How To Set Sail On Amazing HaLong Bay

How To Set Sail On Amazing HaLong Bay

Sleeping on a junk boat in the vastness of HaLong Bay is a memorable moment that can last up to 3 days.

Discover floating villages, have fun kayaking, explore caves or just chill on beaches.

It’s your choice what you do on this UNESCO Heritage Site. It all depends on how much time you have and how much you can spend.

 

wooden ferry boat halong bay vietnam
Ferry Boat Ha Long Bay Photo: Urban Pax

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After researching a great deal, we chose to go with Paloma Cruise for 2 days/1night. They have small boats and offered what we wanted: kayaking, good food and a chance to explore the floating village.

If I had known I would have maybe splurged for 3 days.

It’s a 4-hour drive from Hanoi and most companies will make arrangements for your transfer, if not you can hire a driver via your hotel.

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wood boat on halong bay vietnam
Ferry Ha Long Bay Vietnam Photo: Urban Pax

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Once at the port, we all crowded into the air-conditioned ticket office before walking to the ferry boat. On the way, I started to have second thoughts, wondering if cruising Ha Long Bay was a good idea considering the rain.

We were warned about the weather and that cruises cancel last minute due to heavy rainstorms in July.

Second thoughts.

What also threw me off a bit was the view of the bay, I don’t know why I thought it would be immediately beautiful but I had images of everlasting peace and quiet!

Instead, I was looking at way too many boats of all sizes and construction sites here and there. Nothing visually relaxing.

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port of halong bay vietnam
Ha Long Port.Photo: urbanpax

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But too late now. I was on the ferry and my kids were smiling so no turning back.

As the ferry moved away from the port my doubts started to fade.

The small Paloma junk boat was actually just beautiful. Varnished wood on the inside and a large triple cabin with an incredible terrace from which we had breathtaking views.

And by the time the Paloma set sail away from civilization my doubts had vanished.

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white junk boat on halong bay
Junk Boat Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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view from boat ha long bay
photo: urbanpax.

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girl on lounge chair boat halong bay
Chillin on Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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view from boat halong bay
View Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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The first impressions were of non-stop amazement.

Limestone karsts in all shapes and sizes seemed to come right out of the bay in a poetic manner, full of grace and elegance.

I was now IN the peace and quiet that I had imagined.

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limestone rock ha long bay vietnam
Ha Long Bay. Photo:urbanpax.

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rock formation halong bay vietnam
Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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The rain gave a magical feel to our day as we weaved in slow motion through secret corners until we reached the floating fishing village of Vung Vieng.

Around 5000 families used to live on the bay, but with rising tourism and the degradation of some parts of the bay, there are only a few left today.

Today the bright colored houses are used for fishing purposes and stay afloat with a system of large buoys tied together.

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FLOATING VILLAGE

several floating homes on halong bay
Floating Houses Ha Long Bay. Photo:urbanpax.

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Floating Fishing Village. Photo: urbanpax.

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ha long bay peach house on water
Foating Homes Photo: urbanpax.

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ha long bay wood boat docked
Wooden Boat. Photo: urbanpax.

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We docked at Vung Vieng fishing village in Bai Tu Long Bay and one of the local women guided us on a small rowboat where we could see the magic of nature even closer.

The limestone was even more impressive in size and the peace experienced as we glided on calm waters was exceptional.

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two small rowboats in front of a large rock ha long bay
Vung Vieng Fishing Village. Photo: urbanpax.

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ha long bay a large rock bridge with small canoe vietnam
Photo: urbanpax.

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ha long bay rowboat vietnam
Walls of limestone. Photo: urbanpax.

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view of rock formation and small house halong bay
Paddling Ha Long Bay Photo: urbnapax.

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Aside from fishing, the villagers also cultivate pearls. We stopped to learn about these pearl farms and admire the beautiful jewelry they showcase in order to make a living.

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ha long bay fishing port
Pearl culture shops. Photo: urbanpax

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TRY A KAYAK

When the rain let up a bit we opted for swimming and kayaks. But what a surprise when instead of the traditional kayak we saw what looked like transparent tubs! Ahhh not sure I want to go anymore! But in the end, one of my daughters convinced me to try and I had a blast.

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kayak on ha long towards cave
Kayak Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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girl in water at ha long bay vietnam
Swimming Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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kayaks on halong bay
Ha Long Kayak. Photo: urbanpax

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EXPLORE A CAVE

 ha long bay rock in shape of a whale
View from Thien Canh Son. Photo Urban Pax

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We went from surprise to surprise and the next one was Thien Canh Cave which required a steep 100 step climb to the top through luscious vegetation.

