Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cruise through Halong Bay

Think of Halong Bay and you problem conjure up the iconic image of numerous limestone rocks emerging from a clear, vivid blue sea in the Bond movie, 'Tomorrow Never Dies'.  That was certainly my image and I was incredibly disappointed to discover that, because permission to film in Vietnam was denied, those scenes were actually filmed in Phuket Bay, Thailand!  Further reading disabused me of any other poetic or romantic associations with the place - 'it's overrun with tourists', 'it's a dumping ground for rubbish', 'on a dull day, it's no more spectacular than Cornwall' (which, by the way, I think is pretty spectacular!) - and, by the time we set off for our full-day cruise, I was fully prepared to be completely underwhelmed!

In the event, however, I was pleasantly surprised.  Halong Bay, in my opinion, fully deserves its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is indeed spectacular, even on a dull day!!  The sheer scale of it is awesome - about 2000 limestone islets (I believe the correct geological name is karsts) in an area of approximately 1500 square kilometres.  Obviously, we saw only a fraction of this in the few hours when we cruised from Halong City to Cat Ba Island, but we were mesmerised by the beauty of the place.  Yes, there were plenty of tourists and fleets of boats similar to ours.  We met up with them at intervals throughout the day - the obligatory kayaking stop, the grotto visit, the floating village, etc., but, in between, we motored gently between these magnificent rocks and felt an incredible sense of wonder and of our insignificance in the great scheme of things.  Never was this sense more heightened than at dusk when, with the sun disappearing behind the rocks and the temperature falling, the feeling was almost eerie.

Throughout the day, we were also struck by the simplicity of the lives of the people who are born, are educated, work and die on the floating villages in Halong Bay.  Traditionally making their living from fishing, increasingly they rely on income from tourists.  Inevitably, their way of life is changing - children are going to schools on the mainland, some young adults choose to leave and re-locate to cities, but our guide assured us that there are enough youngsters who want to maintain and build on the traditions handed down to them to ensure the survival of these communitiies.

Travel Tip

Halong Bay can be an expensive place to visit, so we felt fortunate to stumble on a really cheap way to do it!  We needed to get from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island and went to a travel agent near our hotel in Hanoi to explore the options.  There are various bus/boat/bus or train/boat/bus combinations available, but one of them meant that we would get a cruise around Halong Bay en route.  We were taken by bus to Halong City and then, in effect, we joined one of the two-day cruises (the ones where guests pay an arm and a leg to spend a night on board) for the whole day and were dropped off on Cat Ba Island in the evening to be bussed the short distance into town.  This trip cost us $18 each which we thought was a bit of a bargain when you see how much they charge for a two-day (or even a one-day) cruise!!

You can see some photos of Halong Bay here.


  1. Cruising on Halong bay on a wooden traditional junks or on iron cruises is considered as the best way to explore hidden charm of Halong Bay – the World Natural Wonder. The feeling of cruising among thousand islets on Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay or Lan ha Bay is definitely fantastic to every tourist. Let’s surf and enjoy it with us!

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  2. Cruise manager Sonny Bui escorted us to our cabins and handed us keys in the shape of a fish. The air-conditioned room really won us over with large windows for viewing the scenery.
    Halong Cruise

  3. When you are thinking of what to do and where to go on your next vacation consider a cruise. A cruise is a great way of taking a complete vacation for a fraction of the cost.

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