We were off to one of Vietnams greatest UNESCO world heritage sites… Halong Bay and the nearby (lesser known and less visited) Bai Tu Long Bay are known for their emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone karsts (islands) topped by rainforest.
After a four hour drive, we arrived in Halong harbour and quickly found the boarding area for our boat. When we got into the tender boat that would take us to the ship, we were brimming with excitement. This only increased when our boat, the Dragon Legend, came into view.
After some more basic accommodation in Sapa, we had decided to splash out and book one of the nicest looking boat trips that we could find – the two night Dragon Legend. We were expecting it to be comfy and a lot better than sharing a wooden hut with a lot of people (and mosquitoes) but we hadn’t expected it to be as incredibly luxurious as it was.
After getting on board the boat and unloading our packs, the first thing we did was head off on kayaks to explore the fascinating limestone isles. We paddled for about 45 minutes, weaving in and out of the towering 100 metre tall karsts.
We landed on a small beach, the sand of which was full of tiny exotic shells, the sort you never see on Cornish beaches. The jungle from the top of the karsts travelled down the sides of the islands and hung down over the sand, giving the whole place an awesome atmosphere.
These islands look so mysterious and enigmatic, it is easy to see why films like King Kong have been shot here in the past. They have been formed over hundreds of millions of years as the sea that used to cover them dissolved the areas in between the isles over a millennia.
After relaxing on the beach, hunting for shells, exploring the area and swimming in the emerald waters, we eventually headed back to the Dragon Legend. We then spent some time exploring the boat and sat on the sundeck enjoying the amazing views and a few ‘Halong Bia’.
As the sun set, the views changed and became possibly even more beautiful, as the sky changed colour and silhouetted the bay of islands we had dropped anchor in for the night. We sat in the outdoor dining area and watched the sun go down as we dined on courses and courses of delicious locally sourced platefuls.
After we had fully filled our bellies, we headed down to the back of the boat to do some night time squid fishing. The boat’s lights had been turned on at the rear and these bright lights attracted squid from deep down in the water. We had some very crude bamboo rods with fixed lines and little squid, jigging lures on them.
I’ve done a lot of fishing but never off a boat at night and never for squid. It was really exciting pulling one of these little alien-looking fellas up from the dark water. As the evening grew later, we managed to catch a bowl full which we would then eat the very next day.
The next day, after watching the sunrise, doing some Tai Chi with one of the ship’s crew on the sundeck and eating a magnificent breakfast while our ship set sail again, we boarded tender boats and headed to another location.
We arrived at Vung Vieng, a floating fishing village where the inhabitants live in small wooden huts built on pontoons in a sheltered bay. On these floating communities the local people live, sleep, eat and farm fish, repair their boats and set sail to go and fish.
In some ways it looked like quite an idyllic life although we were sad to find out that poverty is causing the populations to decrease quite rapidly. Hopefully the eco-tourism which is coming to the area of Bai Tu Long Bay will help the community to be sustainable.
After a fun filled and busy day of this and other activities, there was nothing better than sunbathing in the late afternoon until the sun started to set.
The sunset on the second night was even better than the first, the sky had some thin lines of light cloud which took on some incredible colours – the shades of blue, purple, yellow, orange and pink were stunning and a slight feeling of sadness at it being our last night.
We had had a great time on board the ship, the food was amazing and far superior to anything I could have imagined. Although the best times were spent off the boat exploring the karsts and all the beautiful bays, the boat was brilliant fun, whether it was sunbathing or swimming (in their tiny pool) both whilst always admiring the view.
One of the best things that we did whilst on the Dragon Legend was having a BBQ on a private island. The island and beach was one of the best looking beaches I’ve ever seen. The ship’s chefs had come onto the island and prepared literally the poshest BBQ we’d ever seen.
After climbing the island and exploring it’s cave system, we came back to the beach and sat under parasols and ate a several course BBQ meal which included the squid which we had caught the night before.
I don’t think I’ve been to many beaches more tranquil, beautiful or exotic than this one and I just wish we never had to leave there. Our trip to Bai Tu Long Bay was awe-inspiring and the sort of once in a lifetime experience that we will never forget.
I’d definitely recommend heading a bit further out to Bai Tu rather than Halong Bay as it is much quieter and more untouched. If you are ever in Vietnam put these thousand or so limestone karsts at the top of your to-do list. The scenery is just epic and something you will not see anywhere else!