Halong Bay is a stunning destination with its clear emerald waters and forest covered limestone islands. There are more than 1,500 rocky outcrops in the 120 kilometres of the coastline of Bai Chay Beach. Bai Chay Beach is located about 170 kilometres north-east of Hanoi.
The bay is also known as Vinh Ha Long, or “Bay of the Descending Dragon”. Legend has it that the bay was formed by a dragon spitting precious stones into the water to form the islands which have protected the people of Vietnam from various invaders.
The bay is home to many local fishing communities and floating villages.
The tranquil setting of the bay is the perfect place for a relaxing cruise. It is well worth the hair-raising three and a half hour drive from Hanoi.
I travelled during the off-peak season in December with my teenage daughter who was on school holidays and we found it to be very cold out on the water in winter.
Halong Bay is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an outstanding site of natural beauty and significance.
Arriving at Halong Bay
The nearest international airport to Ha long Bay is Hanoi. I flew into Hanoi from Luang Prabung in Laos.
Direct flights to Hanoi are also available from major Asian airline hubs such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
The drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay is not for the feint hearted and I recommend hiring a small mini bus rather than a sedan for the journey.
While the traffic in Hanoi is reasonably orderly, once you leave the city limits there are no road rules! Expect to see cars speeding toward you from all directions.
If you survive the drive from Hanoi you will be rewarded with a relaxing few days on the bay.
Once the formalities are completed at the office of your cruise provider, access to your cruise ship will be by tender.
On board the boat
We sailed around Halong bay with Bhaya cruises. The Bhaya boats are quite small compared to a cruise line and only have 20 double cabins.
Our cabin was very cosy with its own ensuite bathroom and floor to ceiling views of the bay through our windows.
There was enough room for two people to be comfortable, but I would recommend travelling as light as possible when it comes to luggage as there is not a lot of storage available.
All of our meals and onshore activities were included in the price of the cruise.
The meals were a mix of local and Western cuisine.
There was even a cooking demonstration to keep us entertained as we sailed toward our first destination.
Vung Vieng fishing village
The locals with their row boats were waiting for us as we approached to take us to Vung Vieng fishing village.
The village floats on the waters of Halong Bay and you will have a chance to glimpse this unique way of life.
In addition to fishing, the villagers earn an income by selling souvenir items to the tourists.
Cycling in Cat Ba National Park
Cat Ba Island is the largest island in the Bay. Much of the island is a national park which is home to the endangered Cat Ba Langur.
We spent around half a day cycling around the island through a small village and up and down the winding paths.
The path can be very steep in some parts and not all of the bikes are in good repair. You may need to push your bicycle up the hills in places.
I will always remember the day we went kayaking around the limestone islands in the bay. The day was freezing cold and the beautiful water beneath us was icy.
Never one to miss an opportunity I talked my daughter into joining me on the water. We ended up with soaking wet, numb bums, from the cold water. Apparently I hit her on the head with my paddle by accident and she has never let me forget it ever since!
Hung Sung Sot Caves
The Hang Sung Sot Caves (Cave of surprises) were the final stop of our Halong Bay cruise.
The caves consist of three limestone chambers with impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations enhanced by strategically placed lighting.
Our cruise was over all too soon and I hope to get the chance to return to this stunning bay of islands and explore further.