Ha Long Bay, which is almost 2,000 limestone islands, is a magnificent place.
Although it was a 4 hour bus ride from Hanoi, Vietnam to Hanoi, I met Grace from Melbourne. The time flew by quickly. It was amazing that we got our own rooms on board the boat!
These beautiful, old wooden junk boats look more like a pirate vessel than any words could describe.
1 Images from Ha Long Bay Junk Boat Cruise
Lunch on the Boat
As soon as we boarded, we had lunch! There was plenty of chicken, fish, tofu, and rice. The first day was filled with activities! The first stop was at a tiny floating village, where a small number of people have lived for many years.
Even little kids can take their boats to their tiny floating school. We were able to see one of the floating huts where they caught crabs, oysters, and other fish.
Speed Boat to “The Valley”
Then, we took a smaller Vietnamese speed boat to “The Valley,” an area of islands that is known as the Valley. We floated past many limestone islands, which were ancient and massive.
To reach the lagoon at the island’s center, we had to pass through a tunnel-like natural cave.
After our island tour with a wonderful tour guide, we returned to our Junk Boat and continued sailing until we reached the Sung Sot Grotto.
It is part of the World Heritage Area. We visited it and it was amazing! To highlight their beauty, the caverns were lit with soft lighting and were cold. You could see the entire bay from the top of this cliffside when you emerged from the other side.
We had more to come after the grotto. Grace and I spent about an hour in a kayak exploring the small caves and wonders on the islands.
Dinner at Sunset
We ate dinner just before sunset, and then we sat down to enjoy the view of the bay lit by Junk Boats.
Our final thrill was when we jumped off the second-story of the boat into deep water below.
We were handed fishing poles at 9:30 PM to try our luck at squid fishing. It just so happens that I’m a natural at squid fishing! I was the only person who could catch two squid in one go. Our super tour guide said that catching a squid right before the new moon brings you a month full of luck.
The Next Morning
We woke up at 5 AM to enjoy a beautiful sunrise, a delicious noodle breakfast, and coffee.
I made the most of my last hours aboard, soaking up the sun on the roof deck, and reading until the boat arrived at shore. It was as beautiful as the first time I boarded. I was not ready to leave!
We docked at noon, and I purchased beautiful pearl earrings from street vendors. Although lunch was not planned in time, we were able to get a free beer. We seemed to have packed twice as many people onto the bus ride back to Hanoi than we did on the way to Halong Bay.
We were both dropped off at our respective hotels upon our return to Hanoi. Grace, my new friend, was also there. Grace will soon be moving to LA, so it’s exciting to see her again in the big city.
I had an overnight train that would take me to Sapa at 9 :40 PM so I had plenty of time. While I walked the streets of the Old Quarter, I was able leave my bag at the hotel where I stayed the night before.
I was exhausted, had not brushed my teeth, and my clothes were filthy. Yet, I had to take a ten-hour train from Sapa to get to the city. I took a taxi to the station, and boarded the train at 9:30.
Ha Long Bay
Company: Ha Long Bay has over 500 licensed junkboats. Tours typically start and end in Hanoi. Find a tour operator in Hanoi. Ask the right questions and consult other travelers to make sure you choose the right tour.
Price range: $-$$$$
A helpful tip: No matter which tour you choose, your experience will be the same regardless of whether it is budget, luxury, or mid-range. However, the cost you pay is an indicator of the quality and value of your experience.