If I were given a penny for every time I read the words “Halong Bay: Seventh Wonder of the Natural World” while in Vietnam, I’d have at least 10 bucks in my wallet. I visited this “wonder” back in 2000 with my mom and Ong Ty and thought it pretty, but no prettier than La Jolla Shores. The memory that sticks out the most from that first trip to Halong Bay was my idealistic, 18-year-old self being pissed that my Vietnamese shipmates were throwing their garbage into the The Bay. I’m no hardcore environmentalist, but geez, plastic bags floating in the water is unacceptable.
I would’ve been perfectly content to see Halong Bay once, but The Astronomer would have be devastated if he left Vietnam without visiting the hype that is Halong. Halong Bay, or Vịnh Hạ Long as the Vietnamese call it, is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Quảng Ninh Province in the city of Haiphong. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes.
We booked a one-day tour from our hotel in Hanoi after shopping around in the Old Quarter, which is chock full of tour companies (most of which are unoriginally named Sinh Cafe). Not looking for a historic junk to cruise around in, a sleepover under the stars or a one-of-a-kind adventure, we went with a basic package that scooped us up in the morning, showed us around Halong Bay, fed us lunch and dropped us off in the evening.
The ride from Hanoi to Haiphong was long, but expected. We boarded our simple junk at around 11 am and set off to cruise and explore The Bay. Feeling especially festive, The Astronomer kicked off his Halong experience with a cold can of Halida beer. Woot.
Halong Bay looked just how I remembered it, but maybe a bit more crowded.
Hey look, it’s a boat and a tour group just like the one we’re on! Similar to our experience in the Mekong Delta, most tours of Halong Bay travel the same beaten path. Whereas this crowdedness may bother some folks, we’re cool with enjoying nature with others.
More tour groups! Tour groups are definitely not for those seeking intimate experiences. The Astronomer and I have signed on for many tours in our Vietnam days because it’s logistically easier and the company of strangers doesn’t diminish our personal experience.
Now, if this isn’t a karst limestone tower, I don’t know what is.
More limestone, more karst.
And before we knew it, it was time for almuerzo. Idle sightseeing sure does work up an appetite. Although these cha gio were of the frozen variety, The Astronomer said they were pretty decent. The taste of Ba Sau’s homemade cha gio was fresh in my memory so I couldn’t bring myself to eat a lesser version yet.
Crinkle cut fries.
Fresh skinless cucumbers and carrots.
Fresh but bland clams.
My favorite—fluffy scallion omelet.
Whole fried fish with tomatoes and scallions.
Squid. Not Phu-Quoc tender.
This cutie from Japan (and her mom and aunt) sat at our table during lunch. She was an AMAZING eater. I love kids that aren’t picky about their diet. She was also a big fan of the omelet so we had to duke it out for the last bit.
After lunch, we boarded a small boat to explore a secluded isle, which was supposedly the setting of a scene from the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies.”
We sailed into this small inlet.
This little excursion was the most peaceful part of our tour.
Halong Bay residents.
Our last stop on the Halong Bay express was the Thien Cung grotto.
Thien Cung grotto is a fabulous cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites. I could have done without the rainbow glow, but Vietnam just wouldn’t be Vietnam without the constant abuse of neon lights.