Halong Bay is the first postcard that appeared in front of my eyes when I thought of Vietnam and its nature and beauty.
Nature and history weave together in this place and deserve a particular attention.
This wonderful bay is located about 160Kms away from the capital city, Hanoi, not far from the borders with China. For this reason it has been the scenario of numerous invading battles on the Vietnamese territory.
But the most evocative story of Halong Bay is surely the myth that lingers over this enchanting place, where this bay took the name from:
“Hạ Long” means “where the dragon descends into the sea”.
I learned about the legend of this enormous dragon that, descending with impetuous from the mountains, broke the rocks with its tail, creating the 2.000 Ha Long Bay’s little islands.
Thanks to the force of the dragon or, better saying, of the nature, Halong Bay has become a Unesco World heritage site, being recognised as one of the natural wanders of the world.
It is surely one of the most visited places, that’s why I firstly doubted about visiting it as I considered it too much touristy for me. Fortunately, I decided not to renounce and I visited it!
Halong Bay is a truly incomparable place that moved me from the inside and made me feel unique emotions.
Here, I had the sensation of blending with the nature, while slowly sailing among the blooming green islets, crossing the silence that reigns supreme.
The peace of this place made me forget about the noise of Asia and of the industrial world. It allowed me to have a direct contact with the nature and the silence, with no intermediaries nor obstacles at all.
It’s a silence that seems to be there on purpose: to celebrate the respect towards the imposing nature.
HOW TO GET TO HALONG BAY
There aren’t many alternatives to get to Tuan Chau Marina Harbour. It’s the tourist harbour where all the ships sail from. Buses are the best solution and they leave from different city, firstly from Hanoi.
You can book online your cruise: there are different websites or, in alternative, you can directly book from the hotels in Vietnam. By choosing the second option, you could not find the tickets for that same day.
I suggest you to book in advance, before leaving to Vietnam, in order to avoid any inconvenience.
I booked the cruise through www.indochinavoyages.com (you could also contact the operator directly by sending en e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org) and I also requested a transfer from Hanoi to Halong, by paying an extra $20/30 per person.
The shuttle service is provided by any agency dealing with the cruise bookings. The additional cost is more or less the same.
If you book largely in advance, as I did, I suggest you to contact the agency operator by directly sending an e-mail and, also, to negotiate on the price for the transfer: it is always a good practice and it works quite often! In fact, it made me save $10 per person per shuttle.
The bus that picked me up (straight from my accommodation, as I was requested to provide the address where I needed to be picked up from) and the 10 other people was really good.
Normally, the trip takes almost 3 hours, but considering the streets in Vietnam and the villages along the route, it could take up to 4 hours.
Just consider the possible delay and calculate extra time to organise your trip: the Vietnamese people are very precise, but the transfers always take more time for external reasons.
The ships leave around 12pm. If you booked both the transfer and the ticket for the cruise, do not get stressed for the delay: the ship will be waiting for you!
HOW TO VISIT HALONG BAY
- If you are looking for a less tourist and “wilder” experience, you can rent a private boat according to your time and needs. You are going to pay way more as it is not an usual thing.
- It is possible to book a whole-day cruise (about 5 hours, no overnight). It is cheaper but does not allow you to visit all the places offered by the nature around the Bay.
- The 2-3 day cruise surely is the cheapest, quickest, easiest and more organized way to discover the area.
That’s what I absolutely suggest you to choose!
WHAT CRUISE AND HOW MUCH IT COSTS
There are many cruises, agencies and websites available to make your booking. Prices vary according to the seasons and there are so many that you can easily get confused.
Before choosing the ship, it is important to understand how many days you want to dedicate to the cruise and the “categories” of cruise you are interested in.
There are 3 categories: low, middle and high.
I chose the middle category as the low one did not seem very comfortable, while the high category was too expensive and out of my budget.
Syren Cruise (this was the name) cost $124 (plus $20 for the transfer) per person.
