Lisha loves to travel, explore new places and share experiences.
Ha Long Bay is one of the top tourist spots in the world, especially for nature lovers. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means that it is of outstanding universal value to humanity and should be conserved.
The main attractions of Ha Long Bay are the nearly 1,900 limestone karsts or rock formations amidst the calm green waters. They are almost like small, towering islands that look as though they shoot straight out of the green waters. They are all different shapes and sizes and covered with trees to varying extents. Many of the small islands are named based on the shapes they resemble—like Stone Dog islet and Human Head islet.
A trip to Vietnam would be incomplete without experiencing these amazing creations.
Booking the Tour
A popular tour option is a one-day boat tour, which can be booked through any hotel in Hanoi on the previous day. All arrangements will be made by the tour company, including pick-up and drop-off back at the hotel.
If time and money are on your side, you could even opt for a longer stay on one of the luxury cruises.
Reaching the Port
Make sure to check the weather forecast for the day before leaving the hotel. In the case of colder weather, be sure to dress appropriately and carry a jacket. It can get quite cold on the boat because of the chilly, constantly blowing winds. The tour bus arrives at around eight in the morning since the port is about three hours away from Hanoi city. There might be a bit of traffic initially, but you will soon be out of city limits, waiting to witness one of Vietnam's most visited sites.
The port from which the boat departs is usually very crowded with several tour groups, each with their local guide. The guides are all friendly Vietnamese people who do a good job of describing the various places and entertaining their group. They always carry a long pole with a distinguishing identifier attached to the top. This is to help the group stay together and to allow them to follow their guide without much difficulty.
The tour guide will purchase the tickets and will then lead the group towards the line of boats. All the boats look almost the same, except for the names at the top. After finding the right boat, you will soon head off towards the hundreds of islands.
The One-Day Cruise
The one-day cruise boat has two levels. Above, there is a deck where one can enjoy the amazing views while cruising along amidst the towering islands. The dining area is below, with seats and tables to enjoy the included meal while looking out through the windows.
The boat tour starts with a seafood lunch, which includes fish, shrimp, mussels and other Vietnamese-style delicacies. Once done with lunch, everyone is free to head up to the deck to witness the amazing limestone formations all around.
On a sunny day, the water is a breathtaking shade of emerald green. On a cloudy day, the green color is not as visible, but it is still a beautiful sight. The boat cruises along, following several other tour boats to the top sightseeing spots. A few smaller local fishing boats also add to the scenic picture. It is something that you would probably see only once in a lifetime.
Tourist Spots at Ha Long Bay
A typical one-day tour includes stops at three of the major tourist islands. The main sights to see are:
- Hang Sung Sot (Surprise Cave)
- Luon Cave
- Ti Top Island
1. Hang Sung Sot
The first stop is one of the largest and most famous caves in Ha Long Bay—the Hang Sung Sot or "Surprise Cave". There is a small climb to get to the entrance of the cave. As you walk through the smaller chamber of the cave, you finally reach the farther enormous one. The change is quite sudden and unexpected—hence the name Surprise Cave.
The size of the cave is indeed impressive. Since it is a popular tourist spot, the cave is very well-lit and has a clearly marked pathway. The guide will explain in detail about the history and formation of these caves. There are thousands of stalactites and stalagmites, which might give a bit of an eerie feel. On the way out, there is a lovely viewpoint to stop and observe the stunning bay.
2. Luon Cave
The second stop is at Luon Cave, where there is the option to go kayaking or to take a bamboo boat ride. The elderly and most of the families with small kids usually opt for the bamboo boat ride. The slightly more adventurous people can enjoy the chance to go kayaking in the beautiful, emerald-green waters. Life-jackets are provided for all before heading towards the preferred activity.
First-time kayakers might be a bit apprehensive about guiding the kayak while trying to avoid a collision with other kayaks and boats. However, it is quite easy to gradually get the hang of it and proceed carefully towards the cave. The only way to enter is through a barely visible, alluring arch, about 60 metres long and only 4 metres high. One has to be seated in a kayak or small boat to enter this arch; the larger boats cannot get through. The intimidating dimensions might add to the kayaking challenge, but everyone usually makes it through without any crashes or bumps.
A jaw-dropping sight awaits as you come out on the other side—a serene, emerald-green lake, surrounded by the beautiful limestone karsts. The bamboo boats do a quick U-turn and head back through the arch after about 15 minutes. However, if you opt for the kayak, you have the freedom to roam around the lake as you please for half an hour.
There are often not many kayaks at the farther end of the water; moving away from the bustling bamboo boats, the aura is suddenly one of total peace. The only noise is from the few monkeys in the trees on the cliffs around the still lake. The experience is so enthralling that it will probably make the 30 minutes fly by; you will wish that you did not have to make your way back through the arch so soon.
3. Ti Top Island
The final stop is Ti Top Island—the place to get that panoramic view of the stunning Ha Long Bay. It also has a small beach where tourists can enjoy the water. The main attraction is, however, the climb to the top of the island.
The Steep Climb
Most tour guides steer clear of the steps to the top, making it obvious that it is quite a steep climb. These steps might not be much of a problem for the fit and strong, however, for those not in such good shape, it does pose a bit of a problem. It is actually quite a big problem for some, since there are about 400 steps in all. But since it is one of the best parts of the trip, almost everyone is usually determined to reach the top. It is crowded as the steps are only wide enough for two people at a time, one going up and another coming down. There are a few places on the way up for people to stop and catch their breath.
The view from the top is incredible and is definitely worth the climb. A large portion of the bay is visible—the countless islands, as well as the numerous boats and the beautiful water. It is great to spend some time up there and just take it all in.
A Unique Place to Visit
The entire trip to Ha Long Bay is excellent—the boat journey amidst the islands, the caves, the kayaking experience and the scenic views. And, mind you, this is the opinion of someone who visited the bay on a cloudy day when it wasn't even in all its glory. I couldn't imagine how much more spectacular it would have been had the weather been clear and sunny. It is a bit crowded with tourists from all over, but this is just a testament to the beauty of the place.
The whole Ha Long Bay experience is one of a kind and is completely worth the visit.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Lisha C