Some rules are meant to be broken. Chris and I have had an unwritten rule for some time- no cruising. However, there is really only one way to see Ha Long Bay and that is on a boat cruise. A day trip on a boat is certainly an option, but we wanted to spend some time out in the bay, get into a kayak to see it at eye level and have a chance to swim so we opted for an overnight excursion. Options abound as there are hundreds of boats and thousands of people visiting each day, but many are low-end or cater to different types of experiences (e.g. party boats). Hanoi is also filled with travel agents selling tours of all flavors. The best way that we found to sift through the good, the bad and the ugly is to leverage a hotel in Vietnam that you like and trust. Our hotel in Hoi An, Essence Hotel & Spa, once again, did a great job of helping us identify the right option and a cruise with availability. Although it was not our first choice, we ended up with Aphrodite Cruises, and we really enjoyed the whole experience. Aphrodite offered a smaller, wooden junk with only 17 nicely, appointed rooms, a wonderful staff and an itinerary that offered kayaking in Cat Ba National Park.
Ha Long Bay ( Ha Long means descending dragon in English), another UNESCO Site, is bay of about 1900+ limestone islands. The way it was described to us by the locals is that there are 1969 islands which aligns with the year Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh) passed away. Ha Long Bay is a vast body of water comprised of gorgeous, limestone islands that rise up out of the water making for a spectacular setting. Interestingly, these land masses were created by tectonic shifts rather than any volcanic activity.
For those considering a trip to Ha Long bay, the 3 days/ 2 nights cruise is a must. The other option is 2 days/ 1 night, but in our opinion, the scenery is so spectacular in Ha Long Bay 1 night is just not enough. In addition, the 3 days itinerary included swimming in a gorgeous, deserted bay (except for a few local fishermen), kayaking Cat Ba National Park and a visit to the local pearl farm. I know what some of you are thinking – the pearl farm sounds a bit touristy – and it is, but we also found it quite interesting and informative.
Unfortunately, Ha Long Bay is no longer off the beaten path as evidenced by the number of cruise company options and boats in the bay, but given the spectacular scenery, local communities that still live is this spectacular spot and the activities, Ha Long Bay is another must to add to the itinerary when visiting Vietnam.