It offers an excellent service (a generous and delicious buffet or menu a là carte for breakfast, lunch and dinner; rooms are very clean and well furnished with the respective windows over the sea; tour of the places of interest included; tour on a kayak; class of local cooking; Tai Chi lesson; deck with sun beds, toiletries; possibility to fish on board, after dinner, with bamboo rods).
The vessel was very nice and comfortable: completely made of wood, well-refined common spaces and the rooms as well.
I was really satisfied of the choice I made both for the length of the cruise and for the facilities provided by the ship.
WHAT A CRUISE IS LIKE AND ITS STOPS
Once you get to the harbour, the operator started to gather the entire group (about 20/25 people) to start the boarding, around midday.
We got on a boat to reach the ship, where they welcomed us with a drink and with the detailed program of the cruise.
After we settled in our room, we had lunch. It included a wide varieties of delicious and excellent food (drinks not included).
The first tour was to the Calcareous Caves, beautiful and well preserved except for the colourful and artificial lights.
The second tour was to Ti Top Island: a beautiful beach with a memorable lookout from above. In fact, by climbing the mountain through a path made of infinite stairs, I discovered spectacular naturalistic glimpses. Lastly, at the very top, a breath-taking view.
Once back on the ship, we had a cooking class, where we learned how to prepare a typical Vietnamese dish: the fresh spring rolls I did not know before but that I enjoyed so much!
With a little bit of practice, we started the cooking class with the rice paper (to handle with care but firmly at the same time) we made and tasted some delicious rolls with vegetables and prawns or chicken, depending on your taste.
After this quick aperitif, they served an abundant dinner, followed by a quiet post-dinner, where we played cards and we tried to fish with the crew, by using bamboo rods, and handmade baits.
We enjoyed the sunrise in the middle of the sea, by joining a Tai Chi lesson at 6:30am, on the deck of the ship with few other people.
The tour for this day was to the floating fishermen’s village / floating village of fishermen We sailed on wooden boats, driven by the inhabitants of the village. They accompained us while visiting their unique village, made of houses hanging on the water and people living and working there.
I will never forget the silence of this place. This wide space is made more accessible thanks to these little floating houses, where people visibly live in them. But also thanks to the fishermen, alone on their unstable boats, fishing with their hands and rowing with their feet! The Vietnamese time and resources are unthinkable and indescribable for a Western person who, after reaching this place, understands that it is not so impossible to live like that!
The tour ended in Pearl Farm, where we learned how an oyster’s disease can become a pearl. You can buy here pearls that differ for size and typology.
Before getting back on the ship, they propose you to experience a 30 minutes tour on a kayak, if the weather is ok; then lunch and a final look at the view from the deck, before heading back to the harbour.
WHEN TO VISIT HALONG BAY
It is possible to visit Halong Bay all year around, but it is important to know that the North of Vietnam is different from the South where it is always warm and sunny. In the North the seasons are more moderate.
From April to September, the climate is warm, while from October to March, the temperature is moderate and cooler (around 14°-18° C).
It is uncommon to go to Vietnam only to visit this Bay. Due to the geographical disposition of the Nation (it is a thin and long land), it is necessary to choose the priorities during your trip, according to the weather.
I chose to go to Vietnam from December to January. It means that in the area of Halong Bay, the weather was cooler (a sort of fall season) and I enjoyed the peace of the place but I could not swim in the Ocean. On the contrary, In the Centre and in the South of Vietnam, in this same period, the weather was hotter and I enjoyed a warm and cosy sort of summer.
Instructions for use
Remember to bring with you your swimsuit and the related accessories to go the sea if you visit Vietnam in summertime. A k-way for the other seasons, if you want to enjoy the outdoor part of the cruise program, with no limits!
Che Lan Vien wrote:
“Hạ Long, Bái Tử Long- The dragons are hidden, only the rocks remain. Under the moonlight, the rocks meditate lik thee men…”