When we think of Vietnam, many of us will think of this place:
The beautiful, World Heritage Site, Halong Bay. A quick google of Vietnam will bring up a tonne of images of the beautiful, naturally formed limestone pillars and islands, nestled in the Gulf of Tonkin; a few hours east of Hanoi. Hailed as the ‘must see’ place in Vietnam, and quite rightly so, it attracts millions of tourists every year.
Alongside the images on google, you will find a plethora of advertisements for three day trips around the bay on traditional, Vietnamese junk boats. There are blogs reviewing their wonderful three day trip and how you must spend a ‘good few days’ there if you want to see everything. But, what if you’re short on time? What if, like us, you only have a limited number of days to see Vietnam and you don’t wish to spend three of them on a boat? I spent a long time before leaving for our trip, reading blogs and speaking to friends and companions who had visited this natural beauty and we concluded that we should see Halong Bay in just. one. day. This is our account of how we spent the day and why actually, we think it’s actually not a too bad idea!
One of the people that I listened to whilst planning was my best friend, Jenna. The straight talking, scouse beauty had visited Halong Bay the summer before as part of a G-adventures tour and spent two nights on a junk boat. Her review went a little like this, ‘Halong Bay is so beautiful and you have to see it, but after a while it starts to all look pretty much the same…’
So,combining this review from Jenna with an awareness of our shortage of time in Vietnam, I started to look up ways to see Halong Bay in a single day trip. The most popular option, and most suitable for our needs was to book a day trip from Hanoi. We looked a lot on trip advisor and other travel booking sights but decided to actually book our trip when we arrived in Vietnam (this is definitely doable organised people! It gives you more flexibility and works out a little cheaper). Hanoi is saturated with travel agencies looking to give you an excellent deal and quality service. This would be a journey of 4 hours each way, which some people may find quite lengthy, but as it departed early and returned late, still left us with a lot of time to spend in the bay. We paid a little extra, the equivalent of a few £’s to go on a smaller coach with less people which meant we had a little more room. The coach picked us up and dropped us off near our hotel and it was air conditioned and comfortable.
Leaving at 7.30am, we departed for Halong, stopping a couple of hours later at a rest stop where we could grab a drink, before continuing on our journey. Due to bad weather, all trips to the bay for the previous 5 days had been cancelled so I now feel very lucky that we were able to achieve this trip (although at the time I was battling a bit of travellers tummy so I wasn’t feeling particularly lucky about being on a coach at 7.30am!) After arriving at Halong Bay we were quickly ushered onto one of the traditional junk boats and given some of the usual Vietnamese food, a mixture of rice, salad, potatoes and different curries and stir fries followed by fruit (and a few flies on the side of course…) Our boat then took sail on a route around the bay. The bay is breathtaking and no words can possibly describe it. I can try to explain via pictures, but even these do not do justice to the awe and wonder than you feel whilst sailing through these emerald waters, surrounded by the thousands of magnificent islands.
Our boat stopped for us to get off and kayak through the some of the smaller caves, however due to the greater than usual number of tourists, we weren’t able to kayak but could go on a small boat. Here, we realised that we were probably better off in the boat, as many of the kayaks were having a bit of a struggle going through some of the caves! We were also fortunate enough to meet the wonderful artist, Leonard, who was solo travelling, His art work was fabulous and his stories intriguing.
When we arrived back on our junk boat, we were taken to Thien Cung Caves. A word of warning, there are a LOT of steps. The sweating that’s about to occur as you ascend them may drown you. However, once you arrive in this beautiful cave, filled with stalactites and stalagmites, you begin to realise the climb was worth it. ‘Thien Cung’ roughly translates to ‘heavenly palace’ and you can see why. It made me strive to know more about how our earth was formed and I eagerly took lots of photos to show to my geography-teacher-friends back home. Our tour guide, encouraged and helped us to find shapes and naturally formed statues of many animals, creatures and events and then told us the folk stories that the local people interpreted from these images.
We then returned back to the boat for a peaceful return journey to our coach. Conor and I spent some time being peaceful, contemplating our surroundings and photographing. Meanwhile, Leonard made a beautiful image of the islands and others relaxed and basked in the sunshine which was now starting to set over the bay. Our journey back passed in a sleepy blur, and despite encountering some traffic we arrived back in Hanoi at around 8/9pm with time to visit the night markets.
So finally, if my account of our day trip didn’t sway you, here’s my top 3 reasons why you should spend just ONE day in the beautiful Halong Bay:
- Time. If you’re short on time, or if you’re trying to see which sights to cut short so that you can spend more time somewhere else in Vietnam (we really wished we could have spent more time in Hoi An or visited Sapa) then this is the trip to take in just one day. In one day, you really can get a good feel for the place. In just 6 hours we were able to sail through the waters, explore the little coves and the large caves, relax in the sun and take beautiful pictures (Conor more so than me, as usual!)
- Cost. Spending the night on a junk boat is more expensive, we found, than the cost of a hostel/homestay/airbnb in the centre of Hanoi. A day trip on the other hand was really reasonable. Including transportation to and from the bay from our hotel, lunch, water, the junk boat and a canoe trip, it cost us around £50 each.
- If you’re somebody, like us, that likes to see lots of different things and get about and explore, one day really is enough. I love nature, and much prefer natural sights to cities, but a few days in Halong Bay (from the blogs that we read and the people that we spoke to) includes a large majority of time on the boat. If you need a few days of relaxing, this could definitely be worthwhile. But if, like me, you like to trek and explore and stray away from the beaten path, you may not get this opportunity in Halong Bay.
Disclaimer: this blog post should be taken as a positive post, and an alternative to the many blogs and trip-advisor-type reviews that imply that you need a few nights on the bay. If that’s how long you wish to spend there, that’s great! But if you are short on time or money, please don’t be put off going! It really is a must see, and I hope this post lets people know that it really is doable in just one day.
That’s all from us in Vietnam… at least until we return in the near future!
Any questions on our Halong Bay day trip, please let me know and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
Alternatively, tweet me @_teachertravels