Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
This past week was Spring Break for my kids and we headed east to Ha Long Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is only about a four hour drive from my home but, I’m embarrassed to admit, this was my first time there.
The drive there was uneventful, if a bit chaotic, but that’s Vietnam for you. After realizing my heart would be in my throat for most of the ride, I sat back and let Jesus and my husband take the wheel.
We got to the docks with just ten minutes to spare. The surprisingly modern harbor was full of boats, and beautiful, yet totally empty-looking buildings and apartments lining the opposite side of the street.
Our boat, The Bhaya, was pretty stunning. It was relatively small, housing about thirty passengers on the boat, but we were lucky and had only about twenty people with us. Our wooden-planked white boat, Bhaya #3, had four stories. The first and second floors were passenger rooms, and the third floor was the restaurant. All of these levels had balconies, allowing you to sit outside and bask in the amazing panaroramic views.
The fourth floor was an open deck, with tables and lounge chairs. Unfortunately for us, and it being this time of year, we couldn’t really use this added bonus because of the weather. It cleared by the last day though, and we were able to spend some of last few moments on the boat goofing around up there.
The thing that really made the trip was the crew. They welcomed us on board with big smiles, and kept the energy up throughout the voyage. We each had a schedule of all the activities, and the Cruise Director kept us in line over the load speaker. There were tours, swimming & kayaking, a cooking demonstration, and Tai Chi. By far though my kids loved fishing for squid with flashlights off the back of the boat at night. They even caught one!
After a delicious lunch the first afternoon, we all boarded Vietnamese fishing boats and rowed out to Dark and Light Bay. After going through an amazing tunnel with high ceilings that my guide assured me were filled with bats, you come out to the most calm and tranquil bay, surrounded by rocky cliffs. It’s the weirdest sensation. Other tourists are all around you in their small fishing boats, but somehow the breathtaking scenery still makes the whole experience seem incredibly calm and spiritual.
The next day we visited Surprising Cave. Don’t you just love the name? I have to say though, my experience there absolutely could be described exactly as that. I was surprised when I faced the 1,000+ slippery stone stairs that I had to walk up to get there. I was surprised by the fact that there were three different chambers to this cave, each bigger than the next. And I was surprised to learn that it actually was a source of fresh water, making the cave a place of refuge for the Vietnamese fishermen and their families during typhoons.
My pictures don’t really do the place justice. Surprising Cave is really incredible, and something you need to see with your own eyes. In fact, all of Ha Long Bay is. If you have a bucket list, I’d add it to it.
What you can expect there: breathtaking views, boat trips, monkey island, and exploring some amazing caves.
What you probably won’t like: the weather (it’s usually cloudy and/or raining, but bring your suit just in case; this is Vietnam after all), strong wifi, being slightly overcharged for everything.
Don’t stay longer than 48 hours in Ha Long Bay. That’s all you really need to get it done.