As we left Hanoi for our Halong Bay cruise we couldn’t wait to get on the water. This was my dream trip. I was getting to visit Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, AND go on a cruise, it was almost too much to take in! I have been trying to persuade Dave to go on a cruise for years but he insists he is not interested so you can only imagine my excitement when I discovered that the best way to see Halong Bay was on a boat and it involved an overnight stay. WIN!
It was a three and a half hour bus jaunt between Hanoi and the Tuan Chau Marina where we boarded our Halong Bay cruise. I was so excited as we approached the marina. I have a bit of a thing for UNESCO World Heritage sites (it’s probably due to my list obsession. One day I’m going to see them all. One day!) and Halong Bay is on the UNESCO list!
After settling in on our ship (for details on our cruise check out the post Review: Bhaya Junk Cruise, Halong Bay, Vietnam or check it out on Agoda here – seriously, being able to book the Halong Bay cruises through Agoda is amazing, it used to be such a closed loop and took forever) and being fed and watered, we were off on our first excursion to the Vung Vieng Fishing Village and Pearl Farm.
The village women collected us in their row boats and transported us around Vung Vieng. The calm and silence of the area was surreal as we made our way around in the boats.
Our first stop was the fishing village, one of the old Halong Bay fishing villages which is home to around 50 families. The population is approximately 300 and one third of these are children.
The fishing village:
It was fascinating to observe life in the floating village, it was so simple and in stark contrast to my everyday life. We met some of the residents and their pets as we meandered around the village and everyone was very welcoming. I can only imagine how strange it must be for them to have boatloads of tourists descending on their secluded village.
A family boat in Vung Vieng:
The village relies on fishing and, more recently tourism, to provide income for the villagers to import food and water from the mainland.
There is a small primary school to serve the village children. It is just a single classroom with rooms for the teachers to sleep and live. Apparently the teachers return to the mainland on the weekends but some of the younger children have never left the village.
The scenery was incredible and we were in awe as we floated around in our little row boat. I felt so tiny surrounded by the massive islands emerging from the water!
Leaving the fishing village:
The next stop was a small pearl farm close to the fishing village where we were treated to a demonstration on how to extract the pearls from the oysters.
I really hope some of our tourist dollars from the cruise directly benefited the village and its occupants. We were also able to spend some money in the village gift shop and the pearl shop as a thanks for letting us visit the village.
The Pearl Farm:
Having said good-bye to the villagers we were dropped back to the boat for an evening of kayaking, swimming and cookery classes. We decided to save the energetic activities for the next night and instead we enjoyed the stunning views over a cocktail on the deck. Bliss!
Cruising through the bay:
Anchored for the night:
I started my day at one with nature and participated in some 6am Tai Chi on the sun deck before boarding our day boat for a trip to Cat Ba Island. It was described as rugged and craggy and we were spending the morning biking around the national park. I do love a bit of adventure and I couldn’t wait to get going!
We happened to be on Cat Ba over Tết, the Vietnamese New Year, and it was wonderful to catch a glimpse of the celebrations in the village. One of the locals invited us into his home to celebrate Tết with his family and presented us with a feast of sweets, delicacies, beer and soft drinks. We were concerned about accepting such generosity given that the Cat Ba appeared to be very poor and the family might not have had much to spare. However, it’s considered impolite to refuse food so we tried to take only small amounts. It was amazing to experience the local celebrations and be a part of family life on the Island, this was one of my highlights of Halong Bay.
It was a blast cycling around the National Park and checking out the scenery and local life. I was quite taken with all the green, it could almost have been the green fields of Ireland if I closed my eyes and used a fair bit of imagination! From spotting the macaque monkeys to partying in Cat Ba Town, there’s an abundance of things to do in Cat Ba and many visitors spend a few nights on the island.
Cat Ba Scenery:
We passed by the Au Co farm which Au Co, one of the Halong Bay Cruise operators, sponsors and the organic produce is then used on their cruises. It was great to see initiatives like this in place and supporting the villagers.
Au Co Organic Farm:
The afternoon was spent kayaking and chilling out on the sun deck before we returned to the main boat.
The spectacular views from the sun deck:
The day began with a stunning cruise through the Bay before arriving at the Sung Sot caves which translates to the ‘Suprise Grotto’. The cave was huge with some spectacular limestone formations and much more impressive than I imagined. We also got our morning workout climbing the stairs in and out of the cave. Multi-tasking at its finest!
Sung Sot caves:
And with that, it was back to the boat to sail back to the Tuan Chau Marina and bid farewell to the spectacular Halong Bay. Another amazing sight ticked off the bucket list as we headed back city life in Hanoi and some more amazing adventures!
Halong Bay is a UNESCO world Heritage Site located in the Quảng Ninh Province of Vietnam. It is made up of approximately 2000 small islands, most of which are limestone. Halong Bay translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’ and legend has it that Halong Bay was created by a dragon from the mountains.
We did a 3 day/2 night cruise with Bhaya Cruises (check out our Bhaya cruise review here) and this included pick up from our hotel in Halong.