Halong Bay is not unfamiliar for most people and many rushed there for the scenic view. This Unseco site consisting of 1,600 islands and islets. The word Ha Long means descending dragon. The “long” mean “dragon” sound similar to Chinese pronunciation.
It took 3.5 hours on the road to reach Halong Bay from Hanoi. Once we were away from Hanoi city, the traffic get a lot smoother. The distance is less than 200 km, about 165 km. We booked our one day tour to Halong Bay from Klook online before departing to Hanoi. The guide picked us up at the lobby of our hotel at around 8.00 to 8.30 am. The total number of the tour members in our group is about 20 members in a mini van, quite comfortable.
Upon arrival at the Tuan Chau Marina Pier, we were told our cruise will be delayed for 45 mins due to over booking. It is kind of scary when you arrived at the marina, you see troops of tourist flooding the whole marina. Our lunch at the cruise was delayed since our cruise will only be ready at 1.45 pm, suppose to board on the cruise at 1 .00 pm for lunch. However we were being compensated with light snacks at the cafe at marina.
At around 1.45 pm, we hopped into the cruise and have our seafood lunch. The meal include, cucumber salad, shrimps, squid, fish (not in the picture), fried pork, deep fried stuff in crab shell – not crab, stir fried vegetables and fruits and a 1 free drinks -soft drinks or beer. The seafood lunch was serving hot, portion was not too big but just right for us.
The cruise we were in is called Phoenix Cruiser, total member in the cruise is less than 20. All members were coming from the same group in the mini van. These groups of people are coming from all over the world: Korea, Malaysia, USA, Denmark, Poland and Singapore. These day I don’t find any tourists from Japan but more from Korea.
Most of the islands in Halong Bay are limestone. This limestone has been forming for over 500 million years. The two iconic big limestone representing two chicken fighting with each other -> Fighting Cock Island. Go spot this one as it is the symbol of Halong Bay. Some see this is as the romantic natural landscape, the couple heads their beaks toward each other like being flirting and kissing.
The water is emerald green, not sure it is clean or not. I can’t see through but then there aren’t any rubbish or plastic floating in the water.
There are plenty of things you could do at Halong Bay. My tour is only a day and my package has including a sampan boat ride or kayaking. You could do either one. Sampan boat ride is more relax, you just sit there and there is a lady who will do all the paddling for the one hour sampan ride. If you choose to do kayaking, please wear slippers and get an extra set of clothing as you may get wet.
We were not very adventurous so we choose a sampan ride. The lady at the back of the sampan did all the work. She can even paddle with her feet while she eats or shooting pictures for us!
It was low tide when we were on our sampan ride at around 3 pm plus. You can see it from the side of the rocks on the limestone islet.
Weather changes so always wear layers so you can take off the layer when the weather is warm in the afternoon. The weather changes to cool and some light rains so always be prepare and bring along a poncho.
The lady in the sampan also sing some Vietnamese songs to entertain us but they are not a great singer compare to the sampan lady in Guilin, who are so good at singing “mountain songs” or (Shan ge). However I do admire these sampan lady as they are diligent and constantly pick up the trash if any from the river.
Can you spot a cat and its long tail in the limestone, refer to below picture.
Less than half of the islands have been named. Many of the names come from the shape of the islands themselves, such as Mai Nha Island (roof) and Voi Island (elephant).
You are not obliged to give tips but if you like the sampan lady service, you can always giving her some token. About 20,000 to 50,000 dong, (USD 1-2)
Thien Cung Cave Exploring
Dong Thien Cong is one of the spectacular cave in Halong Bay. The cruise stopped at the harbor and we walked up the cave, a little bit climbing with nice stairs path. In the cave you see nice stalactites and stalagmites form in different shapes, you can use your imagination to spot shapes resemble animals or other things. When I was there I didn’t see there are colorful lights used, which I would prefer. In Guilin or Yunnan cave, you see the caves are decorated with colorful lights which is unnatural I feel. Some people may like the colorful lighting.
Final thoughts :
The Halong Bay looks very similar to my recent trip in Guilin, the surrounding scenery and the boat ride through cave.
Crowds of tourists are quite intimidating especially you see troops of Chinese tourists from mainlands marching towards to marina.
Weather in Mar was terrific, about 21-28′ C. Do bring a hat, sunscreen, poncho, layer of jackets, medication and some insect spray. My body was attacked by bugs, very itchy! Not really sure where the bugs were from, probably from the sampan ride!
Medication : During my trip to Hanoi, one of our tour member who is from Denmark got food poisoning! He was feeling unwell and vomiting throughout the whole trip. Luckily I brought along some charcoal tablets, so I gave him and his vomiting did stop. Anyway, his trip was ruined as he was unfit to go to the sampan boat ride and could not enjoy the seafood meal at the cruise. If you have weak stomach, do not eat the fresh/raw vegetable served. Many of Vietnamese cuisine serve raw vegetable as the topping.
Rest Area : There are about one stop/ a mini break of half an hour during the Hanoi – Halong Bay road trip. The bus will stop at the designated rest area with clean toilets, more like a souvenir stores/tourist traps for tourists to get coffee and snacks, clean toilets are also available. Things sold are not cheap, similar and some higher than Singapore dollar or USD.
Phoenix Cruiser Halong Bay Tour include :
- Bus transfer pick up from Hotel in Old Quarter 8.00 am in Hanoi to Halong Bay (3.5hr) in mini bus for about 20 pax with comfortable seats & air condition.
- Seafood Lunch at Phoenix Cruiser (1 hr)
- choice of Sampan Ride or Kayaking ( 1 hr)
- Thien Cung Cave Exploring (1 hr) with tour guide
- Stopover at Souvenirs shop for mini break in the midway to Halong Bay (0.5 hr)
Want to know Guilin limestone cave? Click here :
- China : Bamboo rafting in Yangshou /Li River