Ha Long Bay

There’s an incredible amount of beauty in Vietnam. It’s nearly impossible to see all of it in just 1 month, but Ha Long Bay is a destination that can’t be missed. With Hanoi established as a base camp, it was time to venture to the the sea. There were 2 options for doing Ha Long Bay (actually there are about a million but whatever). The first option is to book a 2 day / 1 night cruise on the bay which typically includes swimming, kayaking, and exploring. You’ll have your own cabin on the cruising boat (‘junk’) and meals are included. The second option is the Castaway’s tour. For the hostel crowd, this is by far the most popular option. People insisted it’s the best time they’ve ever had.  It’s a giant 3day / 2 night party on a private island in the bay. Essentially its spring break on Vietnam. Guess which one I chose…?

Well you’re wrong. It’s sad you think about me that way. I’m an adult. A grown man. I’ve done spring break in Mexico and it was enough ‘spring break’ for a lifetime. My European friends were shocked I chose to forego 3 straight days of inebriated revelry. To be fair their university experiences are vastly different than ours in the States. Luckily my good friend Colleen had also done spring break Mexico 2014 and did not need to repeat it. I don’t think anyone needs a repeat of Puerto Vallarta 2014 to be honest. Anyways, we opted to take a 2day / 1night cruise.

The tour company arranged pretty much everything for us. We were picked up from the hostel in the morning and driven to the harbor at Hai Phong where we caught our ‘Junk’ boat, the Imperial Legend. It didn’t look like much, but it floated and the cabins were actually pretty nice. Plus they had a huge lunch ready for us.

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After an hour of cruising we were out in the midst of Ha Long Bay’s beauty. The bay itself consists of more than 1900 limestone islands, topped with mini rain forests. It’s truly one of the natural wonders of the world and has been a UNESCO world heritage since the 90s. The name Ha Long bay translates to descending dragon bay. Our guide Ling attempted to explain the significance of this, but his english translation was slightly vague. It had something to do with dragons being a symbol of protection in Buddhist tradition. The boat meandered between the islands until it dropped anchor in a small inlet. From here we took off to explore in kayaks. It was a beautiful day and the emerald water was absolutely stunning.

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After returning to our boat, we were treated to some spectacular sunset views before dinner.

The dinner consisted of multiple courses of chicken, beef, noodles, rice, seafood and more. It was delicious and by the end we were stuffed. An awkward hour of Karaoke followed dinner. No one was into it. It was borderline painful. My rendition of Hotel California did not get the crowd going despite me sounding EXACTLY like Don Henley. Colleens perfect Abba performance could not win the audience over either. The Chinese tourists on the boat did not only refuse to participate, but they also refused to smile, speak, and possibly blink. The European tourists abandoned us and thankfully karaoke fizzled out. I chatted with the bar man for a while before bed. He gave me some cool spots to check out on my return to Hanoi.

The following day, Ling led a cooking course after breakfast. It lasted 12min and we just wrapped up spring rolls so I’m not sure why he billed it as a cooking class. After a hardy lunch we arrived back to the harbor and were taken back to Hanoi.

The overall experience was fantastic. In Ha Long Bay, beauty is all around you. The limestone cliffs reflect off the emerald waters while the setting sun dances between the small islands. It’s a sight that can truly take your break away. As one of the highlights of Vietnam, its a destination that can’t be missed.