Halong Bay – Junk Boats & Limestone Pillars Galore
Anyone planning on going to Vietnam surely lists a junk boat cruise on Halong Bay as one of the top things to do. And rightly so.
I won’t sugarcoat the less attractive aspects of Halong Bay. It’s riddled with hundreds of junk boats (ruining its natural beauty). It’s polluted (because of the hundreds of junk boats). It’s crowded with tourists (contributing to the pollution). It’s over-commercialized (because all the tourists want to go). A vicious circle it is.
But it’s also magical.
We only stayed in Halong Bay for one night but it still gave us plenty of time to gaze in awe at the towering limestone pillars and to take part in the fun activities available.
We didn’t reserve our junk boat in advance. We decided to just show up and hope for the best. While wandering around the harbor, a friendly young man came up to us offering an excursion on his junk boat. We had read plenty of bad stories about the decrepit state of some of the boats so we were doubtful when he insisted his boat was very clean and luxurious. We told him we would take his excursion only after seeing the actual boat.
After a few hours of waiting, his junk boat finally docked. I wasn’t impressed with the washed-out white exterior so I wanted to see inside before committing (and paying) for the one-night cruise. I was so surprised to see how clean and impeccable the rooms actually were! The bed sheets were a crisp white, the tiny bathroom was spotless and the decor was adorable complete with traditional wood slat walls and ceiling – just how I had imagined!
Satisfied with our choice, I was looking forward to our excursion on the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin.
As mentioned previously, there’s a number of fun activities to do in Halong Bay besides lazying around the roof-top deck of your junk boat (nothing wrong with that!).
Hang Sung Sot Cave is one of the biggest and most popular caves in Vietnam. Colored spotlights point out the more unusual rock formations shaped like familiar objects or animals. The entrance fee isn’t included in your junk boat excursion but it’s very minimal so a visit to the cave is worth it. Also, the coolness inside the cave is a welcome respite from the humidity and heat outside.
The activity I enjoyed the most was kayaking which was included in the price of our excursion. It’s at this time I realized how small we were in the shadows of the towering limestone pillars.
The inhabitants of the quaint floating fishing village enthusiastically waved from afar and laughed at our attempts at navigating the kayak. I was enchanted by the colors of the ram-shackled houses floating carelessly in one of the world’s most famous bays. At that moment, it struck me how ironic it was that tourists paid huge amounts of money to get a chance to visit Halong Bay while at the same time it was home to poor, modest fishermen and their families surviving on very little.
Things that make you go hmmm…..
Climbing the hundreds of steps to the top of one of the karst formations was indeed sweat-inducing and tiring but the views were reward enough. This unobstructed viewpoint is where you can admire Halong Bay at its best. From above, the limestone pillars looked like a cluster of handsome stately gentlemen dressed in their finest apparel. Get your cameras ready to snap a few pics of the awesome panorama!
My favourite part of Halong Bay was when we drifted away from the busy center where all the junk boats were anchored. This is where I felt the most peaceful allowing me to contemplate the surroundings and (cue cliché and violons) to realize how fortunate I was to be in such a magical place.
Have you been to Halong Bay? Share your experience in the comments below!