Howdy all and Happy Easter! I thought for nearly a quarter of a second about doing an Easter-themed post for today, but straight away decided there would be little point. And also, if it’s appropriate to say it, Happy Ramadan! I have once travelled through Ramadan with a group from University in Bangladesh. Breaking the fast was always a special occasion, but I don’t think we actually observed it at all (we certainly weren’t expected to). Anyways. This is NOT an Easter not Ramadan post, this is my monthly post about a place I deem to be ‘Destination of the Month’, and this month of April I have decided to go with Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Almost anyone who has visited Vietnam will come back recommending Halong Bay as a ‘not-to-be-missed’ sort of place. And it’s not hard to see why – it’s absolutely stunning! For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a bay off the north Vietnamese coast where giant rocks jut out of the ocean becoming islands. Honestly, it’s breath taking! It is basically Rio de Janeiro if it got completely flooded.
As travel is really starting to get a kick up the backside and more and more people are doing it, I believe Vietnam will be a country people rush to get back to because it really offers so much, it has a developed tourist infrastructure yet it is yet to hit the ‘heights’ that Thailand has reached. Which is a good thing because Thailand is a wonderful place to visit but also suffers from the excesses of tourism as well sadly, and more to the point ‘over-tourism’.
Anyways, Halong Bay. How do you do it? Well, you need to get on the water which is pretty obvious I guess. I don’t know how you could do it completely independently, but the usual way is to get yourself on a tour on one of the many boats that sails around the bay taking in the sights and stopping here and there. There are a range of options in terms of budget, from cheaper ones through to expensive ones, which may well be worth the money.
Personally, I organised my trip through my budget hotel in Hanoi. Hanoi actually has a big backpacker area and all the places will key you up with a boat tour of Halong Bay (although it’s a bit of a bus ride to get there from the Vietnamese capital), and there are plenty of travel agents in those streets too. Alternatively, you could try online.
I can’t remember my budget, but I do know that I got a decent deal on my boat tour, as in I think I got a hefty discount, because I think the budget one I was due to go on was oversold or cancelled or SOMETHING, and they bumped me up to a midrange option. And as I was by myself and this boat wasn’t full, I had a cabin to myself.
The room was very comfortable, the boat was big and like I think all of them, it was also wooden. It was a really solid boat and we had about 30 people at a guess on (passengers) all meals were provided. I think that you could do two or three nights, and I chose three nights with the third night being in a hotel on the island of Cat Ba.
I’ll start with the negatives – the hotel in Cat Ba. Cat Ba is a relatively big island for the area, and there were festivities in the town there. I had a really nice room but what the room did not have was thick glass. When I had to get up at 6am the next morning, the thumping music of the near by festival did not allow me to sleep much. Also, it was unseasonably cold and most people on the boat actually woke the next day with colds. Those were the real negatives.
Now, why the place is so cool. Well, just hanging on the boat watching the rock islands pass you by is hard to beat. It’s a misty, almost spiritual place to go. Honestly a couple of days just drifting around would be fine by me. But the tours do have activities for you.
The first is caving – well checking out some caves. There are few around the islands, the main one is Sung Sot Caves, which had me climbing up countless stairs with some cool rock structures to see, and the view looking back across the bay was magnifique. The downside was that all the boats stop here so the caves are not exactly ‘empty’ shall we say?
The there was kayaking which I passed on because it’s one of my least favourite activities. In retrospect, I should have given it a go but honestly, I had a cold and it didn’t appeal. You see the occasional floating mini-market out there which is pretty cool. I remember an episode of ‘The Amazing Race’ (US) where they kayaked on Halong Bay and it looked like a total nightmare.
We also had cooking classes on the boat, and on Cat Ba Island there was some sort of festival – music, costumes and dancing. And then we had a bike ride around the island which was really cool riding the paths through the rice paddies.
But all in all, the ultimate highlight of Halong Bay is just being in one of the most amazing places on the planet and appreciating the wonder of nature. The internet suggests that tours can be had from anywhere from $40USD to $800USD for 2 – 3 days. I would think I paid around $100 – $150 and I was happy with the value for money I received.
Thanks for popping by today! Hope you are well wherever your corner of the world may be! Take care, and May the Journey Never End!