Monday, August 31, 2015

Halong Bay, Vietnam: Leafy Dragon Islands

I knew I absolutely wanted to hit up Halong Bay on my trip - not only does it look life-changingly beautiful, but it's only about a 3.5 hour trip from Hanoi.  There were a million tours to Halong Bay being offered around Hanoi - there's seriously any kind of tour you could possibly want: party, relaxing, romance, adventure, etc.  I booked romance, obvs.  And by romance, I mean I booked a 2 day/1 night relaxing tour.

What It's All About:
Halong Bay is a gorgeous set of almost 2,000 islands that rise up from the gulf of the Northern shore of Vietnam.  It's a World Heritage Site (though at this point honestly, what isn't).  Vietnamese legend says that when Vietnam was defending itself from invaders back in the day, the gods sent dragons to protect them - the dragons spit out jewels and jade, which turned into the islands as natural protection.  Why the dragons couldn't just spit out rocks and dirt that turned into islands is a mystery to me, but hey - not my legend.  The word "halong" itself means "descending dragon."

Halong Bay itself is incredibly touristy - as soon as we arrived, all you see are tons of other tourist buses, and most of the dozens of boats in the harbor are tourist cruises.  However, knowing all of this beforehand, none of this takes away from how truly breathtaking the place is.  The water is a gorgeous blue-green (limestone again, ftw), and there are truly crazy craggy leafy jungle-covered mountains as far as the eye can see.  Islands of all shapes and sizes. Ugh, it was just as pretty as I had imagined.

Overlooking Halong Bay - it was actually pouring in this photo, but the sun was trying.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • The tour I ended up booking was incredibly nice - there were only 14 people on it, and we were all picked up at our hotels in the morning, transported to Halong Bay, and then had our own boat to ourselves that ferried us out about an hour further into the bay. Driving through all these islands was insanely pretty.
The first glimpse of Halong Bay's islands
On the boat I met my new friend Sonia from Portugal - we hit it off instantly.
  • After we arrived to our larger boat in the harbor and checked into our rooms (we got to spend the night on a boat in the harbor! BEST), our guide ferried us around to some highlights in the bay.
  • Our first stop was the Hang Sung Sot caves one of the islands in Halong Bay - these caves had three huge chambers inside with awesome formations.
Hang Sung Sot cave entrance
Some of the formations inside 
One of the giant caverns inside, which they light up in tons of colors. Also most of the tour consisted of "and this formation looks like a <insert animal/person/shape here>"  
View of the bay from the caves
  • Second stop on the tour was kayaking!!!  Eeee this was so fun.  Our guide gave us a 30-minute time limit however, which I'm pretty sure we all openly defied.
Kayaking! Off we gooo
Then Sonia and I found a cave that passed under an island, and despite also not being allowed to pass through (I think it was a private area for another tour), we did. By "we", I mean Sonia and her Portuguese spirit did. This is us coming out the other side of the cave - the kayakers in front of us were part of another tour that was allowed to be there
We are master kayakers
And the sun was peeking through on our (late) return back to the boat
  • Our tour's final stop was the tallest island in the bay - it has a small beach, as well as a pagoda that has been erected at the top (which you can hike up to for good views of the bay).

Approaching the final island - pagoda at top
After a steep 15-minute hike, we were rewarded with these views
  • It started raining, but that didn't stop us from hitting the beach afterwards. Our guide gave us a time limit of 5 minutes at the beach. Sheesh. Slave driver.
So excited for 5 minutes of beach time!
Some of the girls from our boat - England, Spain, Portugal, and the US all in one place  
Sonia took this adorable pic of this boat man on our way out
  • Headed back to our main boat for dinner and nighttime, which was anchored amidst all the islands somewhere
This was our private boat - how cute is it!?
Getting on the boat near dusk
  • It was cute because all the meals on the tour were served in this small dining room with a communal table. It was just a fun little community for the night.  Post dinner, we were given the option of karaoke or squid fishing. Naturally, we chose to do both. 
Sonia and I tearing up the karaoke floor.  The selection of songs was.....incredibly interesting
After shouting into the microphone for an hour, we went out back to fish for squid with these bamboo poles the staff had set up.  Apparently it's squid low season though, so our guide told us it was "near impossible" to catch one
It was seriously the most relaxing thing ever. Plus at one point, something tugged on Sonia's line and we got super excited. But nope, no squid.
It was storming way in the distance - I caught this photo of the lightning behind one of the mountains

  • The next morning, we woke up to a misty, magical view - it basically rained the entire day. 
Imagine waking up and looking out the window of your room to this
  • The day consisted of visiting a pearl farm (they grow a lot of pearls in Halong Bay - also the first moment I've felt empathy for an oyster), then a "cooking class" on the boat.
Teacher showing us how to make spring rolls
We rolled this pile of spring rolls; all shapes and sizes
And here is the deep-fried, delicious result
  • After lunch, most of us took a small boat back to shore to be transported back to Hanoi.  Some people had signed up for a 3 day/2 night tour, and they were shuttled to a separate island to spend the night at a bungalow.  

Moment of the Day:
Spending the night in Halong Bay was one of the best, most relaxing experiences ever and I adored it.  It was just one of those moments that felt incredibly surreal - sitting on the back of the boat, feet dangling over the edge, holding bamboo poles, chatting about our lives, strains of karaoke music in the back but pure peaceful silence otherwise - all while staring out at the water framed by huge black mountains; lightning flashing every 10 seconds in the background. That was the world's longest run-on sentence, but I needed it to describe just how incredible the night was.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Halong Bay was formed 500 million to 300 million years ago
  • On truly bad stormy days, they will cancel all boat trips out to Halong Bay - I ran into a family in Laos that had that happen to them - therefore, despite the drizzly weather we had, we were really lucky.


  1. Omg the pics of Halong Bay look so pretty/unreal!
    I love everything about this post! Beautiful landscapes? Check! Karaoke? Check! Delicious fried things? Check!
    Vietnam looks amazing!
    Can't wait to see you soon :)

    1. It was pretty unreal!! Vietnam is amazing, but I am SO excited to get to see and celebrate with you SO SOON. SO. SO. SOON. Cannot wait! Xo

  2. Connie!
    I am SO GLAD I come here to your blogue...
    You become my inspiration of life!
    Our pic within our dresses ROCKS!
    I never got that pic :)
    Just loved it ALL!
    I had not summarized it... and reading this... it seems that you had not forget anything!!
    You should stayed the day after where we got 'THE BOAT' picture :P
    Nevetheless was such a great time together!
    Thank you for pitch this up!
    Have a nice tripppppppppppppppppppppppppppp.

    Cheers from Portugal - which should been in your list :P

    1. Sonia!! Eeeee I'm so glad you found my blog!! You inspire me as well, and I know you'll do such great things and we will meet again somewhere in the world on an adventure :)

      Thanks so much for letting me know and glad you have a very thorough summary of our time in Halong Bay!

      Miss you and love you! I promise I will come to Portugal (but you come to America too yes!?!) xo