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Hạ Long Bay Travel Guide

A minefield of islets emerging like skyscrapers of rock and shrubbery forms Hạ Long Bay. One of the seven new natural wonders of the world as of 2012.

Located 170km (105 miles) east of Vietnams’ Northern city Hanoi, Hạ Long Bay is one of the more popular tourist destinations thanks to its global recognition as a world natural heritage site in 1994. It is a magnificent destination for people of all ages with breathtaking beauty and over 500 millions years of history forming the archaeological and geological value of the rock faces.

Fun fact: ‘Hạ Long’ literally translated to English is ‘descending dragon’. Legend has it that shortly after Vietnam was formed, the people had to fight back against hostile raiders aiming to launch into the country by the sea. The deeply respected Jade Emperor called upon the Gods to dispatch the Mother Dragon and her children to get rid of the enemies attacking the Vietnamese people. The dragons descended upon Hạ Long Bay blazing the attackers in a barrage of fire, therefore protecting the Vietnamese people and their country. The legend reiterates the belief that  Vietnamese people derived from Dragon origins.

Ha Long Bay islet

Booking your tour!

There are a variety of ways to book your trip to Hạ Long Bay. There are a huge number of tours sailing out to Hạ Long Bay everyday and so we recommend researching companies beforehand to ensure the tour includes exactly what you want. I (Tom) arrived in Hanoi and booked the 3 day/2 night cruise through the hostel which meant all hassle was avoided. With return transport from Hanoi to Hạ Long Bay, accommodation, food and activities all included, the trip was perfect for a hassle free, action packed few days.

We cannot stress enough to book the 3 day/2 night tour option. It takes at least a day to sail out to beautiful scenic points and it is possible to sail out even further than the other boats returning the next day, therefore having more of Hạ Long Bay to yourself. The possibilities are endless in the Bay with scuba diving, sea kayaking, hiking, cycling and sipping a cocktail whilst dribbling over the mesmerising views all on offer. Much like any tour, you want to try and take in as much as possible and not have the experience rushed.

Day 1

On day one I was picked up from the hostel in Hanoi at around 07:30am, along with fellow travellers joining the tour. It was a perfect chance to get to know the crew who you’d be spending the next 3 days with. Once arriving at Hạ Long Bay we embarked upon the Vega Cruise boat with no queues or waiting time. We were met by an extremely friendly Vietnamese man called Chuk who would be our guide for the tour. Throughout the tour his insight and knowledge was incredible and really added to the experience. I am a slight food phobic and it was instantly clear at lunch that the tour may be a challenge with a sea food feast on offer every meal time. This was the case for three days and although trying everything, I can conclude I’m still not a fan of seafood. As a tour group we disembarked the Vega cruise boat onto a tug boat onto a kayak. We then kayaked through various caves and into glimmering blue lagoons. We then returned to the tug boat and arrived at Bo Hon island with a hike through Sung Sot Cave and a viewpoint not to miss at the height of your climb.

After our adventures we cruised around Hạ Long Bay exploring fishing villages at sea and took in the breathtaking views and sunset. Then the drinking and camaraderie began with beers and speciality cocktails courtesy of the barman/helmsman of the boat. After many a cocktail our cabins called us to bed where we stayed the night.

Day 2

With a 06:30am wake up call for breakfast we had the chance to enjoy the morning sunrise emerging from the Bay.

Ha Long Bay sunrise

Not long after we endured the 450 step steep hike to the summit of Ti Top Island. This achievement meant reaching a viewpoint 110 metres above sea level. It was the perfect viewpoint and we beat the crowd. Another reason why the 3 day/2 night cruise option is not to be sniffed at. After getting those Instagram worthy photos, we were welcomed by the white sandy beach and emerald like waters to cool us down. It was cold in January!

Later that day we anchored at Cat Ba Island and enjoyed a 30 minute bike ride. I believe I had the lucky straw as I was given a bike with a basket much like a shopping trip in the Netherlands. The views during this bike ride fabricated the idea that we were starring in the film ‘Jurassic Park’. A hike through the national park followed with Chuk, our tour guide, took us off the beaten track through caves and climbing down vines for the more able individuals. What better way to finish this hike than a cold can of Ha Long Beer? Sitting on a white plastic chair that you would only see at your Nan’s barbecue. The day continued with more kayaking out to beaches untouched by tourists that day. On Day 2 we had accommodation on Cat Ba Island which gave us the perfect opportunity to explore the island and its nightlife.

Day 3

It’s amazing how close a group becomes after such a short period of time. We returned to Hanoi that day and memorised our experiences we had shared on the tour. The Vega Cruise itinerary offered a more intimate experience. We beat the crowds to many popular destinations as well as learning about the Vietnamese culture and legends of Hạ Long Bay.

Mandy on the other hand stayed on Cat Ba Island and booked a tour to Hạ Long Bay. She booked a one day tour which included lunch and snorkelling equipment, also stopping at Monkey Island. The options to explore Hạ Long Bay are endless. We cannot stress enough, do not leave yourself short of time exploring this natural wonder of the world.

Ha long bay

Check out the Ultimate Travel Itinerary for Vietnam here!

Tom, Travelling Translated

Travelling Translated

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