Sun 6 Sep 2015 - Mon 7 Sep 2015
Halong Bay is situated in the North of Vietnam, to the east of their capital city Hanoi. It’s a large bay filled with over 2,000 little islands. Think Ontario’s 1,000 islands, but more islands and located in Vietnam. These islands are mainly limestone and all seem to rise vertically out of the water, making one feel like they are sailing through towers instead of islands.
This is a very picturesque area, and we spent a full 24 hours on a high end boat visiting the area. We booked through Greyline, one of multiple companies with similar boats doing a similar run. The boat was very nice, Corey and I had a nice room with our own balcony over the water (downside to this perk will be explained later).
The entire experience was fun overall, on the first day we boarded just before lunch. We quickly checked in and spent the first hour relaxing up on top with a nice view of the entrance to the islands before being called down one level for lunch. All of our meals onboard were good, the sort of safe higher end meals that feel local, but are still safe enough to serve to a boat of North American type tourists without complaint.
After lunch we had our first activity on shore (I believe it was Bo Hun Island). We climbed a couple of stone steps to the entrance of a cave. We walked through the cave seeing some neat limestone formations before exiting a bit higher up on the island. Up there through the trees we had a nice view of our boat, and by turning around we got a great view of a little lagoon within the island.
After leaving Bo Hun we sailed a bit further to a floating kayak depot (not sure what else to call a bunch of rafts tethered together in the middle of a bay with tons of kayaks). Here we collected a 2 man kayak to go around a few islands for an hour or two. 2 man kayaks are definitely the vehicle of choice for two guys like me and Corey, never any communication issues about who is in control and steering etc…..
Back on board our boat we sailed to the final spot of the day. We had the opportunity to make some little appetizers on deck. They were enjoyed with a cold beverage or three before supper. After supper we went back on deck to socialize with the rest of the tourists on board and consumed a few more beverages. The upper deck was almost clear of cover, and offered a great view 360 degrees.
The second day kicked off trying to get a great photo of the sunrise, and while I was up top early enough, the clouds did not fully cooperate. We had an early breakfast before heading to a local floating fishing complex. This was a small one, with room for 1-2 families. Apparently these floating complexes covered most of the islands, with their owners rarely coming to shore. They are fully self-sufficient, and the occupants eke out a living by catching local fish and other seafood, placing them in manmade underwater nets to fatten them up before selling. According to our guide, all of these complexes were removed a few years back, and new ones can only be created if they follow strict guidelines for the handling of their refuse. One complaint of the area is the unclean water, it is not clear at all, and you will see garbage floating at all times. The local government is working to reverse the damage, and I am told it looks much cleaner than it did a decade ago.
Following this trip we returned to the main boat, checked out of our rooms and spent the last hour or two up top as we sailed back out of the islands. A quick brunch was had and then we departed the boat.
Halong Bay was a great place to see, however I felt we only touched the tip of the iceberg. It was a very commercial set up, and we spent more time anchored than moving. Looking at the map I realize we did not see much, I think I would prefer in future to take a smaller boat and try a multiple day trip (this same boat offers a multiple day trip, but the only difference is when the main boat is heading back to the shore to drop off and pick up new folks, you will be on a little day trip I think hiking on one of the islands – probably fun, but no new sailing through islands involved).
I mentioned near the beginning of more details concerning the balcony. I should warn they are there to keep you from falling overboard, but they may not provide the same level of security for your property. While admiring the view I was putting my phone back into my pocket (brand new iPhone 6) when it managed to slip out, hit the floor, bounce through the railing, and fall two stories into the bay. The last I saw of my phone was a bright light under water that became dimmer with every second until it was gone. Now I’m phone-less (again) and no plan to really spend money on a replacement anytime soon!
- Note: I had no intention of spending money on a replacement, but I cracked while walking past a store in the mall, now I'm back under contract with an iPhone 6S which will probably meet an untimely end in a future post. Not sure how I could top dropping a phone in Halong Bay, but I’m sure with my luck I will figure it out!