Ha Long Bay, in northern Vietnam, is a must-visit location on any trip to the country. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, the bay, with its emerald green water, is littered with limestone islets, each topped with thick forrest vegetation- some 1600 of them! The contrast between the hard rock formations (some of which are hollow caves) and the glistening, almost ethereal waters, leaves a lasting impression.
In these beautiful surroundings, it is estimated that 1600 people live in floating homes on the water. When visiting, we were told that some among them have never left the bay, or only do so for medical aid. Many are born on the water and die on the water, never stepping onto land. Some make a living by selling snacks to tourists. They fill their boats with stock and row over to bigger boats to sell.
Where to stay
When visiting, we stayed on an overnight boat, in a cabin. Here we met other travellers to the area, from numerous countries and with pretty diverse backgrounds. There was an English banker (post-recession, he was a little reluctant to reveal his profession!), an English teacher from New Zealand, a retired British couple now travelling the world together, a few Australians, and a Chinese businessman living in exile.
We went kayaking in the bay, which, while navigating around the limestone islets, was a lot of fun, was also a little jarring when the kayak hit upon a rock formation just under the surface of the water!
We visited a number of caves, which required us to walk up some pretty steep paths and stairs. It is worth the effort- some of the caves are huge in size, with numerous chambers inside and the formations are breathtaking!
It is also possible to go snorkelling and swimming in Ha Long Bay, along with other activities.
How to get there
Ha Long Bay is approximately three and a half hours away from Hanoi by road. There are numerous tour operators that organise day and overnight trips to Ha Long Bay, which can be arranged in Hanoi. A good resource for transport can be found here.