat and onto a smaller one that transported us to a local fish farm where they make pearls.
We sailed around La Ha Bay for an hour and a half. By 11.30 am we arrived at Nam Cat Island. There are several unique wooden bungalows built on stilts with classical wooden furnishings and large windows.
Nam Cat Resort
Nam Cat Island Resort is rather isolated from the mainland but this isn’t always a bad thing. There are a range of activities for visitors to do, inlcuding; kayaking, submarine diving, firewood camping, fishing in floating waiting house at night, visiting Viet Hai old fishing village in afternoons, visiting Monkey island and Lan Ha Bay.
The bungalows are very basic with little protection from mosquitos but this is all we had to complain about. The food was very basic in the morning and more adventurous in the evening.The staff were lovely, drink was reasonable and the charm and scenery were great.
We had lunch at around 12.00 which consisted of rice, prawns and tofu.
Playing table tennis
We had the option to go cycling but I preferred to go canoying as you would have to take a boat for 45mins to cycle and only be allowed to cycle for an hour and then back again. I didn’t think it was worth it.
We took one of the resorts kayaks out for a couple of hours and really enjoyed being able to kayak around the different islands. It meant we could explore instead of being told where we would go and having to stick to a time limit. I would definitely recommend staying here to friends and family. I would advise taking snacks with you, as the only food available is at set meal times.
We had to wear life jackets but we had to move the canoe ourselves which can be tricky at first as there was nobody to help guide you. We canoed near our bungalow.
I was going to buy flipflops in HanoI but I didnt find any that I liked and to be honest I didn’t need them as there are flipflops inside the bungalow that you can borrow. I collected seashells on the shore to make a necklace. The sound of the waves was lovely and relaxing.
I now wished I had brought a jumper as it can get quite cold during the day and evening time in early March. The bungalow doesnt have wifi or a hairdryer which is abit annoying. I have been wearing 3 cardigans and a scarf so it wasnt so bad.
As you can tell from this photograph, the weather in March tends to be quite foggy and misty in Halong Bay. If the weather is exceptionally bad, the boats won’t go out.
Once back on shore, We wanted to chill out before dinner and watch films etc.The showers in the bungalow are okay, (nothing special), however they are much better than the boat.
Dinner was scheduled for 6.30pm. We met a french couple who seem quite nice and entertaining to talk to but with only basic french it was hard at times to understand each other.
The dinner was served as a barbecue, including chicken, pork and rice. It was very filling compared to the breakfast. This was the best food served so far so we were very pleased to be full and satisfied.
The next day we woke up at 7am to eat breakfast and checkout of bungalow for 7.30am. The breakfast was very basic, fried egg with white bread and banana. I fortunately packed cereal bars as I had read reviews online that mentioned some of the breakfasts weren’t that good.
We got onto a small boat that would take us to the luxury cruise boat we had been on previously. Once aboard we had a cooking class on how to make spring rolls.
Lunch was served to us about half an hour later. We feasted on chicken prawns, pork sticks, sticky rice and salad. (This is the longest time ive lived on rice for!)
Essentials for Halong Bay
Got onto coach around 1pm. It is around a four hour journey back to Hanoi. Luckily we got a good coach on the way back which had more leg room than the previous one.
I brought my samsung tablet with me so I watched the film blue jasmine to pass the time. The battery and my ipod died after the four hours which was lucky as I accidently left my ipod and tablet charger in my rucksack that was in the luggage compartment.
Our train to Danang leaves at 7pm so today will be a long day of travelling constantly.
We went back to our hotel and collected our rucksacks which we were able to leave there whilst we were at Halong Bay. We had two hours to kill so we used their wifi to browse internet and to charge our electronics for the over night train journey.
My cabin on the train was surpisingly comfortable. We packed sleeping bag liners as the bedding could be riddled with bedbugs as the staff probably won’t boil the sheets after they have been used by other people. I used a dress as a pillow case. It definitely wasnt the cleanest of places. Make sure you take tissue or toilet roll with you as there isn’t any provided. The cabin has plugs in order to charge electronics which is the only positive part of this experience as it meant I could watch films.
I regret not buying more snack bars as I didnt have enough time to buy food and snacks for the journey due to the coach arriving late to hotel. We fortunately had a large bottle of water. On the train someone does come by with a trolly but the majority of it is not good food unless you are starving.
Boy was i wrong about how ‘comfortable’ the cabin was. Woke up at 6am to bugs crawling over me. I’ve never been so tired in my whole life. The train journey was horrific.
I had been bitten in Halong Bay when I went canoying and my legs itched all night.
It is also very hot on train. There is aircon but its not great. I haven’t eaten in 18 hours so I am in abit of a mood and bad headache. Train is delayed into Danang by an hour which hasn’t helped my mood either! Dunno if I can ever do an overnight train again!!