"Ha Long Bay" Ha Long by Martialsk

Ha Long Travel Guide: 457 reviews and 1,600 photos

Getting out on the water

On our first day in Hanoi we booked a night on a junk boat in Ha Long Bay amongst the enormous limestone karsts of this famously imperious UNESCO World Heritage site.

After a long 4 hour drive we arrived at the port and jumped on our little boat. We were a small group of only 9 people and thankfully, a great group at that. We had all booked and arranged this tour through the Kangaroo Cafe Company in Hanoi.
Ha Long Bay was depressingly hazy that afternoon and all the initial photos showed a nice milky-white sky and a few dark bits of rock sticking up out of a washed-out looking sea! Although initially depressing, it was actually lovely to be out on a boat again with nothing to challenge the senses except eerie silence and fresh sea-breezes.

Culinary Delights

Some of the Halong Bay tours were apparently nightmares run by unscrupulous people keen to make a quick buck with safety concerns remaining a definite afterthought. We’d read/ heard stories about boats sinking out in the sea in the dead of night, drowning everyone on board, along with the usual horror stories about rats, cockroaches, bed-bugs, dreadful staff or very drunk and disorderly passengers. We were fortunate that our little trip was nothing like these stories and our junk was perfectly safe and clean. I will say that the meals served on-board were by far, some of the finest meals we have had in Vietnam!

In light of the difficult years this country has endured and the poverty that is still rife, coupled with a touch of communism which always tends to kill off any aspects of personal enjoyment, culinary specialities have not been a major development for the run-of-the-mill restaurants. People eat whatever is available in order to stay alive and so the food, in our short experience, has been basic, nutritious (mostly) and simple. Rarely have we had really crap meals, however, there is nothing that immediately springs to mind as being absolutely remarkably memorable! Certainly nothing like our fabulous experiences in China and Hong Kong which, on reflection, always conjures up all sorts of superb memories.

Limestone karsts and the sleeping dragon

Ha Long Bay is a spectacular cluster of a few thousand limestone monolithic islands, topped with thick vegetation, dramatically protruding out of the ocean. Legend has it that the karsts are part of the body of a sleeping dragon, who, after protecting this place from marauders, has slept for many years under the water. There are various versions of this legend!
Several of these islands are hollow with enormous caves featuring the usual stalactites, stalagmites and ‘underground’ lakes. We walked through one of the largest caves I’ve ever seen and it was quite amazing.
Before that though, we got off the junk to climb 419 steps to a little view-point on the top of one of the islands and although hard work, the view over the Ha Long was breathtakingly beautiful. We sailed past some fishing villages, where there is said to be about 1,600 residents existing off the fruits of the sea. A spot of kayaking through a large cave into an enclosed bay to see some wild monkeys was a nice treat - the large ungainly kayaks were, unfortunately, hard work against the strong evening current. We were pleased to get back onboard to enjoy the evening and a few drinks with our new friends.
Lying on the sunbeds on the top deck in the dark after dinner, we enjoyed each other’s silent company, broken only by a bit of faint random karaoke from the party boat anchored up over on the other side. The silence was magical and calming and we were lucky that there wasn‘t a jabber box on our boat who loved the sound of their own voice! None of us needed to talk at this time. Silence was golden.
I can’t say I was looking forward to going back to Hanoi anytime soon.
However, we’d only booked one night on this junk and the next day, after an early start and a wander through the limestone cave followed by a little swim, we moseyed our way back to port to jump on our bus to Hanoi. The dream was over, Halong was incredible and I wish we could have stayed another night. Although the haze was bad again on this day and we’d get no sun, it would still have been lovely to spend the day up on the top deck, reading books, chatting to new friends and chilling out.
However, since we’d had a bit of a rubbish experience with the Mekong trip, we were loathe to book 2 nights in case it was rubbish again! A shame. This trip was fabulous.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:quiet, calm, restful and stunningly beautiful
  • Cons:distance getting there, hazy weather
  • In a nutshell:A place to stop and catch your breath
  • Last visit to Ha Long: Nov 2011
  • Intro Updated Apr 6, 2012
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Comments (1)

  • wisbi's Profile Photo
    Jul 6, 2012 at 3:29 AM

    Hi, can i ask how much is the 1night tour in halong bay? TIA


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