My desire to visit Vietnam was ignited the first time I glimpsed a photograph of Halong Bay. It countered the image of Vietnam I had conjured in my head; the one where chaotic streets are overcrowded with motorbikes and stifled with pollution. The picture of Halong Bay showed a different scene entirely – one of tree-covered karst mountains rising from an azure sea. I was intent on traveling to Vietnam just to see Halong Bay with my own eyes. I didn’t know it then, but my expectations would be surpassed when we actually experienced the UNESCO World Heritage site on a 2-night Halong Bay cruise.
Cruising Halong Bay, Vietnam: Tai Chi
On our second morning of cruising Halong Bay, Vietnam, we woke up slightly bleary-eyed and with unsettled stomachs (aka hangovers), but refused to succumb to the self-inflicted pain. Instead, I joined a small group on the rooftop deck at 6:30am for a lesson in Tai Chi. Thankful for the clouds hiding the sun and the cool, morning breeze, I followed the moves of the instructor and stretched my way out of my haziness.
Cruising Halong Bay, Vietnam: Amazing Cave
After a quick breakfast of Pho (they eat it for every meal here in Vietnam!) we tendered to Amazing Cave, which was, in fact, amazing. The limestone karsts often contain caves as rain and sea water have left their mark over the past couple million years, but this is one of the largest. Stairs and paths led us through three connected caves, each one bigger than the previous.
Soft morning light was filtering through the window of our cabin and I quickly rubbed the sleep from my eyes as I remembered where I was: on a junk boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam. It was the second day of our 3-day Halong Bay cruise and we would be spending the day exploring Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It was only a little past six, but I tossed on clothes, grabbed my camera and dashed up to the rooftop deck. The boat engines hadn’t yet started and a stillness of the early morning was only broken by a flock of birds soaring across the bay.
It was the karst limestone rocks protruding from Halong Bay that ignited by desire to visit Vietnam. I don’t remember the first time I saw a picture, but at some point, I had decided that I wanted to see Halong Bay with with own eyes. Not only did I want to see it, I wanted to go on a Halong Bay cruise.
Halong Bay cruise: Choosing a boat
We waited until we arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam to make plans for a Halong Bay cruise and took advice from our hotel staff. The tour options seemed endless. There are 500 junk boats (traditional Oriental-style boats) that set sail daily toting tourists out to the UNESCO World Heritage site. The options range from budget day tours to luxury three-day Halong Bay cruises.