Unbelievable limestone islands topped with rainforests scattered amongst hundreds of pillars and caves dotted throughout emerald green waters on the northeast coast of Vietnam – our last stop in this breathtaking country was incredibly beautiful.
We only spent one night in Ha Long Bay as our visa’s were coming to an end, but the one night, and two days either side of it, became one of our favourite memories.
Much like Sa Pa, there were many tours on offer for the gorgeous bay, so many in fact it was hard to choose! We decided to be lazy and just book through the hostel we had crashed at the night we arrived in Hanoi from Sa Pa, Central Backpacker’s Hostel – Hideaway Tours. It cost 1,955,000 Dong ($123NZ) each, including all transport, food, accommodation, two tour guides, and all activities – the only thing extra to buy was drinks. Oh, and the food on this trip was delicious.
A PLACE FOR REST:
The tour group, about 20 of us, stayed on Monkey Island – so many monkeys! There was a resort on the beach which looked lovely, but for the price we paid we got the dorm rooms at the top of the left side of the island – only about 150 stairs up! The beds were pretty average – but that bathroom view! Oh man what a sight!
It might not have been 5 star luxury, but we were happy as we knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in our room anyway. Another bonus about how high up it was meant you were only a few steps away from the top lookout on the island – beautiful.
CRUISING AND KAYAKING THE BAY:
It was a bit of a mission to get to Ha Long. We took a bus to a boat to a bus to finally catch our boat for the next two days. When we arrived the weather was overcast and a little chilly – not so good for photos, but the view was still very welcoming to the eye. The boat led us out into hundreds of silhouetted islands that only locals could navigate their way through.
Once we had dropped our gear at the dorm and had lunch we jumped back on the boat to cruise the bay. Our two tour guides, Tony (local) and Nathan (from the UK), explained that we would stop to jump off the boat into the water after about 10 minutes, when we’d had enough of that we would go kayaking.
The jump from the top of the boat was only about about 3.5m, but the water looked cold! We made a splash anyway and found once you got used to the water it was actually warmer than being out of it.
The kayaking was surreal.
It was incredibly peaceful to paddle around the limestone creations all the while hearing about the lives of the local villagers and the legends of the bay. There are little fishing villages throughout made up of boat houses where families live their whole lives, apparently they get land sick when they go ashore! Such a weird concept.
On our way kayaking back to the boat we stopped at a wee beach where Tony told us the legend of the bay. In ancient Vietnamese, Ha Long literally means “descending dragon”. Tony said that when the country was newly formed, Vietnamese had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North through the sea. He said the people prayed that dragons, their gods, would come and save them. A father dragon, the Jade Emperor, sent his wife, a mother dragon and her children to earth to help defend the country.
While the enemies were attacking the main land, the three dragons suddenly appeared and incinerated them with their divine fire and giant emeralds.
The emeralds from the dragons’ mouths were scattered around the sea and formed an invincible defensive wall that was somewhat of a maze to intruders. Thanks to the dragons, the Northern invaders were finally swept away and the peace was restored. After thousands of years, the wall of emerald turned into the islands, islets and pillars that make up Ha Long Bay today. What a story!
After that legendary tale we headed back to our shack for the night and were greeted with free drinks and a buffet dinner. Sweet end to the day.
MONKEYS AND ROCK CLIMBING:
The next morning the weather had cleared and we had a beautiful day ahead of us. We started the morning with a 20 minute hike across Monkey Island to Monkey Beach, which was full of, you guessed it! Monkeys. What a cool little spot this was to watch these cheeky animals, we all started singing “I wanna be like you” from The Jungle Book – such fun.
After hanging out here for a bit we had the option to do a bit of free climbing, no ropes or harnesses, up the rocks to the highest point of the island. This was the last activity before we headed back to Hanoi.
We aren’t ones to pass on adventure. Oh man that view!
Well worth the climb. I must say though, the rocks are sharp at points and you need to have good shoes – I managed to slip and get a blood blister on my hand from holding myself up so I didn’t bang my head! I’d do it again.
Check out our short video of our time in Ha Long Bay:
We loved Ha Long Bay, it was incredible. This was our last stop in Vietnam, a country we couldn’t get enough of! I have a feeling we will be back. Our next stop is Laos! Check in soon to read all about it.