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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

posted May 16, 2014, 1:21 AM by Long Quoc Tran   [ updated Dec 8, 2014, 6:46 PM by Tran Quoc Long ]
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Recently named one of the seven wonders of the natural world, Ha Long Bay is simply breathtaking. Covering an area around 1,000 square miles, the greater bay area is home to over 2,000 limestone island islets, each topped with lush vegetation like the frosting on a cupcake.

Sunset Over Ha Long Bay

Having heard a number of mixed reviews, some glowing and some horrific, we made sure to do a fair amount of research prior to our trip. One has a whole host of options when looking to experience this natural beauty. The most common one is to take a boat ride out into the bay. Trips range from a simple day trip, to an overnight stay, to multi-night stays. Having read all the reviews available, we determined that this was one of those times in life where spending a little bit more can drastically improve your overall experience. That in mind we opted for a two-night cruise with Indochina Junk on board the Dragon Pearl III.

Indochina Junk – Dragon Pearl III

Relaxing on the Boat

The greater Ha Long Bay area is segmented into three main bays – Ha Long Bay, Bái Tử Long Bay, and Lan Ha Bay (Cát Bà Islands). While Ha Long Bay proper has the highest concentration of giant limestone karst islands (775 islets), it is consequently the most popular and swarming with tour boats 24/7. What sets Indochina Junk apart, and why we ultimately chose to go with them, is that they have the exclusive use of the largely uncharted Bái Tử Long bay. Nearly 2x the size of Ha Long Bay proper, we basically had this entire area to our selves. In fact, we only saw one or two other Indochina Junk boats the entire time we were on the water.

Ha Long Bay Scenery

The Dragon Pearl III was a medium sized boat housing a total of 20 passengers and 13 crew. We boarded the boat around noon on the first day and immediately set off into the maze of limestone mountains. Standing on the top deck, it probably took me at least an hour and hundreds of photos later to settle my excitement down. It was just SO serene, SO majestic, SO utterly breathtaking that it was hard to fully take in.

Our boat made its final approach into one of the many coves and dropped its anchor for the night. It was around this time that our trusty guide Phuc, rounded up the passengers to go for an evening kayak ride. The next two hours were spent winding our way around the various rock formations encircling us. We passed one of the four floating villages in Ha Long Bay. Children smiled ear to ear as their parents poked their heads out of their boats or looked up from what they were doing. With friendly smiles and a loud “hello-goodbye” (spoken as all one word), I couldn’t tell if they were more novel to us or us to them.

Our Guide Phuc

Pat and Al Kayaking

Floating Village of Ha Long Bay

Kayaking Ha Long Bay

Our next day in Ha Long was a full one. After a filling breakfast we hung out on the sun deck as we motored to our next location. Arriving at another floating village we where escorted around in small, four person bamboo thatch boats. We were able to see how they farm pearls, where the locals go to school, as well as step foot inside some of the local houses.

Bamboo Boat Taxis at Ha Long Bay Floating Village

View from the Floating Village

After a quick afternoon swim off the side of the boat, we all cleaned up in preparation for our grand finale – dinner inside a cave.

Swimming in Ha Long Bay

Around 10,000 square feet in size, the cave itself is immense and was only discovered less than a decade ago. Lucky for us, Indochina Junk has the exclusive rights to its use. Our candle light cave dinner was spectacular. The entire trip would have been worth it for this one experience alone. The entire crew of 13 was there preparing our feast for us. They set up a BBQ grill outside and grilled us an endless array of seafood. It was romantic and mysterious. I just can’t say enough good things about it.

Dinner in a Cave

Having spent another beautifully serene evening sleeping in Ha Long Bay, the next morning inevitably drew our tour to a close. We packed up and were back in port by noon. The three-hour shuttle ride back to Hanoi was spent looking at photos on our camera and marveling in the beauty of Ha Long Bay. If planning a trip to Ha Long Bay, we would highly recommend Indochina Junk. While slightly pricer than some of the other options, it is absolutely worth it. For what we received in terms of both service and amenities, I would have paid much more in fact. Everything was just amazing.

Sunset on Ha Long Bay