Had I died and gone to heaven? No, I had just awoken from a quick nap to find myself lying on a plush king sized bed looking out of my big bay window while on my long awaited luxury cruise in the middle of Halong Bay. This was HEAVEN!!!
Halong Bay is arguably the world’s most beautiful spot. An archipelago composed of hundreds of uniquely shaped limestone islands spread randomly across this calm beautiful bay in northeast Vietnam. People actually come to Vietnam just to experience this bay.
These towering wonders of nature compromise Vietnam’s number one tourism hub. Designated a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1994 it is a vision of ethereal beauty rarely surpassed anywhere else on the planet.
The islands are visited by tourists using a wide variety of local boats—ranging from kayaks, junks and cruise ships. From the super luxury 4-day cruises to the least expensive $20 one-day cruises.
Typically tourists take a four hour bus ride from Hanoi to the main port city of Bai Chay. Here they will either rent a hotel room or join a boat cruise—often prearranged in Hanoi. If not pre-booked on a cruise-visitors will check into a hotel or hostel and then venture on to a boat cruise of their choice.
Long ago I had decided to make my first trip to Halong Bay an extra special one by foregoing my normal budget travel habits and indulging in a luxury overnight cruise on this magical bay. I booked my luxury tour while in Hanoi. We arrived by the tour bus at the harbor around noon and had boarded our spectacular cruise ship by 1:00 pm. Joyously, we were upgraded by our super staff, to their best luxury suite as it happened to be unbooked for this particular cruise and they wanted us to experience the very best. So lucky us, we now would have this incredible suite, which meant that we had two beds, a balcony, a much larger beautiful room and a fantastic bathroom. Cruising on this amazing bay in this incredible room was almost too good to be true.
Soon we were visiting a floating fishing village where people actually lived their daily lives. Our next interesting stop was a pearl farm where oysters are seeded with pearls. Then on to take in the view from Ti Top Island.
That night’s ship board dinner was the most delicious food I’ve had in Vietnam. Every thing was so special and romantic. The next morning, we arose early for a 6 am tai chi class before eating a quick light breakfast. Next, we were off kayaking on our way to visit a famous large beautiful cave. Then sadly back to our boat for our last ship board meal—a big wonderful breakfast.
We had disembarked our fantasy ship with our luxury suite by 11am—seriously wishing we had booked the 3-day cruise instead of the 2-day one.
The Bay’s best view.
Ti Top Island is known as one of the bay’s highest peaks and best views. The bay’s number one attraction. The climb to the top is 426 steps. The biggest problem with Ti Top Island is that this is where all the cruise boats bring their customers for what they think is the highest peak in the bay. So unfortunately, it is usually a long hot crowded climb up and down the mountain while going to the top—particularly hot and crowded in the afternoon.
But I have a special secret for you.
Poem Mountain or as the locals call it Nui Bai Tho, is really the highest peak in Ha Long Bay. While not real easy to find, for the adventuresome it’s well worth the extra trouble. This is definitely the place for you to take the greatest pictures of the bay. Here’s the way to get there:
Drive for about 20 minutes heading east over the big bridge away from the main city of Bai Chai. Look for a car repair shop on Le Thanh Ton street. On the left side of the shop is a small pathway which leads up to a small gate and then stairs going up the mountain. Someone may ask you for about 100,000 VND which is the only charge.
Then carefully hike to the top for a special mind boggling view of Halong Bay. A view that will definitely not disappoint and one you are going to really love.
This hike can be a little challenging and not for elderly or out of shape.
Halong Bay on a budget
If you want to see all that Halong Bay has to offer without splurging, no worries, just visit Halong Bay from Cat Ba Island.
Book the $10 bus from Hanoi for the four-hour bus/boat trip to Cat Ba Island. Once on the island you will have a choice of several decent hostels in the $5-$9 range. After you check in look around for a bay tour to book for the next day then explore the island or go to one of the cute three beaches.
Diner is cheap at several decent places and the night life here can be fun.
The next morning around 8 or 9 am you start a full-days cruise visiting all of Halong Bay including lunch for only $25. Three full days of Halong bay including the bay tour and time spent sunning on a local beach, including transportation to and from Hanoi, should only cost around $60 per person—a backpackers special for sure.
Halong Bay has something for everyone and never disappoints. It is just calling out to you to visit—NOW!.
What are you waiting for? Vietnam is beckoning. You just need to visit your travel agent or go on line and book your trip now.
And after you’ve finished that go on line to Evisa-Vietnam.com and book your Vietnamese visa on arrival. The easiest visa you’ve ever booked.