Halong Bay, Vietnam

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

Ever since the beginning stages of planning this trip I have gazed upon photos of Halong Bay with longing eyes, my heart desperately desiring to travel there. The turquoise bay scattered with tropical jungle topped limestone islets is just so iconic and I was so over the moon that we would get to see it for ourselves! After the build-up and then slight disappointment in Sapa I had lowered all of my expectations for Halong. I told myself it didn’t matter if it was cloudy and mist would just add to the atmosphere of mystery. But wow oh wow, Halong Bay exceeded my greatest hopes and was honestly an absolute dream come true.

We arrived after THE most horrendous transport experience of all my travels: a 10 hour overnight bus including a near death experience involving a winding mountain pass and overtaking on a blind corner to miss a head-on collision with a truck by a matter of millimeters. The only foreigners on the bus being shoved right in the back in a dark hole while plenty of nice seats up front were unoccupied was fun too. Basically it was really stressful and highly terrifying. Vietnam overland transport is not for sissies!!!

We were exhausted after arriving at 3AM and so took a slow morning. In the afternoon we took a taxi from our hotel to the Bai Tho islet. This islet is attached to the mainland but is classified as the tallest islet of 1969 islets in Halong Bay. I’d read about a hike one can do up to the top, providing panoramic views of the bay. Without a local pointing out the narrow gap in the wall where you enter to find the trail, I’m not too sure how you’d find it. Needless to say it’s a bit of a hidden gem in otherwise rather touristy Halong. We walked for about half an hour through the tropical jungle, up, up, up to the top of the hill. Coming out on top, the view took my breath away (yes, I was a bit out of breath already from the climb! But we’re speaking figuratively here.) We looked out upon the mysterious and haunting lime stone islets that were scattered decoratively across the ocean vista before us. We sat there in silence for a while just taking it all in. WOW WOW WOW.

The next day we had booked a full day boat tour through the UNESCO world heritage site of Halong Bay. After being picked up and transported to the Marina, we boarded our boat: Huy Loc 6407. Our very fun and friendly tour guide, Quy, briefed us on the activities for the day and we set sail into the bay.

We cruised through the Gulf of Tonkin, the living legend of the dragon that descended into the sea, each islet a jewel that fell from its mouth. We seemed to have chosen a perfect time of year to visit. Winter is much less crowded and we’d gotten lucky with the clear weather. By lunch time the sun was shining and we saw blue skies for the first time in over a week!
Of the countless islets there are ones shaped like dogs, cats, fish and kissing chickens! We sailed smoothly past all of these and arrived at our first stop: the surprise cave. This islet contains the largest cave of Halong Bay and reminded me so much of the cango caves in Oudtschoorn, South Africa with all of its stalactites and stalagmites.

After exploring the inside of the cave we got back on the boat and were treated to a delicious and abundant spread of springrolls, prawns, fish, chicken, tofu, veggies and rice. All so flavoursome and plentiful.

After lunch we were taken to Luon Cave where we got onto bamboo boats and were rowed inside the cave which opened out onto a beautiful lagoon. The green water was lined naughty monkeys providing much entertainment. It was incredibly beautiful being out on the water in such serene conditions.

After a little while longer on our big boat we arrived at Ti Top island. Here we joined the hundreds of other tourists climbing up the steep steps to the view-point on top of the islet. Magnificently stunning but unfortunately a bit too crowded to enjoy for a nice amount of time. This was THE Halong Bay view though, the postcard shot. So I got my snap and headed back down to the beach.

The sun was out and it had turned out to be a really lovely day, despite the chilly start. I walked around with my feet in the water while Nic became famous among the Chinese tourists for a selfie with the token Westerner. I was keen to swim but I thought the only Westerner on the beach in a bikini in the middle of winter would just be too much of a spectacle for anyone to handle. So I decided against it.

We took a slow and gentle cruise back to the Marina. It was so quiet and so peaceful. I absolutely adored our time in Halong Bay and will cherish the memories for a loooong time. Definitely the highlight of our trip so far for me!

Next stop: Hoi An.

2 thoughts on “Halong Bay, Vietnam

  1. Hi Olivia

    I am so enjoying reading your blog .. I was there myself in halong Bay about 5 years ago … one of the best holidays of my life!

    Are you going to Hoi Ann? That was my favourite out of everywhere we visited! I bought every colour lantern and count the days until I can go back.

    See you back in Cape Town but until then please look after yourself xx

    Pauline (your mums walking friend) xx

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement Pauline! I adore writing about our adventures and I’m so glad you enjoy reading about them! We went to Hoi An and absolutely loved it! Definitely my ultimate highlight of Vietnam. So many beautiful lanterns creating the most magical scene. We also loved exploring the surrounding rice paddies on our bicycles. Much love xxx

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