Halong Bay is the most popular tourist activity in Vietnam. Most people, even if they’ve never heard of Halong Bay, have seen the pictures of it, with its towering islands covered with jungle vegetation rising up from the bay. These are karst towers, meaning that they are made from soft rock, limestone in this case, and are characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. Halong Bay contains an estimated 2,000 of these structures, making it a magical place to cruise on a boat.
To get there, we took a bus from Hanoi to the Halong Bay harbor. The distance is just over 100 miles and takes four hours. That’s right, not a typo – the distance is a little over 100 miles but takes four hours. Welcome to getting around by car or bus in Vietnam.
The cruise was just for one night and the cruise boats are fairly small. Ours accommodated around 20 guests, although there were only about 16 on our cruise. We were the only Americans and it was fun to get to know some of the folks from other countries: young couples from Trieste, Italy and Krakow, Poland, and a family from France.
Our boat was comfortable, even though it had some age on it. Once we were on board and the cruise was underway, we were treated to a delicious multi-course meal of Vietnamese cuisine. Later in the afternoon, we took a small tender boat over to a place in the bay where kayaks were stored. We took the kayaks over to a small beach and swam for a bit, then got back in the kayaks and paddled back to the tender. Paddling in and among the karsts was beautiful and fascinating. In the evening, once we were back on our boat, we had a barbecue with various meats and seafood.
The next morning we visited a cave, the largest cave open to visitors in Halong Bay.
Later on, the Master Chef on board demonstrated how to create a bouquet out of carved vegetables, after which we all made (and ate) spring rolls with rice paper wrapping and vegetables. All of the cruise activities were fun, but we enjoyed cruising on the boat and enjoying the remarkable scenery best of all.