I’m a writer by trade and yet for more than a year now I’ve agonised over how to put Halong Bay into words.
I figured if I could write about one of the ugliest places in the world – Cambodia’s killing fields – then surely I can write about one of the most beautiful places. And still I struggled to come up with a suitable list of synonyms for the word “amazing” to fill an entire blog post.
Finally, it dawned on me – I’ll let my photos do the talking.
Who needs adjectives when I have pictures of Halong Bay? If a picture says 1000 words, that’s 3000 words right there. Truth be told, neither words nor photos can truly do justice to this magical and mysterious bay in northern Vietnam.
It’s easily among the most wondrous places this backpacker has ever had the privilege to visit, and I’ve seen Angkor Wat – so I know amazing when I see it.
Best seen by Chinese junk, my fiancé and I booked the cheapest three-day Halong Bay tour we could. As it turns out, for that amount of money you only get one actual night moored in the bay. I saw a rat the size of a small dog on our boat, though, so we probably didn’t mind that terribly much.
Still, I could sit and steer at those magnificent limestone karsts – or isles – for hours. Especially as the sun begins to set and just a little bit of darkness comes creeping in over Halong Bay. We were fortunate enough to tour the bay on a sunny day but I’m sure it looks amazing even when the weather isn’t so flash.
During our Ha Long Bay tour we stopped at the Cave of Wonders (Dau Go Cave), which I’d rather write about another time. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the bay itself.
Our second evening in Halong Bay was spent in a hotel on Cat Ba Island, the largest island in the bay. The food there was marginally better than what we had on the boat, which isn’t saying a whole heck of a lot.
It seems you do get what you pay for on tours of Halong Bay but, fortunately for us, we managed to wrangle a better deal than most of the other people on our boat did. Persistence is key and the best deals are in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, not at Halong City.
We spent at least half a day in Hanoi, moving from one tourism operator to the next, trying to negotiate the best deal possible. They will literally throw stacks of different options at you but cutting through the bullshit was made easier for us by the fact that we wanted the cheapest two-night option available.
Our thinking was, if we pay the least we can get away with then we’re not going to be very disappointed. Sure, we mightn’t be fine dining for dinner – but we love fried rice! And we’ll still get to enjoy the beauty of Halong Bay as any other tour group would.
This being Vietnam, the guy who was running our tour tried to rip a couple of people off with some extra hidden charges that they supposedly didn’t pay when they bought their tickets back on the mainland.
See why I struggled to write about it for so long? Dubbed one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Halong Bay is easily one of the best places to visit in Vietnam and indeed the world.
I challenge anyone to visit Halong Bay and then adequately put into words what they see and feel in this truly special place.
Travelling around Vietnam? Then you’re going to want to read this collection of Vietnamese travel tips (learnt the hard way).