Vietnam is a fascinating place to visit with changing landscapes from the Mekong Delta in the south to the hilltop villages in the north. Two places I loved were Sapa (read my story here) and Halong Bay. Backpacking around South East Asia solo there wasn’t many options of being able to sail around Halong Bay by junk boat other than to book on to a tour so I decided on a two night three day tour and I was so glad I did.
I made arrangements with my hostel in Hanoi to leave my big backpack with them and climbed on the mini bus provided by the booking company with my day pack. We roamed around the city hostels and hotels picking up passengers and headed for Halong Bay with an obligatory half way stop at a souvenior warehouse. There were 12 of us in total who boarded our triple storey junk boat, first floor was accommodation, I had a twin room to myself complete with bathroom, flushing toilet and air conditioning and a big window opening out onto the water, much more than what I was expecting. Second storey was the kitchen and dining room and the third storey was full of deck chairs, the hot sun and immense views of Halong Bay.
By the time I settled in my room and made my way up to the third deck we were already cruising through the Bay passing the incredible rock formations jutting out of the water which makes this area famous. After a couple of hours sailing we stopped with many other junk boats at Surprising Amazing cave. I’ve seen many caves during my travels but this was very impressive as the tour guide said the first chamber is surprising but the last is amazing!! It was a big open chamber filled with hundreds of tourists snapping away on their cameras at the various cave formations and being led along the paths by their tour guides. Leaving the cave we were high up looking down over the Bay filled with junk boats coming and going and I stood there for a few minutes taking in this rare and unique sight of this part of the world.
After leaving the caves we sailed up around the bend and stopped with a family who live on the Bay in floating houses. We hired kayaks and paddled around and under the rock formations trying not to get stuck in the small caves on the base of some of them hollowed out by the water.
After working up an appetite we sailed around to another part of Halong Bay and dropped anchor for the night, it was another beautiful Asian red sunset made more impressive by the silhouettes of other junk boats also anchoring for the night and we settled in for a lovely three course meal washed down with a few beers and new friends. In the evening we threw lines off the back of the boat trying to catch the squid we could see floating in the water but no luck.
In the morning I opened my curtains to a beautiful site of the junk boats in Halong Bay in full sail, I sure could get used to this. We sailed as we ate breakfast past rock formation after rock formation this Bay seemed to be endless. We stopped at Monkey Island a crystal blue watered remote island full of monkeys who would stare at us through the trees as we walked along the sand. The locals had tubs full of interesting sea creatures which they were only too happy to fry up for you if the price was right.
We teamed up with another junk boat on the island and sailed together to our own private island for the night with our own bungalows right on the beach, how good is this! We were situated on Cat Ba Island but on the other side of the main tourist area and due to a high rock face behind the bungalows we were cut off from everyone, the junk boat left after dropping us off and our only means to escape was by kayaks. Another solo traveller and I grabbed a two person kayak and set off exploring the secluded mini beaches and caves careful not to get to far out in the Bay as the swell picked up quite quickly. In the evening the family who owned the private beach we were staying on cooked a massive seafood barbecue it was heaven, with cheap beer and music flowing it was a great evening.
With regret the junk boat arrived the next morning to take us back to the marina. For lunch though we had a demonstration and then made our own spring rolls for lunch – yum! We said our goodbyes once arriving at the marina and boarded different buses taking us back to Hanoi.
It was a relaxing and enjoyable three days and no visit to Vietnam would be complete without a cruise by junk boat along Halong Bay.
Travelled to Halong Bay: 17 to 19 June 2013