Ha Long Bay - a thousand islands whisper the sound of silence
The real reason why we picked Hanoi was Halong Bay – a beautiful natural wonder near the Chinese border. The Bay is dotted with 1,600 limestone islands and islets. This extraordinary area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. There were a lot of boats that offer one day, two day or three day cruises around the islands. We decided to take two day tour and for the first time sleep on a boat. We paid something extra to be on the higher deck and it was worth it, because we had small private bath and balcony.
It is around 180 km from Hanoi and the ride is 3.5 hours. The tourist agency picks you up from your hotel / AirBnB, which is included in the cost. There’s a myriad of agencies providing various tours, so it eventually comes down to how much you want to spend.
From the moment you climb the boat the adventure starts. The top deck provided the best location to enjoy the view. It’s such a surrealistic scenery that you can’t believe your eyes. Wherever the boats turns new islands appear. All very similar but all so different in their beauty.
Thousands of boats boarding
Worth every penny
Islands, islands everywhere
The city behind us
Getting some tan
There's caves everywhere too
Take the kayaking tour for hidden gems
The highlight of the tour is Sung Sot Cave which is one of the largest and most beautiful caves in Halong Bay. Located in Bo Hon Island, Sung Sot Cave is a place where many rocky islands concentrated having distinct and strange shapes, which cannot find in other ones. You enter the cave at ground level, but exit at the top with a fantastic view of the bay, several islands and all of the docked and incoming boats. Get your Instagram and Facebook photos here, it’s very much worth it.
If you look close you can see how huge the cave is
The colored lights make it even more amazing
Going up for an amazing view
From the cave Ognen and Matej went kayaking while Luka and I joined one of the sailors to buy the ingredients for our supper from a floating platform and than return to the boat. It was almost dark when the whole group came back from kayaking. There were all tired but inspired by the beauty of the hidden gems accessible only by kayak. One of the amazing things they experienced was entering an island via a small cave by kayak only to discover that the entire island is hollow and full of water, like your own personal swimming pool.
Supper was made up of products from the sea. After the kids fall asleep Ognen and I opened a bottle of wine (I remember to buy and bring from Hanoi) and enjoyed the moonlight, the stars, the islands shapes in the distance and the silence all around us. It was magical, and one of the most romantic moments in our lives!
Sunset here is just mesmerizing
The next morning we headed to Ti Top island that has a great observatory at the top of the hill. They tend to take you there at sunrise which is supposed to be really magical, but for unknown reasons we did not do this and went there at a more normal hour. The observatory offers another spectacular view of the bay, and the beach is also amazing, with the water so warm you actually wanted to get out to cool off. Kids loved it.
Ti Top Island
The climb to the top is brutal
But you're greeted to this view
The beach is awesome too!
On ecology and sustainability
Halong Bay is a natural wonder, but with so many humans around it can easily be destroyed. There are an overwhelming number of boats circling the water around the islands, all of them full of tourists.
When I was here some 6 years some 6 years ago, there were entire local villages on boats, with people living off the sea and their houses floating on water. We learned that they were relocated out of the islands.
We saw only one boat family living on the boat, doing fishing.
With so many boats dumping their garbage in to the bay, it’s only a matter of time before they rename it to Dumpster day. The government should do more to protect their golden chicken.
Staff from the our tour boat released their trash into the bay water after midnight, and it was a very sad thing to see.
Be aware that they don’t have a cooling system for the water in the shower, so during the day it is impossible to take a shower without getting burned.
Boat made of concrete. Not kidding.
Things that went wrong
The morning when we were supposed to go to Halong Bay, Luka got a high fever.
It was hard to reschedule the tour so we decided to take all our medicine with us and go. I was hoping some of the group will be a doctor so I can have a second opinion about his state. My wishes came true and we became friends with d-r Maria from Spain and her family. Luka was going from better to worse, but everything turned out fine… until the moment when Luka accidentally pressed Matej’s fingers with the sunbathing chair.
Maria was here for us again and bandaged his fingers. She showed us how to change the bandages in case they are broken. We were fortunate again and the Xray at home didn’t show any broken bones.