We’d been warned, but the weather was a bit of a suprise, to be honest. From the warm stickiness of Saigon and the Mekong Delta, arriving in Hanoi in Northern Vietnam was a little like arriving to a late Autumn in the UK. Cold and incredibly damp (98% humidity), fleeces, hats and the occasional shiver were the order of the day. Shivering our timbers was more on our agenda though, as we set out on an overnight cruise trip to Halong Bay.

As seems to often be the case for us (suggestions of possible causes below please) we were sharing a junk intended for sixteen with just one other couple, Marco and Simona from Switzerland. We didn’t rattle around too much however, as the ‘sun deck’ didn’t get much use, although it proved a good vantage point from which to watch the mysterious islands and limestone karsts of Halong Bay creep closer as the junk made its way across the bay’s calm water.

According local legend, the rock formations were formed when dragons, sent by the gods to protect the newly formed Vietnam from invaders, spat out jewels and jade. These dotted the bay and became the numerous islands and islets to which tourists have only really flocked in the last fifteen or so years. Luckily, due to Tet and the less than spectacular weather, our boat was able to make its way to a number of locations where there seemed to be few, if any other visitors. From one such serene place, we braved the cold, pulled on our swimsuits and a life-jacket, and wobbled into a lovely pink kayak. Whilst we are by no means expert paddlers, we were lucky that Chuyen, our guide, was also less than proficient, meaning that by the end of the session we were able to say that we occasionally ‘skimmed’ across the water, whilst he continued to labour.

The kayaking revealed why Halong Bay was and is seen as a place of mystical magic. Silent sea water flows through small cave tunnels into jade lagoons. The rocks rise up around like a miniature mountain range, interesting as much for their lush vegetation as for their very existence. To be able to explore a few of these uninhabited small coastlines was a treat.

Refueled by good food – we can recommend ODC Travel‘s tour – we then experienced a real Asian treat with a bout of karaoke before bed…perhaps there is something about being closer to China that makes karaoke more prevalent. Breakfast (“No singing no breakfast…”) was our old friend and that favourite of all Vietnamese, Pho. In the colder climate in the north however, noodle soup is not the worst way to start your day, and supping down crab and chicken broth whilst watching the islands pass by the window was certainly a pleasant start.

Our last ‘excursion’ on what had otherwise – kayaking aside – been a fairly sedentary trip, was a short walk off the boat to the imaginatively named ‘Amazing Cave’. These caverns, which consist of three vast chambers, have better sounding names in Vietnamese, and showcase some enormous stalactites (remember: tights come down…), interesting and rather risque rock features, and a lucky turtle whose head had been rubbed to a shiny nub. Here we joined the tourist trail proper and were happy to get back on the boat.

We ended our voyage with more great food for lunch and a glide past the bay’s largest floating village. It’s hard to imaging why anyone would choose to live in such limited surroundings, but with a school, a bank and plenty of shops, perhaps the main issue for the residents of Halong Bay at this time of year is the weather…


One Comment to “Gliding Through Jewels and Jade – Halong Bay”

  • This looked very familiar: I think we have the same photos on our camera! Glad to know you enjoyed the trip; the area is really quite beautiful and very peaceful. Also quite a contrast to the Mekong isn’t it?