Cruisin’ Halong

Adventure Travel, Asia, Cruise, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Tours & Attractions, Vietnam — By on April 8, 2007 at 5:47 pm

When we first planned our trip to North Vietnam, I was insistent that we set aside at least a few days to visit Halong Bay (which means “Bay of Descending Dragons” in Vietnamese). Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Halong Bay is one of the country’s most gorgeous and renowned tourist destinations, boasting a stunning collection of 1,969 limestone islands. I had even crafted an elaborate itinerary in my head that covered some of the region’s most popular activities – like indulging in a live aboard boat vacation, searching for the endangered langur in Cat Ba National Park and exploring the vast system of underground caves and grottos – while also allowing ample time for personal pursuits such as swimming with the fishes in shallow, teal pools, perfecting my tan on crescents of warm white sand, relaxing with a frosty umbrella cocktail and making small talk with the muscle-bound beach boy assigned to meet my every whim (hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?).

Unfortunately, I didn’t do my homework on this part of the world ahead of time and was quite shocked to discover a hearty gust of wind and wool-worthy temperatures waiting to greet us as we stepped off the plane in Hanoi. Apparently this part of the country actually gets cold during the winter. Go figure! We had gotten so spoiled by the seemingly endless summers that characterized our previous SE Asian stops, that we were ill-prepared to handle even the tiniest bit of Jack Frost nipping at our noses (I can only tolerate such things when Christmas trees and candy canes are present).

What made my lack of research even more upsetting is that my Halong Bay dreams were dashed in an instant. No sunset cruises? No pina coladas? No hunky men? What was a Lost Girl to do? Despite the sad fact that our original itinerary was now scattered to the (arctic) winds, we didn’t want to give up hope on Halong Bay all together. After all, the popular tour companies were still operating regular trips, the area’s natural beauty didn’t require the sun to survive and frozen margaritas could easily be replaced with Irish coffees, right? Plus, everyone we encountered from our favorite local gelato scooper (we got to know him really well) to the backpackers on beer corner, insisted that Halong Bay was absolutely worth a visit – no matter what the time of year.

With renewed vigor, the girls and I decided to book a two-day package through our hotel, which included a guided tour of several main islands, an afternoon hike through Halong Bay’s largest cave – Hang Sung Sat, a sunset kayaking excursion and an overnight stay on one of the area’s signature ships – – all for the bargain price of $35. Even though the trip might not live up to our initial high expectations (I guess the hot guy thing was a bit much, huh?), we were happy enough just to escape the hustle and bustle of the city to spend a night sailing on the open seas. In the end, the only bad thing about the trip was the absence of one Lost Girl (Amanda was a bit sick to her stomach and wisely decided that a rocking boat was not the best place for her); but other than that, we more than got our money’s worth out of the experience.

As you’ll see from my photo essay below, Holly and I were relaxed and happy and had an absolutely fabulous time cruisin’ Halong.


– – – Jen

Our floating home for the evening! Holly and I boarded one of these beautiful mahogany boats just in time for a yummy lunch of spring rolls, stir fried noodles, fruit salad and more!

Holly and I preparing to set sail (and nursing a food hangover) at the oh-so-chic table cloth covered table in the boat’s dining room.

The stunning view from our porthole. Halong Bay is dotted with literally hundreds of ships, ranging from tiny wooden fishing boats to luxury cruise liners.

Holly striking a pose with our boat’s hand-carved “hood ornament”. Our impromptu photo shoot took a lot more skill than you’d think as the wind was pretty brutal that day.

Ooh! Ooh!
Can I have my picture with the dragon too? Our motto: All must be fair in photography. If one of us takes a cheesy photo, the other one has to also.

Since Holly and I were both on a tight budget, we could only gaze longingly at the beautiful, sun-kissed sailing ships across the harbor.

Umm! I really have no excuse for us. I can only speculate that the glass of wine we had at lunch went straight to our heads.

Another gorgeous view of the Bay taken right before we began the steep descent into the largest cave in Halong Bay. You’ll see in one of the upcoming pictures why tourists have so much fun exploring this particular grotto.

Holly on the boat deck with our tour guide. I attribute my accurate facts and figures at the beginning of this blog to him as he did at awesome job providing us with loads of interesting info on the area.

The entrance to the famous Hang Sung Sat cave. Holly and I ran around like kids designing obstacle courses out of the massive stalactites and a stalagmites and snapping tons of random photos.

Me at the bottom of the cave. I really have nothing else exciting to say about this shot. Actually it’s kind of a boring one, isn’t it? Sorry about that, fans.

Isn’t Holly so cute? We thought we were really funny when we took this shot because we set it up to look like she was climbing the rocks with her bare hands when she was really just standing on the ground holding onto the wall. When we can’t actually be hard core, we at least have to fake the funk for photos.

If you look closely at the center of this photo, you’ll notice a very “interesting” rock formation. I spared you the close up we took of this famous phallic stone, but take my word for it, it’s anatomical correctness is pretty impressive – – and hilarious! We may be immature, but so were all the other tourists with their zoom lenses.

Holly and I posing at the top of a famous look out point on one of the larger islands. You’ll have to pardon our sweaty appearance, but we decided to get in our day’s exercise by running up and down the steep stairs that lead to the lookout not once (like normal people), but twice. The easier to consume extra spring rolls at dinner without the extra guilt, we figured!

Considering that Holly’s boyfriend was back in the States and the island had outright refused to reveal the location of my mystery man to me, Holly and I only had each other to share this romantic sunset with. But hey, it’s cool. We were simply following one of our cardinal rules: If hot guys are nowhere to seen, Lost Girls must find each other!

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  • Dellie says:

    The mahogany boats were really beautiful as was Halong Bay.I loved the hand-carved dragon “hood ornament”. The cooler weather can really be energizing!

  • tranglt says:

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