A bit strenuous in the heat and humidity, but what an incredible view in spite of the light rain.

The inside of the cave is well lit.  It has plenty of room to explore and not many people. The entrance, however, is narrow and slippery.

Inside the cave,  intricate limestone formations, stalactites, stalagmites and columns in all shapes and lengths line the walls and ceiling –  when you enter this secret fairyland, your imagination will go full force.

Have fun looking for carved flowers, baby elephants formed within the rocks. Now look up and enjoy the canopy of sparkling stars due to the lighting – pretty amazing.

 

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rock formation in shape of a whale halong bay
View from Thien Canh Son. Photo Urban Pax

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What a day! Well worth the effort. Our reward was a delicious dinner and very comfortable beds. The waters on Halong Bay are so calm that the boat barely rocks, so seasickness isn’t a problem.

Actually, the only problem for me was waking up super early to see the morning light change colors!

 

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light changing on ha long bay
Morning Ha Long Bay. Photo Urban Pax

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STORM OR NO STORM?

After a well deserved night’s rest, we woke up to a delicious breakfast and a major storm. The rain that threatened on and off for the past 24 hours was now full-blown.

The boat rocked so much we had to hold on to something stable permanently attached and the visibility was almost zero. For the next couple of hours, we kept wondering if the captain had any experience in such situations.

Stupid question of course.

At one point I asked one of the guys about the storm. He told me it’s common in the summer, that they cancel cruises in this type of weather, but not to worry as it doesn’t last long.

Really? How can all this rain just go away?

Maybe we should do a sunshine dance.

But he was right, a few hours later the boat stopped rocking, the rain stopped pouring down and we were back out on the deck parallel to the bay.

Everything was soaked and the yellow grayish color in the air gave off a mysterious feel – this was the only proof of the storm.

 

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halong bay formation limestone
Limestone Formations Ha Long. Photo: urbanpax.

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girl admiring the view halong vietnam
Admiring Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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As we slowly made our way back through the islet maze we relaxed and observed the local boat life.

Scenes of small rowboats carrying produce, colorful boats lined up, makeshift houseboats with people sleeping and cooking, and the familiar rock formations the whole way, wrapped in its luxurious vegetation.

We wished we could have continued on another day.

Ha Long Bay is like a suspended moment in time where you just take it all in and let it fill you up.

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large net view ha long
Boat view of Halong Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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halong bay colored boats lined up
Colored Boats Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax

vendor canoe ha long bay
Solitary Boat Ha Long Bay. Photo: urbanpax.

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boat in halong bay
Photo: urbanpax

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LEGEND OF HALONG BAY

halong bay with small boat far off

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Ha means descending and Long means dragon.  Ha Long like so many other places in Vietnam has its own legend known around the country

When Vietnam began its development, it had to protect itself from violent outsiders. The gods sent a mother dragon and her children dragon to help fight invaders.

The dragons began spitting fire at enemy ships, but they also spit out jade and jewels which were transformed into limestone islets around the bay forming a strong barrier. Invaders could not pass.

They won the battle and they decided to make the peaceful bay their home.

The mother dragon descended to Ha Long Bay and the baby dragon to Bai Tu Long Bay, just northeast of Ha Long Bay.

On the more scientific side of things, it’s taken 20 million years under tropical conditions for the karst islets to evolve into what we see today.

Legend or science, I think both are pretty impressive.

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halong bay limestone rock

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TIPS for a better Cruise on HaLong Bay

  • There are numerous agencies selling Ha Long Bay Cruises and the options are at times overwhelming. Prices range from cheap to extremely expensive and are often related to the size of the boat, its safety, and its service.
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  • Choosing a smaller boat is a better experience, but more expensive.
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  • Determine your budget and book the best within your means. This could make the difference between being part of large crowds or relaxing in a quiet and amazing area like Bai Tu Long Bay.
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  • You can book your trip online or wait until you are in Hanoi by going to a reputable agency or asking your hotel. However you should have an idea of what you want, or you might get talked into a scam.
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  • Some people extremely short on time make it a day trip. Try to avoid doing option. Considering the amount of time it takes just to get there and back, how much time do you think you’ll have left to enjoy? The box will get ticked, but that’s about it.

 

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man living in boat ha long bay
Houseboat Ha Long. Photo: urbanpax.

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woman in rowboat on ha long bay vietnam
Fishing Village. Photo: urbanpax.

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Sail. Together.