One of hollywood’s favorite locations, not just for its stunning natural beauty but also for all the mystery and intrigue associated with its 1900 small islands, numerous caves, very unique wildlife and just that feeling that you can hide here forever.
One good way to explore the bay is to cruise around and that gives you ample time to appreciate the calm waters and the view but also lets you enjoy a sunrise and sunset over the stunning rock formations. There are many cruise ships, big and small and there are several packages. We picked one of the top cruise companies, but a small ship so we could enjoy the quiet of the bay a little more – in hindsight a good choice. Bhaya cruise was one of the highly rated cruise lines and it lived up to its reputation and our boat had just six rooms which meant there was a lot of space for us and the rooftop deck felt more like a private space to lounge around and click pictures. The rooms were quite luxurious with clean bathrooms, lot of space and a balcony. We picked a one night cruise which also was probably just the right duration. Two night cruises are often just one night cruise done twice where you go on a smaller board for the whole day while the main ship reloads.
It was an early morning pickup from our hotel in Hanoi and we had booked a private transport. That turned out to be a luxurious limousine with recliner seating. There a stop about midway at a typical tourist trap place where you walked past a group of workers making statues and crafts. The place went out of the way to sell huge and very expensive sculptures, we of course bought nothing. Once we reached the pier, there was some wait before the boarding in a comfortable waiting area.
The boat was quite traditional with a lot of wood based decor. We were greeted onboard with a snack and a drink as the luggage was brought on and the boat left for the majestic bay. We settled on the rooftop with some cocktails and a view of a lifetime. It was a cloudy day and that probably made it pretty to look but hard to photograph. A little after a delicious lunch in the small restaurant, we were taken the lifeboats to a point where loaded ourselves into kayaks and then rowed through a natural cave in the hills. It was a full straight pass through and quite low in height. It was a fun exercise and quite scenic too. Once back on board the ship, there was tea served and the preparation for dinner started.
Dinner was preceded by a class on making Vietnamese rolls – super fun and the rolls were delicious, even the ones we made. Then came out a prawn cocktail and followed by lamb or chicken for main course.
The boats dock overnight and we chilled out for the most part with an early morning alarm hanging on our heads. The morning agenda was a walk in the Sung Sot cave and our crew told us that it got really crowded so they were going to try be one of the first boats to dock in the morning. In the morning, we weren’t really the first but one of the first and that was a blessing. We could see right behind us a huge crowd of people while we were usually moving around in a very sparse group.
The cave itself is huge and much bigger than I expected. It was a reasonable stair climb before we got to the cave. There was colored lighting bringing out some of the limestone features even more prominently. Its name translates to a cave of surprises and there were a lot of features inside that inspired some fertile imagination and those were the surprises. Overall, it was worth the early wake up. The view of the bay from the mouth of the cave is fascinating and is a shot used in a lot of HaLong Bay marketing material.
Once back from the cave, breakfast was served on the ship as it started to make its way back to the pier. We got our first true glimpse of the sun on the way back. We docked around 11 am and then got back into our car to be dropped off at Hanoi airport for our flight to Danang. A check done for a wonder of the worlds and mind blown!