Ha Long Bay, Our Cruising Experience in Vietnam

Submitted by viravira on 8 December 2014   •  Abroad

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Ha long bay

After failing to cruise the Ha Long Bay in 2009 due to the effect from typhoon, we went back and take that risk again four years later! This time we were blessed with good weather and went on a 3D2N cruise on a junk. We love traveling within Indonesia, but once in a while we need a dose of abroad experience to broaden our experience and simply enjoy the amazing places in the rest of the world.


Sleeping Amongst Ha Long Bay’s Giant Karsts

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Our tour guide Men herded us to hop on one of the many white-painted wooden junks at the port of Ha Long Bay. I was a little bit disappointed because I expected a traditional old-school brown junk. Sadly, Ha Long Bay’s board of management had recently made a new rule, that all junks had to be painted in white except a few dragon heads junks, to create a more ‘international’ image.

The junk crew welcomed us with cold drinks, shortly followed by luscious lunch that was cooked on the junk. Abundant steamed fish, fried seafood and fresh vegetables were served on two tables for all 12 cruise members. (We’ve written about the people here.)

Ha long bay

We had only been on a cruise at Tanjung Puting National Park before, on a much simpler and smaller boat, where passengers were sleeping on the open-aired deck. So we were amazed with this junk that has bedrooms on two of the decks. The lowest deck has bedrooms on both sides facing outward to the sea, the second deck has the kitchen, bar and a few bedrooms, and the top sun deck had sofa and tanning chairs.

The bedrooms were just like any regular hotel rooms, with a comfortable double bed, a private bathroom with hot water shower, and equipped with a hairdryer, which also means you no need to worry about electricy! As I recall, I didn’t feel the slightest shaking of the junk, and I had terrific sleep on both nights. The only thing that reminded that we were in the middle of the sea was the stack of life jackets prepared in the wardrobe.

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Waking up in the morning was even sweeter. I was the earliest of the pack to wake up in the morning. Opening the bedroom door on 6 a.m., I was presented with the marvelous view of super high karst, I’m guessing more than 50 meters high. Only a thin layer of mist between the karst and me. Not able to share the view with anyone who was still in dreamland, I decided to go up the sun deck and capture the beauty on my sketchpad. It was one of the most peaceful and loveliest mornings I’ve ever had.

Tour Activities at Ha Long Bay

* Hiking Ti Top Island & Freezing Cold Swimming

ha long bay

I have no idea why I’m often stuck with hiking. Our friend Vindhya had the tour arranged and I didn’t check what activities were included in the tour. Turned out, the first activity in the first morning was hiking a hill on Ti Top Island, to see the 360 degrees view of Ha Long Bay. Good news is, we were hiking the hill on stairs. Bad news is, it was a 400-step stairs!

We stopped a few times to gasp for air until finally reached the top. As expected, we could see a turnaround view of Ha Long Bay from such height. With many visitors taking turns to take pictures in the best spot, it was hard to get a clear framing of the view. Furthermore, it was cloudy, so we didn’t get a very good shot of the Ha Long Bay view. According to Men, Ha Long Bay is only bright and shiny in the summer, which would start in June, two months after our visit. But no complaints here, because then even more tourists would flock in and the weather would be much hotter. I’m guessing it would be a lot less comfortable.

ha long bay

Anyhow, we then hiked down and followed the group to the beach. Swimming time!! Mumun hurriedly got into the water and I was about to follow when she screamed, “Oh my god, it’s freezing c-c-cold!!”

Paula, a Canadian from our tour, joined Mumun and was swimming casually. It was a normal temperature for her, as she is used to colder water back in the northern hemisphere. I was challenged to do the same!

We tried to keep moving in the water to keep warm, and finally got used to the water temperature, which was perhaps around 20 degrees Celcius. Once we did, it felt so nice and became one of my best swimming-in-the-ocean experiences ever! But you know how a tour goes. Just when we were starting to have fun, we were called to go back to our junk. Boo hoo.

* Exploring Amazing Cave, Hang Sung Sot

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Can you see the penis here?


To get to the cave, we had to hike up stairs on Bo Hon Island. Another hike up?? Yes, but this one’s much lower than the viewpoint hike. When approaching close to the cave entrance, which was just about a door’s width, I had no idea that the inside would be so expansive! This Amazing Cave, that’s also known as Surprise Cave, is said to be about 10,000 m2!

Ha long bay

The inside was like an outer space surface, like on the moon or Mars as I’ve seen on TV and magazines. Stalagmites and stalactites in various sizes were spread out. The tour guides will tell you stories of the rocks with certain shapes, that they used to be some kind of surprised monkey or the head of a dragon. The guides’ favorite story, which usually invite chuckles and giggles from tourists, would be the rock that shaped like a giant penis. A snaking path had been paved from entrance to exit, in between the cave’s formation. Colorful lamps were installed, lighting the stalagmites and stalactites dramatically. I almost expected green aliens would come out of somewhere or come down from the 30-meter high ceiling.

I had not been a big fan of caves but surprisingly, I was totally amazed with this cave. It lived up to the names. All the time I was in the cave, I couldn’t help my mind to wander off and fantasize that I was in another planet or another world. So surreal, yet so beautiful.

* Kayaking

Ha long bay

Yeay, one of my favorite water activities! It’s nice to work out these weak muscles once in a while, moreover with gorgeous Ha Long Bay view. We were taken through tunnels beneath humongous karst, paddle into an inlet and see monkeys hopping from one tree branch to another.

I was paddling the kayak with Mumun. It didn’t take long for us to synchronize the paddling pace, though Mumun sometimes struggled to differentiate between right and left (and she loves driving cars, isn’t it kind of life threatening?!). We definitely beat Vindhya and Acul’s kayak (couldn’t help but getting competitive sometimes), but our ineptness really surfaced when we were stuck when U-turning in a really narrow inlet. Being a good tour guide, Men helped us getting unstuck. After laughing at us, that is.

* Visiting Ha Long Pearl

Ha long bay

No tour is complete without a (window) shopping trip. That applies even to a tour on waters! We were taken to a pearl farm, consisted of wooden constructions, which were the store, gallery, workshop, and “cages” where the oysters were farmed. There I found out that the process of pearl cultivating was quite complex and required high precision performed on the delicate oysters. I don’t remember the pearls’ prices, but I remember they cost a fortune. No wonder, though.

The visit lasted about an hour before we ended the day’s excursion with swimming somewhere quiet. This time, we were given a lot more time than before, to enjoy the calm and fresh cold water of Ha Long Bay, as well as the towering karsts surrounding us endlessly.

 ha long bay

Ha Long Bay iconic rocks, turned out to be small compared to the others.

Notes on our Ha Long Bay tour:

We signed up with Alova Tour.

Tour duration is usually available for 3D2N, 2D1N, 4D3N, or just one whole day.

Electricity is available on the junk. I forgot whether it was 24 hours a day or just the night’s time.

Food is usually served 3 times a day, included in the tour budget, consisted of local and western food, plus tropical fruits. Alcoholic beverages were provided at the bar but it wasn’t not included in our package.

I may have left out some information, so just drop a comment below if you need to know anything on the Ha Long Bay cruise. Or just anything you want to say to us.

To me personally, it was a great relaxing experiencing, and my curiosity on Ha Long Bay cruise was finally answered. I could sleep better at nights from then on.

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