Imagine sailing through a maze of 2,000 limestone islands of all shapes and sizes.
Picture yourself on a wooden junk ship, floating over emerald water, through eery fog, like a scene out of a pirate movie. This is what it’s like taking a cruise through Vietnam’s Halong Bay.
Legend goes that the Bay was created by a great dragon from the mountains. As the dragon charged toward the coastline its tail carved out valleys and crevasses before finally plunging into the sea. This is where the name Halong Bay, meaning “descending dragon bay” in Vietnamese, comes from.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, it is an extremely popular tourist destination. So much so that you may hear horror stories of hundreds of boats crammed into small spaces, some with a nasty rat infestation. What’s worse, these stories may even turn you off visiting. They definitely should not.
Like any great destination in the world there’s always going to be a lot of other tourists there who want to see it too. The advantage Halong Bay has in this situation is that you’re all on boats, which means you have to stay to your area (i.e. on the boat) and you can’t trample each other in a queue.
Sailing through the huge rock formations and past floating villages, like Vong Vieng, is a unique experience. These Vietnamese locals live their entire lives on the water, some never setting foot on the mainland, embracing this incredible part of the world as their own.
Rather than going out for dinner and a movie, Vong Vieng residents have their date nights on a boat, tucked away from the main village. Instead of opening a corner store, they turn their boat into a floating quick-e-mart, rowing up to tourist junk ships to sell their wares. In the village, little kids jump from boat to boat, chasing dogs, fishing and playing games.
Aside from floating along on an iconic junk ship there’s also the chance to explore a few of the islands by foot. This is where the tourist numbers will suddenly dawn on you, with a large number of ships offering a day trip to islands like Cat Ba. You can also explore the Trong and Sung Sot Caves, but if crowds aren’t your thing you may want to give these a miss and spend a day kayaking or jumping off the boat and swimming instead.
As the daylight fades, climb up to the top deck and watch the sun set bright orange on the horizon, cocktail in hand. Then, as it gets dark, watch as the area around you lights up with the twinkling lights from other ships, making it look like a floating constellation all around you.
The Vietnamese hospitality and food is absolutely amazing, with incredible meals boasting huge seafood feasts and local treats on offer every night. The staff on board the junk ships go to every effort to make your stay fun, memorable and really enjoyable. It can be overwhelming trying to choose a cruise, given the huge number out there, it’s wise to choose the very best you can find within your budget.
It’s a once in a lifetime experience and something a little bit different from the usual travel experience to a big city.