As budget travellers we don’t often participate in expensive group tours; this may mean missing out on some of the sights that we can’t reach with rented bicycles but our mantra has been that you can’t see it all (on a budget and limited time frame) so we pick and choose. Halong Bay however is an exception, it is deemed one of Vietnam’s must see areas and we agreed that the high price was worth a visit to an offshore paradise of karst limestone mountains on an overnight boat trip.
An international group of around a dozen passengers boarded the large boat that we would call home for the weekend and sat down to an amazing lunch of local cuisine. As we endulged in the shared plate meal our boat started cruising to our destination for the evening, an area near Cat Ba island where the water was dotted with tall and thin limestone mountains of various shapes and sizes. The view was astonishing and everyone’s cameras were snapping away. We reached the bay that we would anchor for the night, and were given the opportunity to explore a cave and go kayaking before we made our final anchor drop for the night.
The cave we visited was the largest yet, with emensly high ceilings and naturally decorated walls. The entire bay as well as the cave was incredably touristy but we managed to overlook the crowds (as we’ve gotten accustomed to doing in places like this). Our guide pointed out shapes on the walls of the cave that resembled dragons, turtles and buddas (with a little imagination), each an important image in Vietnamese culture.
The next activity was to rent a kayak from a floating village dock and explore the area on our own. We had around an hour on the kayaks, and paddled as far away from the masses as possible, weaving in and around the surrounding mountains that jutted from the sea. It was peaceful to paddle around the rocks, peeking into small caves, and starring wonderously up at the towering rocks above. Reluctantly we returned to the boat; I could have stayed on the kayak for hours floating on the turquoise calm waters.
That evening we were served an equally impressive dinner, and indulged in a few local beers on the top deck. The stars were hidden by the clouds, but it was so serene to gaze over the quiet bay, lit by the many other tourist boats.
The next morning we made our way back to Halong City, a slow and picturesque ride that was relaxing and made for amazing photos.
After (slightly) escaping the crowds, our next stop is Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. We near the end of our travels in Vietnam with only the capital and trekking Northern Vietnam left on the itinerary.