Halong bay is of course the must see plac,e when In Vietnam. With it’s towering limestone rocks and emerald waters. Tourists flock to this place every year. Designated a world heritage site since 1994, the bay, is scattered with many beautiful islands and breathe taking scenery. I must admit, I almost didn’t come to this place. After reading stories online, of it being crowded and polluted. But I decided that, I couldn’t let some online reviews put me off going. Sometimes, you just have to go see places for yourself, despite of what people are saying.
It was hard for me to decide which tour company to go with. Since in Hanoi, there are literally tourist offices every where you turn. The tours to Halong Bay, are pretty much all offering the same thing. Apart from choosing, if you want to take a 1 day, 2 day etc. There are also options to go on more luxury boats at an extra cost. I heard that the Sin Tourist is one of the more reliable companies to go with. But there also a lot of tour operators in Hanoi claiming to be the original Sin Tourist. As you walk around Hanoi, you will notice several offices, with the same name. I guess there are no laws about copying other peoples companies names. If you want to make sure you are using the real deal. The offices are light blue and should have the logo on the front. You can also check the official website, to find the address of the actual offices in Hanoi. There are of course other trusty worthy companies in Hanoi. Buffalo tours seems to be another one, but I highly suggest doing your own research, before choosing a company to go with
The Journey begins
The adventure begins in the early ish hours of the morning. But this is a sacrifice you have to make, when travelling, In order to get to these amazing places. I headed down to the pick up point in the Old quarter of Hanoi. Having some spare time before the bus pick up time. I Indulged in some delicious noodle soup for breakfast, from the street vendors near by. The journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay, is quite long, so be prepared with drinks and snacks on the bus. Even though, they do make a stop halfway to buy food and drinks. I often find the places tours stop at, are always higher tourist prices. So my preference is to head to a 7/11 or another local shop to stock up, to save on money.
Arriving at the bay, you could see straight away how beautiful the place was, without even getting on the boat. The tour guide took us down to our boat and we boarded on what would be our vessel for the day. The boat had 2 decks, the downstairs filled with tables for eating and the upstairs, made for a nice viewing point/ sun bathing area. Not long after we pulled out of the bay, we were served lunch at the tables. A delicious selection of Vietnamese buffet style food, including fresh fish, rice, vegetables and soup. I was pretty Impressed with the food they served, everything tasted so fresh.
Arriving on one of the Islands
After a nice relaxing cruise through the Dinh Huong Islet, we landed at our first stop. Where we could choose to do some Kayaking, or get taken on a bamboo boat around the Island. The Island we arrived at was just spectacular, the huge towering limestone rocks surrounded the beautiful waters and it felt like, I was just standing in a postcard. I choose to go on a bamboo boat, with a guide, instead of the Kayaking, because I wanted to have a chance to take some pictures. Just be wary, that if you booked the tour, that Including Kayaking, they will charge you a dollar, to change to a bamboo boat tour ( At least this company did anyhow, although not sure why) I wish I knew the name of this particular Island, but Halong bay itself is made up of 1,600 Islands. Most of which are uninhabited, although it is home to a small community.
Row row row your boat
Me and another guy from our tour boat boarded the bamboo boat, to be greeted by a friendly Vietnamese women. She would be our rower/guide. The thing I love about travelling is the conversations , you have with people all over the world. I got to talking to the other guy, who was travelling from Pakistan to Vietnam for work. He said he was very lucky he got time to come to Halong Bay. I would feel lucky to, if I got to travel to Vietnam as part of work.
As we made our way around the calm waters of the bay, I was mesmerized by all the beauty around me. It’s so different from seeing the pictures, to actucally being there yourself. Just looking up at the towering limestone rocks all around you and thinking can this be real. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s how most people were, when they were gazing out into the scenery. We watched other people in their Kayaks, as they multi tasked between paddling and trying to get snaps with their cameras. Taking it in turns to row and photograph.
Enjoying the scenery
After our boat tour, we headed back to the dock and gave the Vietnamese woman, a little tip as a thank you. We thankfully had a little more time to wander around and capture a few last pictures before we left. Taking in the last of the scenery and watching the people there, go about there daily lives there. I was thinking how it would be like to live here and experience this everyday. This is not only a tourist spot, but a place where the locals actually live and work. Many of them making there living as fisherman, as well as working with the tourists.
Discovering Thien Cung (Heaven) Cave
We set sail once again, after a beautiful stop at the Island. We headed to the last stop of the day, Thien Cung (Heaven) Cave. The cave has a unique system of stalactites and stalagmites with different forms and shapes. Which makes the cave Incredibly beautiful. This is the first time that I have ever been to a cave like this and I was seriously blown away, as soon as I stepped Inside. The cave is around 10,000 square meters, so it’s quite a large area to explore.
I walked around the cave, with an Australian girl from the tour. She was telling me, how she had never seen anything like this before. Walking around here is just amazing, in every direction you looked , there were different shapes and formations. Nothing seemed exactly the same. It kind of looks like an artist has made artwork out of the rocks. But all the Stalagmites are naturally formed like this. We didn’t have a guide with us, to explain everything, it might be an option on other tours. But I was happy to just wonder around and stare in awe at this natural beauty. I wish we had more time here though. Me and the Australian girl, were the last people to leave, because we just wanted to stay here for ever.
Sailing off into the sunset
After we left the cave, it was time to sail back towards Tuan Chau Island, where the tour started. Fortunately on the way back, we were very lucky to see such a beautiful sunset. My favourite kind of sunsets, are sunsets over water, so this made me extremely happy. The majority of the group, climbed up to the top open deck, to take in the views of the beautiful sunset and of course to get many beautiful pictures. As we sailed back, I took in the last views of this beautiful place and it made me glad I decided to come here. I only wish I had more time here. but if i came back again, I would definitely do at least an over night tour, if not longer.
The tour from Sin toursit for the day tour with Kayaking, cost me 879,000 VND ( Which is about £30 or $38) When I was booking the tour, the guy was really pushing me to upgrade to an over night tour. I really had to be firm with this guy, which kind of annoyed me. But you just have to stand your ground with what you want and what you can afford. I would say my experience on the tour was generally good. The only downside was, the downstairs of the boat was a little cramped, with how many people were on it.
As a solo traveller I would really recommend going on tours like these, don’t be afraid to go on them alone. I had a good time chatting with other travellers on their own, or with other people.