Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located about three hours from Hanoi, in Northern Vietnam. It’s gorgeous, and overrun with tour boats and tourists, but worth a visit. The Bay is full of limestone karsts (huge rock formations), caves, and fishermen villages and boats. As most tourists do, we booked a 2 day, 1 night boat trip through the Bay. Our boat held a group of 12 Vietnamese bankers on vacation, and an assortment of Westerners: an older German gentleman who currently resides in Chiang Mai, a Chilean couple in between a move from Spain back to Chile, two younger Brits traveling around, and Andrew and myself.
Many of the fisherman live in little fishing villages right on the water inside Halong Bay. Houses float together surrounded by water, not grass and fisherman boats are tethered to the wrap around decks with netted holes where the catch of the day swim in circles waiting to go to the market. I have to assume that the fishermen detest the big tour boats that pass through the Bay each day. If I remember correctly, our guide said there are around 400 boats operating on a daily basis in the Bay.
One of the highlights of the trip, aside from the beauty of the Bay of course, is the jumping off the boat that inevitably occurs. There’s something magical about lining up on the edge of the roof of a two or three story boat with friends you’ve just made that day and throwing yourself into the water below at the count of three. Don’t let these pictures fool you, Cristina and I jumped with all of the boys anxiously lined up. Unfortunately, the water wasn’t as clean as it was 4 years ago and after our first jump, quite a bit of debris (and oil or gasoline spots?) floated by. Hopefully some green initiatives will take place soon, or I hate to see what the Bay will look like in another four years if the tourism industry continues to expand.
When booking a boat for the bay, there are generally two options: the cheapest boat and the slightly more expensive boat. Backpackers encourage each other to go ahead and pay the extra ($10-$20) for the better boat. I have nothing to compare to, but apparently the cheap boats are really… CHEAP. So when we booked, we thought we were simply going to be on the slightly more expensive boat, we were a little surprised when this option landed us on “The Party Boat.” Our glass of wine and fruit party on the roof was no Cabo Spring Break Party, but it was nice, and it did involve some karaoke- which we dominated, as warned to our new friends, that after 5 and 8 years in Korea we would be awesome.
Here are some blurry photos of us in the dining room of the boat, just to give you an idea of what it looked like.