Introduction to Halong Bay Vietnam
Over 500 million years of geological processing formed the limestone deposits that are the foundation of Halong Bay. Thereafter, 20 million years of erosion and tectonic adjustments made this area one of the world’s most profound karst topography landscapes. As a result, the site was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.
The Bay consists of over 1600 islands spread out over 43,400 hectares in Quang Ninh Province in NE Vietnam. The karst formations are pillar like small islands and islets that rise up to 100 meters above the water level. Additionally amazing arch formations, caves, undercutting (of the island pillars) and other unique shapes decorate the sea landscape. In fact, many of the islands are named after things that they resemble e.g. monkeys, bantams
How to get to Halong Bay
Quang Ninh Province is not far from Hanoi. Therefore, the drive to Halong Bay from Hanoi is only about 1-2 hours. Due to the popularity of the destination there is an enormous shopping center to visit on the way there! The center features Vietnamese coffee and souvenirs for tourists that are doing the Halong Bay cruise. Fortunately, we had procured a private car and also a private boat. Therefore, we were mostly shielded from these type of flytraps.
We had secured a private boat through the same Hanoi tour company that had arranged our travels to the NW Vietnam mountain provinces. Therefore, we had the boat and crew to ourselves for one night and 2 days. The boat itself was a refurbished Vietnamese junk featuring an upper deck, al fresco dining area, one bedroom and private bathroom with shower. Over all it was pretty sweet!
Al Fresco Dining Area
Halong Bay Cruise – Day One
We got settled into our accommodation while the captain piloted us out of the harbor and on our way. It would take a few hours to arrive at the anchorage destination and we would enjoy lunch while we sailed along our course. The karst topography would begin to unfold before our eyes as we sailed along. Therefore, our fantastic lunch was supplemented with some excellent scenery.
Our waiter was excellent and he cracked the crab for us right at the table. In the background, you can see the karst topography emerging through the sea haze.
Thien Cung Grotto
Our overnight anchorage destination was near a pristine Halong Bay beach that was on the same island as the prolific Thien Cung Grotto. Fortunately, there are no Halong Bay hotels on these islands and access is strictly controlled by the government. As a result, tourist traffic is nominal so there are not too many people in the same place at the same time. This worked out well for us!
Our activities for the afternoon would be to explore the nearby island, go kayaking and also explore the inside of the grotto. For starters we were transported over to the island for some kayaking and cave exploration. Fortunately, the Halong Bay Vietnam weather was perfect for our trip. Not so great for sunbathing, but perfect for our little sailing adventure.
Transport to Island
Approaching the Beach
Halong Bay Beaches (our guide on the right)
Thien Cung Grotto
The Thien Cung Grotto has awesome specimens of stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over many thousands of years.
After spending a few hours exploring the unique flora and fauna of the area we reluctantly returned to the boat to get ready for dinner. Upon return, we lounged around for awhile and then got ready.
Dinner was a grand affair and the crew did not cut any corners to make sure it was the best dinner possible.
Halong Bay Cruise – Day Two
For the second day we were going to visit a floating village. Actually, the area was a conglomerate of 4 floating villages that pooled their resources for aquaculture, schools, markets and of course tourists! The whole thing had a heavily staged feel to it and this part of the tour got us tangled up with another group that had taken the discount version of our Halong Bay cruise. Overall, it was OK and we went on a little paddle boat tour circuit. Along the way we checked out the aquaculture, schools and some of the unique limestone formations in the landscape. Fortunately, we didn’t need a Halong Bay map and we just followed the other boats.
This is a version of the local floating market. I bought some of the local rice wine here.
Floating Village Primary School
As you can see, things were not too exciting until we got there.
After contributing to the kids education we continued along the guided path to visit a very large limestone archway.
Limestone Archway (guide in the center of pic)
Going Back to Hanoi
After visiting the archway we were bustled through some floating tourist shops and then back to the ship to return to port. The sailing back in was pretty enjoyable and after all the great service from the crew we were a little bit sad to see it end.
Hanoi Art Studio
Our driver did not speak much English, however he did speak fluent Russian. This was very convenient because my girlfriend was from Eastern Europe and she also spoke fluent Russian. They chatted quite a bit along the way and it turns out that our driver had a brother in law in Hanoi that was an artist. As a result, we took a detour to his studio after we got back and had a look around.
Moving from left to right, our driver, artist, girlfriend and the artist’s son on the far right. Their house was a huge French style colonial townhouse. If I lived in Vietnam I would certainly want to live in one of these houses. It is amazing how they can be so quiet inside and still be so close to the insanely busy streets of Hanoi.
Our Halong Bay cruise was excellent and I was very happy with the boat and the accommodations. Additionally, the Halong Bay Vietnam weather had been very accommodating for our entire trip. We were now going to stay in Hanoi for a couple days and then we were going to travel south to Ho Chi Minh City.