halong bay: “rock wonder in the sky.”
July 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
Upon my return from Southeast Asia, the one question I’ve been asked the most has undoubtedly been: “what was your favorite part?” So as my first official post, I’m going to answer this question for all of you!
An impossible one to truly answer, I have chosen to go with the four-day boat cruise/island stay in Halong Bay, Vietnam. Everyone I have given this answer has been rather surprised, expecting me to go with more obvious answers like Thailand or Bali. My reasoning: it was the one country I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and the one that blew me away the most. Granted I only visited a small corner of the country, but what I saw + experienced were mesmerizing.
For those of you who haven’t been to Vietnam, I recommend it wholeheartedly. I could quite literally write an entire post about why, but hopefully my pictures will do the talking.
So a breakdown of Halong Bay:
It’s located in the Quàng Ninh province in northern Vietnam and is roughly a four-hour drive east from Hanoi (the capital). It contains approximately 1,969 limestone islands with varying shapes + sizes and are mostly undisturbed by human presence as a large majority of them are uninhabitable. The area is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And now a compilation of a few of my pictures that hopefully + properly exemplify how breathtaking this part of the country is.
In Hanoi, my friend + I stayed at the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel which offered their own Halong Bay tour, which we were very quick to sign up for (details and pictures from Hanoi deserve its own post – so stay tuned!). They offer a 2 day/1 night tour + a 3 day/2 night tour – my friend and I obviously went with the longer trip! Besides organizing their own tours, they have their own wooden junk boat called the Jolly Roger. Unfortunately when we were there it was under repair – so instead we set sail on this boat above, the Calypso Cruiser, which was still unreal. The smaller boat in the picture was the one that transported us from the port to the Calypso Cruiser.
Once the entire 35-person group boarded the junk boat, we set sail! Since the journey from the port in Halong City to the first group of islands was 3 hours long, we all had lunch and got settled into our rooms. Afterwards, we went swimming. A few of us were brave enough to take the 30-meter jump off the boat – and the photo above was the view off the jumping deck. No big deal.
During certain moments like this one, as much as I wanted to socialize and get to know the other backpackers on the cruise, I couldn’t help but just stare out and try to take it all in. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one completely mesmerized by this place and off alone snapping pictures!
In varying regions around Halong Bay, there are a number of floating villages that are sustained through fishing and the local marine aquaculture. It’s not uncommon for smaller boats such as this one to paddle up to larger wooden junk boats and try to sell the tourists + backpackers an assortment of food + drinks. While we were swimming, one lady parked her boat beside ours for what seemed like a few hours and wouldn’t leave on the hope that she could make a few dollars. It’s very sad – this is how some Vietnamese make a living.
This is as much of a close-up I could get of the limestone detail on one of the islands.
Of all the rock islands I saw, this one was the most unbelievable – from a view of the surface, it defies gravity!
Bob Marley’s “Legend” album was playing at this very moment when all of us were mid-afternoon-lounging on the upper deck. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
After swimming, the Calypso Cruiser stayed parked as we went kayaking around a few islands and through a number of caves + lagoons. Unfortunately my underwater camera failed me and none of my pictures turned out from that excursion, but the most amazing part of it was catching the sunset as we kayaked back to the junk boat – words can’t accurately describe how breathtaking it truly was.
After a night on the boat with an “all-hour happy hour” bar, all of us, let’s say, enjoyed ourselves - and the next morning when the tour guides woke us up aggressively early, we were all obviously in the best of shape.
After breakfast, a smaller transport boat parked beside the Calypso Cruiser to bring all of us who had paid for the 3 day/2 night tour to Castaway island (that, by the way, is exclusive to Hanoi Backpackers Hostel!). When the transport boat arrived, as well as picking up our group, it was also dropping off everyone who had spent the previous night on the island to bring them, and those in our group who had only paid for the 2 day/1 night tour back to Halong City to return to Hanoi.
HBH sends out tour groups everyday so there is always a constant rotation of groups leaving Hanoi, departing the Calypso Cruise and heading for the island in Lan Ha Bay.
Calypso Cruiser heading back for Halong City.
One of our two tour guides – these guys have the best jobs!
The island is BEAUTIFUL!
The hut on the right of this picture was the main area complete with a bar that sold $0.50 cans of Halida (Vietnamese beer) + $1.00 Vodka Redbulls, Rum + Cokes, and an assortment of other drinks. Further down, the beach was lined with our huts where we slept.
Everyone that day did their own thing – explored the island, relaxed on the beach, played beach volleyball, and got in a few games of beersbee among other things while the sound system (yes there was one!) blasted the music of our choice – maybe the furthest from reality I’ve ever been.
View looking west from the beach volleyball court.
One of the tour guides told us that there was an ATM machine that had been built into these rocks. Some people actually fell for it.
The view from our hut.
Small groups of us got to try our hand at wakeboarding – luckily I wasn’t the only one who had never been before – but I managed to get up! Definitely not a bad place to learn either. Others were given the option to go rock climbing.
Another amazing sunset – and this time successfully caught on camera. After dinner, the last thing of the day was to go swimming in the luminescent water – no word of a lie, there is what I think is called ‘bioluminescent plankton’ in the water that makes it glow! I so wish I could have taken a picture of it – it was so cool!
And that is the briefest way to sum up my experience in Halong Bay. Oh, also, our tour guides gave all of us the option to pay a little extra to stay another night – my friend and I were the only ones who did, and that was probably the best decision we made on our entire trip. Everyone else in our group had to wake up at 7:30AM to board the transport boat while we got to sleep in, have the island to ourselves for the morning (which was met with a surprise consisting of a Vietnamese film crew who wanted to shoot a promotion for Halong Bay, so my friend, a rockstar wakeboarder, got filmed!), meet an entirely new group of people and thus have another amazing day + night on Castaway island!
Convinced? Check out HBH’s Halong Bay Tours website for a full itinerary and more details.
All photos © Eyes/Ears/Mouth+Lens